Get Reworked Podcast Episode 24 Joan C. Willliams

Get Reworked Podcast: How to Interrupt Bias in Your Company

December 07, 2021 Leadership
Mike Prokopeak
By Mike Prokopeak, Siobhan Fagan

Get Reworked Podcast Episode 24 Guest Joan C. Williams
Remote and hybrid work is a golden opportunity to make real progress toward diversity and inclusion goals, but only if companies handle it right.

In this episode of Get Reworked, we talk to Joan C. Williams, professor at University of California Hastings School of Law and author of Bias Interrupted: Creating Inclusion for Real and for Good, about that opportunity and the role organizations can play in interrupting bias at work. Here's a tip: Just having a conversation about it isn't enough.

Listen: Get Reworked Podcast Full Episode List

"If you had a problem with sales, you wouldn't respond to it by having a conversation about sales, and then expect anything to change," Joan said. "You would analyze the sales process, figure out what's going wrong, develop metrics to establish baselines and measure progress, and then keep trying evidence-based strategies to achieve your goals. You wouldn't have a sincere conversation about sales and designate National Celebrate Sales Month and expect anything to change."

Highlights of the conversation include:

  • Why diversity, equity and inclusion programs in many organizations fail to solve the challenge of bias.
  • The places where bias in organizational systems show up and how that harms women and people of color.
  • How to design hiring processes, performance evaluations and succession planning to be more equitable.
  • Why change needs to come from the top and the bottom of the organization.

Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak talk to Joan about why she has made studying and interrupting bias her life's work and talk about their bi-weekly live conversations with audience members on Twitter Spaces. Listen in for more.

Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Mike Prokopeak: Welcome to Get Reworked, your guide to the revolution of work. My name is Mike Prokopeak, and I'm editor in chief at Reworked.

Siobhan Fagan: And I'm Siobhan Fagan, managing editor for Reworked. At, we're dedicated to covering the people, the culture, the technology and the infrastructure that makes up our quickly evolving workplaces.

Mike: Get Reworked is our podcast, brought to you by Simpler Media Group, where you'll hear from industry pioneers leading the way into the future of work, reshaping not just how we work, but also why. We're excited to bring you conversations about best practices, workplace trends and key technologies that support the modern distributed workforce.

Hey, Siobhan, how are you?

Siobhan: All right, Mike, how are you doing today?

Mike: I'm good. So one of the things that we've been focusing on at Reworked is the remote work revolution, the rise of the digital workplace, and what that means for how we go about our work. And we've seen nothing short of a revolution of the workplace.

And as folks are looking to this next phase of work, they're thinking about remote and hybrid operations. It was sort of promised at the beginning of this movement about a year and a half, two years ago that this could be a great equalizer at work, that it would open up opportunities free from geography, free from the limitations of space, and people would be able to work and contribute and advance their careers in ways that perhaps they wouldn't have before. But that's not necessarily turning out to be the case, is it, Siobhan?

Siobhan: No, I'm still holding out hope that we can get this right down the line. But some of the things that we've seen during the last two years, is women in larger numbers having to leave the workforce entirely to take care of people at home because they have more caregiving duties. We've seen businesses who said that they would be able to hire from a broader pool, and then they suddenly decided, no, we're not going to go for the all remote thing and so we're not going to be able to hire these people from afar, you need to come back to the office, but there's still hope.

Mike: There's still hope. And I think there's also the fact that a lot of what we're doing in the digital workplace is yet to be told. We're still kind of in the middle of this experiment, and so we're still trying to figure out where it's going to go. And one of the areas that we're hearing of late coming into the conversation is the idea of bias, and particularly proximity bias, this idea that, as we go back into the office and hybrid situations that, the folks who are back in the office are going to get the good career opportunities, are going to be the ones who are going to be tapped for the interesting and meaningful work that could advance their career. And that's a real problem for organizations as they try to manage it.

So that's in part why we wanted to bring in our guest for today, Joan Williams, who is a distinguished professor of law, and the founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings Law. She is the author of the recently published book, Bias Interrupted: Creating Inclusion for Real and for Good, and really has a wealth of experience on the topic of bias and how we can address it at work in a productive way. So I'm looking forward to this conversation. How about you, Siobhan?

Siobhan: I am too, Mike.

