Gender bias is the tendency to prefer one gender over the other, which leads to treating individuals unequally and unfairly based on their gender.
What is gender bias? Meaning and explanation
Gender bias is a form of discrimination when individuals treat others differently based on their gender.
It can occur in any setting and affect all genders, but women are more likely to experience gender bias due to traditional gender roles and societal stereotyping. In fact, research shows that globally, almost 90% of all men/women are biased against women.
The bias can be subtle, too – like assuming that a female candidate might not be as committed to her work as a male candidate. Or perhaps assuming that a male employee is better suited for a leadership role.
What is unconscious gender bias?
Gender bias can manifest in different ways, including the language we use, job requirements, hiring practices, and the overall work environment. In addition, the bias can be either conscious bias, where the person is aware of their bias, or unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias), where they are unaware.
Thus, unconscious gender bias is the bias that occurs when individuals make decisions without realizing that they are influenced by their beliefs, stereotypes, and biases. While the bias is unintentional, it can still significantly impact decisions that need to be made.
For example, a hiring manager may unconsciously prefer a male candidate over a female one for a leadership position because the manager believes that men are more assertive and confident than women, even if the female candidate is equally qualified.
Scenarios like that can contribute to gender pay gaps and limit opportunities for women to advance in their careers.
Examples of gender bias
There are many examples of gender bias in society. Here are a few:
- Lack of representation in leadership positions: Globally, women across all industries hold less than a third of leadership positions. This limits women’s abilities to influence decision-making and shape organizational culture.
- Unequal pay: On average, women worldwide earn less than men for doing the same job, according to research from 15 countries. One of the reasons for this pay gap is gender bias in hiring and promotion practices.
- Stereotyping: There is a tendency to stereotype women as emotional, nurturing, and caring, while men are typically stereotyped as aggressive, assertive, and confident. Stereotypes as such can limit opportunities for both men and women.
- Sexual harassment: According to this research, women are more likely to be victims of sexual harassment in the workplace because they (more often than men) lack power, are in vulnerable and insecure positions, or have been socialized to suffer in silence. All of those reasons can be explained by gender bias.
- Job requirements: Job descriptions can often exemplify gender bias in the language used to describe the job requirements. Words can be gender biased, which can create barriers for women. For example, women often don’t feel that the adjective “ambitions” applies to them because it implies agentic behavior.
Gender bias in the workplace
Gender bias in the workplace is a widespread problem that is especially believed to limit women’s success. It can take various forms, including unequal pay, advancement opportunities, and the global lack of representation in leadership positions, as mentioned earlier.
Learn about more examples of gender bias in the workplace below.
Gender bias in job descriptions
One of the most common forms of gender bias at work is seen in job descriptions.
According to several studies, job descriptions featuring language described as being masculine significantly deter women from applying for those respective positions.
For example, when a job description contained words associated with being masculine, subjects perceived the role to be for a male candidate rather than a female. But when a job description contained feminine-coded words, it had no impact on male subjects; males were just as likely to apply for female-coded positions as females were.
Here are examples of what that type of language looks like:
|Feminine-coded words||Masculine-coded words|
Gender bias at work can also manifest in how employees are evaluated, which can negatively impact the workplace culture and the overall success of a company.
For example, women may be penalized for displaying assertiveness or confidence, traditionally associated with males. Suppose a woman speaks up or challenges her colleagues. In that case, she may be perceived as aggressive or difficult to work with, even if her behavior is appropriate or necessary in the situation.
The same gender biased tendency can happen in the evaluation of male employees.
For example, a man may be rewarded for displaying assertiveness or confidence, traditionally associated with masculinity. If a male employee speaks up, he may be perceived as a strong leader or confident team player, even if his behavior is unnecessary.
On the other hand, if a male employee displays emotions or vulnerability, he may be seen as weak or unfit for a leadership position, which limits his career advancement opportunities.
Actionable steps to address gender bias at work
Gender bias can significantly impact individuals, teams, and entire organizations. However, some steps can be taken to address gender bias in the workplace for more inclusivity. This includes training, education, and diverse hiring practices.
Here are some strategies to address gender bias at work:
1. Diversity and inclusion training
Companies can produce diversity and inclusion training for their employees to help them identify and address their unconscious biases. Additionally, it helps them learn how to create a more inclusive work environment.
Diversity and inclusion training can be tailored to specific focus areas of a company.
For example, the training could address recruitment, selection, and promotion processes. It could also provide strategies on how employees can manage conflicts and ensure inclusivity in teamwork. Such training helps raise awareness about the importance of diversity and inclusion, promoting a culture that values these principles and mitigates bias.
2. Gender-neutral language
Using gender-neutral language is an effective way to reduce gender bias and promote inclusivity.
When working on job descriptions and performance reviews, it is important to use gender-neutral language to avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes.
However, it is not only about replacing words like “he” and “she” with “they” or “them”. It also means avoiding gendered language in all types of communication in the company, including titles, performance reviews, job descriptions, etc.
3. Equal pay
Employers can advocate for equal pay by conducting regular pay equity analyses. This can help the company identify any pay gaps and address them appropriately. Additionally, they can make adjustments to ensure that women are paid the same as men for doing the same type of job.
This is also a great way to boost overall employee morale, job satisfaction, and retention.
4. Fair evaluation process
Employers should create objective and transparent evaluation processes that consider the employees’ performance and contributions rather than their genders.
It is important to establish clear criteria for employee evaluation so everyone is evaluated similarly without the influence of unconscious bias.
5. Promoting women’s leadership
Companies can offer leadership development programs that address specific skill gaps, provide support networks, and offer opportunities for exposure to executive leadership.
This ultimately provides opportunities for women to advance in their careers, which can create a more inclusive workplace culture and help contribute to overall company success.