Breaking biases takes time – leaders must invest in talent today to improve tomorrow

08 Mar 2022


The theme for this years International Womens Day, which takes place globally on March 8th, is #BreakTheBias. And in business, its undoubtedly essential to drive equality, widen the talent pool at all levels, and strive for greater diversity, as there are many benefits to a more inclusive culture. However, the reality is that while all leaders and organisations want to remove biases, it is very much a work in progress in some industries – although things are changing for the better, thankfully.

Imagine a gender equal world,” reads the IWD's website blurb for the 2022 event. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world thats diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge womens equality.”

You could contend that 40 or even 30 years ago, life in general – not just in the business world – was biased. Now we are going through the process of rebalancing inherent biases. We are rethinking old norms around who should be doing what, at what level, and so on. But this all takes time and needs to start at both the grassroots and leadership levels. Leaders must be educated about biases, and I often hear clients being humbled by courses that highlight the blindspots they have had for years.

In my opinion, its not about who can do the better job. The more significant challenge is encouraging and actively driving youngsters to work in a given industry. Theres no getting away from the fact that some industries can only progress as quickly as their talent pipeline and availability allows them.

While there is a diverse population to select workers from – and for those able to attract and retain talent working remotely in the last two years, the pool has vastly expanded – as a leader, you must be thinking carefully about feeding the pipeline.

Water the roots of diversity and inclusion

There is a lot of talk about skills shortages at the moment. The way to ensure you narrow these likely gaps is by engaging people at the secondary school and university levels. To break biases and grow diversity tomorrow, you need to invest sufficiently today. It doesnt happen by accident. And it doesnt happen overnight. You can only work with what you have got now. The critical point is that you can act to change what things look like in the future. 

Leaders, businesses, and industries must all take active roles in transforming diversity and inclusion. We cant be held back by the poor, progress-halting choices of the past that were likely taken due to inherent biases that decision-makers didnt even realise they had. 

One could argue that in specific industries – chemical engineering, for example – the recruitment profile and skillsets required have been predominantly male, primarily out of tradition. Even if there is a massive investment, it will take time for the requisite knowledge and experience to thrive at a leadership level to filter up, for instance. 

And you dont want people – regardless of their gender – to be appointed if they are not ready and are unsure of the ropes, as that will damage the organisation and the individual in the short and long term. You cant fast track experience. This is why we have to all play our parts and invest in greater diversity and inclusion today with the knowledge that it will reap great rewards, but only in a few years or decades.

Compare chemical engineering with, for example, the FMCG industry, where businesses are more marketing- and product-led. Until recently, perhaps, the latter has been more attractive to both sexes, whereas the former has appealed to more males, for various reasons, including because the route in has been easier. Therefore, the former has been playing catch-up to promote diversity and inclusion.

The quicker leaders genuinely understand the benefits of dialling up diversity across an organisation and industry, the better for the global society. Thinking one mind is better than the other is antiquated in 2022. The last two years have made clear that collaboration and collectivism can solve challenges quicker, and a lot of that is down to encouraging a mixture of viewpoints. 

Ultimately, rallying to break the bias is important. Still, more emphasis on how to increase the volume of talent across industries that have not been attractive to certain people in the recent past is required. By watering the roots, we can expect flourishing, but not immediately.

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