by Jan Hills, Head Heart + Brain —
No one makes decisions in a vacuum, all decisions are influenced by the beliefs, values and the expectations we have acquire as we grow-up and experience life. These determine our behaviour, what it is OK to do and what it's definitely not OK to do. And something like 80% of our behaviour, rather than being intentional and rational is based on System 1 unconscious decisions. These types of decisions are based on how we are socialised and are made without thinking. Rather they are made based on stereotypes and the assumptions which attach to them, things like, you can't be a fully time career woman and a good mother, or if you work part time your career will slow down. Or even worse women are emotional and talk too much! Research studies show when we are with people who are important to us, like work colleagues or your boss you are more likely to behave in a way consistent with established stereotypes.
We also judge our own actions based on the stereotypes we have absorbed, and these underlying beliefs have repercussions in the workplace. They impact your career decisions, how you manage your team, who you go to for advice and even how well you get on with colleagues and clients
We are all bias, it’s the way the brain works but just knowing that won't stop you making decisions based on stereotypes which may be limiting your career choice or how you treat your team, how you speak up at board meeting and the like, or even how you believe you can challenge the boss. You will notice these examples include limits you may place on yourself and how you approach your career. Read the article quiz to check how many of the stereotypes you recognise.
Below we examine some of the ideas that prevail about gender bias and women in the workplace. We present you with a question, ask for your answer and then provide the research which supports or refutes the idea. It’s a fun way of checking how much you believe the myths and stereotypes. At the end, we suggest some ideas if you have had a few 'Aha moment' about your career.
- The differences in the way men and women work are a result of their brain development and inherent differences in the structure and functioning of the brain.
Answer b. False. Janet Hyde, University of Wisconsin-Madison an authority on gender differences, reviewed 46 studies that had been conducted on psychological gender differences between men and women from 1984 to 2004. (A meta-analysis examines the results from a large number of individual studies and averages their effects to get the closest approximation of the true effect size.) Hyde’s review covered studies looking at differences in cognitive abilities, communication, personality traits, measures of well-being, motor skills, and moral reasoning.
She found that 78% of the studies in her sample revealed little or no difference between men and women; this supports her 'gender similarities hypothesis', which states that men and women are far more similar than they are different. The only large differences she found related to girls being better than boys in spelling and language, and testing higher than boys on the personality variable of agreeableness/tendermindedness; males tested higher than females on motor performance, certain measures of sexuality (masturbation, casual attitudes about sex), and aggression. So, there are some gender differences, but most are small to non-existent and for males they don’t really relate to work capability.
- My company is a meritocracy. I don’t have to worry about gender bias.
Answer b. False. if your company prides itself on being at meritocracy you should be worried. Research by Emilio Castilla, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stephen Benard Indiana University shows advocating for meritocracy – rather than explicitly pursuing diversity – doesn’t help companies overcome bias. Their research found has companies that highlight “meritocracy” may actually cause greater bias against women: In addition, experimental studies show that when an organisation is referred to as a meritocracy, individuals in managerial positions favour male employees over equally qualified female employees and give them larger rewards. The authors suggest that calling the organisation a meritocracy may create 'moral credentialing' at term used to describe when a track record of egalitarian behaviour in some circumstances makes them feel justified in making non-equalitarian decisions in others. The pride of greater self-perceived objectivity means managers fail to check their unconscious bias or even worse give themselves license to discriminate against women because of other 'good' policies they have followed.
- If you believe those who work flexibly, including yourself, are able to contribute less to the organisation, it’s not unconscious bias if later they do indeed get lower performance ratings.
Answer b. False. These types of prejudices become self-perpetuating through ‘confirmation bias’, whereby we seek evidence to confirm that our original perception was correct. If you have an inherent belief that employees on flexible work schemes are less committed than those working traditional hours, you may start to notice only the factors which match your belief: they miss a deadline or one report but every other part of their job they complete on time, they make a mistake on a customer's invoice but everything else is 100% accurate. And you can do this to yourself, you notice the things you don’t do well rather than those you do. You focus on what you are unable to do because you are not in the office fall time rather than the flexible time you work outside office hours. Hence you 'filter' for the data that confirms that belief. And that can include how you view your own career. "I'm working flexibly so can't expect to be promoted for the next few years." Was a statement we heard in our research on Gender in the Workplace.
