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An activity to help you combat the biases women face at work, created by

Welcome to the 50 Ways to Fight Bias digital program


Welcome to 50 Ways to Fight Bias, a free digital program to empower all employees to identify and challenge bias head on. Here, we’ll give you everything you need to prepare for and run a successful workshop at your company—and you can learn more about different ways to implement one at your company here.

You can access these two sections at any time using the menu on the left. And as you go through the program, anytime a menu item is mentioned it will be highlighted in bold.

Prepare for your workshop

Everything you need to know to prepare for your workshop.

Get Started

Run your workshop

Everything you need to run a live workshop.

Get Started

How to get setup

Each 50 Ways to Fight Bias workshop consists of four steps that you will guide participants through. You can access any section using the menu on the left under Run your workshop.

1

Set the tone

All 50 Ways workshops begin by level setting with participants on how to encourage an open and respectful discussion.

What you need to do: Use our speaker notes to walk through this part of the program.

2

Introduction to bias

Participants watch a short video that explains the most common types of biases that women face as well as the concept of intersectionality—how women can experience compounding biases due to other aspects of their identity.

What you need to do: We recommend having participants watch our 12-minute bias overview video. Alternatively, you can ask participants to read about bias types on the same page.

3

Group activity

Participants break into small groups to review specific examples of bias—and why each one matters. They take a few minutes to discuss each situation and brainstorm solutions for interrupting the bias. They then learn what experts recommend they do in that situation, along with a short explanation of what's behind the bias.

What you need to do: Before the workshop begins, select a set of digital cards on the Choose a set page that participants will discuss in your workshop.

Decide how to divide participants into mixed-gender groups of 6-8 people. If you’re running a virtual workshop, we recommend that you use breakout rooms—and we have more tips for running this virtually in our speaker notes.

4

Commit to action

As the activity wraps up, participants commit to take One Action to fight bias based on what they learned.

What you need to do: Use our speaker notes to get prepared for this part of the program.

Now that you know how to get set up, continue to:

FINAL STEPS

Final steps

You are almost ready to run your 50 Ways to Fight Bias workshop! Before you start your session, make sure you have taken the steps below.

1

Set of digital cards selected

After you’ve selected a set of digital cards, you can find your set in the menu on the left to walk through live in your workshop. You can also download a PDF version on the Choose a set page if you’re running your workshop offline.

2

Speaker notes downloaded

Our speaker notes walk you through what to say as you run your workshop. It also provides some best practices for leading virtual workshops.


RUN YOUR WORKSHOP

Need more time? Come back to this digital program when you’re ready and select Run your workshop in the menu on the left.

Workshop agenda

Welcome to 50 Ways to Fight Bias, a free digital program to empower all employees to identify and challenge bias head-on. Today’s activity will help you recognize and combat the biases women face at work. It is divided into four parts:

1

Set the tone

2

Introduction to bias

3

Group activity

4

Commit to action

Guiding principles

Bias is complex, and counteracting it takes work. As you engage with the situations in this activity, remember that:

Bias isn’t limited to gender

People also face biases due to their race, sexual orientation, disability, or other aspects of identity—and the compounding discrimination can be much greater than the sum of its parts. This is called intersectionality, and it can impact any situation.

Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough

We all need to look for it and take steps to counteract it. That's why this activity outlines specific examples of the biases women face at work with clear recommendations for what to do.

We all fall into bias traps

People of all genders can consciously or unconsciously make biased comments or behave in other ways that disadvantage women.

Give people the benefit of the doubt

Remember that everyone is here to learn and do better—and an open and honest exchange is part of that process.

Stories should be anonymous

When sharing stories about seeing or experiencing bias, don’t use people’s names.

Some situations may be difficult to hear

Be mindful that some of the situations described in this program may be sensitive or painful for participants.

Learn about bias types

This section covers the most common types of biases that women face at work. Watch the overview video or select a bias type below to learn more about what it is, why it happens, and why it’s harmful.

Play the video An introduction to the common biases women experience (12 minutes)

Overview of key concepts

As you learn more about bias, it’s important to be aware of two key concepts: intersectionality, or how women can experience compounding biases due to other aspects of their identity, and microaggressions, which are subtle or explicit comments and actions that signal disrespect. Click the tiles below for a detailed explanation of each concept.

Choose a set

You can choose from one of 12 sets of digital cards curated for different audiences and workplace interactions. Each set includes icebreakers highlighting research on the biases women face, followed by 15 to 20 specific examples of how it shows up in the workplace. If you’re not sure which set to use, choose the Bias fundamentals set to run an introductory workshop.

Need some direction? Get the moderator guide

Bias fundamentals
For managers
For senior leaders
Experiences of women of color
Addressing the “broken rung”
Bias in hiring
Bias in reviews and promotions
Experiences of mothers
Bias in company cultures
Bias in networking and mentoring
Bias in virtual workplaces
Intersectional biases

Summary: Strategies to fight bias

There are a number of ways to respond to bias when it occurs. Below is a summary of the strategies we’ve discussed today:

  1. 1

    Speak up for someone in the moment

    For example, remind people of a colleague’s talents or ask to hear from someone who was interrupted. Or when someone says something incorrect (e.g., assumes a woman is more junior than she is), matter-of-factly correct them—either in the moment or in private later.

  2. 2

    Ask a probing question

    Ask a question that makes your colleague examine their thinking—“What makes you say that?” “What are some examples of that?” This can help people discover the bias in their own thinking.

  3. 3

    Stick to the facts

    When you can, shift the conversation toward concrete, neutral information to minimize bias. For example, if someone makes a subjective or biased comment in a hiring or promotions meeting, refocus attention back to the list of criteria for the role.

  4. 4

    Explain how bias is in play

    Surface hidden patterns you’ve observed and explain what they mean. Research shows that a matter-of-fact explanation can be an effective way to combat bias. For example, mention to a hiring committee that you've noticed they tend to select men over women with similar abilities, or point out to your manager that women are doing more of the "office housework."

  5. 5

    Advocate for policy or process change

    Talk to HR or leadership at your company and recommend best practices that reduce bias.

Closing activity

Today you’ve heard about a lot of different actions you can take to fight bias in your workplace. Now it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice.

  • Think of one thing you’re going to do when you see bias at work—or one thing that you’ve learned that you’re going to share with others.
  • Write it down. This is your “One Action.”
  • Taking turns, go around the group and share your One Action.
  • Thank you for participating in this 50 Ways to Fight Bias workshop—and for doing your part to create a more inclusive workplace for all.
Custom Set

Choose your icebreakers

Start creating your set by choosing 3-5 icebreakers. These icebreakers challenge the group to guess the findings of some of the most surprising research on bias against women at work.

Choose your cards

Create your set by selecting various situation cards from the 50 Ways to Fight Bias card deck. Use the filters below to view cards within a specific category.

Order your deck of cards

From the cards you’ve selected, click and drag them into the order you would like to present. We recommended that you start with situations that are more comfortable for your audience to discuss, followed by those that may be more difficult. Icebreakers always come before Bias cards.

Icebreaker cards

Bias Cards

Sorry, customizing a set is not supported on small screens.

Go back to Set selection
Icebreaker 1/3 : Did you know?

How many times more often do men interrupt women than other men?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Almost 3 times more often.49

Icebreaker 2/3 : Did you know?

In a study of performance reviews, what % of women received negative feedback on their personal style such as “You can sometimes be abrasive”? And what % of men received that same type of feedback?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

66% of women and 1% of men.50

Icebreaker 3/3 : Did you know?

What % of Black women have never had an informal interaction with a senior leader at their company?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Situation 1/20 : Reviews and promotions

You’re on a team doing performance reviews and notice that a lot of women get feedback on their speaking style.

Why it matters

Criticisms like this can prevent qualified women from advancing, which hurts both them and your company.

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

When you notice this pattern, point it out. Explain this is a common bias against women and WHY IT HAPPENS. Suggest that the group focus on the substance of what people say, not their speaking style.

Longer term, recommend that your company use standardized criteria for performance reviews, which will reduce subjective opinions. Consider recommending anti-bias training for employees involved in the review process. When people understand how bias impacts their decision-making, they are able to make more objective decisions.

Why it happens

Studies show that women often get negative feedback on their speaking style, while men do not.52 If women are confident and assertive, they can be criticized for speaking too loudly or often. But if they are quieter, they are more likely to be told that they need to speak more confidently and assertively.53 For some groups of women, no matter how they speak, people project stereotypes onto them: Asian women are more likely to be criticized for being too quiet, while Black women and Latinas are more often labeled angry or loud.54

Rooted in: Likeability bias

Situation 2/20 : Hiring

You’re on a hiring committee and a colleague rules out a woman of color because she’s “not a good cultural fit.”

Why it matters

Evaluations of “culture fit” tend to be subjective. They can lead us to screen out people who aren’t like us, which means we can miss qualified candidates and end up with less diverse teams. Plus, it can mean that talented job seekers lose out on opportunities.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

When someone rules out a candidate because of fit, ask them to be more specific. If their thinking boils down to “she’s different,” point out that different can be good. Propose that you look for someone who adds to the team dynamic—a “culture add”—instead of someone who simply fits into it.

As a longer-term solution, ask that a set of standardized criteria be used for all hires. This reduces bias by minimizing subjective evaluations.55

Why it happens

We tend to gravitate toward—and hire—people who remind us of ourselves, which can impact our ability to objectively evaluate who would bring the most to the job.56

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 3/20 : Meeting dynamics

You’re in a meeting and a woman colleague is spoken over or interrupted.

Why it matters

If women’s ideas aren’t heard, it can make it harder for them to be perceived as key contributors, which can harm their career progression. When teams miss out on women’s insights, it can also mean your company is missing out. Teams that foster diverse points of view often have better ideas and get more done.57

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

When a woman gets interrupted, speak up. You might say, “I’d like to hear the rest of [Name’s] thoughts” or “[Name] raised an important point. I’d like to consider it further before we move on.”

