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Breaking the bias: continuing our conversations

International Women’s Day 2022 was a chance to celebrate the phenomenal achievements of so many women in small business and spark new conversations about breaking the bias. The day was also a reminder of how important it is to continue these conversations and work together to address the disproportionate barriers and challenges women encounter.

This has never been more pressing than right now, as small businesses work on recovering from the impacts of COVID-19.

When we speak about women’s rights, we’re talking about human rights. And the change we need to see won’t only benefit women – everyone benefits from a world that is free from bias, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. IWD brings together voices and perspectives from all over the world to say that inequality is not okay, and the challenge of tackling that is a shared one.

Overcoming the likeability bias

I was delighted to facilitate the Victorian Small Business Commission’s IWD panel discussion on small business women and leadership. We explored ‘the likeability bias’ – the way society is comfortable with men being assertive leaders yet when women lead with confidence, we can like them less.

Having worked as regulator for almost 20 years, I’ve lived this first hand. If I was firm or tough, which as a regulator you often need to be, I was often seen as cold. But my male colleagues were considered tough but fair.

Anna McRae-Anderson and Duean White, mediators experienced in commercial dispute resolution, joined me for our event. They shared practical tips for overcoming the expectation of likeability in order to have those difficult yet unavoidable conversations. They also looked at the role that being vulnerable can play in resolving conflict:

“It used to be seen that expressing your feelings was a weakness, but if you avoid that and this is the crux of the dispute, then you have done very little to resolve your dispute…You don’t know what’s going on behind the words of another. The best way forward is to approach conversations with curiosity.” – Anna McRae-Anderson

“Once you are conscious of your triggers, you know to take a breath, slow down, and think about how you respond.” – Duean White

We were also joined by Luz Restrepo of Migrant Women in Business, who shared her story of surviving – and thriving – through adversity and reinventing herself as a leader and social entrepreneur. Luz talked about what it means to have women in business – how this gives them a voice and a place in the community, and how empowering this is:

“Business is power…To be a business owner is to be a leader.” – Luz Restrepo

I talked about how a key role of the VSBC is to provide an inclusive and accessible dispute resolution service for all Victorians in small business. By providing subsidised mediations, we can remove some of the barriers to accessing justice.

We need to keep the conversation going about other biases that can impact a party when they are in conflict, and to work out how we can provide support to help level the playing field.

Find our more about the VSBC and the supports we’re providing at this time.

– Commissioner Lynda McAlary-Smith