The gender pay gap frequently gets dismissed as a result of women’s choices. People who don’t want to entertain the thought that inequality is rife blame the ‘choice’ of women to work less hours, choose tending to their family or not demonstrating leadership. The problem is these ‘reasons’ aren’t empty canned responses.
In 29 US public medical schools, 90 of the 550 chairing positions were occupied by fully committed women. They are paid an average of $80,000 less than men. This study isn’t alone either. In Canada, women are paid 75 cents for every dollar a man is paid. The US average is 75c. In The UK, it is 82c. Germany 75c. Starting to see a trend?
Gender bias is a real problem. It’s been a problem since before Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic in 1928. It’s been a problem since before Katharine Graham became the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company. It’s been a problem since Kamala Harris was voted in as the vice-president of the US.
It’s still a problem now.
It’s not just a problem for women. It’s a problem for businesses who are trying to recruit the best talent but don’t speak to women in job descriptions. Your company could be performing a lot better if you acknowledge and rectify gender biases.
What is gender bias?
Bias is not always problematic. In fact, it can be a help. Bias helps us categorize our thoughts and perceptions to make sense of the world around us and even keep us safe. The issue arises when it unfavorably disenfranchises or causes prejudice against others for reasons that are untrue.
Gender bias is the tendency to treat one gender more preferably than another. It happens when we subconsciously attribute certain characteristics to an individual or group. In most workplaces men tend to get more favorable treatment than women.
Men will often be entrusted with higher priority leadership positions. Be given more financial and leadership supports. Receive more informative and positive feedback for the same job. Receive better pay for the same work.
The thing is, most companies don’t even recognize when they’re doing it.
Conscious and Unconscious Bias
Conscious gender bias is deliberate behavior that negatively impacts a person because they are male or female. This might be choosing a man to do a job because you think a female couldn’t handle it. Taking a female to a client meeting with another female to appear gender aware. It could be as extreme as insulting a woman because you think she is inferior. Thankfully, overt harassment and bias is becoming rarer for most professions.
Unconscious gender bias is where our subconscious beliefs trickle in to create problems and barriers for men or women. This often happens because we connect more with people who have things in common with us. However, our gender preferences and preconceived notions can hinder the career progression of others.
For example, have you ever assumed a man on the team to be the leadership figure? Do people at your office think that new Dads take too much parental leave? Do the women in the office get asked to pick up the catering, take the minutes, organize the events even though it isn’t in their job description?
1. Create Rectifying Policies
Gender bias can take a variety of forms and it is best to level the playing field. Start with codes of conduct. Over 60% of women experience workplace harassment so enacting improved safety measures is a prime place to begin.
Construct a workplace harassment policy and procedure. If you want to get the most out of every member of the team, toxicity and disenfranchisement needs to be removed. Make sure your policies cover topics of gender-based and other forms of harassment. Create an incident report form for harassment or instances of gender prejudice. Treat it like a health and safety matter because it is.
2. Review Your Pay Scales
Admitting where you may have instituted bias is awkward but look at your data. Assess the salaries of each staff by job. Who makes more and who are the top performers? If a man makes more and they have earned it, have concrete reasons why. These should be obvious up front rather than an attempt at justification.
In the developed world, women make an average of 82 cents for every dollar a man makes. Look for consistent discrepancies in pay gaps. Perhaps one or two managers are making the decisions and unintentionally hold a bias. Bringing salaries into line and providing equal pay for equal work breeds confidence in the team.
3. Educate Your Team
Education eliminates ignorance.
Educate the team about your new policies and where conscious and unconscious bias occurs.
Employees might not even know there is an issue. They might not have understood that your female employees don’t like to be called sweetheart or other pet names. They might not be sensitive to the inappropriateness of sexually suggestive jokes. Furthemore, your recruitment team may not understand that certain job descriptions invite more male or female applicants.
Host dedicated training sessions to help open people’s eyes to the everyday experiences of the people you work with. It gives a platform to standardize team understanding.
Recognize it. Acknowledge it. Stop it.
