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Even Women Can Have Unconscious Bias Against Women Leaders

Topics: Data & Research
unconscious bias
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A recent Forbes article titled No Man Is Above Unconscious Gender Bias In The Workplace – It’s ‘Unconscious cites a Stanford study showing that men are significantly more likely to critique females for coming on too strong at work. The study also found that men tend to attribute a woman’s success not to her individual effort and abilities, as they would a man, but to external factors and “luck.”

PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, lists unconscious bias as a contributing factor to women making less money and occupying fewer leadership roles than men. But it’s not just men who have unconscious bias against female leaders. Even the most bias-aware women among us may harbor unconscious biases, although they might not align with our conscious beliefs.

Bias Against Women Leaders

Women can be biased against women leaders, according to preliminary findings from a test created to measure how strongly subjects associate gender with leadership. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) partnered with Project Implicit and Harvard University researchers to create the test. Early samplings found that both women and men tend to associate men with leadership more strongly than women. This includes men and women who identify as feminists.

So how do we begin to combat these biases, if we don’t know we have them?

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The first step is to acknowledge that unconscious bias is a major problem, says Kevin Mulcahy, an analyst with Future Workplace, in an interview with CIO. He suggests that artificial intelligence may help, screening for bias in communication patterns.

Employers certainly have more tools available, as awareness of workplace bias grows. For example, Triplebyte is a tech start-up aimed at making sure that people from diverse backgrounds get considered in hiring. The company offers an alternative to the technical hiring process, which can exclude self-taught engineers or exceptional coders who don’t respond well to brain teasers. Instead of asking for resumes, Triplebyte screens candidates with a technical evaluation.

What You Can Do to Combat Unconscious Bias

But if you don’t have the good fortune of applying with employers who are actively working to erase their biases, there are still things you can do to combat bias in the workplace.

A good portion of unconscious bias happens during the interview process. So, one of the best questions you can ask an employer is, “Do you have any concerns about hiring me?,” says Marcelle Yeager, founder of Career Valet and a U.S. News & World Reporter contributor. If they answer honestly, you then have the chance to address any issues or presumptions. (Even if the end result is simply deciding that the job isn’t for you.)

You also can learn how to navigate the warning signs of gender bias.

For example, women should not succumb to the cultural stereotype that women must be modest, self-effacing team players. Keep an ongoing record of your achievements, and don’t be afraid to be self-promoting. While men in the workplace are judged more by their potential, women not only have to provide more evidence of competence, they have to continue to prove themselves.

Women in the workplace also can combat potential bias by making sure they’re being paid fairly. Use the PayScale Salary Survey to find out what other employees with the same job title are making.

And men in the workplace can help with the issue of unconscious bias. Advocate for female colleagues and help them advance their career.

Tell Us What You Think 

Have you discovered that you carry unconscious biases in the workplace? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

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Thank you for this -I have encountered more bias in the work place from women that men. Period. What do I do to remedy it ? Start my own company and treat everyone fairly.

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