Mike: All right, let's Get Reworked.

The Problem With Diversity and Inclusion as It's Been Practiced

Mike: Welcome to the podcast, Joan.

Joan Williams: Delighted to be here.

Mike: Well, it's a pleasure to have you here because we're gonna be talking about a really important topic in the workplace, and that's bias. And I really want to get into it with you on the topic of the new ways that we're working in the digital workplace, the remote and hybrid operating models, that we now are increasingly working in.

But before we do that, I want to maybe take a step back and talk to you a bit about the focus of your work and bias in general, because I think in the last year and-a half events have made diversity and inclusion increasingly important in companies, we've seen a lot of companies now hiring chief diversity officers to tackle the problem of inequality in the workplace. But there is a potential problem here in that they may be going about it in a way that is suboptimal, that maybe won't help them achieve the results they're hoping to achieve.

So that's what I want to start with. I want to ask you about a statement that you've written about and have said that the basic tools of, what you're calling the "diversity industrial complex," are not necessarily right for addressing the problem of bias in the workplace. What's wrong with diversity training, employee resource groups, the mentoring programs that we've been putting in place in organizations?

Joan: Yeah, well, there's nothing wrong with them, and they can particularly employee resource groups and mentoring the like, that can help people navigate what's out there and help people who are underrepresented to build networks and to find each other. But it's not really responsive to the basic problem. Because if your company faces a challenge with diversity and inclusion, research shows that it's typically because subtle and not so subtle forms of bias are constantly being transmitted through your basic business systems, through hiring, through performance evaluations, through who gets access to opportunities.

And so the thing to do is to fix the business systems, whereas a lot of what we've done before, employee resource groups is a good example, focuses on the underrepresented folks, what you need to do is to fix how everybody, including the majority interacts in informal workplace interactions, and in those business systems like filling out a performance evaluation.

Mike: So if we're looking at, let's say employee resource groups again, one way that we have attempted to deal with the problem of bringing in the, quote unquote, mainstream group into the conversation is to have executive sponsors, for example, people who are business leaders, who then are part of the employee resource group. So they're part of that conversation, and hearing the experience of groups that have been perhaps discriminated against in the workplace, is that not sufficient just to have them there as part of the conversation?

Joan: You know, in business, for example, if you had a problem with sales, you wouldn't respond to it by having a conversation about sales, and then expect anything to change. Conversations, they're great. They are not an effective organizational change strategy. If you had a problem with sales, you would analyze the sales process, figure out what's going wrong, develop metrics to establish baselines and measure progress, and then keep trying evidence-based strategies to achieve your goals. You wouldn't have a sincere conversation about sales and designate National Celebrate Sales Month and expect anything to change.

Unfortunately, you just need to use basic business tools. But in diversity and inclusion context, too often we focused on having a sincere conversation and kind of called it a day far too often. Also, going back to the point that what's the real problem, is that bias is being constantly transmitted through those basic business systems. Even companies that have hired a head of diversity and inclusion and really felt a good deal of commitment, typically have not given the head of diversity and inclusion the ability to change the business systems that are producing the bias that produce the lack of inclusion. And so too often heads of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) have not been set up to succeed.

How to Effectively Counteract Systemic Bias in the Workplace

Siobhan: Joan, can I ask are businesses actually focusing on the right things when they start these DE&I initiatives?

Joan: Very often, in the past they just figured well, we'll do a bias training and kind of call it a day. That has been shown by research not to be effective. Again, for a simple reason. One conversation is not an effective organizational change strategy.

Also, a lot of those bias trainings focus on sensitivity. This is really not an issue of sensitivity. This is really an issue of understanding what bias looks like, giving people usable strategies where they can interrupt in their daily travels, and most important, designing your systems like performance evaluations so that in an evidence, research-based way, you will interrupt the bias that otherwise we know from the research will creep into those business systems.

So the short answer is, Siobban, no, we haven't been doing much that's been effective enough.

Mike: So Joan, I want to ask you about something you wrote, which is, you wrote that like interest bias compounds. And before we kind of dive into actually how do we actually address it and what are some specific examples of that, can you tell us what that means? I mean, how does bias compound over time?

