Despite the fact 52% of our population is made up of women, the current workplace doesn’t reflect this. Women in key leadership roles are scarce compared to the number of men. Women in Canada working full-time currently earn 87 cents to a man’s dollar per hour of work. Certain biases may be at the root of these inequities.
Chances are you may have encountered these biases in your workplace, or you may be holding some of the biases yourself without realizing it. Let’s look at the most common biases that could be holding you back at work, and how they show up in the workplace for all genders.
An implicit bias can be defined as holding an attitude or stereotype without an awareness of it. Think of it as a knee-jerk reaction. In this case, we’ll look at implicit bias based on gender. Have you ever watched what you said because of someone’s gender? Or change how you've said something?
Mansplaining is an example of this bias. If you see mansplaining, you can't unsee it. It's everywhere. For example, I had a conversation with a prospective copywriter this week. He explained to me this topic that I already am very well-informed about. He didn't bother to ask me; he just assumed that I had no idea. So, I couldn't help but think that it was a gender issue.
Implicit bias: we've all got it. It's there, right? Acknowledging it and working through it are important in disrupting it.
The next bias that I think really impacts women at work is what we call a performance bias. This is where we underestimate women's performance while we overestimate men's performance. There's an interesting study that was conducted by Hewlett Packard which demonstrated that point. We develop a pattern of behaviors and responses to these biases as women, and we're not conscious of it. Women are typically at the receiving end of this bias, instead of perpetuating it. We evolve and develop a pattern of behaviors because of this bias.
The Hewlett Packard study is proof of that. The study showed that 100% of men will apply for a job, even if they only have 60% of the qualifications. This is not a women's experience. Women feel like they need to have 100% of the qualifications. This is interesting when you consider performance bias because women have experienced a world in which someone has said to them, “You haven't done it yet," and, "You're not qualified yet.”
This happens a lot when women are trying to get promoted. I have coached so many women who have been told by their employers “You do not have enough leadership experience yet. So we can't promote you.”
That's performance bias in action.
The next one is called affinity bias. Affinity bias is what happens when you choose people who are like you. So either you look like them, or you sound like them, or you have a similar shared experience, and you have a common history with them. You make the person comfortable. I spoke with a woman, a management consultant here in Nova Scotia. She's an accountant and she was the very first woman to be allowed into the Halifax Club in Halifax. Women were not allowed previously. They only had men's washrooms when she started 30 years ago.
The Halifax Club didn't have a female washroom. She said she had to go downstairs, through the galley, and out into the back to use the washroom. There are the boys’ clubs. In those cases, that bias can work against you. Organizations that are doing a really great job of disrupting this bias make the case for choosing someone who's different from them. Investing in new relationships, investing in the diversity of thought, investing in the difference.
The next bias that can negatively impact women at work is the attribution bias. This is illustrated by giving women less credit for success, and more blame for failure than men. When a woman fails the assumption is that she really didn't know what she was doing, or she wasn't competent to begin with. When a man falls in the workplace, leadership is more likely to blame outside forces, such as market conditions.
This is the trap that we fall into when we fail to be assertive. You need to ask for what you want. But when you're assertive, they say they don't like you very much. The typical, “She's bossy, she's cold, she's domineering.” To overcome this bias, it's important that you get clear on what you stand for. That's one of the biggest pieces of work that we do in our coaching programs, we really help women identify an authentic brand of leadership. We can help you to get very clear feedback and can give you tools to make sure that feedback is centered on your work performance only.
Creating awareness of biases
I want you to think about the patterns that we've developed in response to our environment. There may comes a point where we realize that the behaviors and the patterns that we've developed are no longer serving us. What got us where we are now won't necessarily get us to where we are going. That is where the work of unpacking biases and our responses to them really begins.
Gender Equity in the Workplace Involves Everyone. Is your organization doing everything that it can to achieve equity in the workplace?
Download a copy of the Gender Equality Questionnaire to help you assess how your workplace is working for women. Use this tool for yourself or use it with your team to spark an honest conversation about the current reality for women.