Bias is prevalent in every aspect of our lives. Our brains are hardwired to categorize things we encounter in order to make sense of the complicated world around us. However, biases can cause us to form prejudices against others, which allows for egregious inequalities to form between different demographics.
While bias comes in many forms, this article focuses on gender bias and its role within the workplace. We’ll cover what it is, where and when it happens, along with 14 ways you can reduce gender bias and ultimately build a more diverse and inclusive workplace. It should be noted that, while there is a spectrum of gender identities, due to constraints within existing literature we’ll focus on the gender binaries — men and women.
Gender Bias Definition
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Table of Contents
- Gender Bias Definition and Meaning
- Gender Bias Statistics
- Examples of Gender Bias in the Workplace
- Ways to Reduce Gender Bias in the Workplace
Gender Bias Definition and Meaning
Gender bias is the tendency to prefer one gender over another. It is a form of unconscious bias, or implicit bias, which occurs when one individual unconsciously attributes certain attitudes and stereotypes to another person or group of people. These biases can affect how the individual understands and engages with others.
In today’s society, gender bias is often used to refer to the preferential treatment men receive — specifically white, heterosexual males. It’s often labeled as sexism and describes the prejudice against women solely on the basis of their sex. Gender bias is most prominently visible within professional settings.
Another term often used interchangeably with gender bias is gender discrimination, which is the undequal treatment of a person or group of people because of gender-based prejudice.
In addition to gender bias, there are a number of other types of unconscious bias that disproportionately affect women's success in the workplace, which include:
Performance Support Bias
Performance support bias occurs when employers, managers and colleagues provide more resources and opportunities to one gender (typically men) over another.
One study found that, among sales employees — who are paid based on performance and commission — women are unfairly assigned inferior accounts compared to men, even though women have proven to produce the same results when given equivalent sales opportunities.
Performance Review Bias
Performance review bias occurs when employers, managers and colleagues review an employee of one gender differently from another gender — even when the evaluations are purely merit-based.
Harvard Business Review found that performance evaluations are inherently biased, even when companies make an effort to remove bias by making them open-ended. In fact, without structure to evaluations, people are more likely to review an individual on the basis of stereotypes related to gender and race than reviewing individuals meritocratically.
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.
While it may seem like rewarding individuals on merit would help eliminate gender bias, it’s not as cut-and-dry as you think. One study found that when women and minorities receive the same exact performance evaluation score as white men for the same job and work unit, they receive lower pay increases than white men.
A major result of these biases have 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.
Due to contributing factors, like the aforementioned types of bias, women and minorities experience a barrier that prevents them from reaching upper-level roles in leadership and the C-Suite.
With the basics of gender bias down, let's review some statistics to see where and how such biases affect women in the workplace.
Gender Bias Statistics
To further illustrate the role gender bias plays in the office, we’ve gathered a number of statistics related to diversity and gender bias in the workplace:
- 42 percent of women experience gender discrimination at work.
- In 2022, 59 percent of women said they had experienced harassment or microaggressions at work in the past year.
- 93 percent of women say they fear reporting non-inclusive behaviors at work will have a negative effect on their career.
- Globally, almost 50 percent of people believe men are better political leaders, while more than 40 percent see men as better business executives.
- In fiscal year 2021, 18,762 charges were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Oppprtunity Commission for sex-based discrimination. Those complaints led to more than $150 million in payouts.
- Both men and women are twice as likely to hire a male candidate.
- Women are 79 times more likely to be hired when there are at least two female candidates in the finalist pool.
- Half of men believe women are well-represented at their company, when 90 percent of senior leaders are men.
- Men are 30 percent more likely to obtain managerial roles.
- Women and men ask for pay raises at the same rate.
- Women receive pay raises 5 percent less often.
- Companies with executive teams in the top quartile for gender diversity are 25 percent more likely to see above-average profitability.
- 5 percent of CEOs globally are women.
- Women represent just over 28 percent of boardroom seats.
- 19.2 percent of C-Suite roles are filled by women.
- 4 percent of C-Suite roles are held by women of color.
- 15 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women.
- As of 2021, women of color made up 1.2 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.
Examples of Gender Bias in the Workplace
When it comes down to it, gender bias can happen at all stages of recruiting, hiring and retaining employees. In this section, we’re going to break down some key areas where gender bias affects candidates and their careers.
Many Recruiting Strategies are Biased
Throughout the recruiting process, there can be traces of gender bias, starting with where and how you recruit candidates.
