Breaking Through Bias Is Always Personal
It wasn’t that I was never confronted with bias in the workplace, but it wasn’t top of mind either. That all changed, however, once I reached the senior vice president level at a prior employer.
All of the senior leaders were asked to attend a gender equality training. Out of more than 30 leaders in the room, only three of us were women. And it was only the women who were asked to speak about their stories. After I gave my presentation on the struggles of balancing work and kids and being a senior leader in a male-dominated industry, one of my colleagues approached me. “Your life seems terrible,” he noted. I shook my head. My life was far from terrible, but one thing was clear: I could no longer pretend I was not surrounded by bias.
The truth is that, whether I was aware of them or not, throughout my career I have been faced with a number of biases as a woman in financial services. It’s the questions about who watched my daughters during the day that my male counterparts were never asked; the invites for drinks that never come; the certain assignments I was never considered for; and the social circles that always seem reserved for someone else.
The fact that these biases still exist is why International Women’s Day (IWD) is so important.
For me, IWD is about the power of equality, the power to go after your dreams, the power to not give up even when the odds seem low, and the power to know what can be done. I now see it as my responsibility to help other women not only be confident in the decisions that we are making, but understand how to break through biases in their own right.
I have seen first-hand the power of one voice to change a dynamic.
Not only is this power and confidence good for women at an individual level, you have heard it time and time again, it is good for our clients and our industry as well. Think of it this way: creating wealth, on both a personal and macro level, helps elevate individual families, communities, and ultimately our global markets. By elevating women in the workforce, we are not only enabling wealth creation for those women, we are also ensuring diverse decision-making, more balanced approaches to problem solving, and ultimately, better outcomes for the world’s investors and the people they serve.
If you are as convinced of the importance of this work as I am, now is the time to get started as we work to build more equitable constructs — if not for us, then for our daughters and their daughters. For me, the first place I needed to start was by recognizing that biases do in fact exit. We all have them.
Instead of denying their presence, learning how to manage and address your biases is what matters most. This can start in team meetings — did you hear all voices or just one or two? It extends to hiring slates — are you truly accessing the full breadth and depth of the talent pool? It even includes how you think about the work that you take on and the work that you assign — are you treating yourself and your team equitably? Ultimately, instead of big moments, it is the smaller, day-to-day actions that will allow us to truly break through bias.
If this all feels overwhelming, don’t let it. I have seen first-hand the power of one voice to change a dynamic. I am committing to being that voice, and I hope you will join me. For the women in the workforce today — and for those just charting their dreams — our industry will be better for our willingness to take a stand.
Brenda Lyons is an executive vice president and global head of Asset Servicing Product for State Street. She is also a member of our Management Committee.