International Women’s Day Special: #BreakTheBias

Acknowledging and addressing bias, whether conscious or unconscious, plays a crucial role in furthering diversity, equity and inclusion in our workplaces and communities. This leads to more innovation, better decision-making, and a more authentic reflection of the communities we work with.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Break the Bias,” so we asked our team to share how and why we can challenge and take action against all forms of bias, inequality and discrimination.

Please tell us about yourself and what you enjoy most about working at Islington Giving and Cripplegate Foundation?

Sarah: I am the Director of Cripplegate Foundation and Islington Giving, and I love meeting local charitable organisations, residents and groups who are working on the frontlines in Islington, trying to make things better for everyone. They inspire and energise me and fill me with hope!

Anne: I am a woman in her fifties and have been working in the voluntary sector for a long time. I joined Cripplegate and Islington Giving three years ago as a Programme Manager and became Programme Director two years ago, the week the first lockdown was called. What do I enjoy most about working for Cripplegate and Islington Giving? Lots of things – the team, the ability to work with a range of amazing local partners, the opportunity we have to develop new programmes to share the resources and power we have as a local funder. I also love that so many of the wonderful people I work with are women – both in my own team but also across the sector. We are really fortunate in Islington to have some fabulous women leading so many of our organisations.

International Women’s Day and #BreakTheBias is about ensuring that all women and girls have the opportunities to do what they want to do and what their hearts desire – that opportunities are open to them, and that there is nothing -institutional or otherwise – blocking them from thriving.

Lisa: I’ve lived in Islington for 6 years now. I have loved learning about all the amazing grassroots organisations that work hard every day to provide essential services and activities for people across the borough. As a small family, we have enjoyed Culpeper Gardens and Freightliners Farm to name just two. Islington Giving has opened my eyes to the inequality in our borough as well as some of the amazing people working hard to tackle it.

Maria: I am the Resources Officer at Cripplegate Foundation and Islington Giving and the most fascinating thing, besides helping people in need, is the 500-year continuity in our work. The staff members come and go but the Foundation is still here, and hopefully will be here, ideally until it is not needed anymore.

Nilesh: I’m Nilesh Pandya, Director of Finance and Resources at Cripplegate Foundation and Islington Giving. The thing I enjoy the most is being able to contribute to a Foundation that makes a real difference to a local community and being able to see that benefit on our doorstep.

Tam: I recently joined the team as a Digital Communications Manager, and I also sit on the DEI staff working group. I have a background in communications and marketing for non-profits and charities and have volunteered for various organisations working with young people, refugees and asylum seekers. What I love most about my role is being able to contribute to an established charity that positively impacts the lives of individuals and communities in Islington, working and meeting inspiring individuals, and working on exciting digital campaigns to raise funds for amazing local projects.

What does the International Women’s Day slogan, #BreakTheBias mean for you? 

Sarah: To me, International Women’s Day and #BreakTheBias is about ensuring that all women and girls have the opportunities to do what they want to do and what their hearts desire – that opportunities are open to them, and that there is nothing -institutional or otherwise – blocking them from thriving.

Anne: The voluntary sector has championed women in leadership roles for a long time, and has come a long way in trying to break the bias. I think women in the sector have confidence to lead and to bring other women along with them. We need to take some of the lessons learned in our sector to demonstrate good practice in other sectors. I know friends in other jobs are still often the only women in a room.  I hardly ever face that in the voluntary sector. But it has taken years to get here.

To me, #BreakTheBias also extends beyond gender bias, and includes other forms such as age, ethnicity, culture, religion and disability. Generally, it’s about striving for more diversity, equity and inclusion, where each voice and contribution is valued.

Lisa: Changing the norm. Being mindful and conscious about everyday bias and encouraging everyone to break it.

Maria: That is has a nice ring to it, but it might need a change of generations to fulfil.

Nilesh: To me, it means to firstly acknowledge that gender bias exists, but secondly to actively challenge those biases and to not accept it as a part of society.

Tam: It inspires me to think about the need to challenge dominant narratives and preconceptions that we tend to hold personally and collectively, without question. To me, it also extends beyond gender bias, and includes other forms such as age, ethnicity, culture, religion and disability. Generally, it’s about striving for more diversity, equity and inclusion, where each voice and contribution is valued.

What advice would you give to young girls and women encountering biases in work or life?

Sarah: It sounds trite, but to believe in yourself – have the self-belief that seems to come naturally to some people (and many men!), and feel free to blow your own horn sometimes. Speak up about and shine a light on biases if you can, or work with others to do so; there is power in people banding together.

Find allies and people to talk to, both women and men, and in and out of work…. If you are facing biases and discrimination, acknowledge that it takes courage to speak up.

Anne: Find allies and people to talk to, both women and men, and in and out of work. Don’t assume that your experience is the same for everyone – even if the circumstances appear to be very similar. Everyone brings their own history and experiences to situations and sometimes this is not visible. If you are facing biases and discrimination, acknowledge that it takes courage to speak up. Write down what you are experiencing and examples of where you are seeing bias. I’ve always found it gives me confident to speak if I’ve prepared what I want to say. If you are facing bias, you are also facing a power deficit, particularly if you are a young girl or woman trying to counter a difficult situation in your workplace, where you need to challenge the behaviour of older colleagues. Making some notes, thinking what you want to happen, taking to a trusted friend or colleague first – they have all helped me to challenge discrimination.

Maria: To never let it stop you. You know who you are a what other people think of you is their business. Do your best, every time.

Lisa: You are not alone. Be bold. Be brave. Find an ally.

Nilesh: To not take mine (or anyone else’s!) advice! Follow what you believe in and don’t accept the norm.

 What personal and collective actions can we take to #BreakTheBias, smash stereotypes, and/or address poverty and inequality in our communities?

Sarah: Be useful in the world, be bold (whenever possible) and help others along the way. Mentoring is a great way to do this – offering support to those like and unlike you, and learning as much from them as they might be from you.

Lisa: Speak up, speak out and be allies to each other. We can’t break the bias alone. We all need to work together to tackle inequality everywhere.

Maria: To start from ourselves. Although we might think we are not biased, there is always space for improvement.  Challenge internalised boxes and labels, question the reasons for your opinions. Even the smallest change can cause a ripple effect when we are open to it.

Tam: I think we each need to reflect on the biases and preconceptions we’ve learnt overtime and be intentional about challenging these from within. On a personal level, talking to people and getting to know them, increasing contact with people who are different from us, and proactively seeking opportunities to educate ourselves, are some of the best ways to break down our biases. There are many different types of bias – and collectively, I think we need to be open, curious, critical and authentic, as these are qualities that can inspire real change.

 Although we might think we are not biased, there is always space for improvement.  Challenge internalised boxes and labels, question the reasons for your opinions. Even the smallest change can cause a ripple effect when we are open to it.