If you’re leading a meeting, reduce interruptions by following an agenda and asking people to contribute in a structured way. You might say, “Let’s go around the room and get everyone’s ideas.” You can also invite individual women in the room to contribute their opinions.

Why it happens

People tend to value women’s contributions less than men’s.58 One way this plays out is in meetings, where women—and in particular, women of color—are interrupted more and get less time to speak than men do.59

Rooted in: Attribution bias

Situation 4/20 : Hiring

At an all-staff meeting, your company’s leaders share concrete goals for hiring, promoting, and retaining women, but it’s clear they haven’t set goals for women of color specifically.

Why it matters

If companies don’t set goals by gender and race combined, they are not explicitly prioritizing the advancement of women of color. That means women of color, who face a uniquely challenging combination of sexism and racism, are more likely to be overlooked.60 It can also send the message that the company hasn’t made the advancement of women of color a priority.

LeanIn.Org thanks Minda Harts for her valuable contribution to this card

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

If you feel comfortable, you could raise the question directly in the meeting: “Do we set these goals for women of color?” You could also speak to your manager or HR team afterward about the importance of setting goals that combine gender and race.

Why it happens

Many corporate diversity efforts focus on either gender or race, but very few focus on the two together. In fact, only 7 percent of companies set representation targets for gender and race combined. This may happen because company leaders aren’t aware of the importance of an intersectional approach to diversity efforts.

Situation 5/20 : Everyday interactions

Someone suggests that a woman on your team be given a big, high-profile project, and a colleague says, “I don’t think this is a good time for her since she just had a baby.”

Why it matters

Your company likely wants to retain and promote talented women. Sidelining them—even with good intentions—works against that goal by denying them opportunities that can lead to advancement.

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Remind your colleague that this could be a career-changing project for whoever gets it, so it’s better to let the new mom decide for herself whether or not she wants to take it on.

Why it happens

Motherhood triggers assumptions that women are less competent and less committed to their careers. As a result, they are held to higher standards and presented with fewer opportunities. Studies show that the “maternal wall” women face when they have kids is the strongest gender bias.61

Rooted in: Maternal bias

Situation 6/20 : Everyday interactions

In a private conversation, a coworker expresses resentment about “special treatment” for a woman with a disability who is allowed to work flexible hours.

Why it matters

People with disabilities may need flexibility for many reasons—for example, to manage pain or for medical treatment. When those needs are questioned, they may feel undermined, stigmatized, and unhappy at work.62 But when employees with disabilities are fully supported, they’re usually just as happy as their colleagues.63 This has a big impact, since 1 in 6 working-age Americans has a visible or invisible disability.64

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Tell your coworker WHY IT MATTERS. You can also talk to HR and ask them to clarify your company’s general policies on flexible work, so that people are less likely to view specific situations as unfair.65

Why it happens

This can happen when people don’t understand that accommodations like flexibility aren’t “nice to haves” for employees with disabilities—they’re essential. Additionally, because people with disabilities tend to be seen as less valuable and competent, coworkers may question whether they really need or deserve extra support.66 This is especially true for women with disabilities, who face more bias and disrespect at work than almost any other group.67

Situation 7/20 : Everyday interactions

Your team holds regular happy hours after work for networking and bonding at a local bar. You realize that one colleague, a Muslim woman, has never come.

Why it matters

Some Muslims avoid alcohol and may therefore feel uncomfortable in a bar.68 If most networking events are held in bars, it means they miss out on the team bonding that can lead to career opportunities.69 It can also send a message that employees who don’t drink—and other groups like caregivers who need to be home soon after work—are not considered when social events are planned.70

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Talk to your team leader and explain WHY IT MATTERS. Encourage them to plan a wide range of events that leave out as few people as possible. For example, if your team goes out every week to a bar, consider moving it to a restaurant sometimes. Move a few evening events to lunchtime so working parents can join. And make the changes with sensitivity, so no one gets blamed. If happy hours are simply canceled, it may create bad feelings among some employees.71

Why it happens

Many teams—and companies—don’t realize how much thoughtfulness is needed to ensure that work events are inclusive to as many employees as possible. This might happen because teams fall into the habit of replicating bonding events that have been offered for decades—many of which were designed for less diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Situation 8/20 : Reviews and promotions

A manager describes a woman who reports to her as “overly ambitious” when she asks for a promotion.

Why it matters

When a woman is criticized for competing for a promotion, it can have a negative impact on her and on the company as a whole. She may miss out on the chance to grow at work. Other women may hear the message that they shouldn’t ask for promotions. And the company may miss an opportunity to advance a talented team member and make her feel valued.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Prompt your colleague to explain her thinking. For example, you can say, “Generally, I think we like ambition as a company. Why does it bother you in this case?” You can also suggest that there may be a double standard at work by saying something like, “How do you feel when a man on your team asks for a promotion?” And if you think that women at your workplace are often criticized when they seek promotions, this would be a good opportunity to say so.

Why it happens

Because of stereotypical expectations that women should be selfless and giving, they can face criticism when they appear to be “out for themselves”—for example, when they compete for a bigger job.72 By contrast, we expect men to be driven and ambitious, and we tend to think well of them when they show those qualities.73

Rooted in: Likeability bias

Situation 9/20 : Everyday Interactions

The day after a high-profile killing of a Black person by the police, coworkers are discussing the news but nobody brings up this story.

Why it matters

The silence suggests that non-Black colleagues are not outraged at the injustice or that they aren’t aware of the Black community’s grief and trauma.74 Left unaddressed, these perceptions—accurate or not—can contribute to a workplace where Black employees feel like they don’t belong.75 When a Black person is killed by the police, it reminds all Black people of the violence that threatens their lives. It can make it hard to focus on work, and depression and anxiety can follow.76

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

In the moment, say something. Mention the incident and how awful it was. Depending on your relationships with Black coworkers, let them know you are there to talk if they need to.77 Be understanding if Black coworkers seem distracted or not themselves. In the longer term, you can further educate yourself on the incident by reading about it in a Black news outlet, such as Blavity or Essence. If you’re a manager, check in with Black members of your team to see how they’re doing and if they need any additional support.

Why it happens

Non-Black coworkers may believe it’s insensitive to mention incidents of police violence toward Black people. But in fact, doing so conveys that they care.78 They also may not realize how traumatic these events are to the entire Black community,79 perhaps seeing them as isolated one-offs instead of ongoing systemic abuse.

Situation 10/20 : Everyday Interactions

A coworker says, “I don’t see color.”

Why it matters

This comment denies a fundamental part of people’s identities. It also suggests that if we choose to ignore racism, it will go away on its own. In fact, many studies show that when people or institutions claim to be “color-blind,” they often perpetuate racism by failing to take action against it.80 To combat racism, you first have to face it head-on, then actively work to challenge racist stereotypes and behavior—both your own and those of others.81

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

You could ask a question to make your coworker reflect: “What’s wrong with acknowledging someone's race? Everyone’s identity is unique and should be appreciated.”82 Explain that while you understand they think they’re being fair and objective, “not seeing color” can make racism worse. Point out that this way of thinking signals that someone’s not interested in challenging racist behavior, whether or not that was the intention.

Why it happens

Your coworker may wish to deny that racism still exists.83 Or they may be falling into the trap of thinking that “not seeing color” is a way of avoiding racism, when in fact it perpetuates racism.84

Situation 11/20 : Everyday interactions

During lunch a client asks your colleague, “What does your husband do?” Your colleague is a lesbian and has a wife.

Why it matters

The question assumes your colleague is straight and married, which puts lesbians, bisexual women, and single women in an awkward situation. Your lesbian colleague now has to correct a client and come out to them at the same time. The question could also make your lesbian colleague feel at least somewhat uncomfortable or marginalized.

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

If your colleague answers that she has a wife, not a husband, you can support her by responding warmly and asking questions, as you would when someone straight talks about their family. This signals your support, and it’s also helpful because people often experience distressing, awkward silences when they refer to their same-sex partners at work. However she responds, do your best to be a good listener, ask questions, and fill the silence.

Why it happens

Often straight people, even those who mean well, can assume that others around them are also straight. But the comment could have a darker motive and reflect prejudice against gay people. Either way, questions like this are far too common. More than 60% of LGBTQ+ people say they’ve had to correct colleagues’ assumptions about their personal lives, and nearly half say that in the past month, they’ve had to come out at work at least once a week.85

Situation 12/20 : Hiring

After interviewing a Black woman, a coworker expresses surprise over “how articulate she sounded.”

Why it matters

Comments like these may sound like compliments, but they definitely are not. They are microaggressions that perpetuate a stereotype that Black people aren’t articulate or educated, which is not only insulting but can also lead to fewer career opportunities.86

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Asking a probing question can prompt your coworker to examine their assumptions. You might ask, “Why wouldn’t you expect her to be articulate?” You can also talk to the hiring manager responsible for making sure job candidates are evaluated fairly and explain that comments like these undermine that process.

Why it happens

This type of statement is fueled by a centuries-old racist belief that Black people have worse language skills than whites.87 It also reflects a narrow view of what “articulate speech” sounds like by reinforcing the idea that to be considered smart or have your words valued, your speech must sound “white.”88 This assumption is all too common: compared to any other racial or ethnic group, Black women are the most likely to have others express surprise over their language skills or other abilities.89

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 13/20 : Everyday interactions

Your manager suggests having a “powwow.”

Why it matters

This is a misuse of the word “powwow,” a social gathering that often holds spiritual significance for Native American people. Misusing words and phrases like “powwow,” “spirit animal,” and “low man on the totem pole” may feel harmless to non–Native Americans. But to Native Americans, it can seem mocking and derogatory.

