#BreaktheBias – International Women’s Day 2022
The annual International Women’s Day provides a stark reminder that we still live in a world yet free from inequality, bias, stereotypes and discrimination. 2022 is the year of #BreaktheBias and it could not be more relevant. In many countries, women are still excluded from forms of decision making and positions of power, consciously and unconsciously. It is this mindset that must change and highlighting and addressing this issue is a good place to begin.
Conscious bias has been a damaging social issue for some time but only recently has unconscious bias been given similar attention. Unconscious bias is probably the most common form of discrimination. It is almost like people have been programmed, over many years, to believe and see people of different ethnicity, gender, religion or disability in a different light to themselves. Whilst many forms of unconscious bias may be harmless, unfortunately, most forms do cause people to suffer.
Of course, if the bias is unconscious, it is harder to identify and solve. That is why talking about the issue and highlighting common types of unconscious bias can start to make more people realise and understand its negative repercussions. It will take time, but through annual events such as International Women’s Day, awareness will be at an all-time high. Collectively we can all #BreaktheBias.
What does bias mean?
Bias is the disproportionate weight in favour for or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is closed-minded, prejudicial, or unfair. Unconscious bias is how a person thinks that has been shaped by their life experiences. Sometimes they have beliefs and views about other people that might not be right or reasonable. Whereas bias is usually meant, unconscious bias is most commonly a decision influenced by false beliefs or assumptions. It is sometimes hard to differentiate between the two forms of bias. A lot of the time an example of bias may share similar characteristics to that of unconscious bias.
In today’s society, gender bias is the term often used to refer to the preferential treatment men receive over women. Another term for gender bias is ‘sexism’, the prejudice against women solely on the basis of their sex. As well as gender bias, there are also other forms of unconscious bias that disproportionately affect women. Unsurprisingly, they are most prominently visible within professional settings. So, what are the other forms of biases that affect women’s success in the workplace?
Biases in the workplace
Performance Support Bias – Performance support bias occurs when employers, managers and colleagues provide more resources and opportunities to one gender over another.
Performance Reward Bias – Performance reward bias occurs when employers, managers and colleagues reward an employee of one gender differently from another gender. Rewards may be in the form of promotions, raises or other merit-based rewards.
Glass Ceiling – A major result of these biases has contributed to the creation of the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling is a metaphor for the evident but intangible hierarchical impediment that prevents minorities and women from achieving elevated professional success.
Let us look at some striking statistics.
- 42% of women experience gender discrimination at work.
- 5 of the 14 top barriers women face in the workplace are related to discrimination and gender bias.
- 40% of men and women notice a double standard against female candidates.
- 6.6% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women.
Now we understand some forms of biases that women face in professional settings. What are some examples of unconscious biases in the workplace?
Unconscious biases in the workplace
Recruiting Strategies – both male and female hiring managers are twice as likely to hire a man over a woman. Throughout the recruiting process, there can be traces of gender bias, starting with where and how you recruit candidates.
Hiring Managers – One study found that when candidates were assessed separately by individual hiring managers, 51% of managers were influenced by the candidate’s gender and selected the under-performing candidate. However, when candidates were evaluated by a hiring team together, gender didn’t affect their decision, they simply hired the highest-performing candidate.
Compensation and Rewards – Between men and women, the gender pay gap ranges from 3% to 51% and on average sits at 17%.
Sexual Harassment – A staggering 70% of women who experience sexual harassment, experience it in the workplace. And of the women who experience it within the first two years at a new job, 80% quit and move to a different company.
#BreaktheBias in the workplace
It is no wonder that International Women’s Day 2022 is the year of #BreaktheBias. Highlighting the issue is one step, but the next is step is to address and resolve it. So let us take a look at some steps you can take to combat gender bias in the workplace.
Be Transparent – Report on your gender statistics transparently. This is the law for companies over a certain size in the UK. Accompany it with a clear action plan on the steps you are taking as an employer to close the gender pay gap, with clear targets and milestones. Communicate this openly and honestly with your workforce, explaining the tangible progress you plan to make.
