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Navigating For Career Success: Embracing Our Biased Realities To Lead with Purpose

The challenges faced by women and men in their careers have evolved over time, shaped by societal shifts and changing attitudes. As seasoned professional women, our experiences have led us to mentor and guide young women towards accelerated success in large part by struggling against bias in an effort to drive equality. While this rhetoric around overcoming bias and achieving equality is essential, it's crucial to acknowledge that biases are inherent and ingrained in human cognition. Instead of focusing exclusively on eradicating bias, let's also explore the biases themselves, their role in shaping perceptions, and how young women can strategically navigate their careers while acknowledging and leveraging these realities.

Categorizing and Filtering Information Is A Critical Skill

Human brains are wired to categorize information rapidly, a survival mechanism that allows us to process the vast amount of information that surrounds us. This categorizing mechanism produces unconscious biases that enable us to make quick decisions and navigate our environment effectively. Right or wrong, without them our cognitive capacities would be overwhelmed, hindering our ability to function optimally.

How we categorize information is learned from an early age through modeling, our own personal experiences and plethora other things that help our brains create coping skills to manage information overload.

Guess what! Bias is just a dysphemism for categorization. And, we all have that skill!

The trick is to pay attention to the ways we categorize information and recognize our biases for what they are. They can lead to unintended discrimination and inequality if left unchecked, especially when they perpetuate stereotypes or hinder opportunities based on factors like gender, race, or age. While thinking we can change the way people inherently filter information is an overwhelming and ill-advised delusion, acknowledging biases and their existence (both within us and others) empowers us to better navigate through bias to accelerate our own careers.

Leveraging Bias Awareness for Purposeful Career Management

The landscape for young women in the workplace today differs from what we experienced as older professionals. But, while overt sexism might have become less pronounced, unconscious biases still impact career trajectories. These biases are more often subtle, originating from ingrained cultural norms, upbringing, and societal expectations. Addressing them requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges the complexity of the issue.

Here are some ideas to get you started managing through bias:

1. Develop Self-awareness: When embarking on your careers, develop a strong sense of self-awareness. Understand your own strengths, values, and goals so you have a solid foundation for navigating biases. By knowing yourself, you can better advocate for your aspirations and confidently challenge any biases you encounter. You can also be much more aware of your own reactivities and biases.

Yes, you do have reactivities! Everyone has triggers. If you think you don't, you need to really dig into this first step!

2. Advocate for Communication: Educate yourself about biases, both overt and subtle. Equip yourself with the language and tools to address bias in a constructive manner. Effective communication is key - engaging in open conversations can help shed light on unconscious biases, promoting a more inclusive workplace. Even if you can't change someone else's biases, you sure can work to understand what those biases are. Every person who has influence or impact on your performance or career is a person whose biases you need to try to understand.

3. Build Your Personal Network and Mentorship: Building a network of mentors and peers who share your values can help you navigate potential biases and cope with disappointments and set-backs. Mentors can offer guidance, provide insights into their own experiences, and offer strategies for overcoming challenges. We more seasoned professionals may not entirely relate to your generation and viewpoints, but we have been in similar situations.

Bias has been around since the beginning of human interaction - your generation did not invent it! Any person who has been around any other group of persons has faced one form of bias or another. Use and benefit from the experiences of others in these situations!

It is not the same today, of course, but our experience can help you understand and navigate through tough situations, particularly when someone with more power than you has biases that are affecting your career trajectory and well-being.

4. Have Confidence and Resilience: Don't let others' ill-formed coping mechanisms get you down. Take them for what they are. Have the confidence to stay true to yourself. Challenge biases when necessary. Resilience is crucial; setbacks might occur, but maintaining a strong sense of self-worth and determination will help you continue moving forward. And a little personal note on this one for a different post -- if you are triggered by someone else's biases and you need to get away from it for a few minutes, a few hours or even a day, DO IT! (I'll write about this a little later on).

The Bottom Line:

While completely eradicating biases from society may be an ambitious goal, it is not something that can be done quickly or to our own professional benefit. Understanding and navigating biases, on the other hand, are within our control. As seasoned professionals, we should offer guidance for our youthful counterparts that does not solely revolve around altering others' biases but rather empowers young women to navigate biases strategically and lead with purpose. By acknowledging the reality of biases, fostering self-awareness, advocating for inclusion, and embracing resilience, young women can forge fulfilling and impactful careers despite the challenges they might face.


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