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By Tiffany Pham
Did you know our unconscious biases are significantly holding women back? Harvard’s global online research study, which included over 200,000 participants, showed that 76% of people (men and women) are gender-biased and tend to think of men as better suited for careers and women as better suited as homemakers. Clearly, this isn’t something that is only affecting a small percentage of the population.
The study was designed to highlight the implicit behaviors that we don’t even realize we are exhibiting and that cause us to reinforce stereotypes and gender bias. In other words, we all seem to be somewhat blind to our biases, which for the most part operate at an unconscious level. For example, interviewers’ microbehaviors and body language toward minority candidates during interviews—such as leaning less forward, maintaining less eye contact, being slightly less expressive or standing a little further away—can make interviewees a little less confident, putting them in a less-than-ideal position to show their best selves. Our unconscious biases are often manifested in such non-malicious ways and yet, still will have a major impact within your company and team.
Let’s look at more ways women are held back.
According to the Women in the Workplace study by Leanin.org and McKinsey & Co., for every 100 women promoted to manager positions, 130 men are promoted. In fact, women only account for 18% of C-Level employees currently, and women of color hold only 3% of C-Suite positions. Why is that? Perhaps because, according to the same study, women ask for feedback as often as men do, but are less likely to receive it; they also have less access to senior leaders overall. Women also negotiate just as often as men do, but face pushback and are then labeled bossy or aggressive. Sheryl Sandberg recently described how a freelance film director called out bias before it could even surface. The director walked into her negotiation armed and, ready with her pitch and stats, began by declaring, “I want to say upfront that I’m going to negotiate, and the research shows that you’re going to like me less when I do.”
Not only are less likely to be promoted to manager positions, but the trend gains momentum incrementally as they climb the ladder. And yet, study after study shows that female leaders tend to be better leaders than their male counterparts. At every single level of the corporate ladder, women are rated as better overall leaders than men by peers, bosses, direct reports and colleagues. What is even more interesting is that when such findings are shared with women, they believe what makes them great leaders is that they are not complacent and continuously try to outdo themselves and prove themselves and are therefore more keen to take feedback to heart. In one such survey a participant said, “We need to work harder than men to prove ourselves,” while another explained, “We feel the constant pressure to never make a mistake, and to continually prove our value to the organization.”
Behind all of these studies, articles, and opinion pieces is the clarity that gender diversity needs to become a priority. Why? Well, there is now more than ever quantitative data proving the value of diversity from a bottom line perspective. Women make 41% of purchasing decisions and women-owned businesses have a huge impact on our economy. Women control trillions of dollars of wealth and influence more than 85% of retail decisions. The US alone could add up to more than $4 trillion in annual GDP in 2025 if women attain full gender equality, according to The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in the United States, MGI. In fact, companies with greater gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.
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