• 21 November 2022

    Unconscious Gender Bias - What is it and what can we do about it?

    As I have seen many times during my business coaching sessions, unconscious gender bias is one of the major issues that are still affecting women in the workplace!

    In the early days of my career, when I was still working in the banking sector and before I became a coach for professionals and entrepreneurs, I have also been affected by unconscious gender bias. 

    I remember one particular event when I was being interviewed by a potential employer. He was very impressed with my CV and my work experience. Everything was going well up until the point where he learned that I was a newlywed. 

    I could feel his face drop and his vision narrow; he was mentally calculating the time I had before I would eventually become pregnant. In his mind, I was someone that will be, sooner or later, prone to maternity leave and unable, therefore, to continue the non-stop workflow.

    Sadly, my story isn’t particular nor unique, amongst working women. In fact, according to Headstart : “Women are often discounted for roles because employers are concerned that they’ll leave to start a family soon. Married women who don’t have kids have the lowest callback rates for jobs because they’re viewed as “pregnancy risks.” 

    What is Unconscious Gender Bias?
    Unconscious gender bias is defined by the assumptions and the projections we make when interacting with others, based on their gender and regardless of their reality.

    It is making unconscious suppositions based on our own experiences and perceptions of the world, and then acting upon those suppositions.

    According to Ilo, “Unconscious gender bias is defined as unintentional and automatic mental associations based on gender, stemming from traditions, norms, values, culture, and/or experience. Automatic associations feed into decision-making, enabling a quick assessment of an individual according to gender and gender stereotype.”
    In short, unconscious gender bias is having preconceived notions that some gender will automatically perform certain tasks better, just because of their gender.

    Unconscious Gender Bias mainly affects women:

    Women are the main group affected by unconscious gender bias which has a direct impact on their representation and their employment rates.

    According to Europa “Women still remain underrepresented in the labour market. 66.8% of women are currently in employment, whereas men’s employment stands at 78.1%. In other words, there is a gender employment gap of 11.3%.”

    This can have a detrimental effect on their health, their job performance, and their overall motivation.

    But it also affects men too!

    Unconscious Gender bias is not only reserved for women but also affects a lot of men in the workplace as well.
    According to Headstart: “Studies show that when male leaders ask for help, they are viewed as less competent. When they disclose a weakness, they’re perceived to have lower status. Research also finds that men who ask for family leave — which historically has been seen as a “woman’s role” — are viewed as poorer workers.”

    Some examples of gender bias behavior:
    Asking women to organize office parties because they are “better” at it.
    Being paid less than your counterpart because of your gender.
    Not being considered for a leadership position because of your gender.
    Asking women to order lunch for everybody because they just know how to do it.
    Not considering men for nurturing roles because they lack emotions.

    For a more exhaustive list, you can check out this article here. 

    How to fight gender bias:

    Unconscious gender bias can have detrimental results on the people affected by it because “[unconscious gender bias] undermines progress on gender equality and blocks women’s career advancement”.
    Therefore, it is important to fight it, for a chance at an equal and fair representation at work.
    Below, I am sharing with you some ways we, as a society and individuals, can fight unconscious gender bias.
    Admit that gender bias exists: admitting that a problem exists is the first step towards solving it and finding the appropriate solutions.
    Start with leadership: regardless of how aware the employees are of the problem, if management and leadership are not on board, it is going to make the work reality really difficult for all employees.
    Fight for objectivity - by taking the appropriate measures. Do awareness workshops and sessions on the topic to avoid any future conflictive situations. 
    Support women - especially when they want to access more senior roles. Do not fight or block them, but also do not choose them solely because they are women. Only competent people should be seen in leadership positions, regardless of their gender. And this depends on the equal opportunities they have been given to develop their styles and their management techniques. 
    Install a zero-tolerance policy for biased behavior, thus making your position clear. It will help victims of gender bias know where you stand and raise any issues that might arise. It will also clarify to everyone your position and foster a positive work environment. 
    Create a nurturing environment for people who are prone to suffer from unconscious gender bias, and actively help them progress. 
    If you are facing unconscious gender bias:

    Speak-up: Most times, people are actually unaware of what they are doing. Speaking up will give you the chance to make things right. In the worst-case scenario, it will help you know where you stand, which will, in turn, determine your next course of action. 
    Review your company's policies and write down everything that concerns your case. 
    Act - take it to upper management and try to find appropriate solutions. If not, lay low and develop an exit strategy that will help you find a more nurturing environment. Staying stuck in a place where unconscious gender bias exists is unhealthy and will hinder the quality of your life. 
    Get help - from a therapist or a coach specializing in business coaching services. They will help you decide what the best course of action for you is and tailor a plan accordingly. 
    Get help from a certified and specialized lawyer in case it escalates. They will be able to provide the best course of action. You can also go to your union for advice and guidance.
    Follow and support initiatives like the one launched by the UNCTAD entitled “les 8 du mois”. This initiative which aims at providing awareness about gender inequality throughout the year, and not just on the 8th of March: “Launched on International Women’s Day 2021, the “Les 8 du mois until we’re there” initiative highlights UNCTAD’s commitment to giving more visibility to how to trade and economic policies affect men and women differently and the need for them to be more gender-sensitive”. 
    For more information, you can check out this link from UNCTAD here or do your own research about similar initiatives that you might find interesting.