How to Fight Gender Bias in the Workplace

Ways Women Can Reduce Gender Bias in the Workplace - Image of Co-Workers Fist Bumping At an Office Desk With Computers

Yes, gender bias is a very real thing. The reality is, it’s really hard for women to get ahead in the workplace. More than 50% of U.S. women work in paying jobs and that number jumps to 70% for women with kids. Women represent nearly half (46.9%) of the U.S. work force in total. However only a little over a third of those women are at manager level or above. It gets worse further up the ladder –only 21% of senior leadership roles are held by women.

If you still have your head in a hole, here are some sobering statistics for you:

  • White women only earn 75.4% of white menand hold only 32.5% of all management positions.
  • Black women only earn 60.5%of white menand holdonly 3.8% of all management positions.
  • Hispanic women only earn 54.6%of white menand hold only4.1% of all management positions.
  • Asian women only earn 83.5% of white men and hold only 2.4% of all management positions

The numbers aren’t good.

But instead of sitting here moaning about the sad state of the statistics, what can we do? How do we fight gender bias in a very real, actionable way? How can those of us in the workforce effect change so that we’re not staring down the barrel of these same sad numbers 10 years from now?

Understanding Unconscious Bias

While some of the challenges women face are due to straight up disdain for women getting ahead, much of them are attributed to something deeper and arguably, more dangerous –unconscious gender bias.

Simply, unconscious bias are stereotypes about a certain group of people that we develop outside of our conscious. These biases may exist for race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, physical disability and gender. In the workplace, these biases (especially gender bias) have a powerful and long-lasting impact. Gender bias keeps women from top leadership roles, shapes the talent pool for incoming candidates and ultimately affects the bottom line. Studies have shown having women at the top makes for more successful companies.

The hardest thing about unconscious bias is the obvious –we don’t know we are forming these biases. Many well-intentioned men and women may exhibit these biases without even realizing it. This can be anything from perceiving a strong woman as “bossy” to choosing resumes with more “American” sounding names.

The challenge, then, is in fighting something which is not so obviously a problem. Speaking out about any issue in the workplace often has uncomfortable consequences. This is all the more true when you have to convince someone that the bad behavior even exists in the first place.

At this point you may be thinking – great, you’ve told me how horrible everything is. Now I’m depressed. Thanks! But don’t fear – we’ve got some ideas for you (and us). Because even though fighting gender bias, unconscious or not, is a challenge, there are small things we can do every day to make a difference.

Learn What the Biases Are

Start small. Do you know what examples of gender bias are? Sure, you know that if a man is chosen over a woman for a promotion because she is a woman that’s a problem. But what about those unconscious biases? We gave you two examples above; here are a few more:

  • Unequal pay between men and women serving at the same level
  • Interview questions on having children (in many cases, these are illegal)
  • Different responsibilities between men and women in the same role
  • Speaking differently to men vs. women (this includes how each gender’s ideas are considered)
  • Not having gender diversity in all levels of the company (are all the secretaries women and all the leaders men?)
  • Different treatments for behavioral and performance issues(are women fired vs. men are giving multiple chances?)
  • A dress code that disproportionately and negatively affects women (required to wear pantyhose, dresses, etc.)
  • The lack of a fair and protected process to report sexual harassment

And we could go on.

Before you can combat gender bias, you need to know what it looks like. If you’re in a position of power within your company, recommend awareness training. This training is key to help even the most well-intentioned folks understand that everyone has biases.

If you’re not in a position of power, at least start to understand your own biases. Then work to educate your friends and co-workers. Use personal examples that will resonate with them to get their attention. Something along the lines of – “Remember when you suggested that idea and the boss dismissed it, but we spent 20 minutes discussing John’s idea?” Making it personal and touching on individual pain points will get you traction a lot quicker.

Speak Up About Gender Bias

If you’re in a position to do so, call out the bias you see. You’ll get more flies with honey – instead of accusing someone, quietly take them aside and start a conversation. Again, bring this back to personal experience. If you can find an example of when they have experienced bias, use that to help them understand the impact.