Joan: Well, if you think about it if somebody has to prove themselves over and over and over again, whereas some people are judged on potential but I'm being judged strictly on what I've already accomplished, I'm already starting out in a hole there. And that may be true. My credentials may have to be platinum edged in order to get the job in the first place. And then when I'm in the job, if I make a mistake, oh my gosh, you know, everybody backs off. Like I knew that person wasn't a good fit. So that's the second echo of bias.

And so I don't get good work. Whereas somebody else from the majority group who made a mistake, it's just overlooked. That could happen to anyone. So now I've had more trouble getting hired. And I have been judged more harshly when I made a mistake. And now the third echo is, therefore people don't give me good assignments. So if you don't give me good assignments, I ain't go nowhere fast. And so the fourth echo is that I don't get a promotion. And the fifth echo is that I don't get a raise. And you know, the sixth echo is I look up and I see there's no future for me here, and I'm gone. So that's an example of how bias compounds.

How Systemic Bias Works in Organizations

Mike: One last question as a background here, and I'm hoping you can kind of make this clear, the difference between systemic bias in action and bias and individual behavior. Because I think a lot of the focus around unconscious bias training is based off of how do we change individuals, usually a leader's or manager's behavior, but not always. So, can you give us a concrete example of what systemic bias looks like versus a bias in our interpersonal relations?

Joan: I'll give you two examples from what I call the tightrope, technical name prescriptive bias. It's that authoritativeness and assertiveness are more accepted from some groups than others. Typically, they're accepted quite readily from white men, but much, much less so from women, and less so as well from men of color.

So this tightrope bias, the way to arm individuals to interrupt it is to tell them this is one of the most common forms of bias. So when you think of someone is, whoa, that person is too much. Just run it through your head and think that if a white man had behaved that way, would you be responding in the same way? But that's just what we call an individual bias interrupter, important to have in the mix. But not the real answer.

The way to find out whether tightrope bias is affecting your performance evaluations, and research suggests that it probably is if you're not taking conscious steps to interrupt it, is to in performance evaluations, separate out skill sets that need to be developed from personality issues that need to be addressed. And then go back and look and see who has personality issues that need to be addressed. And if it's overwhelmingly women, as the research suggests that it will be, and our research also suggests that people of color are affected more than white people, then you need to put that structural basis for making sure that you monitor it by separating out skill sets from personality issues.

Another example of what you should be doing in performance evaluation to interrupt both that "prove-it-again" bias that some groups have to prove themselves more than others and the tightrope bias, is that performance evaluations should be rating people competency by competency according to the same rubric rather than just giving an overall global rating of like exceeds expectations. Those overall global ratings, 40 years of research shows, are kind of a Petri dish for bias. You need to be rating people skill by skill on a consistent rubric.

The Meritocracy Challenge 

Siobhan: So Joan, you became known for that phrase, the bias interrupters, from a 2014 Harvard Business Review article that you wrote. And in that article, this is seven years ago, you were talking about the idea of meritocracy and how that gets in the way of being a bias interrupter, how people who believe they are working for a meritocracy will not actively do the work to interrupt these biases and action. You were speaking then specifically in the framework of the tech world. But I'm wondering if this issue still exists now, and if companies that believe they are meritocracies can actually interrupt bias?

Joan: It's a great question. The research does show, this is research out of MIT, that organizations that believe they are meritocracies actually show more bias than organizations that don't for exactly the reason that you've pinpointed. They don't consciously interrupt it.

And our research shows, and we now have what's called the workplace experiences survey, which is like a really simple 10-minute climate survey that will pinpoint every pattern of bias where it's playing out and the impact on outcome measures, like belonging and intent to stay, and we've 18,000 people at this point almost, and we find again and again, that white men much more than any other group see the workplace as a true meritocracy. They see the workplace systems as much more fair as a group than other groups do.

And so one of the kind of sobering messages of our research, and a lot of other research, is that organizations that we would like to feel are meritocracies, they are not meritocracies for many groups. These groups report higher levels of bias and lower levels of fairness than white men do.

Design the Performance Evaluation System to Interrupt Bias

Mike: I'm glad you brought that up. Because one of the things that we've learned or have been told as a way to sort of address this is to first of all, just be aware of the biases that are inherent in the systems that we may perceive as meritocracy, but in fact, are being discriminatory towards other groups that don't come from that same background. What else can we do to help to kind of break this cycle, beyond just being aware that it's happening, beyond being aware of unconscious bias?

