SocietyWork A Crash Course on Workplace Gender Biases

A Crash Course on Workplace Gender Biases

Gender biases can influence workplace interaction and decisions with mostly women at the raw end of the deal.

I’m all for #LeanIn. Let’s try harder, let’s empower each other, let’s not say sorry for every damn little thing that isn’t our fault. Got it. But is #LeanIn enough?

If battling deadlines and managing teams at the workplace wasn’t enough, here’s some research that shows how gender can influence workplace interaction and decisions (with mostly women at the raw end of the deal).

Confident Much?

    Women constantly rate their abilities accurately, whereas men have a tendency to go, errr, a bit over the top.

    An interesting example would be a study carried out at HP that revealed that women only applied for internal promotions when they met 100% of the criteria listed, whereas men applied even if they met 60% of the criteria listed in the job description.

    Ernesto Reuben and his colleagues found that overconfidence and competitiveness among men explains at least 18% of the gender pay gap. Men are also less risk averse than women, which explains where the overconfidence stems from in a way.

    Why the difference in the risk appetite however? Perhaps it is the social cues women hear and see all their lives: to be warm, nurturing, and caring (which are individual traits, and not really linked to sex anymore, and can vary between genders equally). Perhaps being competitive and risk seeking is antithetical to being warm and accommodating – which women have been conditioned into, as a trait necessary for them to be worthy of their “womanhood”.

    Women have been shown to be less aggressive when negotiating for themselves as they fear negative outcomes and even backlash. However, they are happy to negotiate fearlessly when advocating some else’s interest. Research has shown that not only men tend to start conversations related to negotiation four times more often than women, they also ask for more money.

    Give me the Warm Fuzzies

      A study by one of my favourite professors at IE Business School, Margarita Mayo, revealed that men are perceived by others to be confident if they are seen as competent. However, for women to be perceived as confident and influential, they must appear competent AND warm.

      Step back and think: how many times have you called a woman at work a certain derogatory term because she didn’t seem empathetic or warm enough? Would you use the same lens to judge a male boss or colleague?

      Professor or Mother? (Gender Bias in Academia)

        Field and experimental studies have shown that male instructors get better evaluations than female instructors. Similar to what we saw in workplace research, female academics who appear to exhibit traits associated with women – warmth, interpersonal skills and so on, are reviewed equally as male academics.

        On the one hand, sometimes when women do exhibit these traits, it leads students to think women instructors are less competent than male instructors. However, when women do behave authoritatively, students feel that they violate their expectations of gender performativity, which can also lead to student disapproval.

        There’s no winning this, is there?

        Also Read: Sexual Harassment At The Workplace: A Story That’s As Old As The Hills

        “Don’t Look Back in Anger”

        Angry yet? No? Then probably this will do the trick. But, if you’re at work you may want to hold that back for a bit. Research has found that both male and female respondents confer lower status to women who express anger and a higher status to men who express anger. This was irrespective of the position the women held in the hierarchy (it was the same perception for an angry female trainee AND a CEO).

        “With Arms Wide Open” (Self-Perception and Feedback)

        Women are much more likely than men to assimilate feedback received from peers and act on it to improve their work. While you may think that this is excellent news, the reason why it happens is not so empowering. Everyone has opinions about their own abilities, and as discussed, men tend to be more confident than women in assessing their own abilities.

        In order to reduce the dissonance of a feedback that diverges from their self-perception, men may tend to block the learning process that will actually enable them to do better. For women however, this is not a problem. Since women constantly undervalue themselves, they receive the feedback with open arms, and act on it without any ensuing cognitive dissonance.

        If you’re leaning on the edge of despondency after reading this – Don’t. Discuss the research cited in this article at your workplace, with your managers, and fellow students. Making people aware of their biases (men and women alike), can sometimes make them more self-aware and hopefully reduce the bias. If not, there’s always systems and checks that can be developed to systematically remove the biases.

        Until then, I reckon, Stay Angry, Stay Astute.

        Also Read: Unpaid Domestic Labour And The Invisibilisation Of Women’s Work

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