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International Women’s Day Lunch Explored the Impact of Biases in the Workplace 

On March 8, International Women’s Day, the Detroit Regional Chamber hosted a lunch to celebrate the annual observance under the theme of #BreakTheBias. A group of business leaders convened to discuss how businesses can continue making progress in the movement for women’s equality and engage in inclusive practices to foster diversity of thought and encourage all employees to have a voice.

The event featured a panel, moderated by Detroit journalist and media personality Christy McDonald, and included:

  • Zaneta Adams, Director, Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency
  • Priscilla Archangel, President, Archangel and Associates, LLC
  • Emily Heintz, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, EntryPoint
  • Alicia Jeffreys, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Detroit Pistons

According to McDonald, millions of women have left the labor force over the past two years. This drastic shift in the makeup of the workforce has left people to think about what decisions are being made at companies without women at the table – mainly whether the decisions reflect diverse opinions and are inclusive. It’s also allowed people to observe the common phenomenon of women leaving their jobs and returning to a lower position than they were.

This International Women’s Day lunch explored this impact and other biases women face that often impact their journey in the workforce. The event also explored how to mentor the next generation of women leaders as we continue to #BreakTheBias.

Zaneta Adams: Take Bias to T.A.S.K. to Break the Bias in Your Organization

Adams is the first person of color and woman in her position as the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency director. She is also the first woman veteran cabinet member in the state of Michigan. As she noted during her keynote, that’s a lot of firsts – something that should not continue to be a thing in 2022.

That is why businesses must prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion – not only to help the workforce get to a point where there are no longer “firsts,” but also because “diversity, equity, and inclusion increases productivity, gives you a greater understanding, helps attract great employees, and helps the bottom line of profit,” according to Adams.

Adams shared the acronym T.A.S.K. as a way businesses can break the bias and increase diversity within their organizations.

  • “T” stands for “tell your story.”
  • “A” stands for “ask questions.”
  • “S” stands for “seek information.”
  • “K” stands for “kindness,” not only in the questions you ask but also in how you answer questions.

“If you’re looking to break the bias in your organization, you take breaking the bias to T.A.S.K.,” said Adams.

Priscilla Archangel: The “ABCs” of Bias

Archangel shared her story transitioning from corporate America to starting her own consulting business, particularly from the lens of a Black woman – two identities she said are inextricably related and cannot be separated.

She was often one of the only women at the table in corporate America. Archangel took this role – both as a member of HR and as a woman – to heart and used her position to influence the team around her to consider other women for advancement in the organization.

“As the HR leader for a number of different organizations within that company, as I sat at leadership tables in IT, in engineering, in manufacturing, in sales, in marketing, in service, as I sat at those senior leadership tables as the HR person, I frequently – and really, frankly, all the time – I was the double-only in the room. The only woman and the only African American,” Archangel said, “I felt often the weight of all the women in the organization on me because I had to be the one in the room to advocate for a female’s perspective when the guys maybe didn’t always get it.”

To overcome this pressure, Archangel shared she took time to find her voice and personal style to make sure she communicated with the men the way she needed to. That was one of the and opportunities in her career.

Now that she coaches and consults clients on leadership and organizational matters, she uses her experience to educate about the “ABCs” of breaking the bias.

  • “A” = “Awareness.” Archangel stressed that you need to be aware of your bias. If you don’t talk about it, that’s when you miss identifying it when it occurs in your organization
  • “B” = “Bias is bad for your organization.” According to Archangel, in 2021, women represented 60% of college students, and approximately 40% of women have college degrees. But when you look at Fortune 500 companies, you would never know that. Only 41 chief executive officers at those companies are women, equal to 8%. Of those 41, only six are women of color; that’s only 1.2%. This discrepancy, among many others, is important for companies to recognize so they can see where in the pipeline women are getting stuck, where there is an overconcentration of women, where there are not enough women, and more.
  • “C” = “Commitment.” Archangel said that organizations should commit to understanding the systemic bias operating within the company, making a change, and putting women in leadership roles.

Emily Heintz: Tell the “common” stories to cause a societal shift and break the bias.

According to Heintz, society needs to undergo a shift for there to be a meaningful impact in breaking the bias against women. And she believes that change will happen when “we’re able to stand in our truth and be comfortable standing in our truth.”

But “standing in our truth” looks like differs for everyone. For Heintz, it means being able to talk about the experiences she’s dealt with in life that have led to her not feeling like she fit in.

For example, she grew up as a daughter to a single mom and often found herself in trouble as a youth. In college, she was unsure of what career she wanted to pick in college, and when she entered the workforce, she dealt with sexual harassment. Then, when she decided to pursue starting her own business, she was discouraged from it because she was a mom. If these experiences ring a bell or don’t seem unique, that’s because Heintz intended for it to be like that.

“Many women have similar experiences, and it needs to be discussed to break the bias,” Heintz said. “A society shift will start to happen when women are able to stand more and more in their truth; not just have the space but feel more comfortable doing so.”

Alicia Jeffreys: ROI for Break the Bias

Not only did Jeffreys have to overcome being a woman in the sports industry, but she also had to overcome being a shorter woman in the NBA, where the average height is 6’5”. This resilience to break the bias makes sitting at the leadership table one of her favorite places to be.

“Having a seat at the table is my most comfortable spot. I am literally and figuratively on equal playing field,” Jeffreys said.

But those aren’t the only biases Jeffrey had to overcome in her field. She also had to overcome being a working mom of four, which brought about many other biases.

For example, people think that she is too distracted, too nurturing, too emotional, and has other priorities. And Jeffreys said all of that is correct, but that it needs to be reframed.

Yes, she is distracted, but that makes her a super multi-tasker; yes, she is too nurturing, but that creates a trusting environment and engaged employee bases; yes, she is too emotional, but that gives her the ability to navigate challenges and lead with empathy; and yes, she has other priorities, but that creates a better work-life balance and more productive employees.

Jeffreys also mentioned the biases she faces as a Filipino woman from Flint. Her perspective growing up with an immigrant father gave her the values of hard work, sacrifice, and an appreciation for all things – values that she brings into the workplace. When people have a bias against immigrants, Jeffreys said they lose the ability to see these values they bring in.

Appreciating the diversity of your workforce and eliminating the biases will only help your organization.

“Diversity of thought – I wholeheartedly believe this – it drives progress. It drives innovation. It drives a richness of perspective. It gives texture to your employees. It gives texture to your company,” Jeffreys said. “So, I ask this question, what’s the ROI for breaking the bias? What’s the bottom line? What’s the value for changing the narrative for women, for minorities, for moms at our organizations? The value is this: if you take a moment to try and figure out what biases you might have for your employees, you might find something very special in their story.”

Thank you to the presenting sponsor of International Women’s Day lunch, Walker-Miller Energy Services LLC; gold sponsor, Michigan Economic Development Corp.; and silver sponsors, Athletico, Ideal Group, iWorker Innovations, and Southeastern Michigan Health Association.