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Speak up in the moment by saying, “I’m happy to have a meeting, but I want to mention one thing. You might not know this, but the word ‘powwow’ has real meaning to Native Americans. It doesn’t simply mean a meeting.” You can also explain WHY IT MATTERS. Or you could ask, “Are you trying to say you want to have a meeting?” This can prompt your manager to reflect on their language choice.

Why it happens

This type of cultural appropriation occurs when there is a power imbalance between cultures. People from a dominant culture feel able to use parts of a marginalized culture in any way they choose, including in ways that rob it of its original meaning.90

Situation 14/20 : Meeting dynamics

In a meeting, a woman strongly disagrees with a man about how to approach a problem. He says, “We can’t talk about this anymore. She’s getting too emotional.”

Why it matters

In a healthy workplace, debates happen all the time—and often result in better ideas, clearer strategies, and stronger teams. Shutting down debate can be counterproductive to your company’s goals. Plus, being tagged as overly emotional can diminish a woman’s standing at work—and send a message to other women that they shouldn’t speak freely.

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Speak up. You can say something to support the woman’s point of view: “I think [Name] is making a good point. We should consider it.” You can also push back on the “too emotional” comment directly: “She doesn’t seem too emotional to me. Let’s keep talking.”

Or you can help your team get back to basics: “We’re all just trying to come up with the best approach. Let’s continue this conversation so we can land on the right solution together.”

Why it happens

Women tend to be stereotyped as overly emotional, while men tend to be viewed as rational—and therefore more professional and better suited to lead.91 This dynamic can cause people to see a woman with an opinion—especially if she expresses it with conviction—as being overly emotional, while the same view voiced by a man is considered reasonable.92 Women of color can face different and more acute variations of this bias, with Black women often labeled as “angry” and Latinas as “fiery.”93

Situation 15/20 : Reviews and promotions

In a meeting about promotions, someone questions whether a Latina candidate has the skills for a manager role.

Why it matters

If your Latina colleague is in fact qualified for the promotion, this comment is a problem. It could lead to her being ruled out unfairly, which would be a loss for her and the company. Moments like this contribute to a bigger problem: For every 100 men promoted into manager roles, only 71 Latinas are.94 This “broken rung” on the ladder to leadership means there are too few Latina managers to promote into senior roles.

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Ask your colleague for concrete examples of why they think she lacks the required skills. If he doesn’t offer much evidence, say so: “I don’t see a problem with her skills.” You can also check her skill set against the list of criteria for the role. If she meets all or most of the criteria, that can help settle the matter. Establishing clear criteria for performance reviews and promotions can help minimize biased decision making.

Why it happens

Latinas face several layers of bias regarding their skills. As women, they are often stereotyped as less competent than men. As Latinx Americans, they tend to be stereotyped as less intelligent than white people.95 And as Latinas, they tend to be stereotyped as very family-oriented and more suited to supporting roles, even if they are qualified for more senior positions.96

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 16/20 : Everyday interactions

A newly hired trans woman asks where the restroom is and a colleague says, “They’re over there—I’m not sure which one you want to use.”

Why it matters

The second part of the comment is disrespectful. It implies that a trans woman’s restroom choice is OK to comment on publicly and that her gender is somehow in question. Unfortunately, trans women often face complaints or comments about their choice of bathroom, which can make them feel uncomfortable and judged.97

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Some microaggressions are best addressed in the moment. In this case, it may be more respectful to say something supportive to your new colleague in private, such as, “Please feel free to use any restroom you want, and if you ever feel uncomfortable, I’m here to help.” Later, explain to your colleague who made the comment that it’s best not to speculate on which restroom someone uses, because you may be wrong. Experts say that the best approach is to tell everyone where every restroom is—women’s, men’s, and all-gender.

Why it happens

Your colleague may have made this comment to intentionally cause discomfort because they are prejudiced against trans women.98 But more likely, they were expressing an unconscious bias that trans women are different and that this is somehow OK to comment on.99 In addition, they may have been genuinely confused because they are not informed about these issues.

Situation 17/20 : Reviews and promotions

You’re on a review committee and several members argue against a woman’s promotion because she is not “seen as a leader,” even though her team delivers outstanding results.

Why it matters

The review committee may be making incorrect—and unfair—assumptions about the woman’s abilities. Additionally, if the review committee uses a narrow definition of leadership, they may unfairly exclude a lot of people, like this woman.

LeanIn.Org thanks the Stanford Women’s Leadership Lab for their valuable contribution to this card

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Point out that the woman’s team delivers superb results, and suggest that their performance speaks to her leadership. You can also ask them to explain the attributes she lacks. When people are asked to justify their thinking, it can help reduce bias in decision-making.100

As a longer-term solution, suggest creating detailed metrics for performance reviews, including clear expectations for leaders. This way, all employees will be evaluated based on a more complete definition of good leadership and using the same standards, which reduces bias in the review process.101

Why it happens

Both women and men more readily associate men with leadership.102 This bias is so strong that when women work on teams, their contributions are often attributed to the team as a whole. In contrast, when men work on teams, they are more likely to be seen as taking a leadership role.103 The bias affects different groups of women in different ways: Asian women often aren't seen as assertive enough to be leaders, while Black women and Latinas can be stereotyped as not talented enough for leadership roles, and Native American women contend with both these stereotypes.104

Situation 18/20 : Everyday interactions

You hear a white coworker say they aren’t privileged because they grew up poor.

Why it matters

This kind of thinking is fairly common, as 63 percent of white Americans say they don’t benefit much or at all from being white.105 When white people don’t accept that there are benefits to being white, they cast doubt on the idea that racial inequality exists at all.106 The comment also invalidates the lived experiences of nonwhite coworkers, who deal with racial inequality as a part of their daily lives.107

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

You can tell your coworker you know they’ve worked hard to get where they are.108 Then explain that benefiting from white privilege doesn’t mean they haven’t struggled. Their challenges may be economic, health related, or derive from another source, but racism has not been one of their burdens. Put another way, they haven’t struggled because they are white.

Why it happens

Even though it hugely benefits them, white privilege can be invisible to those who have it.109 It’s the privilege of not being treated with suspicion by store clerks or regularly pulled over by police. It can mean being hired over a Black candidate with similar experience110 or getting a mortgage when a Latino in the same financial situation is denied one.111 Even when people know white privilege exists, they can be reluctant to admit it applies to them.112 It can make them feel defensive and as if their own hard work is invalidated.113

Situation 19/20 : Mentorship and sponsorship

Your manager, who is a man, often meets the men on his team for dinner or drinks—but rarely meets with the women outside of work.

Why it matters

Friendships at work are valuable. Important relationship building and information sharing can happen over coffee or pizza. When people are routinely excluded from outings like these, they can miss out. If it’s a manager making arrangements, it’s especially problematic—part of their responsibility is to make sure the whole team has equal access to networking opportunities.

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

This is your manager, so you have standing to raise this with him. Say that you’ve noticed he goes for drinks with men on the team more than women. Explain WHY IT MATTERS. You can also offer solutions: if he’s uncomfortable going to dinner with women, suggest that he meet everyone for breakfast or lunch.

Why it happens

Your manager may feel more comfortable with men because of affinity bias, which draws us toward people like ourselves.114 Or he may be nervous for other reasons: some men are wary of spending time with women colleagues outside of work for fear of seeming inappropriate.

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 20/20 : Hiring

You’re on a hiring committee and you notice that your colleagues prefer candidates who are men over women with very similar experience.

Why it matters

This could be a sign of bias in your hiring process—and may unfairly disadvantage women. When qualified women are overlooked, your company misses out on their talents and on the chance to build more diverse teams.

Bias fundamentals

Use this set to run an introductory session for all employees, or for any group that has limited time and only plans to discuss 15 to 20 cards.

What to do

Mention to the hiring committee that you’ve noticed they tend to select men over women with similar abilities. You can also explain WHY IT HAPPENS. Then suggest a solution. Research shows that when teams agree on a set of clear criteria and use it consistently for all candidates, the hiring process is fairer and the most qualified women and men can rise to the top.115

Why it happens

We tend to rate women lower than men, even if they have similar qualifications.116 This can make a real difference in hiring. In one study, replacing a woman’s name with a man’s name on a résumé increased the likelihood of being hired by more than 60%.117 The impact can be even worse for some groups—including Black women, Latinas, Native American women, and women with disabilities—whose competence is questioned both because they're women and because of stereotypes about their race or ability.118

Rooted in: Performance bias

Icebreaker 1/3 : Did you know?

In a study of performance reviews, what % of women received negative feedback on their personal style such as “You can sometimes be abrasive”? And what % of men received that same type of feedback?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

66% of women and 1% of men.50

Icebreaker 2/3 : Did you know?

For every 100 men promoted to manager, how many Black women are promoted?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Only 58 Black women.119

Icebreaker 3/3 : Did you know?

When hiring managers believed a woman had children because “Parent-Teacher Association coordinator” appeared on her résumé, how much less likely was she to be hired?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

79% less likely to be hired. (And if she was hired, she would be offered an average of $11,000 less in salary.)120

Situation 1/22 : Meeting dynamics

You often see biased behavior on your team, and your manager lets it go unchallenged.

Why it matters

When employees have a manager who regularly challenges bias, they are more likely to think that everyone has an equal chance to advance—and women are almost twice as likely to think they have the same opportunities as their peers.121 Yet less than a third of employees say that managers at their company often challenge biased language and behavior when they hear or see it.122

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Talk to your manager about what you’re seeing and the important role they play in setting workplace norms. You might say, “The team really respects you. If you step in when you hear these comments, it will push everyone to be more thoughtful.” You can also talk to senior leadership at your company and explain WHY IT MATTERS.

Why it happens

Your manager may not realize that certain comments and actions are biased. Less than half of managers have received anti-bias training.123 When people understand how bias works, they are able to make fairer decisions and more clearly see bias when it crops up. 124 There are other possible reasons, too. Managers may not realize the critical role they can play in creating an inclusive workplace—or may not be bought into your company’s diversity efforts.

