5 D’s to fight bias in the workplace

by | Inclusion & Diversity

Last month, I ran two workshops about fighting bias in the workplace for the Hello 50:50 World communities in Zurich and Bern. I loved seeing so many people choosing to spend their free summer evenings learning about bias and becoming better allies rather than jumping into a lake or river! That’s true commitment!

I’ve walked away from these workshops with three takeaways.

One of them is that even when people want to fight bias when they see it, they are not exactly sure what to do.

There is often a fear of not taking the right action, accompanied by guilt and shame for not reacting on the spot.

That’s why I like to teach about the 5 D’s.

It’s a framework originally developed by Right To Be, a nonprofit organisation started by a group of young adults in 2005. Over the years, they have taught hundreds of thousands of people how to stop harassment through their Bystander Intervention Trainings.

The 5 D’s to fight bias in the workplace 

The 5 D’s to fight bias in the workplace and beyond are adapted from their framework. The idea is simple: when you witness bias as a bystander, choose how to act by following one of the 5 D’s: 


act directly by pointing out a biased belief, offer a different point of view and suggest a better approach. Use with caution because a direct action can escalate the situation and you need to be ready to face the consequences. Choose your words wisely and address it in a way that is respectful of everyone involved. Remember that most people don’t want to hurt others on purpose and are keen to work on their blind spots, but no one likes to feel attacked. Ask yourself if you think that the person who is experiencing prejudice would like you to speak up, or if they would prefer not to draw attention to themselves, and instead move the conversation forward. 


If you feel that a direct intervention isn’t the best course of action, of if you are shy or aren’t feeling ready yet to address the issue head on, you can distract the speaker who is biased by changing the subject of a conversation. This offers a brief relief to the person who is experiencing prejudice and signals that you have noticed bias and find it inappropriate. This is especially powerful when you combine it with the next D: delay. 


sometimes the situation where we witness bias passes before we are able to gather our thoughts to act against it. In other times, we may choose to delay our actions on purpose, especially if we believe that a 1:1 conversation with the person who said something inappropriate can be less confrontational and more impactful than addressing it in the open and when it happens. You can also minimize the trauma of the person who is affected by bias by checking in on them later, saying that what they experienced wasn’t OK, and asking if there’s anything that you can do for them.


in cases of repeated offence and clear discrimination, you may want to delegate taking action to a superior or an HR division. However, check first with the person who has experienced the discrimination if they are ready to make it public and argue their case. In some cases, and specially when the affected person doesn’t believe that it is going to change anything, the stress of taking this approach might not be worth the outcome.

There’s also a fifth D in the Bystander Intervention Training from Right To Be, which was added later to the original 4: 


take notes or record the harassment, but only if the harassed person is receiving help already from someone else, and never share the documentation without a consent. In the context of fighting bias in the workplace, use this D if you consider Delegating or if you’re building your own case to protect yourself and your position at your company. Make notes of discriminatory comments and actions and get them on an email if you can. 

So there you go: 5 D’s to fight bias in the workplace. 

To sum it up, always keep the wellbeing of the person who is affected by bias, prejudice or discrimination at the forefront, and make sure that the way you act, is in their best interest.

This requires a lot of empathy, thinking on your feet and being able to judge the situation correctly. With practice, it becomes second nature.

If you want to go beyond the top level overview of the 5 D’s, see concrete examples of how biases show up at work, and get actual scripts of what to say and what to do when, make sure to check out this online program by Lean In Org: “50 Ways to Fight Bias”. It’s phenomenal, it’s FREE and you can run it yourself for your family, friends and colleagues.

If you would love to take this conversation about unconscious bias and how to fight it to your company but you can’t facilitate it on your own – contact me and we’ll discuss how I can help. I work in-person and online, and I can run anything from an hour introductory session to a full day workshop for your employee resource group or your leadership team. My calendar for autumn and winter is filling in nicely, so if you know that this is something you want to look into, don’t wait with reaching out, so we can have plenty of options when it comes to picking a date for our joined training.

Thanks for reading!

Next time you see bias, think: Direct Intervention – Distract – Delay – Delegate – Document, try it out and let me know how it went. 

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