Joan: Yeah, I think it's important to realize, first of all, that no one is just a packet of privilege. The fact that you are a white man from a college educated family doesn't mean that you don't have a lot of challenges in your life, a lot of unfairness, a lot of pain. It just means that you don't have all of those things that stem from your status as a white man from a college educated family in a professional job. That's all it means.

But that said, you do get like an invisible escalator that you're often not aware of, for example, you may be judged on your potential and not have to prove yourself as much as colleagues do if they're women or people of color. So it's best to be aware of that as a white man. But I think your question, Mike, is really important, because it shows that the people who are listening to this podcast who are in HR, for example, play such an important role in interrupting bias because one of the ways to make sure that again and again and again, in, you know, compounding ways we talked about, white men aren't judged on potential and everybody else on what they've already accomplished, is to design the performance evaluation system, to design the hiring process, in a way that, again, rates people on specific competencies according to a consistent rubric.

And so I think sometimes white men feel like oh, my God, you know, I didn't ask to be privileged. I don't even quite see how I'm privileged, and what the heck am I supposed to do about it? I think in many ways that addressing these diversity challenges is an issue in which HR and DE&I should be playing a major role by structuring the business systems in a way that seamlessly interrupts the bias that otherwise will happen day after day after day after day in this compounding way. This is a complex technical organizational change problem, and the entity that should be solving it is the organization.

Mike: So is there a limit though, to the business approach to tackling DE&I challenges in organizations? I ask that because a fundamental principle of your work has been about creating the statistical case for this that, OK, let's do real significant research on this. And as you said, we wouldn't just have a conversation about sales, we would actually go in and figure out specifically what's happening.

But that's a bit different from many of these issues which are personal and perhaps emotional for many people. So what's the line between you know, let's have a business conversation and verging over into the personal? How would you address that sort of dynamic?

Joan: I think there are really two very different sorts of things. One is something a lot of organizations are doing, which is having a conversation that encourages people of color, for example, to speak openly about their experience at the company. And this is often felt, I think, by people of color to be super helpful. It may increase their sense of belonging.

I mean, I know as a white person when I began to study race I was really shocked at the experiences that my subjects were reporting. I was like, whoa, I studied white women for a long time and this is totally different. I do think those conversations are important. That said, that's not an organizational change strategy. It may be a personal growth strategy, and it may increase a little bit, you don't know.

But actually, I'm really excited now because we've just got a major grant and we are looking for organizations to partner with who will go in and say, Look, we want to look at our performance evaluation system and see if it's transmitting bias, and if it is, we want to use evidence-based strategies to make it better and measure and see if it has succeeded.

Or another thing we haven't mentioned, which is maybe the most important thing, is that 80% to 90% of white men report fair access to career-enhancing work in study after study after study, again. This is like 18,000 people. But women and people of color are much less likely to report that 53% of black women in one study reported fair access to career-enhancing work, whereas like almost 85% of white men did.

And so we are looking for a company, and tech companies actually would be great for this because they already keep track of who gets what assignments, and so you do a little pilot, here's the baseline and then tell people about this problem, and how they can solve it. Give them tools to solve it, and then go back and measure and see if it's worked. And so we're looking for companies to run these pilots with because what we really need are proven strategies where you can tweak the organizational systems, and show that there are decreases in bias as a result. That's really what's going to move us forward.

Interrupting Bias Is a Career-Defining Journey

Siobhan: So Joan, I'm hoping now for us to take just a little break to get to know you a little bit more. We were curious, when we were planning this podcast, what brought you into this field of study originally.

Joan: I would say started with "me-search." I started out studying work-life issues which are basically a form of gender bias issues. And then as I got more senior, I began to really experience two out of the five patterns of bias in my own life really, really severely. And I had always thought that I had never really encountered "prove-it-again" bias. And then when I began to research this literature, I realized that when I was coming up for tenure, a law professor in my institution had to have two articles, and I said, how about eight. So I had eight articles when I came up for tenure. And I actually said at the time, privately, I'm going to make it litigable not to tenure me. And so I had internalized prove-it-again bias. I knew that I was facing prove-it-again bias, and I would have to hit the ball out of the park in order to get tenure.

