What Is Gender Bias in the Workplace?
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 13 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 — male and female. Feel free to click the links below to skip ahead.
Gender Bias Definition
Table of Contents
- Gender Bias Explained
- Gender Bias Statistics
- Examples of Gender Bias in the Workplace
- 13 Ways to Reduce Gender Bias in the Workplace
Gender Bias Definition & 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 ascribed behaviors 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.
Gender Bias Definition
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 bias, 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% of women experience gender discrimination at work.
- In 2017, 25,000 sex-based discrimination claims were filed.
- In 2018, victims of sex-based discrimination received more than $148M in payouts from the complaints.
- 5 of the 14 top barriers women face in the workplace are related to discrimination and gender bias.
- 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.
- Women are 25-46% more likely to be hired with blind applications or auditions.
- Half of men believe women are well-represented at their company, when 90% of senior leaders are men.
- 40% of men and women notice a double standard against female candidates.
- Men view unconscious bias as the number one barrier women face in their careers.
- 34% of men and women believe male executives are better at risk assessment.
- Men are 30% more likely to obtain managerial roles.
- Women and men ask for pay raises at the same rate.
- Women receive pay raises 5% less often.
- 23% of CEOs are women.
- 4% of C-Suite roles are held by women of color.
- 6.6% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women.
- 0.2% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women of color.
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
As we mentioned earlier, both male and female hiring managers are twice as likely to hire a man over a woman. 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 (a feminine name) to Mack (a more masculine name) on her resume, she received a 70% 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, which Facebook discovered the hard way back in 2018.
Job Descriptions Contain Gender Bias
Even something as mundane as a job description contains traces of unconscious bias. Language inherently has gendered associations, so 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% of the qualifications while women only apply to jobs that they meet 100% 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 yes, 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, and 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% 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.
Professional Development & Career Advancement Are Affected by Gender Bias
We briefly discussed the glass ceiling earlier in this article, which is a metaphor for the evident but intangible hierarchical impediment that prevents minorities and women from achieving elevated professional success.
It’s clear that gender biases play a significant role in women’s ability to excel in their careers and reach upper-level roles. You can learn more on this topic in our article about the glass ceiling.
It also doesn’t help that 60% of male managers are uncomfortable mentoring, socializing with or working one-on-one with female employees and 36% of men think it would look bad if they worked one-on-one, traveled with or had dinners with female colleagues.
Gender Bias Can Influence Mentors & Mentoring Opportunities
In order to achieve upper-level positions, it is highly beneficial for individual contributors to have a mentor supporting them throughout their career. Companies that have mentorship programs are found to boost promotion and retention rates for women by 15-38%.
Not only that, but 67% of women view mentorship as a highly important factor contributing to their career advancement, yet only 10% of women actually have a mentor during their career.
However, women aren’t exactly helping younger generations progress — only 54% of women consider being a mentor. The time commitment alone dissuades three out of four women from mentoring a younger colleague. The second most common reason women don’t mentor is because they don’t believe they have subject matter expertise. But at the same time, 71% of women said they would become a formal mentor if someone asked them.
Compensation and Rewards Reflect Gender Bias
The gender pay gap is no joke. Between men and women, the gender pay gap ranges from 3% to 51% and on average sits at 17%. However, we need to consider the two measurements of the gender pay gap — adjusted and unadjusted.
Now, you’ve probably heard that women make 78 cents to every $1 that men make. This refers to the unadjusted gender pay gap which factors in the average salary of men and women.
The adjusted gender pay gap takes into account factors like differences in education, occupations chosen, skills, hours worked and job experience. With the adjusted gender pay gap, women make about 95 cents to every $1 that men make.
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.
For a clearer comparison of ‘unadjusted’ and ‘adjusted’ gender pay gap, we've included Glassdoor's breakdown of the two types of gender pay gap in the the graph below.
Perks & 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.
54% of women with a young child don’t work because they need to care for their child. On the other hand, 53% of stay-at-home moms say flexible working hours is an important factor of accepting a job opportunity.
At the same time, fathers only take about one day of parental leave for every month mothers take and 23% of men are not taking parental leave at all, even though their companies offer the benefit. There is still a strong stigma around taking parental leave and it harming one’s career, which is a serious concern to 63% of men.
Parental Status Affects Income and Career Development
In the previous two sections, we talked about unequal pay, benefits and the different expectations of men and women. For working mothers, these discrepancies are even more drastic and surprising.
Research shows full-time working mothers that are 42 years of age experience a wage ‘penalty,’ making 11% less than women without children. And when education, region and occupational class are considered, this ‘penalty’ drops to 7%.
Full-time working fathers of the same age, however, actually experience a wage ‘bonus,’ making 22% more than men without children. And when education, region and occupational class are considered, this ‘bonus’ drops to 21%.
MomRising.org created an infographic that provides further information on disparities between dads overall and women by race and ethnic differences.
Another study found that when candidates of equal merit apply for the same job, mothers were penalized. Women without children received 2.1 times more callbacks and were recommended to be hired 1.8 times more compared to equally qualified mothers. Not only that, but fathers were recommended to be hired at a slightly higher rate than men without children.
Sexual Harassment In the Workplace Affects Genders Differently
While both men and women experience sexual harassment, nearly 75% of EEOC sexual harassment claims are filed by women.
A staggering 70% of women who experience sexual harassment, experience it in the workplace. And of the women who experience it within the first two years at a new job, 80% quit and move to a different company.
Not only that, but the stigma around sexual harassment in the workplace is still extremely prevalent, affecting 45% of women who are not confident in their senior leadership’s ability to address the issue. Not to mention the 75% of women who face retaliation after reporting harassment to their employers.
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
According to the US Census Bureau from 2019, the country’s gender pay gap was approximately 19% and varied greatly from state to state. Wyoming presented the most egregious numbers, with a gender pay gap of 36.6% while Vermont offered the smallest pay gap of 9%. However, these numbers drop even further amongst Black women, who face a wage gap of 39% compared to non-Hispanic white men, and Hispanic or Latina women, who are faced with an abhorrent 47% wage gap.
Women Are Interrupted or Talked Over More Than Men
A common representation of unconscious gender bias is the fact that men interrupt 33% 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, will hear that same idea amplified by a male co-worker to greater praise.
These inequalities are not just limited to the corporate work environment, either. A study conducted by the Northwestern School of Law looked at 15 years’ worth of oral argument transcripts, during which time, women comprised 24% of the bench, female justices were interrupted 32% of the time vs just 4% of the time where female justices interrupted others. As of 2015, the three female justices on the Supreme Court bench faced 65.9% of all interruptions directed towards them — signifying a worsening trend.
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 you and your team can actively work to reduce biases and create a more diverse and inclusive workplace for everyone.
Collect & 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 & 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 study found that when Denmark created a law in 2006 requiring companies to report on their salary information and break it down by gender, the gender wage gap was reduced by 7% in just 12 years. While there were likely a number of factors that influenced this change, informing people about the gender pay gap at large and specifically within your company is the only way these improvements will take effect.
Run Experiments Unique to Your Team
Aside from collecting demographic and compensation information, you also need to gather open-ended, real experiences from 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 will 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. Utilize this gender decoder 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.
Implement blind applications and interviews to improve female candidates' chances of being hired by 25-46%. Also, make sure to attract enough great candidates so that you have at least two women in the finalist pool; doing so will 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. Not convinced you need training? Check out why these five companies offer unconscious bias training.
Standardize Mentoring or Utilize E-Mentoring
To provide all of your employees with equal opportunities, create a standardized mentoring process. One company created a program and found that the mentees who participated were five times more likely to obtain a higher salary and five times more likely to be promoted. And the mentors that participated were six times more likely to obtain a raise.
Additionally, the same study found that retention rates for mentees was 23% higher than employees who didn’t participate in the program, and for mentors, the retention rate was 20% higher.
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 trainings are 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.
Remember earlier in this article when we listed the stark difference between men and women in positions of leadership and the C-Suite across the American workforce?
It's clear that in order 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% better at decision making than teams that are all men. A gender diverse team will also support women in their professional development and provide them with opportunities they may otherwise miss out on.
Offer Perks & 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 beyond supporting working mothers' work-life balance, including boosting retention rates, reducing the ‘motherhood penalty,’ as well as improving morale at work.
Also, know that if you don't offer benefits that support work-life balance and working parents, your competitors will — if they aren't already — and you will miss out on great candidates. To prove our point, we've included a graph from SHRM of how organizations are boosting their parental leave benefits.
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%, 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
Regular bias training, adjusting office spaces, and opening up more leadership opportunities are all a great step in the right direction when overcoming gender bias in the workplace. With that said, it can’t stop there. Beyond managerial or even C-level leadership positions, companies also need to take a hard look at their board of directors.
As of 2018, just 16.9% of global boardroom seats were held by women. Though there have been steps taken to change this, such as California’s 2018 law mandating that any publicly traded company based in the state must have one woman on the board of directors, 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
Last but not least, review your nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies, and make sure this information is included in job descriptions, employee handbooks and your career 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.
We've reached the end and by now, you should be well-informed about the basics of gender bias in the workplace. It's certainly a complex and dynamic topic that is ever-evolving, so make sure to keep learning and discovering new and improved ways to reduce gender bias in the workplace.
Blind evaluations and standardized hiring processes
One way to help reduce gender bias in issues like wage gaps and lack of women in senior-level positions 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.