Gender Bias: What Data Says About The Workplace

Gender bias. Many of us may think we’ve never come across it, but gender bias is a form of unconscious bias. It can be hard to diagnose in real-time! Unfortunately, gender bias in the workplace is quite common. Like any kind of bias, it injects discrimination into what should be completely objective discussions and decisions. Performance reviews, resource distribution, recruiting – these are just a few of the many professional scenarios where gender bias arises. And promotions? Well, look at the list of Fortune 500 CEOs. Only about 8% were women, as of 2020. There are signs of progress, however, as younger generations of workers continue to work toward gender equity in the workplace.

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Table of Contents:

  1. Gender Bias Definition
  2. Gender Bias In The Workplace
  3. How To Overcome Gender Bias

Gender Bias Definition

Formally, the gender bias definition is the tendency to prefer one gender over another. In reality, gender bias disproportionately affects women. Some quick indicators of gender bias: 42% of women experience gender discrimination at work, men are 30% more likely to obtain managerial roles, and both men and women are twice as likely to hire a male candidate. The numbers certainly don’t lie. But if so many of us identify as equitable by nature, why does gender bias occur? It has to do with the – unconscious – part of the bias. As a society, we have rooted beliefs about the way men and women should behave. Men are emphatic, powerful, and decisive. Women are nurturing, attentive, and softer in their approach. No matter the attitude of an individual person, it’s difficult to shake decade-long societal biases. So, what does gender bias in the workplace look like?

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Gender Bias In The Workplace

With the demand for talent higher than ever, recruiting is one of the most important functions for any workplace. Unfortunately, the realm of recruiting is also where we see many gender bias examples. For instance, think for a second about the wording of job descriptions. A McKinsey report, Women Matter, found that many job postings for leadership roles call for all-the-time availability and complete geographic travel mobility. Such criteria inherently skew against working mothers who might need to spend more time at home. Moving from job posting to the interview itself, even Q&A can be gender biased.

We all agree that interview questions should be objective and based on a candidate’s career experience. But studies show that hiring managers specifically give quantitative questions to men, and verbal questions to women. The good news is that many research groups are working hard to identify these indicators of gender bias. For example, a group of academics recently developed a tool that measures levels of gender bias on a sliding scale.

How To Overcome Gender Bias

Now that we know what it is, how can we overcome gender bias? A good first step is what we just talked about. Using data to figure out which processes may be prone to bias. We mentioned recruiting as the tip of the iceberg. Other gender bias-prone processes include internal diversity trainings, incentive plans, and corporate sponsorship. The more managers know about gender bias definition, the more they’ll look out for gender bias examples. The next step is to practice radical transparency, ensuring that every decision comes with a careful explanation. This can be more difficult because it requires more “action” than the recognition step.

Some executives may argue that certain decisions call for secrecy and discretion. And there’s some truth to that – not everything can be broadcast to the masses. But, backing decisions with explanations doesn’t need to always involve big audiences. Rather, the purpose of an explanation is to get the decision-maker thinking. A self-audit can help uncover whether any gender bias crept into a given decision.

  • Double Discrimination

As a brief but important aside, it’s worth highlighting that gender bias sometimes involves double discrimination. Double discrimination is when a woman faces bias based on her gender, in addition to some other kind of bias. The second kind might be racial, sexual, or disability bias. As you work to increase awareness around gender bias, think about how to use your platform to reduce other forms of bias.

Conclusion

What is gender bias? After digesting this article, hopefully you have a more conscious understanding of what is typically an unconscious phenomenon. Gender bias comes up frequently at work, but the root of the problem stems from societal beliefs. History places women at home, and men in the workplace. We are so far from such antiquated views, but gender bias still prevails in many cases. It’s our job to eliminate it completely and create level playing fields. Start with recognition and transparent processes. Make sure people know all the facts as to why decisions are being made. And then pass along the message to others. It takes effort to break from the past, but more and more workplaces are showing they are up to the task.

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Filed Under: Corporate Training, Leadership & Management, management consulting