BBAM2023: Recognizing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Women in Breakbulk Breakfast Sheds Light on Hidden Obstacle to Equality

By Alex Keimig

Breakbulk Americas 2023: Female professionals in the industry were given a vital space to discuss the importance of recognizing unconscious bias in the workplace at Breakbulk Americas’ Women in Breakbulk Breakfast in Houston.

Women professionals representing several key industry players, including APR Energy, Bechtel, BMC Software, Linde, and others, shared their thoughts, experiences, and hopes for the future of their fields when it comes to gender diversity and equitable professional representation.

Unconscious biases are those that individuals may not realize they hold or that they do not actively consider, but that still impact their decision making, from breakroom socializing to contract negotiation and hiring choices. These biases often disproportionately impact the group or identity with the lowest representation in the room; in male-dominated industries like shipping and logistics, this is typically women.

Session moderator Leslie Meredith, marketing and media director at Breakbulk Events & Media, welcomed participants to the event before inviting several Women in Breakbulk advisory council members to share their contributions.

“One of the reasons that we chose unconscious bias as our topic this year is that it touches everybody,” said Audrey Murillo, senior estimator for Bechtel and Women in Breakbulk Advisor Co-lead.

The executive shared a story featuring her two children that had revealed her own unconscious bias toward their interests in football based on gender differences, and the steps she ultimately took to rectify that disparity. The story served as a salient reminder that even those who may be negatively impacted by unconscious biases are not automatically free of holding them. “We all have unconscious bias,” Murillo said. “Being self-aware and recognizing that makes a big difference.”

Featured speaker Valerie Moulin-Major, logistics director at APR Energy, echoed Murillo’s sentiment as she delivered her address.

“We don’t all have to agree, but we can certainly maintain a collaborative attitude,” said Moulin-Major. “We are all in the same boat, moving in the same direction, and we all have similar goals. Those similar goals are what brought us here. The workplace is already complex enough for us. Why are we allowing unconscious bias to make things more difficult for us?”

Sandra Guadarrama, senior project logistics manager for Linde, backed the importance of a spirit of collaboration and finding common ground as natural antidotes to unconscious bias.

“My message to all women today is that as you reach new heights, as you reach that new level, bring the other women up with you,” she said. She also emphasized the importance of education, preparation, and awareness as additional tools to combat unconscious bias, pointing to the reality that human capital is a crucial component in the modern supply chain, and that means that the equitable presence of women professionals is crucial as well.

“The power now belongs to us,” said Wendy Rentschler, global head of corporate citizenship, DEI and ESG for BMC Software. “Don’t doubt yourself. They need you more than you need them, and we need each other. We need to empower each other, to lift each other up, to mentor each other. You are all running circles around your peer group, and you need to have the confidence that matches that.”

In addition to intrapersonal tools such as confidence and education, leveraging interpersonal supports like mentorship, sponsorship, and extracurricular collaboration can be effective in combating the effects of unconscious bias in the workplace.

Creating a network of strong women who are able to serve as mentors to one another amplifies the benefit of collective experiences, while forging resilient relationships with male coworkers and industry contacts allows women professionals to foster additional backing in the form of boardroom sponsorship or peer endorsement when in need of further support.

“Don’t hide who you are. Bring it out. In this industry, we need to work together as women. Don’t be afraid to use what you have, because we as women have so much to offer in this world,” said Joyce Alexander, logistics specialist for Air Products. “The skillsets that women in shipping and supply chain – or anywhere – have to offer are invaluable, which is why it is so vital that they be afforded equal space at the table.”

Joyce and others encouraged not only those in attendance this morning but women across the world to leverage their experiences, their voices, and their unique talents to continue making progress for themselves and their fellow female professionals.

This year’s Women in Breakbulk Breakfast was sponsored by dship Carriers.

Watch our highlights video and 'behind the scenes' with Sandra Guadarrama: