Gender bias is far more deeply rooted than we may realize. The unconscious bias assumes that men are more closely associated with work and women are associated with family. It is this belief that is often what keeps women from advancing in the workforce, especially in the world of technology.
The LA Times published an article 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.”
Gender Inequality Not Limited to STEM
Forbes shared some incredible stats on the gender pay gap for the sports and entertainment fields. Here are just two that are mind-boggling:
The Ten Highest-Paid Female Athletes Combined Earned Less Than The Top Male Athletes. The top ten highest-paid female athletes last year together earned a combined $105 million. Three of the top-earning male athletes, U.S. Boxer Floyd Mayweather, Argentine Soccer player Lionel Messi, and Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo, each earned more than $105 million last year.
The Top Ten Highest-Paid Actresses Earn Only 24.8 Cents On The Dollar Compared To Their Male Counterparts
How is a woman to respond to that 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 the 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 an 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 involved a speed round of connecting gender to different keywords. In the beginning you are confident in your beliefs of equality in the workplace. Yet, on some unconscious level, through the measurement of your hesitancy to respond, your inner bias is revealed.
The chart below shows how gender bias in science and in careers is measured:
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, 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:
Step 1: 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.
Step 2: 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.
Step 3: 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.
Additional Advice from Female Scientists
In an article from Nature.com, six researchers offer tips for navigating through and beyond gender barriers. Check out the details of their advice which include:
- Seeking Senior Allies
- Modeling Your Expectations
- Speak Up
- Do Your Homework
Where we have the opportunity to make a difference, we must stand up and take action.
Changing Unconscious Gender Bias in Your Life
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 workforce, 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.