Looking for a job after graduating college, Erin McKelvey didn’t receive a single response from employers. When she changed her name from Erin (historically a feminine name) to Mack (considered a more masculine name) on her resume, she received a 70 percent response rate.
Additionally, employers may unconsciously (or consciously) place open roles on platforms with predominantly male candidates or actively target men through ads. Aside from being unethical, know that this is also illegal.
Job Descriptions Contain Gender Bias
Even something as mundane as a job description contains traces of unconscious bias. Language inherently has gendered associations. Including words like confident, decisive, strong and outspoken have been found to attract male candidates and deter female candidates.
Research also shows that men apply to jobs where they meet 60 percent of the qualifications while women only apply to jobs when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. Meaning, if your job description has a lot of unnecessary or strict requirements, you are unintentionally weeding out women from applying to your open roles.
Interview Questions Can Be Gender Biased
When interviews are not standardized, the questions interviewers ask can be biased based on the candidate’s personality, experiences and even gender.
One study found that hiring managers tend to ask male candidates to perform more math-based interview tests and female candidates more verbal interview tests.
Hiring managers are also more likely to ask female candidates about parental plans and responsibilities. While discriminating against parents and pregnant people is illegal, asking questions about a candidate’s parental status technically isn’t illegal.
Hiring Managers Are Unconsciously Gender Biased
One study found that when candidates were assessed separately by individual hiring managers, 51 percent 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.
Additionally, during the interview, hiring managers tend to ask more targeted questions about a female candidate’s leadership abilities and unconsciously prefer more masculine leadership styles.
Gender Bias Can Influence Mentors and Mentoring Opportunities
It’s clear that gender biases play a significant role in women’s ability to excel in their careers and reach upper level roles. It also doesn’t help that 60 percent of male managers have said they are uncomfortable mentoring, socializing with or working one-on-one with female employees.
In order to achieve upper-level positions, however, it is highly beneficial for individual contributors to have a mentor supporting them throughout their career. One survey revealed employees at every income level who had a mentor were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs compared to those who did not participate in mentorship. And for non-white women between the ages of 45 and 54, 95 percent of those who had a mentor reported satisfaction with their job compared to 82 percent of those without a mentor. Employees with mentors are also more likely to report that their employer gave them opportunities to advance their careers.
Compensation and Rewards Reflect Gender Bias
The gender pay gap is no joke. Payscale’s 2022 State of the Gender Pay Gap report shows women make 82 cents for every dollar men make, which the salary platform company refers to as the “uncontrolled gender pay gap.” The “controlled gender pay gap” compares men and women with the same jobs and qualifications. That metric shows women making 99 cents for every dollar men earn. While those numbers are substantially closer, the Payscale report argues, “This is equal pay for equal work. The gap should be zero.”
When considering the gender pay gap, you must account for the fact that more women are segregated to lower-level jobs in low-paying industries and are unable to obtain upper-level roles due to biases and the glass ceiling. These disparities in opportunities, prevent women from excelling in their career and inhibits their ability to make the same amount as men. At every stage of their careers, women face barriers that place them at a disadvantage for career opportunities, mentorships, promotions and pay raises.
Perks and Benefits Affect Genders Differently
The perks and benefits companies offer can significantly contribute to gender bias and opportunity discrepancies between genders. This is especially true when it comes to benefits for working parents since women are typically assigned to act as the primary caregiver of children, which has led to a motherhood penalty.
More than 80 percent of U.S. workers believe putting working mothers in leadership positions leads to greater success, according to a Bright Horizons survey. Just over 90 percent also agree mothers have unique skills they can bring to leadership.
The Bright Horizons survey also revealed 41 percent of workers view mothers as being less committed to their jobs and 38 percent judge them for needing flexible schedules. Of working parents surveyed, 72 percent said “women are penalized in their careers for starting families, while men are not.”
At the same time, fathers only take about one day of parental leave for every month mothers take and 23 percent of men are not taking parental leave at all, even though their companies offer the benefit. There is still a strong stigma that suggests taking parental leave will harm one’s career, which is a serious concern to 63 percent of men.
Parental Status Affects Income and Career Development
For working mothers, inequalities are even more drastic.
As of 2020, mothers earned 74 cents for every dollar fathers earned, according to the National Women’s Law Center. That wage gap results in $17,000 in yearly losses for mothers who work full-time, and women of color who have children lose out on upwards of $30,000 each year. Almost one in five women who had children living in their homes said they sometimes or often could not afford enough food in the past week in July 2022.
Federal pregnancy discrimination suits have been on the rise, according to Bloomberg Law. The number of pregnancy-related claims filed in 2020 was up by 67 percent compared to 2016, despite declines in U.S. pregnancies and births.
