Blog by Marzena Zaziąbł
It all started when I saw a post on the Women in Agile (WIA) South African slack group about a call for submissions from WIA for launching new voices with a link to click on if you were interested. Over the past few years, diversity and inclusion have become increasingly important around the world and the Agile Community has been no exception. I had been involved in initiatives aimed at creating more diversity and inclusion locally and when I saw this post I thought to myself “Be the change that you would like to see in the community” when such an opportunity arises, it’s life offering you to practise what you preach and so I immediately clicked on the link to find out more.
After reading more about ‘launching new voices’ I was keen to participate but now the struggle was to find a topic for my talk. I had always thought that to be a speaker one had to be an expert in their field, ridiculously smart or highly successful. I had shared this thinking with one of my colleagues who told me that “every person has a story and every persons story has an impact, that even if it only resonates with one person it’s still an impact”. This was the pep talk I needed to inspire me and it lead me to think of a topic for my talk which was “The enemy of our success: breaking free from unconscious self-bias”. I was already on a journey of breaking free from my own limitations with the hope to discover who I was and not who I thought I was supposed to be and before I could talk myself out of it, or allow my unconscious bias to be my enemy I submitted my talk.
When I received the email that my talk had been selected I was so thrilled but then I realized that I now had to do the talk. I started filling my mind with so many thoughts: I’m not a speaker; I have a fear of public speaking; What if my talk is horrible; I suffer from anxiety; Did I have anything of value to offer? I had to stop myself from this thinking before I lost my mind. My topic was about breaking free from unconscious self-bias and here was an opportunity to model the very essence of it and put my own lessons into practise. My talk had the following learning outcomes that I hoped people would gain from listening to it and it was time for me to apply my own teachings:
- Define unconscious self-bias.
- Reflect on your own unconscious self-bias.
- Explore techniques to break-free from unconscious self-bias.
Define unconscious self-bias
Unconscious self-bias are the limiting beliefs that we have about ourselves that prohibit us from unleashing our potential. It’s the boxing of ourselves based on where we are from, the universities we attended, our social circles, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, or race. When we allow these beliefs to overcome us we become our own enemy of success.
Reflecting on my own unconscious self-bias
Public speaking is something I never believed was possible for me. Speakers are people that are experts in their field, ridiculously smart or highly successful. They are extroverts that exude charisma, poise and self-confidence and that was just not me. As a young child, I used to be a drama student that had no fear of standing on stage and performing in front of people. But what had happened to me from then until now? How had I shrunk myself into someone that could not speak freely in front of a group of people. Where did this unconscious self-bias come from? I had to dig deeper and I realized that it all started in my working career. In corporate South Africa the reality is that most black females are quota hires to satisfy a BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) (also known as affirmative action) rating and because of this, there is an unspoken sad truth that had it not been for BEE, we would probably not have been hired and because of this we diminish our authenticity in fear of making others uncomfortable and fear of limiting our professional growth. We are conditioned to believe that our opinion has no weight as a result of being ‘quota hires, and it was this conditioning that had even silenced me. I had grouped myself based on race and gender and allowed these limiting beliefs to define me. I was educated, experienced yet I saw myself in the eyes of this systemic bias resulting in my lack of self-worth, thinking I had no merit and that my voice did not matter.
Exploring techniques to break-free from unconscious self-bias
To overcome your enemy of success I had identified the following 3 steps as the key to break free:
- Acceptance and Embrace
My fear of being a speaker stemmed from thinking that I had no merit or anything of value to offer. I had identified the root of my unconscious self-bias to be me the boxing of myself based on my gender, my race and the opinions I thought others may had of me. I had allowed these limiting beliefs to be my own enemy of success.
Acceptance and Embrace
I may be black and female but there was no reason why this should limit me from doing anything I desired, in this regard “becoming a speaker”. I needed to accept and embrace this as part of the building blocks that make me special and unique.
Lastly I had to find strength in my own self-bias. I had to see my blackness and womanhood as something beautiful; that it meant that I had a different life experiences from some, which led to a diverse perspective that is uniquely my own. In realizing this I was able to break free from my own unconscious self-bias. My voice matters and even if it impacts only 1 person it is still a success for me. If I want to contribute towards inclusiveness and diversity in the Agile community, I have to be the change that I would like to see in our community and this has been my journey to launching my new voice and being a part of this incredible initiative in hope to inspire those that see a part of themselves through my story to also one day break free from their enemy of success.