Gender bias is behavior that shows favoritism toward one gender over another, commonly referred to as sexism. Gender bias is most often used to refer to the preferential treatment received by men — specifically white, heterosexual males. However, this is not always the case. Gender bias occurs when a person consciously or unconsciously allows gender stereotypes to affect their beliefs and decision-making processes.
All modern organizations and those in leadership positions should be actively trying to find ways to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace.
What is gender bias in the workplace?
Gender bias at work can have a serious effect on gender equality within an organization and especially women in the workplace. Gender bias can affect the recruitment process, for example, a hiring manager may prefer male candidates over female candidates even when their skills and experience are similar. Studies have shown that both men and women prefer male job candidates. So much so that, in general, a man is 1.5x more likely to be hired than a woman.
Gender bias can also affect career advancement opportunities, for instance, female employees may be overlooked for promotion if the senior management team gives preferential treatment to their male colleagues.
This type of prejudice can also influence relationship dynamics within a company. If female employees feel like they are being ignored or patronized by their male counterparts, they are more likely to feel uncomfortable and unhappy at work.
Another well-known example of gender bias in the workplace is the gender pay gap. As of 2021, the average median salary for men is about 18 percent higher than for women.
What is unconscious gender bias in the workplace?
Unconscious biases are the underlying attitudes and stereotypes people hold, outside of their control and conscious awareness. Unconscious gender bias differs from explicit gender bias because it is not intentionally discriminative, and it is often inconsistent with a person’s conscious values.
When our brains automatically make quick judgments this can have a significant effect on our attitude and behavior without us even realizing it. Unconscious gender bias is far more prevalent in the workplace and can influence key decisions, especially in areas such as recruitment, career progression, and retention.
What factors contribute to gender bias in the workplace?
The following factors add to gender inequality in the workplace:
On average, American women are more educated than men. Women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men since 1982, more master’s degrees than men since 1987, and more doctorate degrees than men since 2006. Yet women still earn less than their male counterparts. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women earn 49 cents compared to every $1 men earn.
Female employees often have to take time off from work to handle the demands of having and raising children. More than half of women leave their place of work for at least a year, which is twice the rate of men. This can contribute to gender discrimination in the workplace as women experience bias due to the fact that they have children or they may require maternity leave at some point in their career.
According to research, 38 percent of women experience sexual harassment at work. In general, 77 percent of women are verbally harassed, while 51 percent are touched without their permission. The fact that women in the workplace are experiencing these issues should highlight the need for every organization to fix gender inequality and provide a safe work environment for all their employees.
Racial bias seems to play a major role in how women are treated and compensated in the workplace. Women’s earnings differ considerably by race and ethnicity. Data suggests across the largest racial and ethnic groups in the United States, Asian/Pacific Islander women have the highest median annual earnings at $46,000, followed by white women at $40,000. Native American and Hispanic women have the lowest earnings at $31,000 and $28,000.
Lack of Women in Leadership Positions
In 2021, women make up less than 5 percent of CEOs and less than 10 percent of women are top earners in the S&P 500. As of the August 2020 Fortune Global list, only 13 women (2.6 percent) were CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies—and all of them were White. Despite being more educated and constituting nearly half of the workforce, women are promoted to positions of senior management far less often than men.
Solutions to gender discrimination in the workplace
The following solutions offer advice on how to reduce gender inequality in the workplace:
Blind hiring is a process used to remove a job candidate's personal information from their job applications. This reduces the chance of a person's assumed gender influencing a hiring decision. Prior to hiring, define ideal candidate profiles and evaluate all candidates against those standards based on their individual skills and merits.
Review salaries and standardize pay
Start with transparency. Be open about how your organization determines pay and benefit structures, and how it calculates salary increases. Correct any imbalances you find and frequently review salaries for gender parity.
Implement flexible working hours
Providing a flexible working timetable for employees benefits working moms, dads, and those who may be caring for family members or loved ones. If you can shift your organization's mindset to assess workers based on performance, delivery, and achievements rather than time spent in the office, this can help reduce gender discrimination.
Prevent Sexual Harassment
Preventing sexual harassment should be a top priority for all organizations. More and more companies are looking to provide mandatory harassment training to each employee. This type of training provides practical information so that every individual is fully aware of such behavior and its consequences. Make sure all your policies are consistent in having zero tolerance of sexual harassment and encourage employees to report harassment if they experience or witness it.
Bias training programs are available to educate employees on unconscious prejudices and how they can affect an organization and its culture. These programs are designed to raise awareness so people can recognize, examine and transform unfair behaviors toward women, people of color, and members of other minority groups.
Provide Support for Progression
Ensure that your female employees are applying for promotions and requesting pay rises. When a promotion becomes available, management teams are encouraged to monitor whether their high potential female colleagues have applied and if not, inquire as to what is stopping them. Support and resources should be provided for women to take on leadership roles and if no visible role models exist within the organization, provide appropriate mentorship.
Don't sit back and wait for change. If you find evidence that your organization has consciously or unconsciously showing gender bias then take steps to correct this. There are practical solutions to solving gender inequality in the workplace.