But then I also encountered a lot of tightrope bias. I was brought up to behave in a direct, assertive sort of way, and that is less accepted even now and certainly was in the 80s, less accepted from women than for men, and tug of war bias, when bias against a group fuels conflicts within the group. I was in an organization where the women were kind of at each other's throats. So I wanted to know whether, you know, is this just me, and so I decided to interview a group of highly placed women and I told them, here's what bias looks like. Here's what the studies say. Any of that sound familiar? Ninety six percent of the women said they had encountered bias. So that's really where I started.

And then I began to be really interested in women of color, because I was interested in gender, not just white women. And then I began to be interested in the parallels and divergences between racial bias and gender bias and that's kind of where I've ended up.

I'm also really super interested in social class and have written a lot about the impact of class on American politics. So I also think it's really important to recognize that if you're in white-collar jobs, people whose parents didn't graduate from college, in some of our studies in some organizations, report lower levels of belonging than even people of color. And so it's important to add class into your diversity initiative, and if you do, you will be helping people of color more as well, because a lot of the problems they face are because they are people of color. But some of the problems they face are because so many more of them are first-generation professionals.

Siobhan: So I brought up your 2014 Harvard Business Review article, but you have clearly been researching this for a much longer time, about how long have you been working in this field, just to give our audience a sense of that?

Joan: if you count the work-life issues — I haven't mentioned the pattern of bias that stems from motherhood, it's actually the strongest form of bias, called maternal wall bias — if you count that I've been researching this, I hate to say it, from since about 1985.

Siobhan: Sad, because I know what pushed you into it, but impressive at the same time.

Joan: As my husband says, I'm like a dog with a bone, once I got in my mouth, I do not let go.

Siobhan: So I would imagine over this period of time since you have started this work, that you get some pushback on some of your opinions, on some of the approaches that you suggest. How do you constructively deal with that kind of backlash?

Joan: Well, I read the book Difficult Conversations. I enjoy difficult conversations. I have, since I was a high school student, been interested in understanding people who are just profoundly unlike me.

And I continue to be really interested in talking to people across great chasms of difference. For example, one of the things that we have been doing recently that I've super enjoyed is working with a company with high levels of anti-diversity backlash. In this company, nearly a third of white men said, basically, the biggest diversity problem we have here is too much focus on diversity, and it's corroding meritocracy.

And so that's really an intellectual and empathy challenge, to try to connect with people who, you know, this is a this is a threatening conversation. So it's a threatening conversation for white people, it's a threatening conversation for men. And I just think it's fascinating to try to move the ball forward in a context where there's a lot of hurt feelings, and a lot of skeletons and a lot of self-interest in keeping things kind of the way they've always been done.

The Opportunity for DEI in Remote and Hybrid Work

Siobhan: So Joan, that phrase actually gives me the perfect segue for my next question, because we've seen during our whole remote work experiment of the last almost two years now, a lot of people who felt quite uncomfortable because it wasn't how we always worked. It wasn't how we always got things done. And I'm just wondering if the last two years, this increasingly digital way that we're working, has uncovered any new areas of bias or potentially manifested to the five that you've referenced in a new way that was unexpected?

Joan: One of the biggest challenges in working on social inequality, which, as I've already said, I have been for nearly 40 years, is that social inequality is really resilient. It's really hard to change. But the last two years have been amazing to me, as someone who was literally part of the generation that invented these flexible work arrangements, including remote work. And then for oh, over 20 years, they didn't catch on very much. And we were looking at each other going like this is just a failure of imagination. People just can't bend their minds around remote work. And I got so disheartened, I actually stopped working on work-life issues. I thought, like, nothing's happening, I'm out of here.

And then all of a sudden, in three weeks time in March 2020, the failure of imagination was remedied. And we all started to work remote, and we all learned how to do it. And that has tremendous positive implications for women because they still end up doing most of the household management and a highly disproportionate amount of the childcare and housework. And it's far easier to first of all, for a lot of people, if they don't commute, they save an hour or more out of their days. And they can take little bites to pick up the kids from school, etc, if they're in professional jobs.

And there's an increasing interest among young men to also play a much more active role in their children's daily care. And so I think that the shift to remote work and the normalizing of remote work can have a very positive impact on diversity on the gender front. Interestingly enough, it's also true on the racial front because according at least to one study, black employees were much more likely than white employees to want to continue to work remote. Really, for a simple reason, I mean, the sort of banter around the water cooler is a lot more comfortable for some people than others.