Situation 2/22 : Reviews and promotions

A manager describes a woman who reports to her as “overly ambitious” when she asks for a promotion.

Why it matters

When a woman is criticized for competing for a promotion, it can have a negative impact on her and on the company as a whole. She may miss out on the chance to grow at work. Other women may hear the message that they shouldn’t ask for promotions. And the company may miss an opportunity to advance a talented team member and make her feel valued.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Prompt your colleague to explain her thinking. For example, you can say, “Generally, I think we like ambition as a company. Why does it bother you in this case?” You can also suggest that there may be a double standard at work by saying something like, “How do you feel when a man on your team asks for a promotion?” And if you think that women at your workplace are often criticized when they seek promotions, this would be a good opportunity to say so.

Why it happens

Because of stereotypical expectations that women should be selfless and giving, they can face criticism when they appear to be “out for themselves”—for example, when they compete for a bigger job.72 By contrast, we expect men to be driven and ambitious, and we tend to think well of them when they show those qualities.73

Rooted in: Likeability bias

Situation 3/22 : Meeting dynamics

You’re in a meeting and a woman colleague is spoken over or interrupted.

Why it matters

If women’s ideas aren’t heard, it can make it harder for them to be perceived as key contributors, which can harm their career progression. When teams miss out on women’s insights, it can also mean your company is missing out. Teams that foster diverse points of view often have better ideas and get more done.57

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

When a woman gets interrupted, speak up. You might say, “I’d like to hear the rest of [Name’s] thoughts” or “[Name] raised an important point. I’d like to consider it further before we move on.”

If you’re leading a meeting, reduce interruptions by following an agenda and asking people to contribute in a structured way. You might say, “Let’s go around the room and get everyone’s ideas.” You can also invite individual women in the room to contribute their opinions.

Why it happens

People tend to value women’s contributions less than men’s.58 One way this plays out is in meetings, where women—and in particular, women of color—are interrupted more and get less time to speak than men do.59

Rooted in: Attribution bias

Situation 4/22 : Hiring

You’re on a hiring committee and a colleague rules out a woman of color because she’s “not a good cultural fit.”

Why it matters

Evaluations of “culture fit” tend to be subjective. They can lead us to screen out people who aren’t like us, which means we can miss qualified candidates and end up with less diverse teams. Plus, it can mean that talented job seekers lose out on opportunities.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

When someone rules out a candidate because of fit, ask them to be more specific. If their thinking boils down to “she’s different,” point out that different can be good. Propose that you look for someone who adds to the team dynamic—a “culture add”—instead of someone who simply fits into it.

As a longer-term solution, ask that a set of standardized criteria be used for all hires. This reduces bias by minimizing subjective evaluations.55

Why it happens

We tend to gravitate toward—and hire—people who remind us of ourselves, which can impact our ability to objectively evaluate who would bring the most to the job.56

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 5/22 : Everyday interactions

Your manager suggests having a “powwow.”

Why it matters

This is a misuse of the word “powwow,” a social gathering that often holds spiritual significance for Native American people. Misusing words and phrases like “powwow,” “spirit animal,” and “low man on the totem pole” may feel harmless to non–Native Americans. But to Native Americans, it can seem mocking and derogatory.

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Speak up in the moment by saying, “I’m happy to have a meeting, but I want to mention one thing. You might not know this, but the word ‘powwow’ has real meaning to Native Americans. It doesn’t simply mean a meeting.” You can also explain WHY IT MATTERS. Or you could ask, “Are you trying to say you want to have a meeting?” This can prompt your manager to reflect on their language choice.

Why it happens

This type of cultural appropriation occurs when there is a power imbalance between cultures. People from a dominant culture feel able to use parts of a marginalized culture in any way they choose, including in ways that rob it of its original meaning.90

Situation 6/22 : Everyday interactions

Your team holds regular happy hours after work for networking and bonding at a local bar. You realize that one colleague, a Muslim woman, has never come.

Why it matters

Some Muslims avoid alcohol and may therefore feel uncomfortable in a bar.68 If most networking events are held in bars, it means they miss out on the team bonding that can lead to career opportunities.69 It can also send a message that employees who don’t drink—and other groups like caregivers who need to be home soon after work—are not considered when social events are planned.70

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Talk to your team leader and explain WHY IT MATTERS. Encourage them to plan a wide range of events that leave out as few people as possible. For example, if your team goes out every week to a bar, consider moving it to a restaurant sometimes. Move a few evening events to lunchtime so working parents can join. And make the changes with sensitivity, so no one gets blamed. If happy hours are simply canceled, it may create bad feelings among some employees.71

Why it happens

Many teams—and companies—don’t realize how much thoughtfulness is needed to ensure that work events are inclusive to as many employees as possible. This might happen because teams fall into the habit of replicating bonding events that have been offered for decades—many of which were designed for less diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Situation 7/22 : Reviews and promotions

A colleague recommends a man for promotion over a woman, saying, “I’m not sure about her long-term commitment. She just got engaged, and I think she wants to have kids soon.”

Why it matters

When coworkers make assumptions about a woman’s commitment to work based on what’s happening in her personal life, it unfairly limits her opportunities—and could cause your company to miss out on a highly committed candidate. It’s also illegal in many states to consider a person’s marital or parental status as a factor in promotions.

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Suggest to your colleague that women should decide for themselves whether or not they want to take on new challenges at work. If you’re feeling bold, you can also point out the double standard: “It’s hard to imagine that we’d say that about a man who recently got engaged.”

Why it happens

When women get engaged or married, studies show that they start to experience maternal bias.125 People—consciously or unconsciously—start to question their competence and commitment, based on the mistaken belief that women can’t be fully present at work if they have family responsibilities at home.126

Rooted in: Maternal bias

Situation 8/22 : Everyday interactions

In a private conversation, a coworker expresses resentment about “special treatment” for a woman with a disability who is allowed to work flexible hours.

Why it matters

People with disabilities may need flexibility for many reasons—for example, to manage pain or for medical treatment. When those needs are questioned, they may feel undermined, stigmatized, and unhappy at work.62 But when employees with disabilities are fully supported, they’re usually just as happy as their colleagues.63 This has a big impact, since 1 in 6 working-age Americans has a visible or invisible disability.64

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Tell your coworker WHY IT MATTERS. You can also talk to HR and ask them to clarify your company’s general policies on flexible work, so that people are less likely to view specific situations as unfair.65

Why it happens

This can happen when people don’t understand that accommodations like flexibility aren’t “nice to haves” for employees with disabilities—they’re essential. Additionally, because people with disabilities tend to be seen as less valuable and competent, coworkers may question whether they really need or deserve extra support.66 This is especially true for women with disabilities, who face more bias and disrespect at work than almost any other group.67

Situation 9/22 : Everyday Interactions

The day after a high-profile killing of a Black person by the police, coworkers are discussing the news but nobody brings up this story.

Why it matters

The silence suggests that non-Black colleagues are not outraged at the injustice or that they aren’t aware of the Black community’s grief and trauma.74 Left unaddressed, these perceptions—accurate or not—can contribute to a workplace where Black employees feel like they don’t belong.75 When a Black person is killed by the police, it reminds all Black people of the violence that threatens their lives. It can make it hard to focus on work, and depression and anxiety can follow.76

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

In the moment, say something. Mention the incident and how awful it was. Depending on your relationships with Black coworkers, let them know you are there to talk if they need to.77 Be understanding if Black coworkers seem distracted or not themselves. In the longer term, you can further educate yourself on the incident by reading about it in a Black news outlet, such as Blavity or Essence. If you’re a manager, check in with Black members of your team to see how they’re doing and if they need any additional support.

Why it happens

Non-Black coworkers may believe it’s insensitive to mention incidents of police violence toward Black people. But in fact, doing so conveys that they care.78 They also may not realize how traumatic these events are to the entire Black community,79 perhaps seeing them as isolated one-offs instead of ongoing systemic abuse.

Situation 10/22 : Hiring

A colleague advocates for a man with strong potential over a woman with proven experience.

Why it matters

When a more experienced candidate is passed up in favor of someone with less experience, your company can miss out on valuable wisdom, talent, and skill. And in this case, the woman loses out on an opportunity that she’s well suited for.

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Point out how experienced the woman is for the role and note the value of proven experience over potential. You might also take a moment to explain WHY IT HAPPENS and WHY IT MATTERS.

Longer term, it’s worth recommending that everyone on your team aligns ahead of time on clear, objective criteria for open roles, then uses them to evaluate all job candidates. This minimizes bias by making sure that every candidate is held to the same standard.127

Why it happens

Research shows that people often hire or promote men based on their potential, but for women, potential isn’t enough. Women are often held to a higher standard and need to show more evidence of their competence to get hired or promoted.128

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 11/22 : Meeting dynamics

You notice that the same woman is always asked to take notes at your weekly meeting.

Why it matters

When people take notes, they’re effectively taken out of the conversation. They aren’t able to contribute meaningfully, and the group misses out on their insights. Diverse teams are often more innovative and productive,129 but you can’t reap the full benefits of a diverse team if you don’t hear from all its members.

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

At the start of the next meeting, suggest that everyone take turns taking notes each week. If you notice a colleague regularly asking only women to take meeting notes, pull them aside to let them know you’ve noticed this trend and suggest they mix it up.

Why it happens

Due to age-old stereotypes, people expect women to be more giving than men and to accept lower-level tasks. Secretarial tasks also tend to be seen as women’s work. As a result, women are asked to do more “office housework” like taking notes.130 And women of color—who are often unfairly assumed to be in lower-status roles—are asked to do this office housework even more often.131

Situation 12/22 : Hiring

After interviewing an out lesbian woman, a manager at your company says he didn’t click with her.

