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11 Ways Strong Women Can Break the Bias in the Workplace

Inclusion is not just about what you see from the outside, it is also about different mindsets, ways of working, and personalities. Read our powerful tips on how women can break the bias in the workplace.

Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Dr. Seuss

In the past few years, organizations have been talking about the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. While most organizations are quite good in the Diversity and Equity portion, Inclusion is still proven to be a continuous challenge. For me, Inclusion is not just about how you look from the outside. Inclusion is also about including people with different mindsets, different ways of working, different skills profiles, and even different personalities!

In my experience, organizations are used to having I- and T-shaped profiles. I believe to tackle the constantly changing future in uncertain times, X-shaped profiles, that go far beyond the essential requirements of any job, are a necessity for the business to survive, innovate and thrive. These profiles are less common, challenge the status-quo, are future-forward, may push people out of their comfort zones, and shake the system while doing their job. Therefore, there is a high risk of them being marginalized or excluded. It is even more challenging if you are a woman. The question is: how leaders and organizations can leverage or capitalize on such profiles, empower them to be the best version of themselves, and ensure that they are included in decisions and conversations?


The thing is, achieving Inclusion needs efforts from both sides. First, employers need to not only provide women in the workplace the platform to shine and speak up for a successful future but also find ways to mitigate unconscious biases. Second, women need to embrace who they are—their strengths, challenges, and struggles, for this is also a key to breaking the bias.

Yes, we have the power to break the bias in the workplace

I have always been different with a strong personality and it has never occurred to me that my difference will harm my career advancement. I have a natural tendency to build an X-shaped profile, being curious and inspired by different topics and domains far beyond my I/O Psychology expertise. In addition, having a different mindset and cultural background, adopting different ways of working, having a direct and bold communication style as well as having a different education—simply behaving differently…. all of this comes naturally to me. I consider them a source of diversity, a win-win situation for the business and me.

Yet, the reality is very different. Everything that made me feel strong and confident has also greatly impacted my career advancement. There have been many times when I have struggled to find a place that included me because I did not fit the mold of a pre-defined system. However, despite the difficulties, through it all, I have also been able to fight to continue to design my career journey. I have also found inspiration in the values offered in SHL’s work culture, one of which being ‘Fearless Innovation’—asking us to constantly challenge the status quo and try new approaches that will help us grow as a team and business. This is incredibly refreshing as it is how I am naturally wired. 

It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” – Madeleine Albright

But I know that many strong women who differ from the traditional mold in this world still struggle to be included, seen, and validated in many workplaces. We cannot deny that bias, be it gender, comfort zone, or any other, is deeply rooted in our workplace and society. So, I have some advice based on my personal career experience: 

  1. Be bold, say no and speak up: do not stay silent.
  2. Aim high: do not let others limit your potential.
  3. Break the rules: do not fear to challenge, you will never innovate if you always follow processes and rules.
  4. Tackle tough challenges: this is how you keep on learning.
  5. Creative problem-solving: do not overthink everything.
  6. No room for self-doubt: it will stop you to reach your goals.
  7. Do not think about the solution before you spent time understanding the problem: empathize, understand, ideate, prototype, test -- the solution comes at the end!
  8. Explore, Iterate, Pivot: your career is a journey, you are ”creating and curating a portfolio career” (April Rinne) and not filling a CV template!
  9. Stand for your own brand: Never compare yourself to other people—do not pretend to be someone else!
  10. Accept to fail: no errors = no learning, be resilient!
  11. Let’s go, keep walking and never look back!

Despite the challenge faced by women in the workplace, history has also proven the strength of women over and over again. One of my favorite quotes says, “Always be yourself along the way, living through the spirit of your dreams" - Dolores O’Riordon. No matter how difficult it might be, your voice as a strong woman will inspire others and blaze trails for those coming up behind you. Eventually, you may find yourself in a workplace that values your difference and tenacity. But until then, keep moving forward.

Check out our International Women’s Day collection for more insights that can help you in your journey to break the bias!


Original image by Armand Khoury

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Sakina Loutfallah

Sakina is an evidence-based and human-centered design expert with more than 15 years of international HR experience and 10 years in Higher Education. Passionate about people and the future of work, Sakina always strives to challenge the status-quo by bringing new practices to life in everything she does. She is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and holds a Doctorate degree in Occupational Psychology as well as an International MBA. As a Lead Talent Consultant at SHL, she is driving TA & TM complex projects for international companies. She combines her expertise with her digital transformation skills to optimize delivery and client experience. She is holder of the “SHL Fearless Innovation” award.

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