Plenty of organizations want to create an equitable workplace, and yet only 18% of women say their companies have done something.   (Interestingly, 51% of men think their companies have made a difference).  CEOs often make the mistake of claiming they’ll “prioritize inclusivity” and thinking demanding it is enough to solve the problem. The reality is that lasting organizational impact begins with shifting mindsets.

In our new book, The Next Smart Step, we outline the process for making lasting organizational change for women and people of color.  We recommend starting with mindset shift because the non-inclusive habits that permeate the workplace are characterized by flawed – biased –  thinking.   Unconscious biases are often rooted in false social constructs that have been reinforced so early in our lives that we may not even be aware of them. We’re seeing this show up right now with “she-cession”- the mass exodus of women from the workplace due to covid19. Childcare has been dramatically reduced, many schools are distance-learning, and who’s now doing most of the parenting work? Mom.  Upwards of 25% of working mothers are considering downshifting their careers. So who then naturally does the breadwinning work? Dad.  Since covid, men’s jobs are being prioritized in the family in a way that will have long-lasting impacts on work and women’s income.  But, as we proposed, this is merely a mindset problem.

When leaders carry black-and-white mental models like this to work, it translates into biased decisions that affect hiring, firing, and promotion. Out-group employees may even come to believe the negative stereotypes about themselves, causing them to develop performance anxiety and self-limiting actions.  

A huge barrier to eliminating unconscious bias is that people often deny that it even exists. After all, who wants to admit that they have a flawed thinking process? But without accepting the problem, leaders are unable to ultimately understand, empathize, and solve their organization’s diversity and inclusion challenges.  The mindset needs to be open for people to learn.

That’s why we recommend a shifting process called “reframing assumptions” to help change mindsets surrounding bias. Rather than placing blame, or calling people names, the reframing process helps people become aware of what’s going on in their own thinking process so they can better understand what’s driving behaviors. Here are the five steps to reframing assumptions:

  1. Recognize the bad habit or behavior. Delina isn’t considered for promotion because she’s had to dial back her career since COVID.
  2. Notice resistance, anger, fear, guilt—whatever negative emotion arises. I feel bad about giving her a big project right now when I should just be flexible. 
  3. Uncover the underlying assumption and evaluate it. Delina is a mother.  Mothers should consider their families first and career second.  We need to promote a man instead.
  4. Reframe flawed assumptions. Everyone’s families come first!  What do we need to do to support all working parents and give everyone a chance to be promoted?
  5. From this place of increased choices, you can consciously choose a response. We are going to provide a stipend for child and elder care support during COVID. We will let people choose a schedule right now that works for them.  We will consolidate meetings to after-school times of the day.  We will provide collaborative tools to allow employees to work from anywhere, including the park.

What do you notice about the difference between (3) and (5)? Can you see that reframing enables more options to be created? That’s the key. Flawed, unconscious assumptions limit outcomes because they filter out options immediately. We don’t even consider them. The power of the reframe is that now options abound. 

Developing this skill can take time, but it’s essential that leaders shift to an entirely different way of thinking if they want to enact and engage a diverse team. Shifting mindsets is step one to making your organization more inclusive. Are you ready to try? 

For a complete step by step guide on how to build an equitable organization, check out our new book, The Next Smart Step.

The Next Smart Step: How to Overcome Gender Stereotypes and Build a Stronger Organizations, is available now for your e-reader or for the hard cover pre-order on and

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