What can you do to prevent bias?
The first step in preventing your bias is to become aware of your biases. There are some very helpful tools, Implicit Association Test from Harvard being one of those, in identifying your biases. Plus, of course, introspection helps. You can then check your key decisions against your personal biases. You might choose to make a list of biases and cross-check key decisions against those or ask yourself if you would have made the same decision about the person if the person's trait, that you have a bias against or in favour, was opposite. For instance, would I hire this person if they didn't have kids (if the bias is motherhood). Do you reward employees for ‘flexibility’ e.g. for last-minute travel, work schedule changes, etc. without realizing that its harder for women than men who just have to check just their own calendars, when women have to take care of many other responsibilities at home before committing anything out of regular schedule.
What is your view on sponsorship versus mentorship?
Women need sponsorship, much more so than mentorship, but research shows that women find it difficult to find a real sponsor for various reasons. To help with this I have started a program at NTT called ‘Make HERstory’ with around 80 senior female colleagues who have been aligned with a member of NTT’s Executive Leadership Team as their sponsor. Many executives sponsor two or three people and it is their responsibility to represent those women and to drum the table for them during key decision-making moments. As part of the program, we run workshops on topics such as, charting the career paths, networking, office politics and so on. We also run events with some of our key partners like Microsoft. We are looking to expand the program to ensure a continuous feed of the next generation of female leaders.
How do you respond to the sceptics?
With any element of change you push you’ll get push back. If there wasn’t any push back then we’d already be equal. People don’t like you to challenge them; it’s uncomfortable and that can lead to reactions from fear through to aggression. And yet we have to start the journey recognizing that change takes time and can be slow. It’s why we need a critical mass of female leaders. You have to work out your priorities and compromise but as long as you keep inching forward you are succeeding. It’s the same as any change process.
It’s high time we stop singing “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” and focus on the need for balance in which both genders can play to their strengths, with the support and encouragement of their employers. I would encourage everyone, men and women, to #BreakTheBias.