Often again, when I started to study race, I was just aghast at the kind of experiences of disrespect that are commonly reported by black people in professional contexts. And so a lot of people, my buds have been telling me oh, my goodness, it's so much better to work from home because I don't have to deal with all that stuff all the time. And this study confirmed that's a widespread feeling and that black people and perhaps people of color in general are much more likely to want to work remote to avoid those kind of micro-aggressions.

So remote work is fantastic for diversity if it's well-managed. If it's not going to be well-managed, it will further corrode diversity and inclusion. And that's chiefly because if you have what we call onsite favoritism, if the people who are working onsite are given preferential access to the best assignments, for example, and the people who are working onsite are predominantly not people of color, or white women, then this is just going to make diversity goals harder to achieve.

That's why it's so important in the transition to remote work to do it right, which is why we created a toolkit, which is now online at, a return to hybrid work toolkit. And there are a lot of other basic diversity tools in the Bias Interrupted: Creating Inclusion for Real and for Good, my new book, that will help organizations really take advantage of this key moment in time where if they handle the transition to hybrid correctly, they can really, really achieve progress towards their diversity goals.

How to Watch Out for Proximity Bias

Mike: I'm glad you brought that up, because that topic, of I've heard it called proximity bias that, once folks return back to the office, the people who are in closest proximity them in-person are the ones who will have the opportunities. But as you said, it does kind of it creates a complicating factor for organizations as they do this, if you're actually going to be increasing bias or increasing inequality within the organization as you do that, it's a challenge.

But let's assume folks get back to the office successfully, whatever that term means. What should they be watching out for to address that proximity bias that may creep back in once things return to some semblance of normal?

Joan: Organizations anyway should be keeping track of who gets career enhancing assignments, and who does what we call the office housework. And the office housework is everything from literal housework, like planning parties and get-togethers; to administrative work, who sends the follow up email finds a time to meet; emotion work, who comforts people who are upset, which has exploded during the pandemic; and also undervalued work who does the work that is really non-promotable although it's important work.

The research strongly, strongly, strongly shows that women of all races do more of the office housework. And as I've mentioned, get women and people of color, both sexes, have less access to career-enhancing assignments. And so organizations should be keeping track of who does the office housework. We have a free open-source survey. Really easy to find that out. That's again on the Bias Interrupters website, and who does the glamour work we call it. And again, there's a toolkit online to help you find out who's doing the glamour work. And in the return from hybrid toolkit, it points out that you should be keeping track of access to who gets the glamour work, not only by the regular DE&I categories of women, people of color, etc., but who is on site and who is not on site. And this is a perfect opportunity to do something that organizations sorely the need to do anyway, which is find out who is doing the glamor work, and who is doing the office housework.

And you know, you may be happily surprised. But if you aren't keeping track, I think I unfortunately have a prediction as to who's doing each disproportionately. So keep track. And then if you find something that you don't like, you don't want to continue, then there are very concrete tools, again both in the Bias Interrupted book, and on the Bias Interrupters website to help you do that.

And one point that the book mix really strongly in the two chapters addressed directly to CEOs, is that in order to change access to opportunity at a company that really has to start from the CEO. Because it's not as if HR or the head of DE&I has the ability to change the mandates in the incentives of the mid-level managers who are the ones who often determine who has access to opportunity at key career points. The CEO has to send a strong message to managers that the company is serious about this. And that's just another way that sometimes companies don't completely set their heads of DE&I up for success, or HR for that matter.

Top Down or Bottom Up Approach to Change?

Siobhan: Joan, I want to ask here because you're talking about so much of these decisions, which are coming from the C-Suite down. But what we've seen over the last two years is a lot of grassroots organizing both outside of the workplace and inside of the workplace among employees. So I was hoping you could talk a little bit about that dynamic, about what role individual employees can play in pushing for these kinds of changes while recognizing that the actual systemic changes need to come from up top.

Joan: You always need change from the top and change from the bottom. If you have both, you are much more likely to make progress than if you just have the one or the other.