When it comes to conscious gender bias, don’t be afraid to call those out as well. The more people who stand together and speak out, the easier it will be to get management to recognize the issue. Often times, fear of retribution holds us back from speaking out and for many people, risking their jobs isn’t an option financially. We get that. Do the best you can, and remember that even one small step is a step in the right direction.

Diversify Your Hiring

If you’re lucky enough to play a role in the hiring for your company, be vocal about improving diversity. The more diverse the employees, the more likely to have a culture that welcomes different opinions and rejects bias.

Sometimes it’s not as easy as giving equal time to minority candidates. How your company is perceived affects who applies for open roles. So if that stack of resumes leans male and white, there may be a bigger problem. Here are a few simple steps you can take to attract more diverse candidates:

  • Reword your job postings. We love this tool for “decoding” whether your job ads are too gender-specific: Gender Decoder.
  • Offer more flexibility such as flexible work hours and the option to work from home.
  • Highlight your company’s current diversity. If it’s non-existent, be honest about your diversity goals and how you’re making those happen.

Once your candidate pool is more diverse, make sure that bias doesn’t affect your hiring decisions. Implement “blind hiring” –where personal information is scrubbed from each application –to ensure you are choosing the best qualified candidate, regardless of gender.

Promote Yourself

Bias can weave its way into all aspects of the workplace, but especially in performance reviews. Combat this by highlighting your achievements for your boss with specific evidence and key metrics. Not only will this remind your boss exactly what you have accomplished, it will call into question any negative bias-infused conclusions that he or she might otherwise include.

Don’t wait until year-end to pull this list together. Keep a running list of your accomplishments to reference when it’s performance review time. The more specific you can be the better. Instead of saying you increased sales, document exactly what you did and how you did it. Something like “By developing relationships with 40 new prospects I brought in 10 new clients with revenue of over $100k” will show your boss exactly what you’re worth.

Seek a Mentor + Be a Mentor

It’s generally the case that mentors want their mentees to succeed. Seek out a mentor for guidance and work closely with this person to constantly be improving. It’s also a good idea to have mentors at different levels and of diverse backgrounds. Having different perspectives not only gives you more data to work with but also grows your tribe of supporters within the company.

Struggling to find a mentor? Start small –ask someone to grab coffee with you or take a walk. We’ve found that getting outside of the office is the best way to kickstart the mentor relationship because people are more willing to open up outside of the office walls. But if that’s not an option, start where they’re at. Even a short conversation in someone’s office can be the beginning of a successful mentor relationship.

Regardless of your level, be a mentor for someone else. There is (almost) always someone walking behind you on the professional path. Reach out to them and begin that mentor relationship. While this person may not necessarily benefit you currently, you are spreading the culture of mentorship and you never know where they will end up down the road. Some of our biggest champions have been people who we supported and helped first.

Work With Other People

It’s a lot harder to discriminate or express bias against someone when you get to know them. Reach across the department divides and work with others throughout your company. If you can’t work with them on a project, grab coffee with them. Getting to know other people in your company has huge benefits –you learn more about what others are doing, it’s usually perceived in a beneficial way by leadership and you’re giving others the chance to get to know you beyond your gender.

If you have the opportunity to form a team, choose members of different backgrounds from various parts of the company. Studies have shown that the more diverse a team is, the better the results. And the more you are able to infuse diversity into your workplace, the harder it will be for biases to survive.

The Takeaway

Conscious and unconscious bias lives on in our workplaces and are still greatly affecting women negatively. Through small, simple steps, we can change the culture and reduce bias regardless of our role or level. It starts by recognizing our own biases, educating others and working to change the culture.

How are you working to reduce bias in your workplace?

Want to learn more about how you can reduce gender bias in your workplace? This is one of the many topics we’re chatting about on the One For Womenkind podcast, launching February 2019. Sign up here to get the first episode when it launches!

Resources used in this blog post:

Women’s Bureau

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Grant Thornton

Women’s Bureau



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