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Understanding Gender Bias for Women in Technology


gender biasGender bias is far more deeply rooted than we may realize. The unconscious bias that men are more closely associated with work and women with family is often what keeps women from advancing in the workforce; especially in the world of technology.

The LA Times published an article last year by Tracey Lien entitled Why are women leaving the tech industry in droves?   She shared statistics (as of 2015) of the percentage of women in some of the largest tech companies in the United States:
  • Google has an engineering workforce that is only 17% female.
  • Pinterest’s technical team is 21% female.
  • Facebook has a technical workforce that is 15% female.
  • Apple’s global engineering workforce is 20% female.
 Many of these companies, and others like them, have begun to implement programs designed to attract more women. However, the bias still either keeps women out of the running for promotions or makes women feel left out of the team dynamics.

Here is just one example:

 Tracy Chou, 27, a well-known engineer at Pinterest, said she was once bypassed at a previous start-up because her boss thought a new male hire was more qualified. When Chou pressed for an explanation, she recalled him saying: “It’s just this feeling I have that this person will be able to get stuff done faster than you.”
How is a woman to respond to that level of vague discrimination?
I decided to look and see if I could find a quiz or a test designed to measure bias. Harvard has done extensive studies on bias and discrimination. In fact, they have several different tests to measure unconscious bias on a variety of subjects, not just gender:

They have developed tests to measure 14 different bias including:

  • Disability  This IAT requires the ability to recognize symbols representing abled and disabled individuals.
  • Weight   This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of people who are obese and people who are thin. It often reveals an automatic preference for thin people relative to fat people.
  • Race  This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of European and African origin. It indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black.
  • Age   This IAT requires the ability to distinguish old from young faces. This test often indicates that Americans have automatic preference for young over old.

I took two gender tests:

  • Gender – Science. This IAT often reveals a relative link between liberal arts and females and between science and males.
  • Gender – Career. This IAT often reveals a relative link between family and females and between career and males.

Aside from a few opening clarifying questions the bulk of the quiz involves a speed round of connecting gender to different key words. It was a fascinating exercise because you go in confident in your beliefs of equality in the work place and yet, on some unconscious level, through the measurement of your hesitancy to respond, your inner bias is revealed. Check out these charts that show how gender bias in science and in careers is measured.

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Gender Bias in Careers

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Gender Bias is Science


The lesson from this is just how deeply rooted our bias is. I would imagine that age and experience will have some impact on your responses, however, what we believe isn’t often how our mind is processing information.

How Do We Change Gender Bias?

As I researched deeper into the subject of unconscious gender bias, without fail, every article references the need to change our beliefs on a conscious level. There is no silver bullet. There is no team exercise that a business can implement that will magically change the core bias of our associates. It requires honest exposure to the challenge and then repeated attempts at pushing through our comfort zone to put ourselves in the shoes of the other people on our team.

The process of recognizing and changing gender bias is a very personal, one-on-one process, however, managers can help facilitate the process. The first step is to recognize that gender bias exists. No one is immune. I invite you to take one or more of the bias quizzes available on the Harvard website so that you can gain a clearer understanding of how your mind is processing information.

In an article from The Guardian on Overcoming Unconscious Bias we learn these three steps that managers can help lead their associates through to recognize, address and change gender bias beliefs:

Don’t be exclusive

Giving your attention and time to those who look like you in terms of age, gender, race or academia reinforces unconscious bias.

Develop a core value system

This value system should focus on fair treatment and respect for others. A basic human right, but one that we can often forget or overlook in the heat and pressure of daily life.

Change your lens

Try using an unconscious bias lens when considering job promotions or how you interact in teams. We all are biased to some extent, but consciously becoming aware of it and taking action to address it will benefit us all. Don’t be that person excluding others in a meeting; recognize your unconscious actions and don’t let them hold you or others back.

Changing unconscious gender bias is a process that must be repeated and reinforced on a daily basis. If you are experiencing gender bias in the work force, speak up. Bring the situation to your boss and suggest the team take the Harvard quizzes to better understand how people are feeling. Seek out information from companies who have already implemented gender equality programs to help recruit and retain women in positions of leadership.

The good news is that through honest discussion and a concerted effort to change; gender bias can be overcome for the benefit of the entire company.


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JJ DiGeronimo JJ DiGeronimo, a speaker, author and thought-leader for Women in Tech and Girls and STEM, empowers professional women and consults with senior executives on strategies to retain and attract Women in Technology to increase thought and leadership diversity within organizations.