This year, the theme of International Women’s Day is concerned with reducing and eliminating gender bias against women. According to a UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) survey from 2020, 90% of men and women are biased against women. This is a shocking statistic, but also highlights the necessity of addressing gender bias against women. The following is not a comprehensive study or take on gender bias, however it briefly looks at gender bias in the workplace, why it is detrimental, recognising it and includes a few suggestions about tackling it. Addressing gender bias against women in the workplace helps to create a more cohesive workforce, better decision making, and higher quality work. Reducing bias in the workplace is a concern for many organisations as the long-term benefits are numerous.
It can be unconscious or implicit, but it exists. Bias ascribes certain characteristics and attitudes to a person or group of people and is usually a cultural association. Bias means we make assumptions. In the case of gender bias in the workplace against women, stereotypes or attitudes abound and it can intersect with other aspects of a woman’s life. Consequently, a woman who has a disability may be navigating multiple biases. This may be further complicated if you throw in her age or accent. The result of which is that the biases influence how she is seen and the most relevant elements such as experience or qualifications come second as colleagues or managers may be influenced by their own bias. The result of gender bias is that these ascribed behaviours affect how an individual understands and interacts with other people within that organisation because they are trying to fit in and work within the corporate culture.
Effects of bias
Unconscious gender bias is not new and consequently, it has become embedded in organisations through language, HR policies, organisational structures, processes, and practices. All of which work towards creating a work culture that is unconsciously gender biased and as a result reinforces it because employees are following protocols or practices that have these biased features built in. Unfortunately, removing or reducing bias in an organisation can be difficult. Efforts to reducing or eliminating gender bias in the workplace is a continuous process.
In the case of unconscious gender bias, the negative effects on organisation and individuals include directly contributing to inequality in the workplace, preventing the hiring of the best person for a job, increased turnover, reduced career advancement opportunities, and it harms organisational reputation.
The effect that organisational bias has on individuals is all too real. The gender pay gap is one way that gender bias directly affects women in the workplace. The consequence of a lower income that women receive makes them more vulnerable to poverty now and in the future. The reason for this is that when a woman is earning less, she will save less (pension, rainy day fund etc.) and consequently will be more financially vulnerable. The Irish government is now trying to address this by enacting the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill which will compel companies to publish data on hourly pay and bonuses of men and women.
Benefits of Addressing Gender Bias
Reducing or eliminating gender bias does not disappear when your business hires more women. It requires understanding how to harness the power of a more diverse workforce and be willing to reshape the power structure of the organisation. Some steps that an organisation can take include building trust in a workplace where employees and leaders feel safe expressing themselves and being vulnerable. Actively working against discrimination and subordination in the workplace also shows that a business is willing to instigate concrete measures for tackling the topic. This may be accomplished through education or training.
Unconscious bias training has been available for some time, however getting the right training to reduce or eliminate unconscious bias is needed. Conventional unconscious bias (UB) training is now considered ineffective and increases bias in the workplace. UB training has focused on the way biases are innate to individuals and the effect of unconscious bias. The result of this is that the training backfires as employees come to believe that their biases are unavoidable.
As a result, effective UB training focuses on awareness and effect, but also how to manage your individual unconscious bias, change behaviours and measure your progress. However, individuals changing their behaviour is only one part of it; organisations need to measure and track areas within their business such as the number of women in senior roles, career progression opportunities or lack thereof for women and turnover. The point of measuring areas like these is that they can reveal patterns which can then be interrogated.
Addressing unconscious bias is not only possible through appropriate training. Technology is useful for eliminating gender biased language in recruitment efforts. Software for uncovering gender biased language can be applied in advance of placing a recruitment ad. In reducing gender bias some organisations have tried to directly address common issues that unconscious gender bias creates by reviewing HR policies. Reviewing policies to eliminate gender biased language and formalise HR policies about flexible working, work-family conflicts etc. Then tying the formalised policies to other organisational structures and processes. Laying out the specifics of these policies results in decision makers having less ability to manipulate the policy to discriminate.
Further actions that leaders and managers can take include making a concerted effort to understand how organisation’s structure subtly discourages diverse types of behaviour or prevents people from feeling like they can make their voice heard. Finally, using differences to encourage learning and sharing experiences of how women experience the workplace and using these differences and lived experiences as sources of ideas to enhance the organisation.
How is Acacia addressing gender bias?
Addressing biases to reduce and eliminate inequality is a topic we are addressing directly through our responsible business programme. Consequently, some of the actions we are taking include making a conscious effort to be more inclusive in the language we use for our policies as language plays a role in reinforced gender biases at work. The purpose of addressing language issues in our organisation recognises that equality and economic wellbeing are parts of sustainability. As a result, we have made a conscious effort in our policies to incorporate text that focuses on inclusivity around gender and other areas. Our sustainability efforts are detailed on our Responsible Business Page.
Addressing gender biases in the workplace allow an organisation to focus on their sustainability efforts by contributing to a more equitable workplace women feel valued for their contribution and encouraged to speak up. Reducing or eliminating bias in the workplace means that employees feel valued and respected. Addressing gender bias in the workplace for women means that they have influence over setting the agenda, they influence the type of work they are doing and how it is done. Additionally, having one’s needs considered and having her contribution to the business recognised with opportunities for advancement all contribute to reducing gender bias in the workplace.