Sexual Harassment In the Workplace Affects Genders Differently
While both men and women experience sexual harassment, nearly 78.2 percent of EEOC sexual harassment charges between fiscal years 2018 and 2021 were filed by women. A staggering 70 percent of women who experience sexual harassment, experience it in the workplace.
A 2022 Deloitte survey found that 14 percent of 5,000 women from 10 countries who responded had been harassed at work. More than 40 percent of these instances of “ unwanted physical advances or repeated disparaging comments” went unreported, with embarrassment identified as the top reason for not speaking up. Less than a quarter of the women surveyed said their employer had “a clear process for reporting discrimination and harassment.”
Whether women decide to start over somewhere else or risk retaliation from addressing the issue, they are at a constant risk of harming their careers after being sexually harassed.
Gender Bias Intersects With Racial Bias
Close to 60 percent of women who responded to a 2020 survey said they had experienced discrimination based on their race or gender or obstacles to getting jobs that pay more. That same survey also showed “roughly half of women who identify as Black and Latinx do not have enough money right now to pay for their basic needs.”. Both demographic groups were the least confident they were being paid equally at work.
The pay gap is broadest for women who identify as American Indian and Alaska Native, according to Payscale. They earn 71 cents for every dollar earned by white men. That’s followed by Hispanic women who make 78 cents for every dollar white men make and women identifying as Black or Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander who make 79 cents for every dollar white men make. Those numbers represent the pay gap compared to all white men, while these demographic groups make 98 cents to $1 for every dollar made by white men with the same jobs and qualifications.
Women Are Interrupted or Talked Over More Than Men
One example of unconscious gender bias is the fact that men interrupt 33 percent more often when they speak with women compared to when they speak with men, according to a George Washington University study. This behavior can lead to situations where a woman’s voice is not amplified as well as her male counterparts and she will be more likely to be dismissed. Women may also find themselves in a situation where after voicing an idea to minimal fanfare, they hear that same idea amplified by a male co-worker to greater praise.
14 Ways to Reduce Gender Bias in the Workplace
Now that we know where to look for gender bias in the workplace, let’s tackle some ways to actively reduce biases and create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
Ways to Reduce Gender Bias in the Workplace
- Collect and analyze employee demographic data.
- Collect and analyze employee compensation data.
- Run experiments unique to your team.
- Identify gender bias in your recruiting process.
- Utilize automation and artificial intelligence.
- Implement regular gender bias training.
- Standardize mentoring or use e-mentoring.
- Provide leadership training opportunities.
- Give everyone a seat at the table for important projects.
- Offer perks and benefits for equal opportunities.
- Create an office space for everyone.
- Diversify your boardroom.
- Review your anti-discrimination and bias policies.
- Use blind evaluations and standardized hiring processes.
Collect and Analyze Employee Demographic Data
Start by collecting data about your employee demographics. Look at disparities between men and women by department, seniority and retention. You may also consider publishing this information on your careers page to remain transparent with your entire company and to hold your team accountable for moving the needle toward becoming an entirely gender diverse and equal opportunity employer.
Collect and Analyze Employee Compensation Data
Conduct regular pay audits to identify how men and women are paid and promoted differently. Consider both the adjusted and unadjusted pay gaps that we talked about earlier in this article.
Also, it may behoove you to publish your findings for the entire company to see or even on your careers page. One survey found women who said their employer had implemented pay transparency earned between $1 and $1.01 on average for every $1 a man earned.
Run Experiments Unique to Your Team
Employee engagement surveys are a great way to gather more data about your team and identify trends in how your employees engage in their work. Keep in mind that in order to obtain the best, most unfiltered responses, you’ll want to keep these surveys anonymous. If your teams are small and not highly gender diverse, you may not want to ask for personal information like job title or even gender because if there’s only one woman with a specific role on the team, she will be easily identifiable.
Additionally, you may want to implement perception surveys, which focus on the safety of your employees. Anonymous surveys like this provide an opportunity for employees to share experiences they’ve encountered, like sexual harassment or gender bias, that may not have been addressed in standard employee engagement surveys.
Identify Gender Bias in Your Recruiting Process
To reduce gender bias in your recruiting process, start by looking at the language you use. You can use a gender decoder tool to identify biased language in your job descriptions. You could also plug in recruitment content from emails, interview questions and employer branding materials for social media and your careers page.
Make sure to attract enough great candidates, having at least two women in the finalist pool has been shown to improve a woman’s chance of being hired by 79 times.
