What is bias, and why is it the theme for this year’s Women’s History Month? Bias, either conscious or unconscious, is “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” It’s the way we speak about others, who we decide to group up with, and who gets visibility. Breaking the bias is key to nurturing diverse teams, which in turn, creates innovative success for all.
Every March, TIBCO’s employee resource group, WISE (Women Inclusion, Success, and Equity), seeks to support TIBCO’s diverse team members with activities and panels focused on real conversations.
During one of WISE’s events, Meena Krishnan, Director of Global Corporate Marketing, in conversation with Emma Acton, Vice President of Global Field and Partner Marketing, Lorinda Visnick, Field Enablement, Olle Landström, Senior Vice President of Engineering, and Penny Hill, Senior Director of Education, discussed how the panelists have been able to break the bias, navigate gender equity, and be proactive about progress in their careers.
MK: Why is breaking the bias so important?
EA: We’ve seen a massive shift in the last few years in how people interact with each other. Many biases that were commonplace in previous decades are no longer acceptable. I like to think these improved behaviors make for a more open and honest world to work in. They make for a more collaborative workplace, so it’s important to get rid of bias to operate in the new world.
PH: I am so passionate about this. I grew up in Hollywood and thought bias was the norm. I’ve always thought of breaking the bias as something everyone needs to participate in. The movements we’ve seen in the last few years have been massive. If we can get enough people to bend the bias, it will break. And that’s what we need. Bend. Make one little change, and that little change can break the bias.
LV: My focus is around the pandemic and what it’s taught us about being at home and having to juggle multiple things. It’s brought people to a new realization, the norms around a working mother having to manage children and carry other responsibilities—it’s much more seen by many others and appreciated. Change is caused by disruption. Why now? The pandemic has given us an opportunity to put things into the light. My hope is that things will continue to change for the better.
OL: Breaking the bias is so important for many different reasons: we have a lack of talent in the world, and we can’t let bias stop us from finding talent globally. The more diversity we have in teams, the better they work.
MK: Lorinda, how do you think we can break the bias based on external factors? Outside the workplace but also inside.
LV: Bias is rooted in our culture. It starts in our home, whether it’s conscious or not. Boys are expected to play and be loud; girls are expected to be quiet and play with a doll. I have a daughter and three sons, and people always say “oh you look pretty today” to my daughter. Pretty what? Pretty smart? Language is a part of our culture. So what can we do about it? We can teach our children. We can expose them to the idea that anyone can do anything. We’re not restricted by our gender identity.
MK: Emma, you’re in senior leadership. Are there biases you still face? How do you navigate those?
EA: I still experience biases in everything I do, both internally and externally. Most of it is non-conscious bias; it stems from how people have been brought up and taught. I have interactions involving non-conscious bias every day. For me, I’ve been lucky to not experience any malicious bias in my current position, but I have in the past. How do we overcome it? Educate ourselves and our teams on what is and is not acceptable.
MK: Olle, if you were to choose three words to be an effective ally, what would those be and why?
OL: Supportive, empathetic, and thoughtful. You need to be supportive and help people get past barriers in their thinking. You need to try to understand other people’s situations and how they express themselves. You need to think before you give advice and offer direction.
MK: Penny, what kind of biases have you faced on the way?
PH: When I was growing my career, I faced a lot of failures along the way. And I sat back and thought, is this all me or is it related to bias? I figured out that what I can do is showcase talent that exceeds the bias. I said to my boss, what are the projects that are failing? Give them to me. I can overshadow the bias with my powers. And that’s what I did. And I was successful. They saw my powers more than my gender. I see bias, but I overcome it. But I do have to work twice as hard.
MK: Emma, how do you advocate for your team members who have faced biases?
EA: Embrace your superpower, as Penny spoke about. I need people to be good at the job I’m hiring for, regardless of gender. I look through piles of CVs, and I’m looking for experience and for superpowers that can be really expanded upon. And this is what I instill in my team. I want my team to see and mimic my thoughts and behaviors. I want my team to be good at what they do. And sometimes you have to spot it for them and work on it together, nurturing your team and helping them blossom. If you’re doing the right thing, your team will see that and do the same.
MK: Olle, do you have an example of how you were able to advocate for a team member? How did you become an ally?
OL: I always had great leaders in my career that showed me how to be an ally. One example, I worked with a person who was very, very good, but had burnt herself out trying to break the bias, always working too hard. She never felt like she could be herself. That taught me to work harder to break the bias on behalf of my team and to encourage people to be true to themselves. I just hired a wonderful manager, who is the first female manager on this particular team, and everyone said it wasn’t a good idea based on the team’s history, but I did it anyway. And it’s been great.
MK: Lorinda, do you have any strategies to help overcome unconscious bias?
LV: If we could control it, it wouldn’t be unconscious. But I think unconscious bias is very quiet and doesn’t show itself. When it’s explicit, it’s easier to deal with. The things that are unconscious, like language, it’s just truly ingrained. So, what can we do? We have to know that it’s out there and then look for it. Once we’re aware of it, we can question it. To really be an ally means being brave enough to interrupt conversations. Diversity brings incredible value. And the data shows it.
MK: What action items do you want to leave us with?
EA: Just be you, just be authentic. Consider what you’re doing and saying.
PH: Look at your talent, what you think is easy for you. Find your hidden gem and put it on display with flawless execution.
OL: Be aware of the bias; it’s real. Take action.
LV: Really challenge yourself. You might not think you’re holding onto bias, but I bet you are. Improvement starts with yourself. Look inside and then be brave. Be an interrupter.
Help TIBCO Break the Bias
Breaking the bias starts with every one of us. By just interrupting bias where we see it, encouraging our teammates to show up with authenticity and empathy, and believing in people’s superpowers—we can make the workplace, and the world, a better, more inclusive place.