How does gender unconscious bias affect how you are treated at work?

February 13, 2019 posted in Category

Many of us (male and female) are unaware of our biases against others. They can take many forms such as someone’s physical ability/qualities, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation/identity etc. but the one I’m writing about here, is gender, specifically the female gender.

Why does the percentage of females reduce, the higher up an organisation’s structure we look? There are two main reasons. The first is that women don’t put themselves forward for promotion for more senior positions because they don’t think they are good enough.  The second (and generally, but not always the main one) is unconscious bias against women by others in the business which reduces their chances even if they did go for promotion. The interesting thing is that both men and women can be unconsciously bias against women and unless uncovered will have a detrimental affect on the profitability of the business and just as importantly, the success of women’s careers The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) report (2017) suggested that gender-based workplace discrimination costs the UK economy the most in terms of output at £123bn per year.

What are some of the things you should look out for as examples of unconscious bias in the workplace? The following examples are ways in which women and men are often held to different standards in the workplace;:

  • Women are often expected to do “office housework”: jobs in the office that are not part of their job description, e.g. planning parties, taking notes during meetings.
  • Women are disproportionately asked to serve on committees, and expected to contribute to “service” aspects of departmental/workplace life. This puts extra pressure on their time not experienced by many men.
  • Women are often expected to do the emotional work in a department, and are less able to “get away” with rude behaviour than men. If women are assertive of refuse to agree to the roles expected of them, they are often labeled as “bitchy” and seen as less likeable.
  • Women are often judged on their appearance – either clothing, weight, attractiveness, or all of the above. Men are rarely judged by appearance, and their appearance is rarely seen as being correlated with competence.
  • Women are often talked over or interrupted in meetings by men and other women. Men interrupt people about twice as often as women, and are three time as likely to interrupt women as other men.
  • Women making suggestions in meetings can find that no-one responds, and their ideas go unheard. In many cases, a man in the room will later repeat those same ideas and have them acknowledged to general praise. This is often completely unnoticed by people in the room.
  • Women are less likely to get credit during group projects, especially when working alongside men. When women try to claim the credit that is due to them, they are seen as “immodest” and less deserving of success than men who do the same.
  • Women tend to get promoted on performance, while men get promoted on potential.
  • Women and men are mentored differently – women get mentored, while men get sponsored, and sponsorship leads to more promotions and more extensive networks.
  • Women with children are seen as less like “leadership material” and less dedicated to their jobs (the “motherhood penalty”); men with children are seen as better leaders (the “fatherhood bonus”).
  • When women express anger in the workplace they are seen as volatile and emotionally unstable. When men express anger they are often seen as strong.
  • While men are almost always initially introduced by their full and correct title during conferences/seminars and during kickoff meetings, women often have their titles dropped or misused (e.g. “this is Sarah” or “this is Ms. Field”).

Have any of these happened to you or a colleague? How many are common place in your business? What can you do about it?

When you are in meetings, part of a project or just everyday in the office; notice if any of these happen to your colleagues and if they do, advocate for them and bring it into the awareness of the people that are responsible and let the HR department who are responsible for the culture within the business know.