- Your overall presentation, how attractive you are, how you dress and how tall are all a major contributor to career success and financial reward.
Answer a. True. If you want to be successful in your career a major attribute is to be good looking and tall! The Tall Book by Arianne Cohen states that only 14.5% of American men stand over six-foot-tall; yet 60% of Fortune 500 company CEOs are six foot or over. One study concludes that every inch of additional height relates to a corresponding annual salary gap of £500 in favour of the tall.
Economists have found that the best-looking one third of the population makes 12% more than least attractive individuals. In Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, Daniel Hamermesh claims that this bias can, over a lifetime, amount to an earnings gap of $250,000.
- As a new Mum when your boss says they haven’t given you a client the other end of the country or put you on a project that requires a lot of travel, it isn’t unconscious bias, it's just sparing you the stress when you have family commitments. It may even be kind.
Answer b. False. This is actually a classic example of ‘benevolence bias’. A new mum might be discounted for attendance at an overseas conference in order to spare her the added stress - a conscious decision underpinned by a plethora of unconscious assumptions about motherhood, that result in decisions which may ultimately harm her career. In our research, we were given this example time and time again by bewildered Mum's who were frustrated by the impact this bias was having on their career.
- Women lack the fundamental aptitude to be leaders and this is one reason for the small numbers of female CEO's and senior female leaders across most organisations globally.
Answer b. False. Numerous studies contradict the idea that women are not biologically predisposed to leadership. One 2014 meta-analysis by Samantha Paustian-Underdahl and colleagues, of 95 studies found that female leaders tend to be rated by others as significantly more effective than male leaders, and this effect is stronger after 1996. (On the flip side, men rated themselves as significantly better leaders than women, particularly before 1982.) But this data does tell us something about the impact of gender roles (as women tend to rate themselves as less effective leaders) and societal changes (since the effects are diminishing over time). Our February 2018 Brain-savvy Business Breakfast Club webinar will look at the question of women's leadership and review the data in more details. You can sign up on the web site. www.headheartbrain.com/events
- You have had feedback that as a typical women you talk more than men and this is why your colleagues interrupt you, people get impatient. You want to go back to your boss with some facts. Is it true women on average talk more than men?
Answer. Both are true but not in the way the myth says. On the amount of talking women do verses men the evidence shows that women hold back in discussions, so the stereotype is false, at least in business. You might think they become more forthright with seniority, when perhaps they're no longer deferring to men. But no. At the Yale School of Management, Victoria Brescoll has examined the idea that the more senior a woman is, the more she makes a conscious effort to rein back her verbal contribution – the reverse of how most men handle power. In her research Brescoll found that, unsurprisingly those men imagining themselves as senior said they would talk more than juniors, but women imagining they were senior said they would talk the same amount as the more junior women. Asked why, the women said they didn’t want to be disliked, or to be seen as out of line.
And the women were right to worry about being disliked In Brescoll’s following-up experiment, men and women rated a fictitious female CEO who talked more than other people. The result: both sexes viewed this woman as significantly less competent and less suited to leadership than a male CEO who talked for the same amount of time. When the female CEO was described as talking less than others, her perceived competency shot up.
Interruptions is a whole other story but there no evidence it's due to talking more, or less.
- You know you are paid less you are just like other women. Women don’t ask for pay raises and that’s why there is a gender pay gap. It's their (your) own fault or at least they bear some responsibility.
Answer b. False. There is evidence women negotiate in a different way to men, negotiating social acceptance as well as reward. But there is new data that suggests the belief that women don’t ask for pay increases is wrong. At least in Australia. In research carried out in 2017 by Cass Business School in London, the University of Warwick, and the University of Wisconsin analysis of data from 4600 workers based in Australia, revealed women asked for pay rises as often as men did, but they were 25% less likely to get it.
