by Kathy Caprino, cross-posted with permission from Forbes
Part of the [Forbes] series “Women, Leadership and Vision”
In my 18-year corporate career culminating in my role as a Vice President, I personally experienced every managerial and leadership behavior you can think of, from the most evolved and progressive, to the most archaic, backward, and damaging. I’ve also personally hired, collaborated with, and led a good number of both men and women to support my various employers’ work and visions.
What I’ve witnessed firsthand, as a corporate executive, therapist, and now as a career and executive coach and leadership trainer, is that every one of us on this planet has biases – both hidden and overt – that keep us, and others, from thriving at the highest levels of success, reward and impact. And each of us on the planet has what I call “power gaps” – areas where we feel less then, unworthy, or challenged, that we try to hide.
Towards that end, I was thrilled to catch up with Kristen Pressner, who has a great deal to share on this matter. Kristen is Global Head of Human Resources for Roche Diagnostics in Basel, Switzerland and supports nearly 35,000 employees across more than 150 countries worldwide. With nearly 90,000 employees globally, Roche is the world’s largest biotech company and the world leader in in-vitro diagnostics. I deeply respect her work, and her courage to share her own biases against women leaders in a very public way.
Her TEDx talk — Are You Biased? I Am – is not to be missed:
Kathy Caprino: So Kristen, you’ve recently ‘come out’ shall we say, and very publicly, via your TEDx talk, and shared that you have a bias against women leaders. How did you discover this?
Kristen Pressner: It’s funny Kathy, because most of us have heard about unconscious bias, maybe even had training at work. But I think deep down we all kind of think it’s ‘everybody else’ who is the problem.
I had this pivotal moment when I was approached by two team members asking me to have a look at their compensation. It was a few days later that I connected that I’d had very different reactions to the same request, while I was, ironically, doing some research on unconscious bias. Suddenly, seeing the word “provider” being associated with men, it hit me. Wow…I have a bias here.
Particularly shocking to me was: I’d always thought that you could only have a bias against someone who was different than you. So it really struck me to discover to realize we can have a bias against exactly what we are . I am a woman leader and provider, yet simultaneously, I have a bias against women leaders and don’t see them as providers. It was even more humbling when you factor in that I work in human resources so… it’s my job to be unbiased.
Caprino: Did it worry you that it might be, shall we say, ‘career limiting’ as an HR executive, to share that in such a public format?
Pressner: Yes, it felt very vulnerable; there are a lot of trolls out there! But, it’s easy to go to training and then accuse others of unconscious bias. It’s only when we recognize it in ourselves that we can we change.
So it was one of the most humbling moments of my life to realize that I could have a bias that was counter to everything that I stand for. I realized that if I honestly shared my experience, it had the potential to move each of us from defensive mode to discovery mode. If I could disarm the situation with my own admission, provide pragmatic advice regarding what to do about it, and spark people’s curiosity, then it would totally be worth it.
In addition, how courageous was it really? Sure there are a lot of people still in the “I’m not biased, I have a (fill in the blank with a description of a person who isn’t exactly like me) friend” camp, but the fact of the matter is: being biased is part of being human.
Caprino: As an HR Leader, what do you do to combat your own bias?
Pressner: So the first thing I did, and I recommend this to others, is to recognize the different types of bias and come to grips with the fact you might have bias/biases that surprise you.
Bias takes many different forms besides gender. My TEDx talk only focused on that because I am a woman myself. There are other obvious ones: age, race… but there are also less obvious ones: new mother, weight, introversion/extroversion, and more. An eye-opening (and often humbling) thing you might want to try is taking one of these online Implict Association Tests.
The next thing is, you need a trick to move from allowing your unconscious brain to handle things, by returning it to consciousness. To do this, I suggest: flip it to test it. Just mentally flip whoever you’re dealing with, for someone else, to test yourself.
For instance, if you’re interacting with a woman in the workplace and she’s coming off as arrogant, flip it and ask yourself how you’d feel about that situation if it was happening with a man. There’s a Twitter TWTR -3.99%account that I love, because it just flips things we commonly say, and besides opening our eyes to how ridiculous they are when you flip them, they’re funny: @manwhohasitall.
His tweet of August 11th, for instance, is this: