Unconscious gender bias - are you guilty?

Unconscious gender bias - are you guilty?

Published on 4th February 2015

In the famous experiment, after blind auditions for musicians in orchestras were introduced, the participation of women increased from 5% in 1970 to over 40% today.

It is impossible to suggest a similar tactic in a meeting room, at an appraisal or when looking at the name on a resume. We all have all sorts of unconscious biases in our lives (not just about gender). Rather than let them blindly dictate our decisions, we should try to become aware of them and correct ourselves when we feel they are influencing us.

Diversity experts say that most of us naturally favour certain types of people based on their upbringing, experience and values – we have certain preconceived and deeply held beliefs about certain things. 

To illustrate this, I was talking to a mentor friend of mine the other day. We came to the conclusion that she tended to focus on the softer skills with her women clients and the harder “business acumen” concerns with her male clients. It was such a shock to her when I mentioned it, and it was obvious that she had not given it a second thought previously. She left with a new awareness and a resolve to recognise this bias whenever it occurred. 

This sort of thing happens every day, and 20% of large organizations in the US (for example) are now actively seeking to raise awareness of this specific issue within the wider field of diversity. By shifting the mindset of an organization and inviting constant enquiry into how we make decisions, our companies are naturally becoming more diverse and self-aware workplaces. 

This really resonated with me. We all fall into this trap of making assumptions that women need more confidence, need to get themselves out there more, do more networking, etc. Maybe the reality is that what we really need to focus on is business acumen to complement our already existing softer skills. 

Often business acumen is taken as a given for people who are considered for promotion, and it’s true that women possess it, but men seem to talk about it more. Being able to articulate strategic direction, driving for growth, and explaining the financial impact of our actions is where women often fall down. We should take any opportunity to verbalize it more. 

There are hundreds of scientific studies that confirm this factor and Fortune magazine has found that women were more likely to be critiqued on personality traits, men on their work. 

As with any problem, we first need to be aware that it is present as it is highly likely that you are unconsciously biased to a certain extent. The main thing is to do something about it and ensure that it doesn’t overly affect those whose lives you touch. 

P.S. If you are interested in the subject, there is a fascinating test designed by Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji to find “Implicit Stereotypes.” It is well worth the ten minutes it takes to complete. Roughly 80% of participants revealed a bias. Will you? https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit