Have you ever caught yourself thinking, why are there not more women working around you? I know I have. I remember a few times in my life that I thought, “Wow, this is so much fun. Why aren’t there more women getting to enjoy these activities?” I believe the answer is simple. Our unconscious biases get in the way, and we often forget to observe daily work activities for opportunities to raise the performance level of the entire team. It is time to think differently about how we set women up for success. It’s time for us to think deeply about Unconscious Biases, Observing the Middle, and A Very Simple Step to minimize the inclusion barriers that ultimately impact how much money we all take home from our jobs.
According to the leading experts on Diversity and Inclusion, unconscious biases are “social stereotypes that individuals experience from outside their conscious awareness.” Now, what does that mean? What it means is that you are not ill or sick if you have them as everyone holds unconscious beliefs that stem from life experiences, marketing, and social pressures. The opportunity is to look at our biases and decide whether we choose to believe them or not. For me, my “game-changing” ah-ha moment around unconscious biases came during the recovery of Hurricane Harvey which I will explain after I explain the technique for raising the performance level of the team.
People (including myself) unconsciously tend to look at what goes into efforts (the inputs) and what leaves efforts (the results). What is missing is a good look at the activities that happen in the middle. In the world of consulting, an old but still very useful model is the IAR diagram. This stand for Inputs, Activities, Results. The one below is a slightly modified to include the impact of Enablers (a person or thing that makes something possible). An unconscious bias is a great example of an enabler.
How about a basic example to start with? I am a parent of an 11-year-old swimmer, so let’s take a typical kids swim meet. The coaches of a swim team may look at the inputs into a meet such as the number of swimmers and practices and then look at the results after the meet. E.g. posted swimming times. Basically, the diagram would look like this:
What about the middle portion, the actual activities during the meet? E.g., timers for each lane, concession stand, cleanup crews, and meet officials.
The Middle matters because when we spend time Observing the Middle, then we might find deeper insights around the additional inputs that are missing to get the greater results we seek. Given this concept, let’s retake a look a kid's swim meet. Typically, there are not enough volunteers on the day of the meet, and this causes delays, overworked volunteers, and lack of retention of swimmers/parents because of inefficiencies. All likely enabled by the unconscious bias “Parents are lazy.”
If we considered how we might mitigate these unwanted results, then we may place more value on things like the location of the event for greater parent participation, parent team shirts for a sense of involvement, pre and post-meet communications, and rewards/consequences for volunteering. With these considerations, inevitably there is a higher change for more parent involvement, more swimmers, greater competition, a larger pool of potential future Olympic athletes, and positive life experiences for the parents, the coaches and the kids.
Early in this blog, I mention my “game-changing” ah-ha moment. After 20 years of being in the oil and gas industry and just dealing with personal protective clothing and equipment (a.k.a. PPE) that didn’t fit, my unconscious bias enabler busted around “all PPE is terrible.” This occurred when Hurricane Harvey hit my home in August of 2017 and left us with 3 feet of mud and oil inside the house. We had some amazing volunteers for the first week, but after that, everything went quiet as others began going back to work or focusing on their own recovery. This reality plus my business suffering from the storm aftermath and no insurance check for four months left me working daily in the recommended and available female PPE to restore my home. After injuring my hand with “unisex” gloves that flew into the dumpster when tossing a board and being an athlete that regularly buys well-fitting clothing and equipment to perform, I started to think “How do the women wear this on a day-to-day basis?”
Using the same diagram mentioned in the Observing the Middle section of this blog, let’s look at the factors for women that utilize PPE daily. It starts with the type of job, then managers estimate how many people and how much material they need to produce the results they seek in terms of products, services, and ultimately pay.
Now let’s look at the facts, industries like Construction, Manufacturing, and Engineering continue to experience massive labor shortages. Construction and Excavation careers that are being impacted the most by labor shortages are the closest to equal pay, yet only have 3% women. Given over 20 years of documented challenges in workwear for women and the over 50 focus groups I personally conducted across the Nation, what all this information will tell you is that the gear doesn’t fit. As a result of the gear not fitting, the women do not feel like they are a part of the team. Because both the men and women feel like women are not really a part of the team, the women do not get the coaching and mentoring that they desperately want and need which leads to isolation. For all these reasons…women exit and we continue to not tap into 50% of the population to fill labor shortages.
What can make the difference? Simply stated…work clothing and equipment that is not only safe but fits well so that everyone can do their part to perform at their highest level and be a part of the team. This very simple step reduces the risk of overworked workers, suboptimal production of products and services, safety incidents, and even sexual harassment. The truth is that this scenario is very much like a professional sports team, no matter your size or fit, when you get the employees geared up to perform, then the group identity raises and together they succeed.
It is time to check our unconscious biases around women in careers that require PPE. I have personally heard them all at this stage….”Women don’t like these jobs.”, “Women can’t do these jobs.”, “Men don’t want them there.”, “We are exposing ourselves to ‘Me Too’ risk.”, Etc… (all future blog topics!)
These biases are not real. They are only real if we choose to make them real. At the end of the day, we all want to do a good job and earn a good wage. How can we if we are not tapping into 50% of the population to fill these labor needs that continue to go unstaffed? Why would we want to leave money on the table? I don’t. Do you?
Author: Jane Henry, April 2019
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