Unconscious Bias: Are We Holding Ourselves Back?

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Unconscious Bias: Are We Holding Ourselves Back?

I recently shared this article from ABC News via Linkedin. As you’ll see, it’s primarily about gender segregation in the Australia job market.  My comment was simple, “This is a bit of a worry—well more than a bit.”

The crux of the issue is anything but ‘simple’

I’m just happy to read some informed and pragmatic commentary around employment issues.

Some say the labour market is changing, I prefer to say it’s evolving. Evolution is not something we can prevent, but it is something we can, and should, prepare for. With empathy, vision, leadership and commitment, I believe we can successfully transition most people to new and exciting employment opportunities.

First, we need to open our minds.

Our attitudes must evolve too

The ABC article reports the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s figures confirm Australia continues to have a highly gender-segregated market. It also:

  • quotes the concerns of a senior manager in aged care services who, amongst other things, describes how his own move from mining and manufacturing to aged care was met with surprise by many.
  • quotes economist Saul Eslake who (to paraphrase) says displaced workers are reluctant to move into the services sectors as they see it as ‘women’s work’.

Both points above say much about our society and therefore us, and our own behaviour.

Perhaps unconscious bias is holding us back

When I first moved from the education sector into direct selling, people would often assume it was a stop-gap. Maybe I’d been retrenched, or worse, dismissed!  Teaching (quite rightly) was seen as a reputable career; safe and rewarding, with a reliable income and long-term opportunities.

On the other hand, direct-selling was perceived quite differently and I understand why. In the 1990s many still expected a job (or vocation) to be for life. You trained for something, it became your area of expertise, you got a job – and stayed put.

Now, things are very different. People change jobs, cross sectors and/or have ‘portfolio careers’ leveraging their many skills and talents. There are freelancers, contractors, entrepreneurs, solopreneurs and even ‘mumpreneurs’. Has the work environment evolved? Oh yes!

And yet…

I suspect we’re not all evolving at the same pace.

Clearly, my decision to join the direct-selling sector had nothing to do with retrenchment —and everything to do with choice.

I had a full-time job, two young children and limited childcare. My husband and I agreed that the freedom and flexibility a career in direct sales offered was great for our family and worth pursuing. In terms of ‘income’, we set a baseline, planned to achieve that and took the rest from there. For reasons too numerous to mention, I’m—no, we’re —glad we did.

This business has taken me (and my family) on quite some journey. It’s been good for me personally and professionally, and I hope, I continue to be good for it.

Different decade, same bias

I’m disappointed to hear from many in our industry that the same (unconscious, I’m sure) bias exists today.

While chatting to someone who can only be called a high-achiever, I was saddened to discover that she’s still asked if she’s looking for a ‘proper’ job. As if her work is not ‘proper work’.  Or perhaps, those asking the question are just not moving with the times?

I think she’s far too polite to share the facts, but I will.

  • She’s progressed her career by working smarter, not harder— in her own time and on her own terms.
  • She coaches and mentors a large and diverse ‘team’ of independent direct sales people and does so admirably.
  • Her ‘team’s’ combined business exceeds $600,000 in sales annually.
  • She has and continues to, provide much for her family, both financially and emotionally and much more.

Here’s what many don’t realise: the direct-selling industry offered work/life balance, freedom, flexibility, and equality, long before they became corporate buzzwords. I should know.

Keeping our own mind-sets in check

Things are indeed moving fast. It’s tough and at times heart-wrenching for many families who work in declining sectors. But let’s not make it harder by limiting their choices (consciously or unconsciously). Rather, offer support, reveal to opportunities they may not have considered and wish them well.

There’s much to be gained by opening our minds and taking a fresh look at the world.

There are opportunities but perhaps we can’t see them yet, and we may not even know why.

Author: Gillian Stapleton
Photo courtesy of Unsplash/ Jens Johnsson

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