Why it matters

Comments about “clicking” or “culture fit” in a hiring process are vague and subjective, and this opens the door to bias.132 As a result, good candidates might get dismissed without a detailed look at their qualifications. This could mean that your company ends up with less diverse, less qualified teams.

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Ask the manager if the candidate met the criteria for the role. The best way to reduce bias in hiring is to evaluate all candidates for a role based on the same predefined set of criteria.133 And you could also explain to him WHY IT MATTERS.

Why it happens

This manager may be influenced by homophobia, a conscious or unconscious dislike for lesbian and gay people. His comment may also be fueled by affinity bias, which leads us to gravitate toward people like ourselves and to avoid or even dislike those who are different.134 As a result, gay and lesbian people tend to face unfair barriers to getting hired. For example, one study found that straight hiring managers spend 50% longer interviewing straight candidates than gay candidates.135

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 13/22 : Reviews and promotions

Your company announces its latest round of promotions. Nearly everyone moving up is a man.

Why it matters

This imbalance may signal bias in how your company evaluates employees for promotion—which means women may be missing out on valuable career opportunities and your company may be failing to get the strongest candidates into leadership positions. This is a widespread problem in corporate America: on average, women are promoted at lower rates than men, while Black women and Latinas are promoted at even lower rates than women overall.136

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

If you’re involved with reviews, seize the opportunity to make the process more fair. Suggest that your company set detailed review criteria up front and then stick to them.137 Consider using a rating scale (say, from 1 to 5) and ask reviewers to provide specific examples of what the employee did to earn each score.138 You can also suggest that your company set diversity targets for promotions, then track outcomes and monitor progress, which can also help move the numbers.139 If you’re not part of reviews, you can still make these suggestions to your manager.

Why it happens

Multiple forms of bias may contribute to a workplace in which fewer women are promoted. People tend to see women as less talented and competent than men, even when they’re equally capable.140 Because of this, women are less likely to get credit for successes and more likely to be blamed for failures.141

Situation 14/22 : Everyday interactions

Your boss questions your colleague’s knowledge of something firmly in her area of expertise.

Why it matters

On its own, this incident may seem inconsequential. But moments like this add up: women are twice as likely as men to have their competence questioned at work.142 Over time, it can make them feel less happy in their jobs and more likely to consider leaving.143

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Support the woman by highlighting her expertise. You can say something like, “You may not know this, but [Name] is our resident expert on the topic” or “[Name] actually wrote a report about this last year.”

Longer term, consider making a more concerted effort to highlight the expertise of all the women on your team—not only in the moment, but regularly. Seek their insights in meetings and point people with relevant questions in their direction.

Why it happens

People tend to overestimate men’s performance and underestimate women’s.144 As a result, they are more likely to doubt women’s competence and question their judgment.145 Certain groups, including Black women, Latinas, and women with disabilities, tend to have their expertise questioned even more frequently than other women. They are often assumed to be less skilled because of racist or ableist stereotypes.146

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 15/22 : Mentorship and sponsorship

You decide to mentor someone because they remind you of yourself.

Why it matters

Good mentors can make a big difference. Employees with mentors are more likely to get raises and promotions.147 But because managers and senior leaders are more likely to be straight white men, and because people tend to gravitate toward mentoring others like themselves, women, people of color, and LGBTQ people often miss out on that support.148 That also means your company could miss out on fostering talented employees.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Be aware of this dynamic and let it inform your choices. If you’re a white man, you’re more likely to be in a position of authority someday.149 You can make the workplace fairer by being thoughtful about whom you mentor. Consider proactively reaching out to mentor someone from a different background. If you’re a woman, a person of color, or an LGBTQ person, you might decide instead to mentor someone like yourself—especially if you remember struggling to find mentors when you were coming up through the ranks. In your case, mentoring people like yourself supports diversity and inclusion.

Why it happens

Because of this bias, we tend to prefer the company of others who are like us.150 This can lead us to invest more in people who remind us of ourselves, perhaps because we assume these relationships will feel more comfortable.151

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 16/22 : Everyday interactions

In a meeting, a colleague tells an Asian woman they hope she won’t be away on maternity leave for long, since the team “can’t manage without her.”

Why it matters

This comment may make your coworker feel pressure to cut her maternity leave short, which could negatively impact her health.152 It could even make her feel that her job might be in jeopardy unless she returns early.153 This could in turn harm your company. Stress about maternity leave can make valuable employees less productive and less happy with their jobs.154

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

You should signal that you support your pregnant coworker taking her full leave. For example, you might say, “We’ll really miss you, [Name,] but I hope you take all your leave! You deserve it.” You could also offer to help her plan coverage for when she’s gone. You may want to take a moment to explain WHY IT MATTERS to the colleague who made the comment. In addition, you could ask HR to reassure the woman that she has every right to take all her leave and that the company will keep her projects on track while she’s out.155

Why it happens

Asian women are more likely than other groups to be discouraged from taking family leave.156 This happens because they are often stereotyped as worker bees who are willing to prioritize work over family.157 But while this happens to Asian women more than women overall, it can happen to anyone (men too) because of beliefs that the “ideal worker” should be willing to sacrifice their personal life to advance their career.158

Rooted in: Maternal bias

Situation 17/22 : Meeting dynamics

A meeting is starting soon and you notice that it’s mostly men seated front and center and women seated to the side.

Why it matters

If women are sidelined in meetings, it’s less likely that they’ll speak up, which means the group won’t benefit from everyone’s best thinking. Plus, it’s not beneficial to sit in the low-status seats in the room—and women have to fight for status as it is.159

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

If there are empty chairs at the table, urge women sitting to the side to fill them. If there’s no room, acknowledge the problem—for example, ask if anyone else sees that it’s mostly men at the table. If it happens often, consider saying to the person who runs the meeting, “I’ve noticed that it’s mostly men at the table and women on the sidelines. Maybe you can encourage a better mix.”

Why it happens

Women typically get less time to speak in meetings. They’re more likely than men to be spoken over and interrupted.160 As a result of signals like these, women sometimes feel less valued, so they sit off to the side.

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 18/22 : Mentorship and sponsorship

Your manager, who is a man, often meets the men on his team for dinner or drinks—but rarely meets with the women outside of work.

Why it matters

Friendships at work are valuable. Important relationship building and information sharing can happen over coffee or pizza. When people are routinely excluded from outings like these, they can miss out. If it’s a manager making arrangements, it’s especially problematic—part of their responsibility is to make sure the whole team has equal access to networking opportunities.

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

This is your manager, so you have standing to raise this with him. Say that you’ve noticed he goes for drinks with men on the team more than women. Explain WHY IT MATTERS. You can also offer solutions: if he’s uncomfortable going to dinner with women, suggest that he meet everyone for breakfast or lunch.

Why it happens

Your manager may feel more comfortable with men because of affinity bias, which draws us toward people like ourselves.114 Or he may be nervous for other reasons: some men are wary of spending time with women colleagues outside of work for fear of seeming inappropriate.

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 19/22 : Meeting dynamics

Your manager schedules a virtual team meeting at an hour when your coworker has blocked off time on her calendar to care for her young children.

Why it matters

This can seriously interfere with your coworker’s ability to balance work and life. Many people plan ahead with partners or caregivers, and last-minute changes can be disruptive or impossible. It can also contribute to a feeling of being “always on”—which more than 30 percent of employees name as one of the biggest downsides to remote work in 2020.161 And if situations like this happen often, they can lead to stress or burnout.162

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Remind your manager of your coworker’s schedule constraint and suggest an alternate time. You could also mention how blocking time like this is vital for maintaining work-life balance and explain that practices like these can help employees be more productive and feel more committed to the company.163

Why it happens

This reflects the norm that the “ideal worker” is always available and doesn’t need to take time away from work to care for family, pursue personal interests, or simply recharge.164 Decades of research on the ideal worker show that this norm can harm mothers more than fathers, since mothers often do more caregiving.165

Situation 20/22 : Hiring

In a meeting about hiring, colleagues agree the most qualified candidate is a trans woman but worry about how clients will respond.

Why it matters

It’s inappropriate to speculate about how clients would respond to someone’s gender identity, just as it would be about their religious faith or ethnicity.166 The discussion also harms company culture, because it could make it feel acceptable to discriminate against trans people.167

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Remind the group that they all agreed that she was the most qualified candidate and push back against the idea that you should give up on the strongest hire. You can also point to some of her specific qualifications and experience that fit the criteria for the role.

Why it happens

Transgender people often experience workplace mistreatment, including difficulties getting hired and promoted. This mistreatment is often due in part to concerns that clients and other employees have negative attitudes toward transgender people.168 In this case, allowing such concerns to determine who gets hired results in discrimination against trans women.169

Situation 21/22 : Mentorship and sponsorship

You offer the rising star on your team a stretch assignment, and she says she doesn’t feel qualified to take it on.

Why it matters

When women turn down opportunities they’re qualified for because of self-doubt, they miss out—and your company isn’t able to fully leverage their talents.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Let her know that you believe in her. Remind her she is being offered the opportunity because of her strong performance, not as a favor. You can also reassure her that how she’s feeling is perfectly understandable: “It’s normal for anyone to be nervous about taking on a bigger role. And women get sent signals that they’re not good enough. It’s hard not to internalize them.”

Why it happens

Women can be prone to more self-doubt than men, and it’s not because they’re missing a special confidence gene.170 Because we tend to underestimate women’s performance, women often need to work harder to prove they’re capable. And they are more likely to be passed over for promotions and stretch assignments. This bias is so pervasive that women often underestimate their own performance and are more likely than men to attribute their failures to lack of ability.171

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 22/22 : Everyday interactions

A colleague is talking about a woman who landed a big project. They say, “Wow, she got really lucky.”

Why it matters

Getting recognized for accomplishments can make a difference, especially when it comes to performance reviews and promotions.172 When achievements are attributed to luck rather than hard work or skill, it minimizes them.

