Gender Bias in the Workplace

Dylan Loughlin

International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th each year and this year the theme is Break the Bias.

Gender bias is a preference of one gender over another and can occur when certain stereotypes or prejudice results in individuals treating males and females differently. For example, a hiring manager may be put off hiring a married woman with no kids as they view her as a ‘pregnancy risk’.

The first step to breaking the bias is for employers to admit unconscious bias exists and for them to become aware of their own bias. The Harvard Gender – Career Implicit Association Test can be taken to highlight if individuals associate males and females with stereotypical gender roles.

Regular training should be provided to promote awareness of bias and employees should be taught to identify and call out bias. For example, managers could correct a male employee if he interrupts or speaks over a female colleague.

Break the Bias in Recruitment

Men apply to jobs where they meet 60% of the qualifications but women only apply to jobs where they meet all the qualifications. When advertising jobs, ensure each requirement is necessary for the job or include a statement within the job description encouraging applicants to apply even if they do not meet all requirements.

Reflect upon the language used in the person specification as females may be put off applying for jobs which uses words that we subconsciously associate with being masculine such as ‘ambitious’, ‘assertive’, ‘decisive’ and ‘determined’.

Asking candidates about their previous salary or their salary expectations often disadvantages female workers who are less likely to negotiate for a higher wage. There is a growing trend towards a salary range being included in the job description and the candidate’s experience in relation to the qualifications listed will determine their place along the range.

Break the Bias in Policies and Procedures

Although not a legal requirement, it is highly recommended businesses have a written equal opportunities policy setting out their commitment to fairness. Businesses may need to make reasonable adjustments to overcome barriers preventing women from succeeding in the workplace such as supporting mothers with enhanced maternity leave or approving flexible working requests.

Companies should be transparent and open with their employees. In the UK, only companies with 250 or more employees are required to report their gender pay gap. However, smaller firms are encouraged to report and publish this information as it will allow employers to understand their pay gap and identify issues which can then be addressed.

Break the Bias in Promotion

Organisations should be aiming for gender equality when it comes to career progression. In the UK, women hold 34% of mid-marketing senior leadership roles. This is up 5% from 2020 so progress is slow but heading in the right direction.

Companies should monitor the number of female employees at each level of the organisation and set gender targets. For targets to be successful, a clear action plan should be produced with a set deadline and managers should be held accountable for achieving the targets.

Female employees should be empowered to progress in the company by being assigned a mentor or provided with additional training. Managers should encourage talented female employees to apply for internal promotions and the promotional process should select the best candidate for the role, regardless of gender.

For more information, download the IWD and Lean In free toolkit for 50 ways to fight gender bias in the workplace: