Why Mitigating Gender Bias in the Workplace is Important to All of Us
Hungry for learning more about the biases you may have without even realizing it?
Here’s some food for thought (pun absolutely intended).
A quick google image search of the word “professor” reveals that over 90% of professors are Caucasian men. Now although women are not equally represented in the field this is still a major statistical misrepresentation and also places emphasis on the fact that even artificial intelligence has been altered by inherent biases.
Mental shortcutting is a term used to describe the shortcuts the brain makes to process information more efficiently and often contributes to our unconscious biases. Often these mental shortcuts rely on stereotypes which have proved themselves to be especially harmful as individuals have no apprehension of making these shortcuts in the first place. It is how our brain works. We are not born with biases, however, due to past experiences, upbringings and even social media exposure, we train our brains to ‘shortcut’ given how much information we are inundated with on a daily basis.
Gender bias is a prevailing issue in many workplaces as individuals are often unaware of the biases they may foster. As highlighted by Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, recent studies have proven that men are three times more likely to interrupt a woman than they are to interrupt a man. This is also true for women who are also more likely to interrupt a woman than a man. It is in situations like these where understanding unconscious bias would assist in managing and mitigating bias. Due to gender bias there is absolutely decreased female representation in leadership roles.
So how do we mitigate our personal biases? How do we ensure women are elevated in our workplaces? Three key strategies include:
- Blind Judgement
Collaboration ensures that fairness and opportunity is equally spread in the workplace. How is this accomplished? By addressing weaknesses in communication all individuals are given a fair opportunity to speak while being mindful of other’s ideas. Instead of encouraging competition between individual’s in the workplace it is more beneficial to encourage a collaborative environment which thereby encourages the promotion of strength as a whole rather than at the individual level. Collaborative effort could be the answer to realizing our unconscious errors. Ask yourself- are you a leader who wears their opinion on their sleeve or fosters an environment where healthy debate can occur?
As a manager what do you do if a woman is speaking and gets interrupted by a colleague? Call it out. Don’t let her get interrupted without acknowledging her idea. Sample script could include, “I’d like to hear the rest of Tina’s thoughts. Tina…please continue”. Everyone deserves to be heard, seen and acknowledged.
As suggested by Forbes individuals in leadership roles are more likely to promote individuals who remind them of themselves, also known as an affinity bias. How can leaders make a difference? Mentorship is a great way for individuals in leadership roles to help reduce the role unconscious bias play. By choosing mentors who are more diverse than we are it is more likely that we ourselves are to be more supportive and understanding towards leadership from underrepresented groups.
Over the past five years the number of women in senior leadership positions has grown, however, they are still underrepresented in the workplace. Many studies have concluded that blind judgement has been proven to be very efficient at reducing gender bias in the decision-making process. One study observed the blind judgement of the choosing of an orchestra. Approximately 50% more women were admitted into the orchestra when judged blindly. By eliminating the possibility for gender bias through the use of blind judgment there is no leverage given based on one’s gender therefore eliminating the impact gender bias has on the decision-making process. This can also be used with recruiting. If personal information is deleted such as names then gender bias cannot exist as statistically women are hired at lesser rates than men (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhjyO85rtKsTina talks about blind judgement and ‘checking off diversity checkboxes’ in this video)
What if you are asked to interview upcoming candidates for a position in your firm but you notice none of the candidates being interviewed are women? As a keynote speaker who happens to be female, I notice this often. I recently spoke at an accounting conference where four of the keynoters were male; one was female (myself). Yet, according to Catalyst, over 50% of Canadians in accounting occupations are women. Interestingly, considering keynote speakers are often hired to influence and inspire attendees shouldn’t the keynoters have been 50% female not 20%, in this scenario?
As a manager if you notice zero to minimal representation suggest two more viable female candidates be considered. According to HBR, women are 79% more likely to be hired if there are at least two females in the finalist pool. This is not reverse racism. I’ve heard many Caucasian males claim, “I’m the minority now!”. Simply put, data does not support this claim. Data does support when a female or person of colour applies for a position they are rated lower than if their sex or colour is obscured.
It is no surprise that the more gender-diverse a business is the better the financial outcome will be. Why is this you may ask? By acknowledging the leadership strengths of women and providing women with adequate educational training it has been proven that workplaces will experience increased productivity, higher employee retention and higher employee satisfaction with women in leadership positions. Another benefit of women in leadership positions is the positive impact this will have on pay equity.
“Companies cannot afford to ignore 50% of the potential workforce and expect to be competitive in the global economy” according to Gallop.
Women are able to bring a different skillset and provide different perspectives to assist in building business insights that can be extremely beneficial and effective in driving the market.
By fostering an environment of inclusion everyone is seen, heard and acknowledged driving innovation, creativity and employee engagement. Isn’t that something we all should be striving for? Nobody is immune from the role unconscious bias plays in the workplace, it is not only our awareness of it but our willingness to acknowledge it that will help ensure more female representation in leadership roles.