I have a lot of female coworkers, friends and acquaintances and I am a woman obviously. One topic keeps coming up time and time again that seems to resonate no matter where you live or what industry you work: Gender bias towards woman. I’m not talking about blatant, in your face kind of bias towards women which is bad enough. This type of unconscious gender bias seems to linger and many times, you don’t even realize it’s happening. Until I heard some of examples and I started to really think about certain experiences and situations, the thought never even occurred to me that it was a pervasive issue. It seems very normal, business as usual.
The other day I came across this piece written by Liz Dolan, Fox International Channels’ CMO and the only woman on the board of apparel and lifestyle brand Quiksilver’s board: Gender bias forced me to quit Quiksilver’s board. At face value, the reasons the board gave for not including her in overall discussions about the replacing of the company’s CEO seem odd but not blatantly biased. But let’s dig deeper: They told her that they had to be sure the CEO would not find out about what was happening and that they were concerned she was going to be “too conflicted” when backing the decision because of her past professional history with the CEO. What’s interesting to note is that many, if not all of them, had had previous ‘conflicts’ with the CEO as well and yet, they still felt they could handle making the hard decision.
Why was Dolan singled out?
“To me, it was a very clear case of unconscious bias. Because I had a previous professional relationship with the (now-former) CEO, the board assumed they knew how I would have voted based on a biased assumption that I’d vote to keep my “friend. ” Because that’s what girls do, right? They make emotional decisions about friends instead of strategic decisions based on business facts. Girls can’t keep a secret. Girls are too emotional. Girls can’t make tough calls.. And, thank goodness, girls won’t speak out when we marginalize them.”
Dolan is not alone. I have personally experienced unconscious gender bias during my work career. These are just a few personal examples, but I am sure that if you ask any woman out there, they have ample examples to share:
- Inappropriate comments about my personal appearance by members of leadership.
- Asked to order food for a group, when I was a senior member of the team but yet the rest of the group were men.
- Assigned note taking duties.
- Being asked to take care of buying gifts for weddings, showers, and other celebrations.
- Being left off of projects because they assumed I would not be able to put in extra hours due to family commitments.
What can be done?
There is no cure all to fix the issues that surround unconscious gender bias. I think it’s one of the reasons why so many women become disillusioned working for others and start their own businesses or leave the workforce all together. It’s hard to fight a deep routed, pervasive culture. According to Dolan, she “learned that even when a woman earns a seat at the table, the men can put you in a soundproof booth.”
Is it all dismal and unchangeable?
Learning to Recognize and See it, Acknowledge it and Talk about it can bring about change. It’s important to keep in mind that small changes can give way to larger ones if enough people get behind it. There are some good, influential people that are lending their voice too, which can only help. We call can start spreading the word and learning to identify when it happens….
- Google: You don’t know what you don’t know: How our unconscious minds undermine the workplace
- Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook: Lean In
- When Talking About Bias Backfires: Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg on Discrimination at Work
- THE GROWING BUSINESS OF DETECTING UNCONSCIOUS BIAS
- Unconscious bias is why we don’t have a diverse workplace, says Google