It’s easy to think, while watching old Mad Men episodes, that a certain brand of unapologetic chauvinism is history. Sadly, it’s not hard to find sexist behavior in the workplace if you look for it. Just a five-second Google search will reveal news stories of female veterinarians asked to call in their male counterparts for help, or female doctors told by a patient to fetch a sandwich.
However, less conspicuous examples of gender bias are still prevalent, says Catherine Hill, vice president for research at the American Association for University Women (AAUW). The bad news is that implicit gender bias—a negative feeling or stereotyped view of an individual or group that is held unconsciously—is still present in many workplaces. Because it can be subtle, this type of bias can be harder to identify and root out.
Last Thursday, the AAUW released a report demonstrating that implicit bias is still common in science and technology. This results in fewer women being seen as competent or hirable, and they are less likely to be recommended for mentoring. A 2012 study by Corinne Moss-Racusin, a social psychologist at Skidmore College, and her team of Yale University researchers is cited in the report. In the study, Moss-Racusin sent out a fictional resume for a lab manager position to more than 100 faculty members nationwide. Half of the resumes had a male name (“John”) and half had a female name (“Jennifer”). The faculty members were then asked to assess the resume they received. In a study, two groups of people were given identical resumes except for the name at the top. The group that saw the resume with the name “John” rated him as more competent and worthy of hiring than “Jennifer.” Additionally, when “Jennifer” was offered a job, she received $4,000 less annually than “John.” And whether the faculty member judging the resume was male or female wasn’t relevant to this discovery.
Gender bias isn’t unique to STEM fields. “It’s something you see in many fields where women have a less traditional role, or that are more associated with men,” says Hill. A possible reason why fewer women than men occupy top law positions might be traced back to a 2010 study by University of Hawaii researchers. The findings showed that both male and female law students linked judges with men instead of women, as well as equating women more frequently with the home and family. Women in medicine make less money than men, partly because they often go into lower-paying specialties such as primary care rather than surgery. And why do they choose those specialties? One reason: Is that males tend to dominate other fields, and gender bias is more likely to exist.
For women of color, implicit bias is a double-edged sword. Not only do they have to battle gender stereotypes, but racial ones as well. For example, a study published in the American Economic Review discovered that job applicants with “white-sounding” names (Emily) received 50% more callback interviews than those with traditionally African-American names (Lakisha).
Even if you’re not aware of it, everyone has some degree of gender or racial bias. However, there are things you can do to lessen your own biases and their workplace consequences.
Examine the Personal Biases You Hold.
An online test was developed by scientists at Harvard University, the University of Washington, and the University of Virginia to “measure the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy).” The results may startle you.
Strive to Rid Yourself of All Stereotypes.
“Our implicit biases can trail behind our real-world experiences quite a bit,” says Hill. “Try to be aware of them and try to counteract them.”
Suggest to Your Workplace Leaders That They Create a System for Receiving Anonymous Feedback From Employees.
In a 2008 report on unconscious bias, the consulting firm Cook Ross cited the benefits of an “anonymous, third-party complaint channel such as an ombudsperson,” explaining that “since most of the behaviors that employees perceive as unfair are not covered by current laws–e.g. bullying, very subtle bias–existing formal complaint channels simply don’t work.”
Participate in Activities (in and Out of Work) That Help to Cultivate a Diverse Workplace.
Ignorance prospers in the dark; when your colleagues are diverse, it’s much harder for bigoted views to get a full airing.
Want to improve the numbers? Here’s how: #ask4more. Do your research, practice makes perfect, get some inspiration from women who have made it big, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.