Use a recognize it, acknowledge it and stop it approach. Provide specific examples of gender bias that are clear and conscious and subtle or unconscious. Create safe conditions for people to call it out in. It doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal if it is honestly accidental. Making the neutralization of biased behavior the norm gives the team agency to prevent it in future.
4. Provide Equal and Specific Feedback
Feedback in the workplace differs wildly from men to women and often comes down to ill-conceived or subconscious ideas.
Acknowledge Specific Individual Contributions
According to Stanford and Harvard studies women are less likely to receive feedback that is tied specifically to outcomes. This is partly due to the traditional stereotyping womens caregiving abilities.
Women are regularly seen as the support role to success rather than being directly responsible core members. Their part in success is typically attributed to team performance rather than acknowledging their individual contributions.
When it comes to offering feedback they are more of a footnote so the feedback they get is vague. This creates a problem. Vague feedback doesn’t tell people how to improve.
Fix Preconceived Notions
Looking beyond specific details, the feedback given tends to focus excessively on communication. Whereas men may be assertive, brave, leaders, women are seen as abrasive and aggressive.
In 200 performance reviews at a tech firm, Harvard researchers found negative communication feedback in 76% of cases for women compared to 24% of men. This typically comes from unconscious character traits predefined by the manager. Their view of the women’s role is as a supportive, caring hand. Therefore, when a woman challenges ideas or calls out mistakes, it conflicts with their opinion and comes across as abrasive.
How to Fix It
Preconceived notions and poorly defined feedback are setting women up for failure. Feedback contributes to creating a ceiling for women when it comes to promotion. Ask your managers to evaluate their feedback and ask if it is related to their thoughts of what that gender ‘should do’ in their opinion or does the behavior warrant addressing outside of gender bias?
In addition going forward, management should provide feedback that addresses the individual contribution to success and exact areas where development is needed. By highlighting specifics, the employee can create goals. Outline what is required for them to be in the conversation for promotions.
5. Recruit with Equality
Did you know that when women’s names were changed to men’s in a Lever recruitment study, the evaluators were 60% more likely to hire the candidate? Recruitment is a murky area when it comes to gender bias because so much of the issue is unconscious.
We all say we want more diversity in the workplace but the change required for that to happen is often absent. Diversity starts with variety in the applicant pool. However, gender behaviors and job descriptions are leading to active discouragement.
Reduce the Requirements
Statistically, men will apply for a job if they satisfy 60% of the criteria mentioned in the description. Women apply only when they satisfy 100% because they have learned they need to pitch a perfect game. Do your HR team include ancillary tasks or core tasks in the description? Sticking to the main pillars of a role will improve the chances of female applicants.
Use Gender-Neutral Language
Job descriptions are what attract the right people. Unfortunately, the subtlety of most job descriptions language is influencing what genders apply.
Women and men respond differently to different descriptions. Words like ‘ninja, rockstar, go-getter, dominate, strong and determined’ tend to inspire men. Words like ‘nurturing, loyal, supportive and honest’ capture more female interest. Do your HR team use gender-charged or gender-neutral words?
Getting the balance right is crucial to hiring from a mixed applicant pool. Be selective in your job description and requirements. Include a statement about equality to highlight that your description has tried to encourage female applicants.
6. Encourage Active Progression
Identify female talent early on in their tenure and nurture their growth. Provide the supports and frameworks for them to progress. Understand what motivates them and be strategic about their trajectory and role within your organization. Acknowledge specific contributions to the team. Create the conditions for high performance.
High performance is engineered by providing employees with specific and tangible goals and a timeline within which to complete them. Make the goals challenging and at the edge of their abilities. Stretch goals bring the best out of people. In addition, let them know how particular goals matter on their paths to promotion.
Closing the gender gap and shutting down gender biases leads to a more engaged workplace. It prioritizes high performance and overall collective success rather than ego insecurity and misogyny.
Eliminating gender bias starts with honesty and looking at the data in your company. By accepting that a problem exists, it frees your thinking on how to fix it. Honesty unleashes the full power of your full team rather than the limiting nature of gender preferences.
Enact change and empower your team to uphold new and more encompassing norms. Once your team accepts the powerful change, the potential will transcend previous limitations.