For managers

Use this set to provide managers with concrete steps for fighting bias and creating an inclusive team culture.

What to do

Ask your colleague, “I’m curious—what makes you think it was luck?” This may prompt them to slow down and rethink their assumption. If your colleague responds in a way that suggests they doubt the woman’s abilities, you might want to press more and ask why they think she’s less competent. Is there a reason? Can they give an example? If not, that speaks for itself.

Why it happens

We tend to overestimate men’s performance and underestimate women’s.173 Because of this, we often attribute women’s successes to “getting lucky,” “having a good team,” or other explanations that diminish their achievements, while we accept men’s accomplishments as proof of their abilities.174

Rooted in: Attribution bias

Icebreaker 1/2 : Did you know?

When 1 in 10 senior leaders at their company is a woman, what % of men and what % of women think women are well represented in leadership?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

44% of men and 22% of women.175

Icebreaker 2/2 : Did you know?

For every 100 men promoted to manager, how many Black women are promoted?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Only 58 Black women.119

Situation 1/16 : Hiring

You realize that your company gets most of its new employees through referrals by current employees.

Why it matters

If you’re not careful, you may end up with a lot of employees of the same race or gender, or from similar educational or economic backgrounds. This could mean that your company is failing to get the benefits of diversity—and isn’t necessarily getting the best talent.

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

If the new hires lack diversity, talk to HR or someone senior. Say that you’ve noticed that your company tends to hire people who are referred by other employees and explain the shortcomings of this strategy. Another issue could be that your process for evaluating new hires is too subjective, so someone saying, “He’s my friend” ends up carrying a lot of weight. To counter that, suggest using a list of standardized criteria, so all candidates are judged by the same standard.

Why it happens

Affinity bias makes us more comfortable with others like ourselves.176 This can make it feel safer and more comfortable to hire people who are already known and liked by existing employees.177

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 2/16 : Reviews and promotions

Your company announces its latest round of promotions. Nearly everyone moving up is a man.

Why it matters

This imbalance may signal bias in how your company evaluates employees for promotion—which means women may be missing out on valuable career opportunities and your company may be failing to get the strongest candidates into leadership positions. This is a widespread problem in corporate America: on average, women are promoted at lower rates than men, while Black women and Latinas are promoted at even lower rates than women overall.136

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

If you’re involved with reviews, seize the opportunity to make the process more fair. Suggest that your company set detailed review criteria up front and then stick to them.137 Consider using a rating scale (say, from 1 to 5) and ask reviewers to provide specific examples of what the employee did to earn each score.138 You can also suggest that your company set diversity targets for promotions, then track outcomes and monitor progress, which can also help move the numbers.139 If you’re not part of reviews, you can still make these suggestions to your manager.

Why it happens

Multiple forms of bias may contribute to a workplace in which fewer women are promoted. People tend to see women as less talented and competent than men, even when they’re equally capable.140 Because of this, women are less likely to get credit for successes and more likely to be blamed for failures.141

Situation 3/16 : Hiring

At an all-staff meeting, your company’s leaders share concrete goals for hiring, promoting, and retaining women, but it’s clear they haven’t set goals for women of color specifically.

Why it matters

If companies don’t set goals by gender and race combined, they are not explicitly prioritizing the advancement of women of color. That means women of color, who face a uniquely challenging combination of sexism and racism, are more likely to be overlooked.60 It can also send the message that the company hasn’t made the advancement of women of color a priority.

LeanIn.Org thanks Minda Harts for her valuable contribution to this card

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

If you feel comfortable, you could raise the question directly in the meeting: “Do we set these goals for women of color?” You could also speak to your manager or HR team afterward about the importance of setting goals that combine gender and race.

Why it happens

Many corporate diversity efforts focus on either gender or race, but very few focus on the two together. In fact, only 7 percent of companies set representation targets for gender and race combined. This may happen because company leaders aren’t aware of the importance of an intersectional approach to diversity efforts.

Situation 4/16 : Everyday interactions

You overhear a coworker complaining that your company’s gender diversity efforts are a waste of time.

Why it matters

This comment may signal your coworker’s lack of commitment to gender diversity. Research shows that only 56% of employees are personally committed to gender diversity.178 To drive change, it’s critical to raise awareness so more employees are on board.179

LeanIn.Org thanks the Stanford Women’s Leadership Lab for their valuable contribution to this card

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Make a case for gender diversity. Explain that diverse teams often produce better results180 and that diversity efforts can make hiring and promotions fairer for everyone by weeding out bias. You can also share that diversity is good for morale: when companies are highly committed to gender diversity, employees are happier and less likely to leave.181

Why it happens

Many people think that their workplace is a meritocracy—so they assume diversity efforts unfairly favor women and other minorities. This is not true. Diversity efforts simply aim to counter the bias demonstrated by decades of social science research—for example, that stereotypes often bias evaluations in ways that disadvantage women.182 Moreover, when people think of themselves as fair and objective, they don’t scrutinize their decisions, which opens the door to bias. This is why organizations that believe they’re meritocratic can actually be more prone to bias.183

Situation 5/16 : Everyday Interactions

The day after a high-profile killing of a Black person by the police, coworkers are discussing the news but nobody brings up this story.

Why it matters

The silence suggests that non-Black colleagues are not outraged at the injustice or that they aren’t aware of the Black community’s grief and trauma.74 Left unaddressed, these perceptions—accurate or not—can contribute to a workplace where Black employees feel like they don’t belong.75 When a Black person is killed by the police, it reminds all Black people of the violence that threatens their lives. It can make it hard to focus on work, and depression and anxiety can follow.76

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

In the moment, say something. Mention the incident and how awful it was. Depending on your relationships with Black coworkers, let them know you are there to talk if they need to.77 Be understanding if Black coworkers seem distracted or not themselves. In the longer term, you can further educate yourself on the incident by reading about it in a Black news outlet, such as Blavity or Essence. If you’re a manager, check in with Black members of your team to see how they’re doing and if they need any additional support.

Why it happens

Non-Black coworkers may believe it’s insensitive to mention incidents of police violence toward Black people. But in fact, doing so conveys that they care.78 They also may not realize how traumatic these events are to the entire Black community,79 perhaps seeing them as isolated one-offs instead of ongoing systemic abuse.

Situation 6/16 : Everyday interactions

Someone complains to you that a new dad on the team is taking too much of his allotted family leave.

Why it matters

All workers—men too!—should be able to spend time with their families, whether that’s to bond with new babies, care for sick kids, or be there for aging parents. When workplaces have generous family leave policies, employees are happier, more productive, and more likely to stay on staff.184 Plus, when men don’t use their leave, it makes it harder for women to use theirs without judgment.

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Stand up for your colleague on leave. Point out WHY IT MATTERS—how family leave is good for workers, families, and companies.185 More importantly, remind them that no one should be forced to choose between being a good employee and a good parent.

Why it happens

Working fathers can face pushback for spending time with their kids. They tend to receive lower performance ratings and experience steeper reductions in future earnings than mothers who take the same amount of leave.186 Much like maternal bias, this pushback is rooted in gender stereotypes. Moms are expected to be more committed to family and less to their careers.187 But the reverse is true for fathers, and when they go against that expectation by prioritizing family, they are penalized.188

Situation 7/16 : Everyday interactions

Your team holds regular happy hours after work for networking and bonding at a local bar. You realize that one colleague, a Muslim woman, has never come.

Why it matters

Some Muslims avoid alcohol and may therefore feel uncomfortable in a bar.68 If most networking events are held in bars, it means they miss out on the team bonding that can lead to career opportunities.69 It can also send a message that employees who don’t drink—and other groups like caregivers who need to be home soon after work—are not considered when social events are planned.70

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Talk to your team leader and explain WHY IT MATTERS. Encourage them to plan a wide range of events that leave out as few people as possible. For example, if your team goes out every week to a bar, consider moving it to a restaurant sometimes. Move a few evening events to lunchtime so working parents can join. And make the changes with sensitivity, so no one gets blamed. If happy hours are simply canceled, it may create bad feelings among some employees.71

Why it happens

Many teams—and companies—don’t realize how much thoughtfulness is needed to ensure that work events are inclusive to as many employees as possible. This might happen because teams fall into the habit of replicating bonding events that have been offered for decades—many of which were designed for less diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Situation 8/16 : Everyday interactions

You are in a staffing meeting, and a coworker recommends you put one woman on each team for better diversity.

Why it matters

One in five women report they are often the only woman or one of the only women in the room at work.189 These “Onlys” have a worse experience than other women. They are more likely to have their abilities challenged and be subjected to unprofessional remarks.190 They may also experience extra pressure and scrutiny, and they can feel that their actions reflect on others like them.191 This takes a toll: women who are Onlys are 1.5 times more likely to think about leaving their jobs than women who aren’t.192

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Applaud the spirit of the idea, but explain the downside of inadvertently isolating women on separate teams. Instead of adding one woman to many teams, recommend putting groups of a few women on teams together. If you’re in a position to do so, suggest that your company create opportunities for women Onlys to connect with other women, such as networking groups. Also, surface that this is a symptom of a larger problem: your company likely needs to hire more women.

Why it happens

When women are underrepresented in organizations—as they often are—they tend to be spread thinly across teams, which means they stand out. Women of color are even more likely to be “Onlys,” since there are fewer of them in corporate America.193 This underrepresentation can make the biases women face especially pronounced. With everyone’s eyes on them, they can often be heavily scrutinized and held to higher standards. As a result, they feel pressure to perform, on guard, and left out—and may be less likely to speak up and contribute fully.194

Situation 9/16 : Mentorship and sponsorship

You realize that a colleague who is a man only mentors other men.

