• Culture
  • Workplace

Gender Bias in the Workplace – How can we address it?

  • Helina Robbins
  • March 14th, 2022

On March 8th, we celebrated International Women’s Day with a focus on how we can all help to break gender bias within the workplace 🙅

Human biases can be deliberate or unconscious and can impact all areas of society 🌍

They stem from stereotypes and assumptions we have about different groups of people.


Why do we rely on stereotypes?

We have a conscious and unconscious mind that works in two different ways. Our conscious mind works slower and more rationally, whereas our unconscious mind relies on instinct and fast decision making.


Why do we have the two?


Different situations call for different reaction speeds.


Imagine you were confronted with a tiger. Our unconscious mind would take charge in that situation to keep us safe by instantly viewing the tiger as a threat to encourage us to escape straight away.


Our unconscious mind helps to protect us from immediate danger by relying on shortcuts such as stereotypes to help us make these judgements fast. However, this comes at a cost, as making judgements this quickly means they are not always accurate.


Although being confronted by a tiger is a much rarer occurrence in today’s world, our brains are still hardwired to rely on these shortcuts.


Consequently, in the workplace, we may find that our thoughts, opinions, and decisions are influenced by gender stereotypes without even realising it.


A man is often stereotyped as an assertive, career-focused individual with natural leadership qualities 👨


A woman is often stereotyped as a kind, emotional, and family-focused individual 👩


Because of these gender stereotypes, women are impacted by several gender biases in the workplace that can affect them throughout their career from getting hired through to achieving progression.


What gender biases can we see in the workplace and what can we do to avoid them?


Performance Bias 📈

This bias is focused on assumptions about the abilities of men and women in the workplace – a woman’s performance tends to be underestimated, and a man’s performance tends to be overestimated.

Because of this, women often feel like they need to do more work to prove themselves to be just as competent as their male co-workers.

This bias has effects on a woman’s career progression, performance review, and overall confidence in her ability to do her job.

How can we reduce this bias?

Gain feedback from different sources such as peers and clients and focus on performance metrics.


Attribution Bias 💬

Because a woman’s performance is often underestimated, women are assumed to be less competent and are given less credit for their successes and more blame for their failures.

As a result, women are more likely to be interrupted during meetings. This can significantly impact their confidence and prevent them from speaking up in the future.

How can we reduce this bias?

Encourage all employees to be heard – ensure everyone who wants to be heard is heard and everyone is fully engaged when they are speaking to the team.


Likeability Bias 👍👎

Imagine the CEO of a finance company 💰

Did you imagine a man? 👨 Most people tend to.


Because we expect men to be assertive, a man in a leadership position feels natural to us and we approve of their self-assured leadership.

Whereas, because we expect women to be agreeable and kind, a woman in a leadership role feels unnatural to us, and their assertiveness can come across as being too bossy – making her less liked than a male leader.

Being liked in a leadership position is important, which is why women can struggle to be fully respected as leaders when female assertiveness is often interpreted negatively.

How can we reduce this bias?

Be aware. Question your interpretations of a woman’s leadership style and actions – would you feel the same way about her as a leader if she was a man? If the answer is no, then you know this bias is skewing your impressions.


Affinity Bias 👥

Humans like what is familiar to them.

This makes us more likely to gravitate towards people like ourselves.

Because most of those in positions of power are white men, this can significantly impact a woman’s ability to be promoted and reach those most senior positions.

How can we reduce this bias?

Ensure hiring boards are as diverse as possible.


Maternal Bias 👩👧👦

This is the assumption that if women become mothers, they become less committed to their careers and are less competent.

This negative assumption causes mothers to be held to higher standards and reduces their professional opportunities. They are often seen to receive reduced salaries and are less likely to be hired compared to women without children.

How can we reduce this bias?

Focus your attention on work output and performance metrics when reviewing your employees’ work to help filter out irrelevant information when evaluating your team’s efforts.


Double Discrimination 🚫

Because there are also racial and ethnic biases, women who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, are a person of colour, and/or are foreign, are seen to be impacted even more negatively than other women, hindering their career prospects even more.

How can we reduce this bias?

Review hiring and promotion decisions in more detail. How are you making these decisions? Could bias be impacting them?


Bias affects us all 👨🧑🏿🧑🏽🧑🏻


No one is immune from the impact of biases, but we can still challenge them when we feel they are impacting people in the workplace.


Biases are holding back talented employees and leaders from reaching their potential.


Although awareness of the gender biases we see in the workplace is a helpful starting point, action is what is needed to take steps in the right direction to continue breaking down the bias in the workplace 👊



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Yellow Bricks is a female-owned (Abby Robbins) and led executive search firm hiring predominately for software companies with diversity and inclusion at the heart of our offering. To learn more, click here 👉

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  • women at work
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