Careers & Entrepreneurship / Editorial

Confronting Gender Bias: Navigating Workplace Inequalities

Ask anyone and they’ll agree that bias has no place in business. So, it may come as a surprise to hear that unconscious biases, like gender bias, continue to create inequalities within workplaces at every stage of the employment lifecycle.

In this piece, we’ll explore some of the ways that these biases influence important decisions, plus share some strategies to address them, both for organisations and the individuals that have been affected. 

Gender bias is just one of the forms of unconscious bias proven to have a negative impact on our decision-making.  

Implicit biases around gender, ethnicity, age, experience, mental health and sexual orientation, can arise from harmful stereotypes that we’ve absorbed over time from the media, our culture, or the workplace. It’s important to note that, even if we believe that we don’t carry them, it is all of our responsibilities to recognise and address unconscious biases so that they don’t develop into discrimination, or worse – produce and sustain inequality in the workplace. We all have a role to play.  

From the way job ads are worded to the way candidates are selected, interviewed and evaluated, gender biases can creep in from the get-go. Women can face tougher candidate assessment standards than men, having not only their achievements and qualifications, but their ‘likeability’ more heavily scrutinised.

Studies have shown time and time again, that women who violate traditional stereotypes of femininity and “appear to be overly confident or assertive are frequently judged to be less ‘likeable’ than women who conform to a more traditional feminine stereotype” But, these stereotypes don’t benefit the women who choose to conform to more traditional roles either. 

The motherhood penalty

Women who choose to have families, also face a “divergence of earnings” following their entry into parenthood. This ‘motherhood penalty’ refers to the 55% average drop in earnings that women experience in the first five years of parenthood, ultimately causing a lifetime earnings gap of $2m between a father and a mother, according to new research from the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce. 

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), “the value of unpaid childcare work is around $345 billion… almost three times larger than the financial and insurance sector combined”; a role that falls disproportionately on women and working mothers taking time out of the workforce to look after children

Gender bias in the workplace

As we enter the office, these biases continue to affect things like employee expectations, evaluations and interpersonal relationships. I’d experienced these biases first hand, prior to starting equidi, which is a start up I launched last year to help companies address the issue of gender inequality in the workplace.  

There was one particular male colleague, who recently joined the business in a senior leadership role. He was eager to form new relationships with the leadership team members by arranging informal 1-on-1 meetings over a beer with everyone, well, everyone except for me; the only woman on the team. While this approach might have been harmless or purely ‘coincidental’, when the time came for us to work together, it was clear that we shared no established foundation or rapport, setting our team dynamic back. 

At one point, this manager and I had a discussion about us needing to work together more closely, and he raised that he didn’t know me that well, and we hadn’t formed much of a relationship over the past six months. I responded by saying I agreed and expressed that I was aware he’d made an effort and met with every other team member, and I was disappointed I didn’t get that opportunity – so I agreed, we hadn’t formed much of a relationship.  

For some, this scenario may seem like just another workplace interaction, but it’s situations like these which perpetuate exclusion and discrimination; working against profitability and diminishing efforts to improve diversity, equality and inclusivity (DE&I). 

So what can you do if you experience gender bias in the workplace?  

💎  Make sure your company has policies to address gender bias…and educates its people accordingly  

Eradicating gender bias starts with preventing its occurrence in the first place. Research shows that corporations that have in place clearly articulated policies to address discrimination – and incorporate regular learning sessions – are less likely to encounter gender bias or other discrimination issues. 

Review you company’s policies and ensure they cover gender bias and have in place a clear, confidential and transparent grievance resolution process. Advocating to your manager or HR team to ensure these critical systems in place is the best way to help you and your team members.  

💎  Raise the issue and prepare to share 

This is easier said than done, and there’s no denying it can be uncomfortable – but unless you raise awareness and share your experience, it’s likely nothing will change.  

It’s important to identify the right person is to talk to you, and every situation will be different due to context and circumstances. Sometimes sharing your experience with friends and family can assist in making the initial conversation in the workplace that bit easier.  

It may be HR, it may be a direct manager, or it could be a one-up manager. It’s a good idea to have some notes, a timeline of events and examples.     

So how might organisations foster more inclusion, diversity and equality within the workplace? 

💎 Recognise the elephant in the room. 

From biases around affinity (preferring people who are just like us) to distance (prioritising input from people who are nearer in proximity/physical space or time zone to people dialling in from remote locations), no matter how senior or seasoned we are, we are all susceptible to unconscious bias, and we can all benefit from creating the time and space to talk about it in the workplace. 

💎 Understand how gender bias works. 

Learn from leaders and DE&I specialists demonstrating best-practice in your field. Additionally, you might want to consider booking your team in for unconscious bias training. Then, utilise your learnings to create better KPIs, team structures, processes and policies. equidi provides up-to-date programs and resources to support organisations that want to enact positive change from the inside-out. Additionally, independent bodies like the Diversity Council of Australia also provide workshops, events and resources for members. 

💎 Consider how biases influences the four Ps: promotion, progression, performance and pay. 

Whether we like it or not, all these cycles can be rife with unconscious bias, and meritocracy ignores the headwinds and tailwinds of your multi-dimensional workforce. Understanding & analysing your data can help you craft forward-thinking, robust frameworks around career progression, promotion, performance and pay equity. Talk to us at equidi about how we can help you. 

Ready to drive gender equity forward? Join the movement! 

The Gender Equity Movement (GEM) is a collective of individuals, businesses and advocates committed to creating equity and reducing the gender pay gap. It’s free to join and as individuals receive: 

💎 A digital GEM badge for you to signal your advocacy for gender equity; 

💎 Access to the news and insights from our GEM newsletter; 

💎 Invitations to GEM networks events and webinars to keep you up to date with the latest news, insights and developments  

Sign up as an advocate and support the cause today! 

About Author

Natalie is the founder of equidi - a revolutionary tech platform that empowers businesses to close their gender pay gaps. Prior to equidi, Natalie crafted a successful career in HR/people and culture spanning 15 years where she worked her way up to the c-suite. Natalie has worked in a range of different industries such as mining, oil and gas, and fast-growing tech scale-ups. Natalie is passionate about all things DEI, remuneration and business strategy, and she loves creating thriving, equitable cultures. Natalie’s background is in organisational psychology, and prior to founding equidi, she completed her senior executive MBA from Melbourne Business School.