Why it matters

Mentorship can be critical to success.195 We all benefit when a colleague shows us the ropes or sponsors us for new opportunities—particularly when that colleague is more senior.196 If your coworker only mentors men, the women he works with are missing out on his advice and, potentially, on opportunities to advance. He is also missing out on their best thinking.

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Talk to your colleague. Explain why mentoring is so valuable and share your observation that he only mentors men. Recommend he mentor at least one woman, and offer to help him identify a few promising candidates. If he confides he’s uncomfortable being alone with women, point out that there are plenty of public places to meet—and remind him that mentorship really matters.

Why it happens

We’re often drawn to people from similar backgrounds. The problem is that this can disadvantage people who aren’t like us—and this is especially true when we’re in positions of power.197 Additionally, some men are anxious about mentoring women for fear of seeming inappropriate. Almost half of men in management are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring or working alone together.198

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 10/16 : Reviews and promotions

When reviewing candidates for promotion to a senior role, a member of the committee comments that an Asian woman “doesn’t seem like a leader.”

Why it matters

If this statement isn’t supported by any evidence, it’s unfair to the woman and reinforces a common bias against Asian women as leaders. It could cause your colleague to miss out on a job opportunity and your company to miss out on a talented leader.

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Ask your colleague, “What leadership traits do you think she’s missing?” Asking someone to give evidence for their thinking can prompt them to question any biased assumptions. If you know examples of her leadership, mention them. To help reduce bias in future promotions, talk to your HR team about the importance of consistently using a list of clear criteria to assess all candidates.199

Why it happens

When people make vague comments like “doesn’t seem like a leader,” they are often drawing on gut feelings rather than evidence from the person’s experience or skill set. This vagueness opens the door to bias.200 The comment may also be rooted in the false stereotype that Asian American women are submissive and lack the communication skills for leadership roles.201

Situation 11/16 : Everyday interactions

You hear a woman being criticized for her leadership style—for example, being called “aggressive” or “out for herself.”

Why it matters

When women assert themselves—for example, by speaking in a direct style or promoting their ideas—they often get a negative reaction. In contrast, men do not. This discrepancy can have a big impact on women’s careers. Ask yourself who you’re more likely to support and promote, the man with high marks across the board or the woman who gets high marks for her performance but is not as well liked.

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

When you hear someone criticize a woman for asserting herself, ask them about it: “That’s interesting. Would you have that reaction if a man did the same thing?” It may also be worth pointing out that being focused and decisive about moving the business forward is what’s expected of leaders.

Why it happens

Because of stereotypical expectations that women should be selfless and giving, they can face criticism when they appear to be “out for themselves”—for example, when they compete for a bigger job.202 By contrast, we expect men to be driven and ambitious, and we tend to think well of them when they show those qualities.203

Rooted in: Likeability bias

Situation 12/16 : Reviews and promotions

When discussing a potential promotion for a woman who uses a wheelchair, someone says, “I’m not sure she can handle a more senior role,” without offering further explanation.

Why it matters

The comment is vague and lacks evidence, which means it’s more likely to be rooted in bias. If it sways the team, it could mean this woman misses out on a promotion she is well qualified for. That hurts everyone, since teams with more diversity—including employees with disabilities—tend to be more innovative and productive.204

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Ask the person to explain what they mean: “What parts of her qualifications don’t meet the criteria?”205 Basing evaluations on concrete criteria instead of gut feelings is fairer and can reduce the effects of bias. If you believe she merits a promotion, advocate for her. To help avoid bias in the future, you can talk to HR about using a set of clear and consistent criteria for promotions.206 You can also ask if your company has targets to recruit and promote more employees with disabilities.207

Why it happens

Research shows that people with disabilities face especially strong negative biases.208 In particular, women with disabilities are often incorrectly perceived as less competent than their coworkers, and their contributions may be valued less.209 They also get less support from managers than almost any other group of employees.210 This means they often face an uphill battle to advancement.

Situation 13/16 : Hiring

In a meeting about hiring for a senior role that requires travel, someone questions whether a Latina would want to be away from her family that much.

Why it matters

The question is based on biased assumptions about this employee’s family commitments and ambition. It could mean she loses a major opportunity that she’s qualified for and that your company misses out on her talents.

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Ask your co-worker, “What makes you think that?” This may make them realize their comment isn’t based on hard evidence. Explain WHY IT HAPPENS: Latinas are often stereotyped as having lots of kids or not being career-oriented. You can also recommend asking all of the candidates how they feel about the travel requirements. Let them speak for themselves.

Why it happens

This comment may be influenced by several stereotypes about Latinas: that they aren’t ambitious in their careers, they usually have a lot of children, they prioritize family more than other groups do, and they’re more naturally suited to junior roles. All of these preconceptions can keep Latinas out of the senior roles they’re qualified for.

Situation 14/16 : Reviews and promotions

You’re in a meeting to discuss performance reviews and notice that men are described as “strategic” and “visionary,” while women are “hard workers” or “good team players.”

Why it matters

How we describe people matters—and can unfairly influence performance reviews.211 In this situation, it’s not hard to imagine men getting the inside track on promotions and raises.

LeanIn.Org thanks the Stanford Women’s Leadership Lab for their valuable contribution to this card

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Point out the pattern and explain WHY IT MATTERS. You can also talk to HR about creating a broad checklist of leadership attributes with concrete examples of what they look like in practice. Expanding the definition of a good leader will help with inclusivity, and using a standardized checklist to evaluate candidates can help remove bias from the review process.212

Why it happens

Gender stereotypes influence the words we use. Even when women and men produce similar results, we often talk about them differently. We tend to use words associated with leadership like “driven,” “big thinker,” and “visionary” to describe men. In contrast, we often describe women with communal language like “team player,” “friendly,” and “committed,” not words that speak to skill or impact.213

Situation 15/16 : Reviews and promotions

You’re on a review committee and several members argue against a woman’s promotion because she is not “seen as a leader,” even though her team delivers outstanding results.

Why it matters

The review committee may be making incorrect—and unfair—assumptions about the woman’s abilities. Additionally, if the review committee uses a narrow definition of leadership, they may unfairly exclude a lot of people, like this woman.

LeanIn.Org thanks the Stanford Women’s Leadership Lab for their valuable contribution to this card

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Point out that the woman’s team delivers superb results, and suggest that their performance speaks to her leadership. You can also ask them to explain the attributes she lacks. When people are asked to justify their thinking, it can help reduce bias in decision-making.100

As a longer-term solution, suggest creating detailed metrics for performance reviews, including clear expectations for leaders. This way, all employees will be evaluated based on a more complete definition of good leadership and using the same standards, which reduces bias in the review process.101

Why it happens

Both women and men more readily associate men with leadership.102 This bias is so strong that when women work on teams, their contributions are often attributed to the team as a whole. In contrast, when men work on teams, they are more likely to be seen as taking a leadership role.103 The bias affects different groups of women in different ways: Asian women often aren't seen as assertive enough to be leaders, while Black women and Latinas can be stereotyped as not talented enough for leadership roles, and Native American women contend with both these stereotypes.104

Situation 16/16 : Everyday interactions

A colleague says they’re glad to see so many women in leadership at your company. In reality, only 2 out of 15 senior leaders are women.

Why it matters

If people think that women are well represented in leadership when in reality they’re not, they’re less likely to do anything to fix the problem—they simply don’t see it. That’s a loss for your company: when companies have more women in leadership, they tend to have more employee-friendly policies and produce better business results.214

For senior leaders

Use this set to help senior leaders understand how they can fight bias by shifting company policies, programs, and culture.

What to do

Point out the numbers, which speak for themselves. You can say, “It’s great that we have those two women on the leadership team, but they’re only two out of fifteen. Women are half the population, so women are still really underrepresented.” You can also share that having more women in leadership can be good for a company’s bottom line.215

Why it happens

When it comes to women in leadership, people tend to be too satisfied with the status quo: 44% of men and 22% of women think women are well represented when only 1 in 10 senior leaders at their company is a woman.216 These low expectations are the result of generations of inequality. When there used to be no women senior leaders, seeing just one or two can feel like a huge step forward. It’s hard to imagine a groundswell for change when we don’t have higher expectations for what equality looks like.

Icebreaker 1/5 : Did you know?

For every 100 men promoted to manager, how many Black women are promoted?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Only 58 Black women.119

Icebreaker 2/5 : Did you know?

In one study, job applicants with white-sounding names got what percentage more callbacks than identical job applicants with Black-sounding names?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

It led to 50% more callbacks—the equivalent of adding eight years of work experience.234

Icebreaker 3/5 : Did you know?

For every 100 men hired as managers, how many Latinas are hired?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Icebreaker 4/5 : Did you know?

As of September 2020, how many Black women have led Fortune 500 companies?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Only two—Ursula Burns at Xerox and Mary Winston at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Icebreaker 5/5 : Did you know?

What % of Black women have never had an informal interaction with a senior leader at their company?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Situation 1/32 : Everyday Interactions

A coworker says, “I don’t see color.”

Why it matters

This comment denies a fundamental part of people’s identities. It also suggests that if we choose to ignore racism, it will go away on its own. In fact, many studies show that when people or institutions claim to be “color-blind,” they often perpetuate racism by failing to take action against it.80 To combat racism, you first have to face it head-on, then actively work to challenge racist stereotypes and behavior—both your own and those of others.81

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

You could ask a question to make your coworker reflect: “What’s wrong with acknowledging someone's race? Everyone’s identity is unique and should be appreciated.”82 Explain that while you understand they think they’re being fair and objective, “not seeing color” can make racism worse. Point out that this way of thinking signals that someone’s not interested in challenging racist behavior, whether or not that was the intention.

Why it happens

Your coworker may wish to deny that racism still exists.83 Or they may be falling into the trap of thinking that “not seeing color” is a way of avoiding racism, when in fact it perpetuates racism.84

Situation 2/32 : Everyday Interactions

The day after a high-profile killing of a Black person by the police, coworkers are discussing the news but nobody brings up this story.