Utilize Automation and Artificial Intelligence
One simple way to reduce gender bias in your recruiting process is to invest in recruitment tools that utilize automation or artificial intelligence to make decisions.
Not only will this save time during the initial screening process, but it will help filter through candidates based on merit rather than gender or other characteristics that may place them at a biased and unfair disadvantage.
However, it is also important to note that artificial intelligence is a type of machine learning, so over time, if human biases are introduced, artificial intelligence can learn and perpetuate those biases, so take precautions when using such technology to reduce bias early on.
Implement Regular Gender Bias Training
Sure, biases are a simple fact of life, but that doesn’t mean they are set in stone. The best way to reduce unconscious gender bias is to learn about it and take action to alter your perception of biases for the better.
Start by informing your team of the different types of unconscious bias and then look for diversity and inclusion professionals or unconscious bias programs near you that will support your efforts with regular training.
Standardize Mentoring or Utilize E-Mentoring
To provide all of your employees with equal opportunities, create a standardized mentoring process. Although 76 percent of people said they consider mentorship to be important, less than half actually have a mentor. More than 90 percent of people who have mentors say they’re satisfied with their jobs.
If a mentor program doesn’t quite work for your team, consider partnering with an e-mentoring program to connect your employees with professionals outside of your company.
Provide Leadership Training Opportunities
First of all, individual contributors shouldn’t be expected to be naturally great leaders. Leadership training should be mandatory for everyone growing in their careers to ensure they know how to manage and lead teams, which is often a skill set that needs to be learned.
Such training is essential to reducing gender bias, closing the gender wage gap and breaking the glass ceiling. It will also help both men and women become better mentors for females earlier in their careers.
To reach gender equality, fill the pay gap and break the glass ceiling, companies need to proactively provide women with leadership and professional development opportunities.
Give Everyone a Seat at the Table For Important projects
When you’re implementing a new project, make sure you're bringing together a diverse team with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences to tackle it. One study found that gender diverse teams are 73 percent better at decision making than teams that are all men.
Offer Perks and Benefits for Equal Opportunities
When you review the perks and benefits you offer, bring your entire team in on the conversation. Provide them an opportunity to share honest feedback on the benefits they wish your team had and the benefits that would draw them to another company. If you have a young company, employees may value parental leave benefits, whereas if your employees are later in their careers, they may care more about retirement benefits. Having these conversations will help you invest in benefits that will actually support your employee's work-life balance.
Additionally, parental leave brings a wealth of benefits, including boosting retention rates, reducing the ‘motherhood penalty,’ as well as improving morale at work.
And when it comes to parental leave, it's important to include working fathers and encourage them to actually take the leave. One study found for every month a man takes parental leave, women's salaries increase correspondingly by 7 percent, helping to further close the gender pay gap.
Create an Office Space for Everyone
Believe it or not, your physical office space can play a role in how men and women interact in the workplace. Certain office designs have even been found to be more or less inclusive for different demographics. In industries that have been dominated by men, oftentimes, there aren't even bathrooms for women.
Many companies also do not offer a mother’s room, forcing working moms to breastfeed in the bathroom or other places that are less than welcoming and unhygienic.
Diversify Your Boardroom
Beyond managerial or even C-level leadership positions, companies also need to take a hard look at their board of directors.
As of 2022, 28.2 percent of global boardroom seats were held by women. Though there have been steps taken to change this there is still a lot of work to do. A study performed at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business showed that, “Companies with more women on their board of directors are more likely to be companies that have programs, guidelines, and clear policies to avoid corrupt business dealings, have strong partnerships and have high levels of disclosure and transparency.” If you’re looking for ways to build a more diverse and transparent workplace and business, appointing more women to your board of directors is a perfect place to start.
Review Your Anti-Discrimination and Bias Policies
Review your nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies, and make sure this information is included in job descriptions, employee handbooks and your careers page. In addition to your policies, provide employees with information and resources on who to reach out to in different situations. Include clear steps for what is going to happen so people know what to expect when they file a complaint.
Use Blind evaluations and standardized hiring processes
One way to help reduce gender bias is to standardize hiring processes, and in some cases, remove the individual’s name from the evaluation process entirely (such as when reviewing resumes of potential candidates.) When performing interviews, whether for a new hire or an internal promotion, all candidates should be asked the same questions, with responses assigned numerical ratings based on predetermined criteria. Defining clear thresholds for performance management helps standardize expectations across the organization as well.
Setting standards for all processes at any organization provides a benchmark for every employee to work up to and reduces cases of less-qualified employees being rewarded over high performers.
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