How unconscious is your bias?

On International Women’s Day this year, Champions for Change call on workplaces to take a hard look at unconscious gender bias.

Global Women’s Champions for Change initiative is a group of 53 influential New Zealand chief executives and chairs from the public and private sectors who are taking the lead of driving diversity and inclusion in Kiwi workplaces.

The campaign is a collection of short tongue-in-cheek videos, radio ads, print ads and workplace collateral intended to encourage people to question whether they do have a bias, and then demonstrate that overcoming it is as easy as removing gender from the equation.

Unconscious biases are learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply ingrained, universal, and able to influence behaviour – in the workplace, unconscious bias is reflected in split-second decisions or assumptions based on someone’s gender, ethnicity, religion or sexuality.

The spots all ask a question specific to workplaces, such as, ‘How to explain to a colleague that your boss is the best female manager you’ve ever worked with?’. The answer is to remove mention of gender entirely, making the answer: “She is the best manager I’ve ever worked with”. All ads finish with the tagline ‘It’s not that hard”.

Westpac New Zealand chief executive David McLean is a founding member of Champions for Change. He says the group is committed to accelerating diverse leadership in New Zealand, and central to that goal is the workplace environments that leaders create.

“Every one of us has built-in biases that can lead us to make unfair assumptions, no matter how well-intentioned we might be. This campaign highlights some of the ways those (unconscious) biases can impact our workplace so that together we can address and overcome them.”

Saatchi & Saatchi managing director Paul Wilson says that while many people have come a long way in recent turbulent times, under a microscope on gender issues, the campaign is intended to ignite both introspections as well as conversation.

“The problem with unconscious bias is inherent in its name – we just don’t know we have it, and many are still unwittingly holding on traditional perceptions of gender roles. The #MeToo movement has created a tipping point for gender equality and this campaign portrays how frustratingly simple it is to eliminate unconscious bias in everyday workplace situations. It’s just so bloody obvious.”

Studies show that companies that have a balanced representation of women in senior leadership positions experience higher revenue, increased growth and generally outperform in their market, yet complete parity in the workplace is still a goal to strive for. By eliminating unconscious bias, companies can concentrate on identifying the most competent candidates for the role based on merit.

Transpower chief executive and champion Alison Andrew says overcoming unconcious discrimination is critical to creating diverse, inclusive and high-performing workplaces.

“As a business we want to intentionally encourage people to speak up and participate, so it’s important to bring conversations about overcoming unconscious bias into our everyday working lives.

All 53 of the Champions for Change chief executives and chairs have a personal mission to accelerate inclusive and diverse leadership in workplaces, striving to achieve a prosperous and equitable New Zealand.

The campaign will also be appearing in the New Zealand Herald on Friday 8 March as a full-page ad.