We live in a world that is filled with information overload and biases have become part of our thinking. It is so prevalent that most people find it common to come across bias in the workplace every day. It almost feels like our brains are conditioned in a certain way to simply accept these biases and work with them without questioning them.
As women enter the work world, they are already entering into an unequal ecosystem that is structured for men to succeed. This is a fact, even for the most privileged woman. Gender bias is constantly seen in the hiring process, questions revolving around marriage and maternity breaks, disparity in pay scale, harassments, returning to work post a long personal break, safety issues- these are few challenges women face. Companies wish to welcome diversity and inclusivity but fail to hide their prejudice against women workers. They tend to create stereotypes and it impacts the way they engage with women in the workplace.
This is ultimately reflected in the output of work provided and women lack a bond with the team. Gender bias, also called sexism, is prevalent in workspaces and it is time women took the matter into their own hands. This is because managers often do not realize that they are biased or marginalizing a certain group of people.
While conscious biases occur due to our perception and attitude about groups, we are aware of, unconscious biases are more deeply ingrained. They are outside our control and often we aren’t even aware of them. They can influence us a lot more than conscious biases and might have stemmed from conditioning from a young age.
The deep-rooted biases are critical for us to address. Here are some ways women can deal with biases in the workplace – whether it is on the superficial level or something that is ingrained deeply in the minds of their coworkers.
How is gender bias displayed in the workplace?
Gender equality has always been a hot topic. Gender bias is a form of prejudice that should never have a place in business. But, if you are part of a male dominated profession, how do you find these biases? Although it is not difficult to spot it, sometimes it is surprising that these go unnoticed. Let us look at some biases you might face at the workplace. Remember that you may not have the solution here, but getting the conversation started is always half the battle won.
- Position Bias – Is a woman the best suit for the role of receptionist or admin? Why are women not the first choice for the role of a team leader or even a security department lead? This kind of gender bias is prevalent in most organizations. It is important to note that you should hire based on skills and past experiences and not gender. We need to evolve and accept men in roles traditionally filled by women and women placed in positions held by men.
- Performance support bias- One form of bias could be the opportunities given to women and the resources they are provided to achieve results. Men tend to be given more resources and support for better performance. There is a double standard here, but a recent survey indicated that women are better represented if 90% of the workforce is senior male employees.
- Performance review bias – When it comes to performance review, men are favored over women even if the evaluation process is merit-based. The selection criteria are different, and the questions asked to both genders tend to be open-ended for varied responses. It is obvious that both men and women ask for pay raises equally. But women get pay raises only 5% of the time.
- Glass ceiling bias – Are you part of an organization where both male and female employees can climb the ladder of opportunity together? If you answer is a NO, then it is time your organization removes the glass ceiling. With the focus on performance and skills, regardless of gender both male and female employees must be given equal opportunities.
- Performance reward bias- Once the candidates join the company, the performance rewards as well are affected by stereotypes. Promotions, appraisals, incentives, and rewards are given out more to men than women who perform equally well. It is hard for women to rise to the top and land roles of leadership in big firms. It is worth noting that men are 30% more likely to get promoted to managerial roles.
Gender bias is displayed at all stages – from recruitment to operations to retaining employees with incentives. “A woman I know used to have her first name in her resume during recruitment processes. Her callback rate was quite low and on impulse, she changed it to Mrs. with her husband’s name. Can you believe her response rate increased by 65% from the very next day?! It is upsetting to know how biased recruiters are and how wrong the whole hiring process is,” said a support executive from a reputed IT company in Chennai.
How can women use their voices to find equality?
Help needs to be self-made. Women have a vast disadvantage owing to their roles as caregivers in the family. They tend to prioritize their families and children while also wishing to perfect their work roles.
Women tend to take long breaks during their pregnancy and postpartum to handle the changes in their lives. Over 50% of women don’t return to work when they have a child as they have nobody else to care for them. “I quit my job after having a baby as my manager refused to let me work from home. I wanted flexible hours and never said I wouldn’t deliver the work assigned. For some reason, he viewed my motherhood as an excuse for me to slack off from work,” said a freelance content curator and the proud mother of three.
Here are some ways women can deal with the biases in their workplace and how they can break stereotypes:
#1 Show your full potential – even if you are not allowed to
One form of bias occurs when people think women can’t game, women can’t code, women can’t work in STEM, etc. This is assumed as women having a lack of interest or a lack of capability to devote time and effort. The truth is that while some women aren’t interested in gaming or technology, most of them excel in these fields. Simply because one woman shows no interest in sports, does not mean all women in general hate sports.
To combat this, women need to speak up for themselves and do the task anyway. If they are interested in coding and machine learning, simply make a sample, and break the bias. You are showing your team that you know how to code and can do it as well as a man can.
Women need to view their status in the workplace differently. If they form an inferiority complex, they will never be able to speak with a different voice as compared to the stigma around them. This calls for standing up for oneself when required and learning to say no.
#2 Never tolerate people speaking over you
Women are not emotional. They are passionate and care about the success of the project more intimately than their male counterparts. And yet they are often interrupted and not allowed to voice their views.
Can you believe that men interrupt women 33% more often? If you notice a woman on your team being interrupted, use your voice to tell the man he made a mistake. If you have been interrupted, find your voice to complete your statement anyway.
“There is a certain power in stopping a man when he interrupts you or another woman. It is the need of the hour to stand up and say I am not finished. There is immense power in these words and every woman must learn to yield it. There was once a time when I had voiced a vital point and a male employee interrupted me. He proceeded to blatantly copy my words – only to receive appreciation from the room. I got up and said I said that just a moment back. It silenced everyone at once,” said an employee at a banking firm in Hyderabad.
#3 Be an ally and find other allies
Can you believe that even women employers are more likely to hire male employees over female ones? It is good to be vocal about things and help women around you. Be it the #MeToo campaign or encouraging women to ring the doorbell when they overhear domestic violence.
A gender-diverse team is 73% better at making decisions than a purely male-dominated or female-dominated one. The same support is required when it comes to demanding opportunities and establishing a work-life balance.
“It is something very simple but impactful such as accompanying one another to the car park. If women stick together, they feel safer and can achieve more. It is one thing if men are biased towards women. It is a whole new chapter if women themselves have a bias against each other or don’t support each other,” said a content writer from a digital marketing agency in Hyderabad.
#4 Speak out about things that make you uncomfortable
Women are more likely to face harassment of different types in the workplace. Managers need to address the way men and women interact in the workspace to prevent this from occurring.
“I work in a team that has twelve men and two women. Our office doesn’t even have a ladies’ bathroom! My other female coworker has it harder than me as she is very conscious about hygiene. She gets very sensitive when we enter the bathroom to find it dirty or can’t find spaces to dispose of our sanitary pads. I think diversity extends beyond the boardroom – the discussion should involve every aspect of the office,” said a senior strategist at an advertising agency in Bangalore.
Summing up what organizations can do
It is time for organizations to standardize their expectations and recruitment process for both genders. Set a standard in your workspace that every employee should work up to irrespective of their gender and background.
Have an equal reward system and don’t shy away from welcoming women to leadership roles. Give them an equal spot at the conference table and follow inclusive practices. If you find it hard to foresee situations, give women a welcoming environment. If they have the space to voice out their views, women can help you empathize and consider issues you didn’t expect.
If you wish to welcome all genders (even the non-binary ones) in your workplace and practice diversity, click here to know more.