According to the Oxford Learners dictionary it defines bias as: “a strong feeling in favor of or against one group of people, or one side in an argument, often not based on fair judgement.” There is an old adage that says that only the wearer of the shoe knows where it pitches most. Women know where it pinches and there has been many enriching conversations all month long.
If you have a brain then you have a bias, the biases we have are either conscious or unconscious. All of us therefore have a bias towards everything we encounter, it is part and parcel of our life. Our minds work to protect us and the yard stick is our interpretation of the situation. This is how the bias then comes in. It is based on our life experiences, emotions and encounters. We therefore may not be aware that some of our actions or even words could result to a bias towards someone else. We may have to unlearn some of the things we learnt to avoid biases. This is the very reason that such themes as breaking the bias are important, to point out these issues, internalize the matters and make appropriate changes.
When we were raised in the family in the 1980s, 90s, most African homes had both boys and girls; it was clear that the girl’s role was to be in the kitchen to cook and to watch after the other siblings. One may wonder does this create a bias? In a documented story, a woman presented a business proposal for funding to a financial institution, the loan was denied and reasons were not provided. The same business proposal was presented to the same financial institution this time by a man and this time the loan was approved and disbursed. The only change was that there was a man who brought in the proposal all other factors were the same. This is an unconscious bias that financial institutions need to be aware about and deal with them as they serve their clients.
The decision-making processes in business are both formal in the board rooms and sometimes informal in informal meeting spaces. There are many discussions that are held away from the office, away from the board room. The discussions could be held in informal places and after office hours. The informal places could be in bars and restaurants when people are unwinding and having after office catch-ups. When a woman is invited for these sessions, in her analysis she will be cautious, how will she be viewed when she is out in the evening with men who are not her family or relatives. How will she be viewed being in a bar or restaurant in the evening or at night when she has children at home who need her to guide them as they undertake their end of day activities after a day in school. Women have then to make a choice, will they engage in after hour discussions/meetups or will they proceed with conducting the home chores. Women miss out on these informal discussions as well as potential opportunities that they may accrue from. As women then, we may need to actively prepare for meetings, looked at all possible option including relevant points, push to conclude discussions at the table when all stakeholders to those discussions are available. We need to request for concurrence in all discussions and ensure input is sort in all discussions pertaining the decisions through phone calls and consistent follow-ups.
There are instances of women going through sexual harassment on a daily basis at the work place and as they conduct their businesses. Sexual harassment according to the Oxford Learners dictionary is “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature …”. This could include unwanted sexual looks and gestures, unwanted telephone calls or materials of sexual nature, sexual comments, turning work comments to sexual topics, personal questions about social or sexual life, sexually suggestive signals amongst many other actions. Majority of the women experience this on a daily basis. Women have managed to numb themselves as a way of coping with this at the work place and as they conduct their businesses. According to Etactics a survey on sexual harassment states: “At some point during their life, 81% of women and 43% of men experience sexual harassment or assault. This is an alarming statistic for anyone to hear.” From my conversations with several male colleagues, they may not have a comprehensive appreciation what borders sexual harassment, in fact some say they are appreciating someone’s appearance or they want someone to feel better about themselves. In the real sense they make them feel the complete opposite, a feeling of unworthiness. Education on sexual harassment and what it real means and what it does is critical for the advancement of women led businesses to thrive and grow. Women have learnt to navigate without catching feelings but this is not the world we want; we would appreciate to have a world where everyone understands what amounts to sexual harassment and how to avoid it at all costs.
The imposter syndrome is one that has been talked about for many years. Imposter syndrome is doubting your own abilities and accomplishments and feeling like a cheat. This is a syndrome that affects both men women and keeps them from achieving their full potential. When we were growing up, the high achievers in school were few, were divided in categories of who does well and who doesn’t do so well. We have grown up with these in our minds, in fact if you can listen to people describe themselves when making serious contributions, you hear them say they are making the two cents’ thoughts. This syndrome brings self-doubt and could affect high performers who once they fail, they tend to have self-doubt of their ability to undertake tasks and activities that they would generally have no problem executing. Women should learn to take their mistakes in stride and knowing that that is part of the natural process of growth. They should stop looking at their toes and look beyond. We need to start training ourselves to keep away from external validation, we are enough without being validated, we matter and we do not need to be told that we have done well. There is no single project that can be executed with 100% precision 100% of the time. Challenges and problems as part and parcel of our daily lives! Let us be intentional about our uniqueness and the value we offer in our respective businesses. We need to magnify the benefits we deliver to our clients and thrive in that space. Women need to articulate their internal value and believe in it; it will propel them to great heights in business and personal life. Remember to remain fearless and fabulous, there is only one you and you are unique and no-one else can replicate you! Go ahead and thrive amidst the bias!
Caroline Gathii is an International Certified Risk Expert with FirstIdea Consulting Limited