In terms of being a change agent from the bottom or from the middle for that matter, from the bottom, I would just say, actually, from the middle too, my advice to anyone who really wants to play an active role, first of all, I don't think all women have to place improving companies' diversity at the top of their business goals. After all, all men don't. But if you do place that as your personal goals, what I would say is that, what I would hope and expect from you is that you use all the political capital that you have to do that, and not one bit more. Because if you try to use too much, you're just going to hurt your career. And that won't help the diversity of the company, that will hurt both you and the diversity of the company.

But the important research here shows that there's only one group that can really be active diversity advocates without threatening their careers, and that's white men. So white men can be very active in saying I'm a manager, and I mean, there's, there's really simple tools to use. We have again, on the Bias Interrupters website, we have a simple two-pager that you can hand out to everyone and walk and talk them through it before they do performance evaluations. And in an experiment, we found that that can increase both the bonuses and the performance evaluations of both people of color and women. So there are a lot of tools that are free and open access on the web that we've developed for your use.

Wrap Up and Final Thoughts

Mike: So as we bring this conversation to a close, Joan, I want to say you sound hopeful that this latest phase of what we've gone through over the last year and a half, two years is a potential for some positive change.

If you look at what's coming out of this, what do you see as a successful end goal of kind of where we're at in this moment? What would you say it's something that a better workplace would look like?

Joan: A meritocracy, Mike. What I see as the end goal is a true meritocracy where anyone who works hard and has the smarts to get ahead, can get ahead. And that unfortunately in too many of our organizations, painful as it is to hear, that's not what we have today.

And one of the reasons I am optimistic is because social change doesn't happen in a steady curve upwards. It happens as kind of a threshold effect. And we've just seen in the past two years, a complete sea change when it comes to remote work. Now, you know, it was stalled for 20, maybe 30 years, and then all of a sudden it changed in three weeks. So that's amazing to me. You know, am I cosmically hopeful? Well, you know, I just I always say I'm hopeful because it's an intellectual challenge to be hopeful. It's just too easy not to be hopeful.

Siobhan: So Joan, I know that our audience will likely want to find out more about you. They will also probably want to find out about a lot of those studies that you've cited. Can I ask are those studies listed in the very, very admirable 22-page bibliography on the Bias Interrupters website?

Joan: Yes, I like to say that I can speak normal talk, but I am a professor through and through, so the book is very heavily footnoted also on the website, we have a very extensive bibliography. I spent 20 years reading social psychology and integrating the studies from behavioral economics, industrial organizational psychology, and experimental social psychology, and sociology.

So I'm kind of a little bit of a network broker, trying to take this huge literature that you don't have time to read, and making it very, very readable. That's kind of my role.

Siobhan: Fantastic. So if anybody wants to find out more about Joan, about the work she's doing, about this epically long bibliography which I am so admiring, you can go to and learn more.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Joan.

Joan: It's been a pleasure, and all I can say is my agent is my brother. So don't get me into trouble. Buy the book. It's called Bias Interrupted: Creating Inclusion for Real and for Good.

Thank you, guys.

Mike: Yeah. Thanks, Joan.

Siobhan: Thanks so much, Joan.

Mike: I want to thank Joan at this point for that conversation and recognize that what's needed as part of this conversation is a variety of voices to truly address and create the change that we want to within our organizations, that we need more voices at the table. We need to hear from more people. So this is part of an ongoing conversation, and we will be on Twitter Spaces. Can you tell us about that, Siobhan?

Siobhan: Yes, Mike. So we've been running a little experiment on Twitter Spaces to run along with these podcasts. They are held two days after the airing of the podcast. And it's just an opportunity for us to hear from you, our audience members. We would love to hear all of your stories.

So in this case, join us on Dec. 9, have you experienced any unexpected, or unfortunately expected bias, in the remote workplace? Come by, please share your stories. We'd love to hear from as many people as possible.

If by chance you are not listening to this podcast hot off the presses, and you're coming to this later, you can reach out to us directly. We still want to hear your stories. You'll find me on Twitter @siobhan__fagan and Mike, where can they find you?

Mike: I'm at @Prokotweet on Twitter. And as Siobhan mentioned, we'd love to hear from you on this topic or any topic for that matter. So please do reach out.

We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, we are all ears. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. And be sure to share Get Reworked with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. And then finally, be sure to follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well.

Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with us, and we'll see you next time.


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