Carefully Crafted on December 09

Confronting Gender Bias at Work

This fall, the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, where I’m so thrilled to serve as a board member, released Gender By Us, an awesome new resource to challenge gender norms and gender bias in the workplace. This toolkit is chalk full of incredible information and resources to help spark conversations about societal gender norms and how they impact our lives, communities, and workplaces.

Seeing this research come together got me thinking about the role of business owners and entrepreneurs in this issue. Here are a few ideas business leaders can use to confront gender bias within their organizations.

1. Identify Gender Bias as a Leadership Priority

Whether it’s a business, a professional organization, or an entire industry, creating a working environment that is more inclusive of women has to start at the top. When leadership sets the tone of gender inclusivity from the beginning, it becomes a no brainer all the way down.

2. Start With a Conversation

If you want to make confronting gender bias a priority within your organization but aren’t sure where to start, the Gender By Us toolkit is an excellent resource. Use the guide to lead a conversation with your business’s leadership, your HR department, or even your entire team about what gender norms are and how they may impact your work environment.

Don’t be intimidated! The toolkit even offers icebreakers, exercises, and step by step talking points, meaning you don’t need any outside expertise to start this conversation.

3. Create Active Stopgaps Against Biased Hiring

At the WFCO luncheon, one panelist, in particular, shared a story that stood out to me. As his company’s executives read research on gender norms and gender bias, their leadership team knew they needed to do a better job with hiring more women. To address this, they set a policy that the company would not proceed with interviewing for a position until they found at least one highly qualified female candidate.

From the initial pool, they would interview several individuals and always hire the best candidate, but interviewers would have to connect with HR after making their decision to explain why they weren’t hiring the female candidate. This approach forced everyone in the hiring process to explain why not to hire the female candidate.

Because this company operates in a male dominated field, their first attempt at implementing the policy left them with an open position for over a year! But they’ve stuck with it, and managed to bring more women into their business as a result.

4. Recognize Gender Bias in Salary Negotiations

When I interview potential new hires, the last question is almost always about salary requirements. Men typically give me a number, while women are much more likely to struggle with this. So I ask, “Will you at least give me a range?” But even if they do, most are quick to add in, “but it doesn’t have to be that high.” It is crazy to me that this is the first impression I am left with. Women struggle way too much with negotiating!

Regardless of a prospective hire’s gender or approach, we as business owners need to take responsibility for offering fair compensation packages. Be it a female or male, I take the same approach; I always intend to be fair.

5. Commit to Equal Representation in Conferences and Panel Discussions

While changing hiring practices is important, gender bias in the workplace permeates far beyond the interview room. Think of the most recent industry conference or panel discussion you attended, or even hosted? Were your speakers and panelists mostly, or even all male?

Conferences and panels need to include stories that are representative of the whole community—not just people who look like us. Whether you’re hosting an event or just on the board of an organization, make the effort to speak up for unbiased representation.

6. Re-Evaluate Stock Photos in Your Branded Content

Imagine clicking onto the website for a company you were interested in working for or doing business with, only to see few if any faces that look at all like yours. Would you still be interested? Would you still be able to picture fitting in with their team?

Beyond team headshots and the occasional event photo, most of us rely on stock photography for the images on our websites, in our blog posts, and on our social media feeds. Most stock image sites use mostly white, mostly male models for their content. If they do feature business women, they’re usually blonde, wearing stilettos and eating a salad. I don’t know about you, but this isn’t what I look like at work:

Fortunately, several new resources are making it easier than ever to add equal representation to your branded content. Buffer’s Pablo recently partnered with Women of Color in Tech Chat to add free-to-use stock images featuring women of color into its social media image maker. And if you’ve budgeted for stock photography, Getty’s “Lean In” collection offers huge library of images featuring women in leadership roles.

Take a moment to review the graphics across your branded content. Do you see mostly male, or mostly white faces? Changing your stock images to be more representative is a simple but powerful step to address many types of implicit bias.

7. Consider the Gender Implications of Workplace Policies

When we set Geben’s paid family leave policy, it was important to me not only that we offered adequate time and compensation, but that the policy applies to new parents—not just moms. Companies that offer only maternity leave send the message that bonding with a new child is more important for mothers than for fathers, and that a woman’s career is less significant.

Do any policies within your company contain an inherent gender bias? If you aren’t sure, consult your female employees. Policies like sick leave and paid time off, work hours, dress code, and more may disproportionately impact them in ways you wouldn’t expect.

8. Remember That Women Need Gender Bias Training, Too

It’s natural to assume that gender bias always stems from men in decision-making positions. After all, women wouldn’t intentionally discriminate against other women in the workplace, right? So shouldn’t having more women involved in hiring decisions solve the problem?

Well, yes and no. Research actually shows that women are often harder on other women than men are. Even at a really young age, mothers and female teachers aren’t encouraging young girls to pursue interests or studies in STEM fields. That’s a huge problem! So while having more women in positions of authority is absolutely a trend that should continue, we as women also have to educate ourselves and develop more awareness of our own gender biases.

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3 comments
liz43230
liz43230

Great article, Heather!  Some of these seemingly neutral but actually discriminatory behaviors and policies need to be called out.  THANKS for doing that!

Heather Whaling
Heather Whaling

Thank you for sharing -- and for creating the kit to help us all have these important conversations!

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