Employee Engagement

This is the first step to challenging gender bias at work

Lydia Watson

2022’s International Women’s Day is all about breaking the bias. When we say #BreakTheBias, what does that actually mean? And why does it matter?

Bias – or in this case, gender bias – is about the associations and assumptions made about people, based on some element of their identity. Sometimes this is ‘unconscious’, sometimes not, but in a workplace setting it can lead to unfair decision-making, discriminatory behaviour and gender inequality. And that’s what we’re challenging today.

What does gender bias in the workplace look like?

It’s easy to assume that there’s no issue in your organisation. But considering 42% of US women have experienced workplace gender discrimiantion, there may be things you’re overlooking. Here’s just a few workplace bias examples:

  • Veering away from hiring women of a certain age because you’re worried they’ll get pregnant and go on maternity leave
  • Expecting job candidates to volunteer total flexibility over their time and geography, when women typically have more constraints here
  • Not replying to emails from women as quickly as you would to from men – a phenomenon observed when a man and women switched email accounts
  • Judging women if they don’t exhibit ‘feminine’ personalities: research showed 75% of women’s performance reviews included negative remarks about their personalities… compared to 2% of men’s

This is just a handful of examples – but there are a lot more out there. But is it really such a big deal if people experience bias in the workplace? Isn’t it inevitable? 

What is the negative effect of gender bias?

  • It affects organisational performance: the companies with the highest gender diversity are 15% more likely to financially outperform competitors – and as we always say, without inclusion you can’t sustain diversity
  • It’s causing the gender pay gap: bias and gendered stereotyping are two of the biggest reasons for the continuing pay gap – which at this rate, will take 100 years to close
  • It blocks women from leadership roles: unconscious bias is stopping women from progressing, including getting less facetime (i.e. mentorship) from senior leaders. That’s why just 3% of Fortune 500 CEOS, 15% of corporate executives, 15% of board members, and 22% of those in parliamentary roles are women
  • It perpetuates the ‘motherhood penalty’: costing women $16,000 yearly, this penalty affects hiring processes (28% of UK managers wouldn’t hire a women recently engaged or married) and means accepting unfair working practices, like accepting a pay cut for a 4-day week but still being expected to deliver the same workload 

Intersectional bias: an even more challenging reality

 Women face bias in the workplace, but other identities face challenges too – men of colour and white women were seen to have similar experiences, for example. But where discriminated-against identities intersect, these negative experiences are amplified. Women of colour were found to face bigger hurdles than any other group.

Being aware of these added challenges is essential. And there may be no easy answer, with one study showing that mandatory diversity training didn’t help people progress, but it all starts with being aware of the specific, complicated, interrelated experiences within your company.

3 real-world examples of gender bias in the workplace

We collected three real-world experiences of gender bias, submitted anonymously, to shine a light on what you might not be noticing in your organisation. Because bias is subtle. If you don’t know it’s there, you can’t find a solution. That’s why listening is so important.

A senior director at a previous company mentored junior colleagues. Her to female juniors was always: have your babies as early on in your careers so you can focus on career progression. I didn't hear her say the same to any male colleagues…

I was involved in an interview process for a head of department role. After we met with a woman looking for a new role post-maternity leave, a junior salesperson questioned whether she’d be committed to the role or even a ‘good fit’ for their all-male team. The senior management in the room didn’t challenge this point of view.

There was a time a male colleague of mine pretended to listen to my ideas but afterwards they disregarded everything I said

How can you get employees to share their experiences of bias in the workplace?

If you want to understand if gender bias is a problem in your organisation, collecting data on employee experiences is a tried-and-tested method. And there are three things you need to consider:

1. Make it safe to share

It’s scary to open up – especially if you’re worried it might backfire. Our Inclusion survey can be sent anonymously, so employees feel they can speak up without it getting back to them. Some comments might be hard to read, but if you don’t get honesty, the whole exercise is pointless.

2. Ask the right questions

The ‘wrong’ questions don’t make it clear what you’re asking, are closed-off, or lead the respondent. With our Inclusion survey, every question has been written by industry experts – so you can guarantee the answers will offer them useful data you really need. 

3. Unbiased interpretation

Depending on the size of your team, going through all the comments could take time. Our platform uses advanced language tech, pulling out common themes and identifying comment sentiment – effectively reading the comments for you, so you can spot the biggest problems.

Break the bias in your workplace with our Employee Feedback Platform

Listening. It’s step 1 to breaking the bias in your workplace – and in society as a whole. And we want to help organisations do that, using our platform. That’s why you can send an Inclusion survey for free, just by signing up today.

Get started for free, and let’s #BreakTheBias:

It’s time to start the conversation

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