Kim Scott and Trier Bryant: How to reduce bias in your workplace

Recorded atOctober 25, 2021
EventThe Way We Work
Duration (min:sec)05:47
Video TypeOriginal Content
Words per minute231.29 very fast
Readability (FK)67.04 very easy
SpeakerKim Scott and Trier Bryant

Official TED page for this talk


We all have bias -- especially the unconscious kind -- and it's preventing us from doing our best work. Gone unchecked, bias can make employees feel resentful, frustrated and silenced, and it can even lead to outright discrimination and harassment. Check out three key ways to reduce bias at work, according to Just Work cofounders Kim Scott and Trier Bryant.

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100:00 Kim Scott: We all have our biases, the set of assumptions that we make and the things we don't notice about people's race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, appearance and other traits.
200:12 They come from the part of our mind that jumps to conclusions that we might not even be aware that we have.
300:18 Trier Bryant: I really can't tell you the number of times people assumed I was a receptionist when I was an executive at the company.
400:25 KS: That kind of bias gets in the way of good collaboration, performance and decision making.
500:30 TB: It creates an invisible tax of resentment and frustration.
600:34 The more frustrated we are, the more silent we are likely to be.
700:37 And the more silent we are, the less we may be able to do our best work.
800:40 The good news, though, is bias is not inevitable.
900:44 [The Way We Work] TB: So here’s how to disrupt bias in three steps.
1000:50 The first step is to create a shared vocabulary.
1100:54 Sometimes bias shows up in big, embarrassing gaffes, but more often it comes out in the little words and phrases we choose, which are packed with assumptions.
1201:02 In meetings, especially, these often go unnoticed or, even worse, people notice but don't know what to say.
1301:10 That's why we recommend coming up with a shared word or phrase that everyone agrees to use to disrupt biased attitudes or behaviors.
1401:17 Examples teams are using are "bias alert," "stop light" or even throwing up a peace sign.
1501:22 KS: Leaders often ask us to give them the "right words," but the best words are the ones your team will actually say, not the ones that leaders impose.
1601:31 So talk to your team.
1701:33 My very favorite is the one that you recommended, Trier: “purple flag.”
1801:38 When someone says or does something biased, we'll say "purple flag."
1901:42 Maybe we'll even wave a purple flag.
2001:45 It's not a red flag.
2101:46 It's a friendly purple flag.
2201:48 TB: It helps us become more aware of our blind spots.
2301:51 KS: Purple flag.
2401:52 TB: Purple flag.
2501:53 Thanks for pointing that out.
2601:55 I've been noticing lately I use a lot of sight metaphors that often portray disabilities, like being visually impaired, in negative ways.
2702:01 But I'm committed to doing better and working on it.
2802:04 KS: I am too.
2902:05 Another great shared vocabulary trick is to ask members of your team to respond to bias with an "I statement."
3002:11 An "I statement" invites the other person in, to understand things from your perspective rather than calling them out.
3102:17 Like, "I don't think you're going to take me seriously when you're calling me honey," Or “I don’t think you meant that the way that it sounded.”
3202:24 Usually, when people's biases are pointed out to them clearly and compassionately, they apologize and correct things going forward.
3302:32 Usually, but not always.
3402:34 TB: That brings us to the second step: create a shared norm for how to respond when your bias is pointed out.
3502:40 KS: when my bias is flagged, I can only be glad that I’m learning something new if I can move past the shame.
3602:47 I hate the idea that I've harmed someone.
3702:49 And when I feel ashamed, I rarely respond well.
3802:53 So it's really helpful to have that shared norm so that I know what to say in those moments.
3902:58 TB: We recommend you start with: “Thank you for pointing that out.”
4003:02 It took courage for that person to disrupt the bias, so it's important to acknowledge that.
4103:06 Then there are two choices on what to say next.
4203:08 One, "I get it," or two, "I don't get it.
4303:12 Could you explain more after the meeting?"
4403:14 KS: The other day, you and I were recording a podcast and I said, "HR serves three masters," and you waved the purple flag.
4503:21 I knew what I had done wrong.
4603:23 Why was I using a slavery metaphor?
4703:25 We hit pause, I thanked you, and we rerecorded.
4803:29 It was no big deal.
4903:30 The thing I love about the purple flag is how efficient it is.
5003:34 TB: Flagging the bias didn't prevent us from getting the work done.
5103:37 In fact, it helps us work together more honestly.
5203:39 KS: It's even harder when I don't know what I did wrong.
5303:42 Once, I asked someone out to lunch.
5403:44 Out came the purple flag.
5503:45 I had no idea why, so I was relieved to know what to say next.
5603:51 "Thank you for pointing it out, but I don't get it.
5703:53 Could we talk after the meeting?"
5803:55 Afterwards, the person reminded me that they were fasting for Ramadan.
5903:58 It instantly made sense to me, and I discovered something that I could be more aware of.
6004:04 But to get to awareness, I had to move through shame.
6104:07 It was hard to say, "I don't get it."
6204:09 The shared norm helped me listen and learn rather than getting defensive.
6304:13 The fact that there was a norm at all reassured me that other people are making similar kinds of mistakes and that we're all learning together.
6404:21 TB: Disrupting bias may start off feeling uncomfortable, but with time and consistency, we can build the stamina we need to push through it.
6504:28 When it becomes routine for us to notice our biases, all of a sudden, they feel less threatening.
6604:33 It's hard to break bias habits, yet we can change the pattern with consistent effort.
6704:39 KS: We've got to be patient with ourselves and with others.
6804:42 TB: Patient and also persistent.
6904:44 Which brings us to our last step.
7004:46 Once a team has come up with a shared vocabulary and agrees on the shared norm for how to respond, the team should commit to disrupting bias at least once in every meeting.
7104:54 KS: If bias isn't flagged in a meeting, it doesn't mean there wasn't any bias.
7204:58 It just means either nobody noticed or nobody knew what to say.
7305:02 When we are silent about bias, we reinforce it.
7405:06 And it can't be just the targets of bias who point it out.
7505:10 Observers and leaders have got to speak up.
7605:13 We all have a responsibility.
7705:15 TB: By making a practice of disrupting bias quickly and kindly, we prevent it from metastasizing into something worse, like prejudice, bullying, discrimination or harassment.
7805:25 KS: Bias disrupters: a shared vocabulary, a shared norm and a shared commitment ensure that we notice and learn from the mistakes that we are all making so that we can work better together.
7905:36 TB: When we collaborate, we use our full capacity as humans to get more done collectively than we could ever dream of accomplishing as individuals.
8005:44 So let's stop letting bias get in the way.