Why it matters

The silence suggests that non-Black colleagues are not outraged at the injustice or that they aren’t aware of the Black community’s grief and trauma.74 Left unaddressed, these perceptions—accurate or not—can contribute to a workplace where Black employees feel like they don’t belong.75 When a Black person is killed by the police, it reminds all Black people of the violence that threatens their lives. It can make it hard to focus on work, and depression and anxiety can follow.76

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

In the moment, say something. Mention the incident and how awful it was. Depending on your relationships with Black coworkers, let them know you are there to talk if they need to.77 Be understanding if Black coworkers seem distracted or not themselves. In the longer term, you can further educate yourself on the incident by reading about it in a Black news outlet, such as Blavity or Essence. If you’re a manager, check in with Black members of your team to see how they’re doing and if they need any additional support.

Why it happens

Non-Black coworkers may believe it’s insensitive to mention incidents of police violence toward Black people. But in fact, doing so conveys that they care.78 They also may not realize how traumatic these events are to the entire Black community,79 perhaps seeing them as isolated one-offs instead of ongoing systemic abuse.

Situation 3/32 : Hiring

You’re on a hiring committee and a colleague rules out a woman of color because she’s “not a good cultural fit.”

Why it matters

Evaluations of “culture fit” tend to be subjective. They can lead us to screen out people who aren’t like us, which means we can miss qualified candidates and end up with less diverse teams. Plus, it can mean that talented job seekers lose out on opportunities.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

When someone rules out a candidate because of fit, ask them to be more specific. If their thinking boils down to “she’s different,” point out that different can be good. Propose that you look for someone who adds to the team dynamic—a “culture add”—instead of someone who simply fits into it.

As a longer-term solution, ask that a set of standardized criteria be used for all hires. This reduces bias by minimizing subjective evaluations.55

Why it happens

We tend to gravitate toward—and hire—people who remind us of ourselves, which can impact our ability to objectively evaluate who would bring the most to the job.56

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 4/32 : Everyday interactions

In an informal conversation with colleagues, someone interrupts and talks over a woman who speaks English as a second language.

Why it matters

This is disrespectful to your colleague and could negatively affect how others perceive her. It could also undermine her confidence and make her feel devalued. If your colleague is interrupted often, your team will miss out on hearing and benefiting from her ideas.

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

If possible, interrupt the interrupter. You might say, “Hold on, I’d love to hear what [Name] was saying.” Or after the interrupter has finished speaking, invite the woman to speak again. Later, in private, you might want to mention to the interrupter that you felt they could have given the woman more space to contribute.

Why it happens

Women tend to be interrupted more often than men due to false beliefs that their contributions are of less value and that they should be more accommodating than men.286 This is compounded for women with nonnative accents because of “accent bias,” the belief that those with “foreign” accents are less intelligent than others.287 This bias can be even more extreme if the speaker makes errors in grammar or word choice.288 All this sets the stage for women who speak English as a second language to be spoken over, interrupted, or simply not listened to.

Situation 5/32 : Hiring

At an all-staff meeting, your company’s leaders share concrete goals for hiring, promoting, and retaining women, but it’s clear they haven’t set goals for women of color specifically.

Why it matters

If companies don’t set goals by gender and race combined, they are not explicitly prioritizing the advancement of women of color. That means women of color, who face a uniquely challenging combination of sexism and racism, are more likely to be overlooked.60 It can also send the message that the company hasn’t made the advancement of women of color a priority.

LeanIn.Org thanks Minda Harts for her valuable contribution to this card

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

If you feel comfortable, you could raise the question directly in the meeting: “Do we set these goals for women of color?” You could also speak to your manager or HR team afterward about the importance of setting goals that combine gender and race.

Why it happens

Many corporate diversity efforts focus on either gender or race, but very few focus on the two together. In fact, only 7 percent of companies set representation targets for gender and race combined. This may happen because company leaders aren’t aware of the importance of an intersectional approach to diversity efforts.

Situation 6/32 : Everyday Interactions

A coworker asks a Black woman on your team if they can touch her hair.

Why it matters

Asking to touch a Black woman’s hair is “othering”—that is, it treats her as different or as an outsider.289 It can make the woman feel objectified and disempowered, as well as on guard and self-conscious.290 And depending on the context, this request for unwanted physical interaction could also feel like sexual harassment.

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

You can jump in and say something like, “Hey, asking to touch a Black woman’s hair is not OK!” or “Why do you need to touch it? It looks great from here!” To make sure it doesn’t keep happening, consider mentioning it to your manager as an example of why the company needs regular anti-racism training and a robust allyship program.

Why it happens

The request may be motivated by “hair bias”—the idea that there’s something exotic, wrong, or unprofessional about a Black woman’s natural hair.291 This bias began in the slavery era and has been reinforced by the beauty industry.292 It is also all too common: in fact, some U.S. companies still prohibit natural Black hairstyles.293 Plus, asking to touch a Black woman’s hair reveals a troubling power dynamic in which white people can cross the personal boundaries of Black people without facing any penalty.294

Situation 7/32 : Everyday interactions

Your manager suggests having a “powwow.”

Why it matters

This is a misuse of the word “powwow,” a social gathering that often holds spiritual significance for Native American people. Misusing words and phrases like “powwow,” “spirit animal,” and “low man on the totem pole” may feel harmless to non–Native Americans. But to Native Americans, it can seem mocking and derogatory.

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

Speak up in the moment by saying, “I’m happy to have a meeting, but I want to mention one thing. You might not know this, but the word ‘powwow’ has real meaning to Native Americans. It doesn’t simply mean a meeting.” You can also explain WHY IT MATTERS. Or you could ask, “Are you trying to say you want to have a meeting?” This can prompt your manager to reflect on their language choice.

Why it happens

This type of cultural appropriation occurs when there is a power imbalance between cultures. People from a dominant culture feel able to use parts of a marginalized culture in any way they choose, including in ways that rob it of its original meaning.90

Situation 8/32 : Meeting dynamics

In a meeting, someone says to a Latina, “I can see you’re getting fired up,” when she has been speaking firmly but calmly.

Why it matters

Statements like these can quickly shut someone down. It’s not fair to your coworker, who is trying to present her ideas. It’s not fair to everyone in the meeting who could benefit from her insights. And it reinforces harmful stereotypes that Latinas are overly emotional compared to other groups and that women who assert themselves are angry or combative.295

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

Speak up. Say you’d like to hear your coworker’s point of view, and push back on the suggestion that she’s too emotional or irrational. You could say, “[Name] doesn’t seem heated to me. I think she’s making some really great points. [Name], can you go on?”

Why it happens

Research shows that Latinas tend to be labeled as heated or emotional when they are merely speaking without being deferential.296 This is rooted in the pervasive stereotype that Latinas are too intense, feisty, and emotional.297

Situation 9/32 : Hiring

After interviewing a Black woman, a coworker expresses surprise over “how articulate she sounded.”

Why it matters

Comments like these may sound like compliments, but they definitely are not. They are microaggressions that perpetuate a stereotype that Black people aren’t articulate or educated, which is not only insulting but can also lead to fewer career opportunities.86

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

Asking a probing question can prompt your coworker to examine their assumptions. You might ask, “Why wouldn’t you expect her to be articulate?” You can also talk to the hiring manager responsible for making sure job candidates are evaluated fairly and explain that comments like these undermine that process.

Why it happens

This type of statement is fueled by a centuries-old racist belief that Black people have worse language skills than whites.87 It also reflects a narrow view of what “articulate speech” sounds like by reinforcing the idea that to be considered smart or have your words valued, your speech must sound “white.”88 This assumption is all too common: compared to any other racial or ethnic group, Black women are the most likely to have others express surprise over their language skills or other abilities.89

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 10/32 : Everyday interactions

You hear a white coworker say they aren’t privileged because they grew up poor.

Why it matters

This kind of thinking is fairly common, as 63 percent of white Americans say they don’t benefit much or at all from being white.105 When white people don’t accept that there are benefits to being white, they cast doubt on the idea that racial inequality exists at all.106 The comment also invalidates the lived experiences of nonwhite coworkers, who deal with racial inequality as a part of their daily lives.107

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

You can tell your coworker you know they’ve worked hard to get where they are.108 Then explain that benefiting from white privilege doesn’t mean they haven’t struggled. Their challenges may be economic, health related, or derive from another source, but racism has not been one of their burdens. Put another way, they haven’t struggled because they are white.

Why it happens

Even though it hugely benefits them, white privilege can be invisible to those who have it.109 It’s the privilege of not being treated with suspicion by store clerks or regularly pulled over by police. It can mean being hired over a Black candidate with similar experience110 or getting a mortgage when a Latino in the same financial situation is denied one.111 Even when people know white privilege exists, they can be reluctant to admit it applies to them.112 It can make them feel defensive and as if their own hard work is invalidated.113

Situation 11/32 : Everyday interactions

You overhear a coworker confuse the names of the only two Black women in your company.298

Why it matters

This mistake could diminish the women’s value in the eyes of those who hear it. It can also signal disrespect for Black women at the company more broadly because, consciously or unconsciously, it is a form of stereotyping. And it can make the women feel that their names are not considered worth learning or that they are viewed as interchangeable.

LeanIn.Org thanks Minda Harts for her valuable contribution to this card

Women of color

Use this set to educate employees about the biases women of color face at work and the concrete steps colleagues can take to interrupt bias and provide support.

What to do

You can correct the mistake in the moment: “You’re confusing Maya with Alicia. They’re very different! You should get to know them.”299 If that doesn’t work and your coworker continues to confuse them, you might need to talk to your manager. Explain WHY IT MATTERS and suggest that someone speak to them about trying harder to get this right.

Why it happens

Decades of research show that people often find it harder to differentiate between people of another race than people of their own race.300