Learning to break my own biases


By Emma McMullan, Director Bupa Clinics.

Each year on International Women’s Day, I try to take some time to reflect upon my own experiences in society and the workplace and am constantly amazed by how things always make more sense when they’re looked back upon than they do in the moment. I believe the reason for this is bias. Not solely the bias of others (though this certainly is a major factor for all women), but rather the biases we hold about ourselves when making decisions.

While I now sit in a leadership position overseeing the work of many talented women and men, I have had to overcome my own sense of where I thought I belonged in the world to get here.

I often tell people of an instance many years ago in a previous role where my manager made the decision to move on to a new opportunity. Soon after, the company advertised for their role. What became apparent to me was that I was almost the last person to think that I should apply for that position.

My partner was encouraging me to apply for the role but something inside of me was not letting myself believe I had a shot at getting the job or if I did get it, succeeding at it. That was my own bias talking.

The process I went through to break that bias and bypass the negativity coursing through the emotional part of my brain was not revolutionary… it was a checklist. I tend to need to go through my own processes so I printed off the job description and ticked off what I thought I could do and couldn’t do in the new role.

This forced me to be really honest with myself as I checked off the boxes and while there were some aspects of the role I knew I would need to work on, ultimately, I finished the process believing I could do it and wanting to do it. Oh, and by the way, I got the job!

This is just one example of how I have needed to think rationally to break my own biases about myself, biases that for many women are deeply embedded in their psyche most likely as a result of historical inequalities and their own personal experiences.

While I know many women are not so lucky as to have the opportunities that I have had in my career, I believe I was able to overcome some of the challenges I faced because I wasn’t forced to face these biases alone. I had the support of my partner, colleagues, and mentors across the journey who asked difficult questions of me, who wouldn’t accept me believing that I was less than I was. To those women and men (many of you will know who you are) … thank you.

So my message this year is not to encourage people to make lists, the world has enough of them! Rather I encourage you to be a booster for a woman in your professional, family, or social life. Encourage them to think deeply about their capabilities and how much they can achieve if they break through their own biases. Even point out the things you know that they can do.

I believe it just comes down to caring about people at a human level which is why I love working for a company whose purpose is to help people live longer, healthier, happier lives and make a better world. It helps keep me honest about what I want to achieve in everything from strategic planning to casual conversations with my colleagues.

There’s no doubt that there’s still lots of work we have to do as a society to deliver true equality to women but by leading with our own mindset changes and an encouraging word or two to a friend, family member or colleague, you can start your own personal journey today. #BreakTheBias