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Recognizing Bias Against Women in the Workplace

Posted: 03/26/2021 | Author: Michaela Mitchell for Creatives On Call | Tags: Creatives On Call News, Thought Leadership

Recognizing Bias Against Women in the Workplace

Did you know that 73% of women face bias in the workplace? According to LeanIn.org, less than one third of employees can even recognize it when it happens. As Women’s History Month comes to a close, it’s important to identify this bias in order to correct it and be a champion for all the women in your life. 

Before we dive deep into the kinds of bias women face in the workplace and how to combat them, we want you to know that this content has been adapted from Lean In’s International Women’s Day Presentation that you can view in its entirety here

Types of Bias, Examples & How To Fight Them:

  • Likeability Bias: Rooted in the expectations that men are natural leaders and assertive and women are softer and kind so when they assert themselves it is seen negatively. 
    • What’s it look like? You’re at a meeting about your employee’s performance and the women are getting feedback on their speaking styles. 
    • What can you do? Point out the pattern and explain that this bias is common, recommend that the team use objective standardized criteria for performance reviews.

  • Performance Bias: Rooted in the assumptions that men and women have different abilities and women’s performance is therefore underestimated. 
    • What’s it look like? Your fellow hiring committee members have a blatant preference of male candidates over women with similar experiences.  
    • What can you do? Suggest that the criteria for hiring be seen objectively and consistent. If certain candidates are preferred, ask for specific reasons why.

  • Maternal Bias: Rooted in the assumptions that women are less committed to their career or less competent, especially after becoming mothers. 
    • What’s it look like? A woman on your team just had a baby and your colleague doesn’t think she’s ready to take on a big new project. 
    • What can you do? Let the woman decide for herself if she is able to take on the project or not. 

  • Attribution Bias: Related to performance bias. Women are given less credit for their accomplishments and blamed more for mistakes. They can also be perceived as overall less than. 
    • What’s it look like? You’re in a meeting and your female coworker is being spoken over or interrupted. 
    • What can you do? Speak up and say, “I’d like to hear the rest of Mary’s thoughts” or make it more general and say, “Let’s go around and get everyone’s ideas.”

  • Affinity Bias: Rooted in the natural gravitation toward people like yourself in appearance, beliefs and background. It is common to avoid those that are different than you. 
    • What’s it look like? You’re interviewing candidates and your colleague rules out someone because they are “not a culture fit.” 
    • What can you do? Ask your colleague to be more specific. Someone that is different than you is a good addition to the team and can be a “culture add.” Use standardized criteria when hiring.

  • Intersectionality Bias: Rooted in other forms of bias due to race, sexual orientation, disability, or other identity factors. 
    • ..What’s it look like? You’re in a meeting and someone says to your Latina coworker, “We need to calm down. She’s getting fired up.” when she’s speaking firmly and calmly. 
    • What can you do? Speak up and let it be known that you want to hear what she has to say. You can even say, “Mary doesn’t seem heated to me and she has some great points, can you go on?” 

Bias in general makes it harder for women to be successful, and even harder to elevate themselves in the workplace. It’s crucial to be able to identify these types of bias in order to combat them. It’s not always easy to speak up, but by asking for additional information and specific reasons why something is said, you can make a big difference. 

Here are a few action items from LeanIn.org that you can take to fight bias against women in the workplace: 

  • Speak up for someone in the moment
  • Ask a probing question
  • Stick to the facts
  • Explain how bias is in play
  • Advocate for policy or process change

Together we can battle in the fight against bias and be stronger together in our differences!

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