Carefully word your job adverts – Research shows that adjectives such as ‘competitive’ and ‘determined’ put off women. On the other hand, words such as ‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative’ tend to attract more women than men. Standardise interviews, anonymise resumes and use blind evaluation processes
Support Women in more senior roles – Diversify the board and actively encourage women to progress.
Provide Training – Training in unconscious bias and encouraging brave conversations can help your employees develop the skills and practice to create an open, inclusive culture.
Have a clear policy on discrimination – Create a clear, unbiased, non-retaliatory discrimination policy that ensures employees have a proper way to comment or report on inappropriate treatment in the workplace.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
We have asked our team at Roffey Park Institute to share some of their experiences, thoughts and feelings that surround International Women’s Day. The responses were powerful.
When asked ‘What does International Women’s Day mean to you?’, the common theme was the celebration and recognition of women’s achievements and contributions. The keyword from the majority of responses was ‘value’ – to appreciate and give thanks to the women in your life that you admire and love. However, there was also a collective agreement that there is still a need for a push. A push for fairer, safer, more equitable societies where a woman’s value is recognised, respected and rewarded.
Next, we asked, ‘What is your International Women’s Day message?’, and here are the responses:
- ‘Every woman’s success should be an inspiration to another. We’re strongest when we cheer each other on.’
- ‘Equality for women is equality for everyone.’
- ‘Never underestimate yourself. You are stronger than you think and you can do whatever you put your mind to. Your thoughts/feelings/aspirations/wants are just as valid as a man’s.’
- ‘Women (including anyone that identifies as a woman) deserve to be celebrated more than just today. Our thoughts, our creations, our work and our community involvement all have immense value – every day. So, take time today, next week, in five months….to thank the women in your life for all that they do. To check yourself and others on the way you uphold respect for women of all diverse backgrounds. Finally, to challenge anyone who would ask that women do or be less.’
Who inspires you?
Finally, we asked people to share a women’s empowerment moment that inspired them. The stories we received back were fascinating and included women from all corners of society. Times, where women overcame hardship or adversity to achieve an amazing feat, were common. For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional win. Ocasio-Cortez pushed out a 10-term incumbent from their own party, as a 28-year-old, local, woman of colour in New York City. In an area where the money and roots of politics run deep, it felt like such an impressive feat of passion and activism.
Furthermore, one response explained how this person gets immense satisfaction from working with the next generation of women leaders. This by empowering teens, young women and businesswomen through education and training programmes. Being an advocate for positivity and encouraging that women can do anything and mind over matter is important.
Influential sports star Serena Williams and Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg were names frequently mentioned as women who had inspired others. Global figures have the ability to inspire many, from all corners of the globe. Moments that inspire and empower can also come from those closer to home, from friends and family. I was sent a story from a colleague who had been inspired by her grandmother.
During the 1970s it was common for women to feel ostracised in different parts of the community, especially as single mothers. Caitlin’s grandmother was a paediatrician in a time when there were not many female doctors. She had six children and had gotten divorced at a time when that was not common either.
Caitlin’s grandmother knew of a friend that had split from her husband and wanted to meet her to talk. They sat down and she told her friend that she was not alone. Moreover, those judging or excluding her were the ones missing out on all that she had to offer. Not the other way around. She told her friend that she could not change other people’s behaviour. Instead, she could and should take pride in her own. This lady told Caitlin this story at Caitlin’s grandmother’s funeral as it made such a huge impact on how she lived her life.
It goes to show that these moments do not have to happen on a global stage to be inspiring. Caitlin spoke of how remembering this moment made her feel so inspired and incredibly proud. The way her grandmother made time to sit with someone and give them the lift they needed is inspiring. To recognise that her friend was being judged as much for being a woman as anything else. That she needed to know she was not at fault for that but to be proud of who she is.
So, on International Women’s Day 2022, I hope the stories, thoughts and feelings from my colleagues at Roffey Park Institute can inspire you to help enact the change still needed to achieve equality and #BreaktheBias.