The problems and consequences of bias are well documented, and the level of attention in the media underscores the need for companies to do much more to eliminate bias in the workplace. A robust chorus of opinions and prescriptions for how to address it exist, and most will agree that it's more than just a numbers game. To win in the market, companies must adopt a growth mindset to harness different perspectives and experiences.
At the same time, when dealing with people some bias will always exist. As individuals, we can put the power of a growth mindset to work for us, too, a strategy that is effective at striking back at bias. More equal opportunities can be achieved by enabling people to work in areas where they have natural strengths. Famous examples abound: Oprah Winfrey was told she was "unfit for television news"; an editor said that Walt Disney wasn't creative enough; Anna Wintour was fired for innovative fashion shoots. When each of these people found positions that matched their natural talents, their efforts were amplified, empowering them to transcend bias and soar.
Unfortunately, each of us will encounter bias in some form or fashion, some of us more than others depending on our gender, our race or ethnicity, the industry and level in which we work, and where we live. My own experiences suggest that a focus on your aptitudes and a disciplined approach help to diminish the impact of bias - and maybe even reinvent your career along the way.
Engage in ruthless self-awareness. First you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses so you can design your path around them. As a first level manager, I came onto an account that was not doing well. As I conducted an inventory of the situation, it became clear that a woman — who had been a rising star — was in a role that was not right for her skillset. While it was very difficult for her to hear that message, we moved her out of sales and into a project management position and she is once again excelling. We retained top talent and provided a more satisfying, fulfilling experience for her.
Reconnoiter the field. When I came into my current job as a channel chief, my predecessor had been in the role for many years. Things had been done a certain way for a long time. I took the time to investigate not only the business but also the culture of the team, which was admittedly a lot of white males. Certainly, HP has many strong women in management which offered good precedence, and the company went against the traditional grain of what a channel chief looks like by hiring me, but I recognized my constituency and acknowledged the biases that could exist. Women have a unique perspective in business and we should use our differences as a strength to set us apart, even the playing field, and lead with authenticity and passion. But we need to have an unvarnished understanding of what we are walking into.
Adapt thoughtfully. While you must be uncompromising about staying true to your strengths, remain flexible and open-minded about how you apply them. A decade ago, I interviewed for a position and felt I was the most qualified for the job — a job that went to a man. Of course, I was disappointed. But then I asked myself "what now?" and charted a new path, one that led to the position I hold now. At the time, I was sure that I had been wronged, and perhaps I had been, but when that proverbial door slammed, a truer path emerged for me. It was an opportunity to re-focus on my assets and opened a door I hadn't seen before.
Be courageous. Bias can often be disguised as naysayers. The answer to them, easier said than done, is not to listen. Find a problem to solve, do your homework and identify a solution, then respectfully, confidently, present your idea. In my very first job as an affiliate marketing coordinator, I uncovered an opportunity that could deliver millions of dollars. I took it to my boss who gave me a lackluster reception, but I asked if I could give it shot. I did and presented it to the team and we implemented it. Win for me, win for the company. This can also be applied to the issue of the gender pay gap. No doubt about it — it's a big problem so chances are, if you are a woman, you'll come up against it at some point in your career. Until the pay issue is a non-issue, make your case and stand strong. Even Sheryl Sandberg had to learn that lesson.
Bias is alive and well. The good news is that more companies are taking note and starting to drive real change to eliminate it. Instead of waiting, hoping and praying that they'll fix everything, we can also take individual responsibility for working to assuage the effects of bias by celebrating our own strengths and following a career path that enables us to shine and be authentic to ourselves.