How the power of community can help challenge deep-rooted bias

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Article by Livia Benisty, Head of AML at Banking Circle

The theme for 2022’s International Women’s Day was #BreaktheBias, where organisations and individuals called for people of all genders to imagine a gender equal world. Now the day is over, we must continue to strive for a society that is free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.

In the workplace there is lots that can be done to champion a more equal environment. We’re doing better on the numbers and there are more women in the room and at the table but there are so many expectations around how those women are supposed to act – for example, we can’t be too feminine or too masculine. We often have to be just ‘the right amount’ of different personalities.

To challenge this deep-rooted bias, at work I have worked hard to find my ‘authentic me’, because when I act on my USPs my results speak for me. To help get there, I’ve found the power of community invaluable. My advice is to find women and men who you can share experiences with and learn from. This will help move the needle in your interactions inside and outside of work to show up authentically and successfully.

Navigating office politics

Starting out in a male dominated industry as a woman has its own unique set of challenges. There is enormous pressure on women to act a certain way within the workplace (even in 2022) that men don’t seem to have. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in a corporate setting and worry about the appropriate way to act.

Men have long been stereotyped to have qualities such as assertiveness, competitiveness and determination – all of which can lead to praise and admiration. In comparison, women have been stereotyped with traits such as being sensitive, understanding and caring. This is harmful because when people don’t conform to these stereotypes, they can be judged negatively. For example, a woman who is assertive might be perceived as bossy, a man who is sensitive as weak. There is no quick fix to navigating office politics but being true to yourself is the only way to push through and break the bias.

Find your people

When you’re faced with tricky situations, however, it can be hard to ‘be yourself’. Seeking guidance and advice from people you trust in these moments will be key to your progression. When you reach out to women and individuals who you respect, nine of out ten times they’ll say, “don’t worry, I’ve been there”.

With this in mind, building your network is key. When you dedicate time to learning about people and what they do, building relationships and making connections, you’ll be exposed to ideas you might not have known existed. At times you’re also likely to recognise your own unconscious bias, which you can work on. From a progression point of view, when people get to know you, they’ll see you as more than your job title and understand your passions. This can be vital when seeking out new experiences or applying for jobs in a new vertical.

What’s more, no matter what specific niche you’re interested in, there will be numerous newsletters and communities you can sign up to for regular updates and resources. Figure out what excites you and then research it. For me, I’m on the advisory board of Regtech Women and highly recommend joining to access the array of resources and expertise on offer. Especially for women working in tech, it’s essential to build a network.

#BreaktheBias today, tomorrow and in the future

Special communities are where women, and all genders, can find comfort, ideas and joy. But this alone is not enough. Though the tech industry has come a long way in how women are respected and represented, to truly eliminate workplace barriers, companies need to put time and effort into assessing and structuring their culture to provide genuine equal opportunities. Individuals too must work to breakdown biases. Whether this involves speaking up when they see discriminatory behaviour, spearheading a plan to make their workplace more inclusive or simply opening up a conversation. We must all work together to raise each other up.

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