The report comes to the stark conclusion that “women do ask but they do not get.” One of the researcher's Andrew Oswald, a professor of economics and behavioural science at Warwick University says, “We were expecting to find evidence for this old theory that women are less pushy than men. But in asking for pay raises the women and the men were equal." That can only mean one thing, in Oswald’s view. In the workplace, if women are asking for more money at the same rate as men, but aren’t getting it he concludes “there is discrimination." When the researchers of the study broke down the data by age, they found that younger women successfully negotiated raises as often as young men did. In particular, women under the age of 40 managed to negotiate for higher pay which might mean the gender pay gap becomes a thing of the past as these savvy negotiators progress their careers.
But rather than wait for these young women to reach the top the 2017 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey/Leanin.org suggests change needs to happen at the company level. Many women are already "leaning in" the study says. So, what needs changing is the overall context of pay decisions for women.
- Gender inequality is largely a thing of the past. Most of the current hype is just selling newspapers. Young women in particular have the same chances as young men.
Answer b. False. Many women want to believe this. In our own study, carried out in 2017 on Gender in the Workplace 70% of women said they had experienced no unequal treatment. But the 2017 McKinsey /Leanin.Org study of Women in the Workplace found women experience a workplace skewed in favour of men. On average, women are promoted at a lower rate than men. The biggest gender gap is at the first step up to manager: entry-level women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male peers. This has a dramatic effect on the pipeline as a whole. The study estimates if entry-level women were promoted at the same rate as their male peers, the number of women at the senior vice president and C-suite levels would more than double. And the disparity in promotions is not for lack of ambition. Women are just as interested in being promoted as men, and they ask for promotions at comparable rates.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, women are less optimistic about their prospects. The women who aspire to be a top executive are significantly less likely to think they’ll become one than men with the same aspiration.
- Women are nicer than men, more thoughtful, better team players and generally more collaborative.
Answer both are true. Women are wonderful, or are they? You may be surprised to learn that research suggests that we consistently prefer women over men and mothers over fathers implicitly. This is known by the term, first used by Alice Eagly and Antonio Mladinic in 1994, as the WAW (“women-are-wonderful”) effect. By this they meant women are perceived positively on the whole as they are stereotyped as supportive, nice and gentle.
This effect, however, disappears, and even reverses, the moment women step in to the business world or otherwise challenge stereotypical expectations. For example, people implicitly and explicitly prefer male to female leaders and non-feminist women to feminists. And research by Stefanie Johnson an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business found that female students implicitly prefer housewives over businesswomen. The implicit pro-female preference also reverses in men when they expect to interact with a superior woman as opposed to an equal or subordinate one.
- People prefer to work for a man, so organisations are just understandably making life easier by having more male managers.
Answer b. False. Things are changing. For the first time since 1953, people (Americans at least) no longer prefer a male boss over a female boss, according to 2017 Gallup poll findings.
Over the last 64 years, Gallup has asked Americans, "If you were taking a new job and had your choice of a boss, would you prefer to work for a man or a woman?"
In the most recent survey conducted at the beginning of November 2017, 55 percent of Americans say their boss' gender makes no difference to them. In 1953, 66 percent of Americans preferred a male boss, compared to 23 percent today.
What did you discover?
Let us say something about why most of the answers are b. False. That’s because we intentionally stated the questions to match the prevailing stereotype and the myths which go with them. We did this to help you identify your own beliefs which match the stereotype and which may not be serving you well in how you manage your career.
If this quiz has thrown up some surprises for you, you’re not alone. Follow it up by becoming even more aware of unconscious bias and how they maybe impacting your career.
We have lots of resources in our Brain-savvy Wo+man Career Management Programme launching late January 2018 and our free webinars. Details at https://www.headheartbrain.com/events
Stay mindful of your communication and how unconscious bias can creep into the job descriptions you write as a hiring manager, how you sift through CVs, and how you speak to and about others whose backgrounds are different to your own. And most of all slow down your decision-making about your own career, reflect on the assumptions you are making and the stereotypical behaviour you may be using.
Jan Hills is a respected leadership consultant; her company Head Heart + Brain works with leaders and organisations in the UK, Europe and Australia. She recently published Brain-savvy Woman (with her daughter Francesca). The book uses an understanding of science, mainly neuroscience to review myths about gender in the workplace and to provide practical guidance for women and men on how to be successful in their career. She also runs the Brain-savvy Woman's on-line career management programme.