Yet another study demonstrates that gender bias is real. A study of 1,700 college biology students shows that male students evaluate their male peers more highly than “better-performing women.” Sarah Eddy and Daniel Grunspan’s study is reviewed in the Atlantic under the title,”XY Bias: How Male Biology Students See Their Female Peers.” The authors also reference experiments showing that faculty members – both men and women – are more likely to “rate (fictional) male applicants as more competent and hirable than identical females ones and to hire a man for a job that requires math.”

I am adding these studies to my pile of studies showing that gender bias is real. In his book “The Hidden Brain,” Shankar Vedantam acknowledges that any individual charge of discrimination meets skepticism. There are so many reasons – other than bias – that a woman can get passed over for promotion, evaluated lower or paid less. He showcases several studies where there is no room for doubt – for example studies showing significantly more positive reactions to a description bearing a male name vs. the identical description labeled with a female name.

There are several studies, including the “Heidi vs Howard” study testing responses to a resume bearing the fictitious name “Howard.” Students in the study concluded that Howard would be an excellent person to have within a company because he was “someone who got things done and was likeable.” The resume actually described the experiences of Heidi; when they reviewed the identical resume with the real (female) name, they judged her to be “more selfish and less desirable” than Howard (though equally effective).

Vedanta reviews studies (which I have written about) involving the experiences of people who have been both male and female. Kristen Schilt, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, interviewed 54 transgendered men — in both professional and blue collar ranks — both before and after they became men. Two-thirds of those interviewed reported “new found authority and competence.” They had greater access to workplace resources and influencers and found they had less need to prove their assertions. One blue collar participant noted that, after he became a man, his job performance ratings improved though he was “not doing anything different” at work. A professional transgendered male found a client had much higher impressions of the exact same work done by him as a male than by his former female self.

The main problem with the kind of bias documented in these studies is for women growing up and trying to do their best work in an environment tainted by it. Engaged employees (who are productive and produce quality work) tend to report feeling valued. In an environment where these unconscious, unseen, insidious forms of bias exist, women have a tougher time feeling valued. Sarah Eddy notes the consequences for women, “Confidence falls, perseverance wanes, and careers die by a thousand cuts.”

Do you know people who still question the existence of gender bias? Share these studies with them. Awareness of our biases is the first step in changing them.

KG webinar

Again and again, we see evidence that gender diversity makes huge business sense. Just recently, McKinsey said, “If every state and city made progress toward gender parity, they could add at least 5% to their own economies. Half of U.S. states can add more than 10%.” Then WHY are women (who represent 45% of the total S&P 500 workforce) still, in those companies, only just over 25% of executive officers and 19% of board members – and 4% of CEO’s? Wouldn’t you think that the business case would make business leaders see gender diversity as a business priority – and do whatever they can to make progress?

How can it be that boards of directors – or at least the male members – still don’t think diversity is very important? PricewaterhouseCoopers’ annual survey of corporate board members shows that, while 80% of women directors think that diversity leads to more effective boards, just 40% of men directors agree.

So the data show that gender diversity is important to the bottom line. And the data show that men at the top aren’t hearing (or acting on) that data! How can we break through this logjam? How can we help men hear this? How can we help leaders take action to capture the benefits of gender diversity?

The DifferenceWORKS approach can provide a solution. I’ll be addressing the logjam – and a breakthrough approach – with my colleagues at The Kaleidoscope Group on April 21. We’re offering a free webinar on Thursday at 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM Mountain Daylight Time. We will outline our approach of increasing understanding and appreciation of both masculine and feminine strengths. We will show how leveraging both kinds of strengths – in both men and women – can help businesses capture those business benefits of gender diversity.

Please click here to learn more or to register.

unconscious mind

I am down on gender bias. I see it as the root cause of all sorts of challenges faced by women.

Lots of leaders understand the bottom line value of gender diversity. They do good things to support gender diversity – for example, create flexible work schedules that support the balancing of family and career, assure that women have mentors and sponsors, and implement objective systems for hiring, evaluation and promotion. Even all these good things, according to McKinsey, may not result in gender diversity – because of underlying unconscious mind-sets (generally known as gender bias). Unconscious gender bias is the root cause of business’ slow progress in capturing the business benefits of gender diversity.

So it’s simple. Just uproot unconscious gender biases. Simple, but not easy. It is hard enough to change conscious habits of thought! It’s much harder to change ways we aren’t even aware we have been wired, taught or acculturated to think.

In our workshops, we first help people recognize that it is normal to have bias. We de-stigmatize it, taking the judgment (and therefore defensiveness) away. The work by Shankar Vedantam is useful for this purpose. His book, The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives, explores the brain science about bias. “Hidden brain” is his term for “a range of influences that manipulate[d] us without our awareness.” He explores how the unconscious mind helps us survive by using “mental shortcuts.” He presents case studies showing how our unconscious minds work – e.g., how a woman wrongly identified her rapist, how people in the World Trade Center made choices to stay or flee on 9-11, and why people join terrorist teams. My focus was on Chapter 5, “The Invisible Current: Gender, Privilege, and the Hidden Brain.”

Using the case of Lilly Ledbetter (who during the 1980’s and 90’s was paid less for her work for Goodyear Tire than her male counterparts), Vedantam acknowledges that it is often impossible to prove discrimination in a single instance. There are so many possible reasons one is passed over for promotion, given a lower paycheck or evaluation, or talked over in a meeting. He reviews controlled experiments to isolate bias as the cause of such an outcome. He cites studies similar to the well-known Howard vs. Heidi experiment – in which groups respond more favorably to a resume with a male name than to the identical resume with a female name.

And he reviews Kristen Schilt’s work with transgendered people in the workplace. In her study, transmen repeatedly report being treated better and getting more positive performance evaluations than when they were female. Vedantam interviewed professional transgendered women who found the going much tougher than when they had been men. In a personal analogy, he likens the difference gender bias makes to trying to swim against the current rather than swimming with it.

Vendantam de-stigmatizes bias. His work helps us understand why we continue to judge men and women differently – and how hard it can be to change unconscious habits of thought. The DifferenceWORKS approach can break down gender bias. It starts with helping people understand and appreciate both masculine and feminine strengths – in both men and women. Then we can show how these differences run up against unconscious gender bias.

If you haven’t seen our approach, take advantage of a complimentary webinar on April 21. Learn more or register here.

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