Yassmin Abdel-Magied says she changed the appearance of her headscarf one day and noticed that people on the street began to look at her differently. This experience with the power of unconscious bias was the basis for Abdel-Magied’s moving TED Talk, and it’s one of many moments that she says led her on the path to becoming a writer, broadcaster and activist.
Abdel-Magied joined us from London to discuss one of the most important conversations happening in HR right now: bias. We dug in deep for a candid discussion about the state of inclusion right now — and the hard work all of us can do to make things better.
Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.
How the Conversation Around Bias Has Changed
Abdel-Magied says she’s seen the conversation around bias change significantly throughout her career, and especially in the past five years. One of the most significant changes around how we talk about bias, she says, is the emphasis that organizations have put on combating unconscious bias. “Cognitive and implicit bias had been talked about in the academic circles for a while, but this was the first time the subject had come into the corporate space,” she says.
However, Abdel-Magied says organizations aren’t going far enough, with too many believing that having a single conversation on the topic is enough. “People are thinking that a little bit of unconscious bias training is going to fix all of our problems,” she says. “[It] is a little bit of a problem.”
Why Tech Won’t Fix Bias
Abdel-Magied says her frustration with the conversation around bias also extends to technological offerings that organizations have been embracing. Many organizations have embraced AI solutions to help with hiring and management practices, hoping that they can eliminate bias in their processes. She says this is a false promise. “Nothing is a silver bullet,” she says. “You’re not going to fix the issue of diversity and inclusion by building an app.”
To truly tackle the issue of bias in the workplace, she says, those within organizations need to understand that their workplace is a reflection of society. People need to have honest conversations with each other and dig deep within themselves to confront their biases. It’s “hard work,” Abdel-Magied says, but without the effort, true change isn’t attainable.
What Leaders Can Do
Abdel-Magied says there are two ways leaders can better prepare themselves to fight bias.
First, leaders need to make sure they’re identifying and confronting their own biases and prejudices. Abdel-Magied suggests jump-starting this effort by reading. “Start to make yourself uncomfortable by reading things outside your general area,” she says. Two books she recommends are “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge and “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo.
Second, leaders need to seek out ways that bias has seeped into their workplace. Abdel-Magied says a very actionable place to start is an organization’s shortlist for promotions. “When you have two women on the shortlist, you are 79 times more likely to hire a woman — simply because when you only have one woman on the shortlist you’re only focusing on the fact that she’s a woman,” she says.
Abdel-Magied also suggests making sure your organization’s diversity and inclusion department has real muscle. This means beefing up its budget and responsibilities, and ensuring that diversity and inclusion is a viable path for those in HR. “If it’s not something you’re putting any resources behind, have a look at all those different aspects and do a bit of work on yourself,” she says. “I think then you’ve got a good start.”
Resources Mentioned in This Episode
- Yassmin Abdel-Magied: Twitter and personal website
- Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s TED Talk: “What Does My Headscarf Mean to You?”
- “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge.
- “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo.