Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day are a time to recognize the impact women have had on the world. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. It’s intended to shed light on the stereotypes and discrimination women face and how we can address that bias to create a more diverse and inclusive world.
This theme means a lot to me as I have seen bias at both work and in my personal life. When you are experiencing bias, it’s frustrating and it feels so obvious to you, yet often to the other side it is absolutely unconscious. It’s a total blind spot. I hope this month’s theme inspires more people to talk about biases they have experienced and how to eliminate bias-like behaviors to create a much richer work environment for everyone.
Conversations around bias in the workplace can be uncomfortable. I’ve found that people don’t really want the truth, most just want to be comfortable. They don’t want to rock the boat. But there is a lot of discomfort in route to greatness! When we start having real, authentic, curious, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations where we shed light on biased behavior or openly discuss rigorous processes for an equitable environment, we can make incredible progress with practices for caring and engaging employees. As people become more self-aware, they begin to see the world a bit differently which ultimately cultivates a culture of deep belonging. When the human spirit is lit up, amazing outcomes can be produced!
So, what is the best tool to help break the bias? Tell your personal story. As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Sharing experiences to demonstrate why people should have compassion and empathy for those facing bias can go a long way and can make our unconscious biases more visible.
To celebrate Women’s History Month and facilitate conversations around breaking biases, our Women’s Leadership Council Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Extreme Networks has an engaging lineup of events planned for employees. We will have a special guest speaker, Minette Norman, who will share insights and leadership skills with employees, and we’re hosting a guest roundtable with female leaders from the sports and technology industries, who will share how they broke through the glass ceiling in historically male-dominated industries. We’re also encouraging employees to share their own stories internally with colleagues.
When we started our Women’s Leadership Council at Extreme Networks four years ago, we set big goals for better representation in the workplace. Over the course of these four years, we have seen a 30% increase in both women in our workplace and a 37% increase in women in senior executive roles! We have had many accomplishments as a group since we started, and we’re not stopping. Over the next 12 months, we plan to bring in more guest speakers, sponsor educational seminars, and drive more participation in the mentorship program that our ERG pioneered at Extreme.
At Extreme, we believe that we should celebrate our employees every day, and we work hard to provide opportunities to amplify the voices of everyone, including our female team members. We do our best to create a sense of belonging and pride to further engage our employees.
If your organization wants to start a Diversity and Inclusion Program like Extreme, my best advice is to go for it! As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” It is important to note that a strong D&I program must have support that starts at the top. At Extreme we have an incredible champion in our CEO Ed Meyercord, who has been nothing but supportive of all our D&I Initiatives and has taken an active role in helping to make sure our ERGs are able to thrive.
A strong D&I program doesn’t happen overnight, but setting a goal to improve the culture in the workplace is a great first step to helping your company succeed. I am proud that we seek to hear out employee voices and empower an open and collaborative culture for nondominant groups in our workplace. We are not afraid to take data, reflect on it, and take action to help our company improve. Extreme has embraced the theme of #BreakTheBias in our work culture and has fostered an environment where each individual is able to thrive, and the company benefits as a result.
This blog was originally authored by Sarah Nesland, Head of Enterprise Sales.