Imagine: What if You Could Turn Implicit Bias into Your Superpowers?

Issue 186 — December 6, 2021

Dr. Harbeen Arora enters a full room of women leaders from around the world. She lightly clangs a spoon against a teacup. Immediately, attention focuses on this petite woman, whose passion fuels her intention for global gender equality. Soft spoken and eminently gracious, she calls one by one on the G100 global chairs and then country chairs eager to join in her bold vision; she aims to mobilize a global network of powerful women and men who support the effort to turn the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #5, to “Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls” by 2030 from rhetoric to reality.

Here Arora, founder of the Global 100 speaks to women from around the globe gathered to join her initiative for gender parity.

Dr. Arora has built a successful high-end ayurvedic home and personal care product company, Bioayurveda, founded the Women Economic Forum (WEF, where I first met her when I spoke at one of her global conferences) and the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a university, and much more. She’s gently but persistently persuasive — when she invited me to be the global chair for leadership development, I quickly said yes, even though I was in the throes of finishing and launching my book Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good.

Of course I had to give Harbeen Arora a copy of Intentioning.

Her timing couldn’t be better, in the wake of a global pandemic that experts say has set women’s advancement back by a decade or more, and predictions by the World Economic Forum that closing the global gender gap has increased from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

And yet, despite the bad news, the imperative for gender equality has entered the cultural ethos.

Every CEO knows that to keep the company profitable and to avoid shareholder revolts, it’s important to recruit and retain women and people of color in top leadership.

Confession: I had to rewrite that sentence to make it gender neutral and therefore equal. In my first draft, I referred to the CEO as “he.” Implicit biases are so deeply rooted in our culture that even people such as myself, alert to sexism and biases of all kinds, fall prey to them from time to time. Researchers have found that both men and women initially think “man” when they think “leader.” Some biases are called implicit or unconscious precisely because they are just that, and therefore they are much more difficult to eradicate than more tangible characteristics.

Katica Roy is turning implicit bias on its head with AI

No one knows this better than Katica Roy, a gender economist and the CEO and founder of Denver-based Pipeline Equity, an award-winning SaaS platform that leverages artificial intelligence to identify and drive economic gains through gender equity. Pipeline launched the first gender equity app on Salesforce’s AppExchange.

Melding her personal background with her professional expertise, Roy founded Pipeline using data science and technology to change the way companies view gender equity. A former programmer, user-interface/user-experience designer, and data analytics expert, Roy harnesses her unique combination of skills at Pipeline Equity to bridge the gender equity gap; she provides businesses with a fresh perspective around gender bias in the workforce and the data and tactical roadmap to eliminate it.

“The future of revenue is about utilizing artificial intelligence to enable employers to make decisions to maximize the potential of their workforce. When 78% of CEOs say gender equity is one of their top 10 priorities while only 22% of employees say that gender diversity is regularly measured and shared, the leaky workforce pipeline is not being addressed and leaving financial returns on the table. So how do employers identify the cracks in the workforce pipeline and improve their financial performance?” she asks.

She has been her family’s breadwinner for over a decade. Her husband is a stay-at-home dad. Her motivation for founding her company came from being incensed by her personal experience of an injustice that propels what is now her superpower — creating AI methodology to remove implicit bias from internal promotions.

In March 2020, she wrote for NBC News, “While I was on maternity leave with my daughter a few years ago, my boss was fired. Within two weeks of returning to work from maternity leave, I went from managing one team of employees to managing three. A great opportunity, but there was a catch. My male colleague who was one job level higher than me had taken on one additional team and, as I later found out, received additional compensation for doing so. I received nothing. I went to my new manager and HR to ask them how they wanted to close this pay gap. To my surprise, they said nothing. At this point I knew I needed to do research. What were my rights in this situation? I found the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which changed the statute of limitations for equal pay. I called HR and said, ‘This is a Lilly Ledbetter Issue, every time you pay me, the statute of limitations starts over. What do you want to do about it?’ ”

Drum roll, please! They paid Roy back wages and increased her salary. But this left her wondering why her children should have less economic opportunity simply because their mother is the breadwinner? She decided to close the gender equity gap first by reframing it as an economic issue (which she correctly describes as a massive one) and second by using her skills to create a way for companies to solve the problem of inequity in internal promotions with the use of artificial intelligence data and algorithms that help remove implicit bias from processes and procedures.

In April 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Roy wrote a call to action in her extensive “Economy and Industry” piece for The Mandarin. It should be reprinted in every media outlet on earth, in my opinion. From the intro: “Our response to COVID-19 is fundamentally a question of who we are. When we say that ensuring the wellbeing of half the world’s population matters, do we believe it? Or do we say it to be diplomatic? Most indicators would suggest it’s the latter, as we’ve spent decades admiring the problem of gender inequity with little to show for our efforts. Not one country in the entire world can say it has achieved equality among the genders.”

Like Harbeen Arora, Katica Roy throws down the challenge: “We are rapidly exhausting our list of excuses when it comes to achieving gender equity.”

For turning implicit bias into our superpower, Roy advises, “We are wired to keep us safe, not happy. Work on mindset. Meditate and pray in the morning to make sure you’re on the path. There is always something to be afraid of; you can manufacture fear. Always have the end goal in mind and be flexible in how you get there. Trust yourself. Planning is good but don’t be so tied to a plan that you are not flexible. Trade security for being able to decide when and how to be flexible.”

In other words, clarity about what you are intentioning is a superpower that you can unleash if you give yourself permission, and if you turn those injustices in your path into inspiration to create the change you want to see.

Join me in a LinkedIn Live conversation with Katica Roy on December 10 at 1pm EST where we will discuss what it will take to overcome setbacks from the pandemic, how to eliminate the pervasive gender pay gap, and more. We welcome your questions during the Live and if you prefer you can message them to me via LinkedIn or Twitter @GloriaFeldt.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.

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Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.

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Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.

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