Because the traditional stereotype of a leader in organizations has been of a man, there are a variety of ways women have not been perceived as capable of being a leader. All humans have unknowingly inherited these biased ways of thinking. They are shortcuts to categorize people so we can know how to interact with them, but being the subject of someone’s bias makes you feel frustrated and not seen for who you are!
Once a person becomes conscious of these biases, then it’s their responsibility to update them, and to act with respect and fairness toward men and women. Anyone who wants to succeed in business and life must be aware if they are operating with old notions about women and their abilities. You can play a role in helping people you work with to become aware of their biases – for themselves, for you, and for your company.
Here are three common forms of gender bias and what you can do to deal with them.
The prove it again bias
The prove it again bias is at play when women must prove their competence over and over, whereas men are given the benefit of the doubt about their experience.
Here’s what it will look like if you face this bias: A man and a woman are interviewing for the same position or asking their manager for a similar next level role, and neither has direct experience for the role. “Andy” will be evaluated based on his future potential (interviewers will say “he’ll figure it out”) whereas “Annie” will be evaluated based on her past accomplishments (interviewers will say “she hasn’t had the experience; let’s put her in a lateral role for two years to get ready”).
Here’s how you can overcome this bias:
– Focus on describing the work you will do at the next level: When interviewing for next roles, it’s natural to describe accomplishments in your current and past roles. This is a great start to a conversation, but don’t stop there. Your focus on the past keeps you seen in the box of what you are doing now or have done in the past, limiting how you can be seen for future opportunities. Always add the next step, which is to talk about what you WILL do in the role you are interviewing for. Describe the actions you will take in the first 90 days so they see you doing that role.
– Get a sponsor and/or manager to advocate for you. When a sponsor or your current manager tells decision makers that you will shine in a new role, it gives you the credibility to not have to prove yourself again.
– Ask for decision makers to apply objective criteria. If you don’t get the role, you can ask what the criteria were and how you were evaluated against these criteria. This question requires decision makers to compare candidates on objective criteria rather than choose candidates with whom they initially feel comfortable.
The maternal bias
A common example of the maternal bias is to assume mothers won’t want a certain job because it requires a lot of travel and she has a newborn at home.
You can reduce the likelihood of this bias being applied to you by regularly communicating to your manager and/or sponsor what roles interest you and what you want for your career path.
The performance evaluation bias
Men tend to get feedback about how to improve on the job where women get feedback about their personality and communication style, meaning women are judged more and get less mentoring on how to improve their job skills.
If you are given feedback about your personality or communication style, ask the person giving feedback to provide concrete examples of this behavior to let them know your interest in trying to improve it. Often a biased perception lacks specific evidence, so the person giving the feedback will not be able to back up their claim.
If you are trying to establish whether the perception of you is biased, you could inquire whether bias might be at play. You can do this by indicating it was someone else’s suggestion. I had someone in one of my virtual coaching programs approach her boss with this approach, e.g., “In my coaching program, the coach informed us about how women are unknowingly evaluated differently than men. I’m trying to apply what I’ve learned and wondering if this is the kind of situation she was referring to? You could also refer to this as something you learned in a company-sponsored training.
The idea is to keep the tone neutral and not accusatory; rather, approach it in the spirit of looking into it together. Thank your manager for partnering with you to make feedback in alignment with the company values.
We now have a lot more awareness how bias is woven into every aspect of business decisions. You have more power than you think. Play your part in reducing its effect on you and eliminating it from your interactions with key people in your workplace!