What can you do about gender bias?

leadership women only Mar 13, 2021

I had the privilege of being a panelist at an International Woman’s Day event at work this week and the audience was asked to note what they thought the biggest issues are surrounding women in the workplace.


The three most popular from the audience were bias, balance and recognition.


Thankfully most of us have a certain level of control over both balance and recognition, we address both in the Accelerate your leadership method.


Bias was the one I found most interesting.


We know many unconscious biases exist, in both men and women.


The double bind bias, where women who are too strong are seen as aggressive, too weak they’re seen as not leadership material.


The maternity bias, where women are seen as not committed to their career because they have kids.


The affinity bias, where we tend to like and hire people that are just like us, and where men are prevalent in senior hiring positions, this means men continue to be prevalent in senior positions.


The ‘male traits are leadership’ bias, where we believe that real leaders are task oriented, competitive, assertive, which all happen to be more masculine traits than women.


Unfortunately, changing people’s unconscious biases has proven to be very difficult, with studies showing that running bias awareness training can lead to an increase in biased decision making rather than a decrease.


The interesting thing to me is – we know some things that work to lessen the impact of unconscious biases, yet these approaches aren't being applied in most organisations.


Things like:

  • de-identifying job applications
  • making hiring decisions early in the day (rather than when you’re tired after a long day of interviewing and more likely to make automatic decisions)
  • breaking down silos – intentionally create opportunities for people to talk to others from different cultures, ages, genders even political leanings


So as women looking to get into leadership roles, where do we go from here?


This maybe controversial, but unless you’re in a position to make some concrete changes within your organisation, then the best course of action you can take to help you get promoted, is to ignore it.


Knowledge can be power, but it can also trigger confirmation bias.


This means if you believe that you’re not going to get a leadership role because of gender bias within your organisation, you will look for information and actions from others that confirm your belief. The more you see to confirm your belief, the harder you will start to think your chances are at getting promoted.


The harder you think your chances are, the less likely you are to behave in a confident, open manner, which will mean you are less likely to get the job. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Until eventually you convince yourself that there’s too much against you and decide to stop trying altogether.


So rather than focusing on the frustration of gender bias in your organisation, focus on you. Focus on continuous learning, continuous growth as a person, continuously showing up as  a leader, regardless of the role you’re in right now.


Not because you need ‘fixing’ as a woman to get to a leadership role, but because what got you to where you are now, won’t get you to where you want to be next.


Biases are a real problem that need far more research and experimentation to understand how they might be removed. In the meantime, as an aspiring woman leader, leave that issue until you get yourself into the position where you can make changes, and focus on becoming a better version of you.

Are you a quietly determined career woman looking to get to your first, or next level leadership role?

Join us in the Women in Leadership facebook group for community, support and guidance.

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