Unconscious gender bias is the root cause of business’ slow progress in capturing the business benefits of gender diversity. Having unconscious bias is simply human as Shankar Vedantam shows in his book “The Hidden Brain.” It is hard to change ways we aren’t even aware we have been wired, taught or acculturated to think. Our approach starts with helping people understand and appreciate both masculine and feminine strengths – in men and women.
McKinsey has concluded that it will take 25 years to reach “gender parity” at the senior VP level and more than 100 years to reach parity in the C-suite. Is “parity” realistic and attainable even in a century? I don’t think so. Even if we could magically eliminate all unconscious gender bias, other factors would make parity unlikely. There are key reasons other than bias – like free choice. I will continue to help eliminate bias so choice is truly free.
Have you ever seen people not only judge, but actually fear, a way of doing things different from their own way? I already knew that leaders may not think of women because they do not “look the part.” Now I know they may actually fear giving assignments and promotions to a woman. They have a harder time envisioning her succeeding. And they may fear that her different (feminine) approach will not get as good a result as the more common (masculine) approach.
Are obstacles for women in the workplace likely to disappear when Millennials run the world? In our workshops, we address the unconscious “mind-sets” that still affect women’s ability to reach their potential. We are often asked if these issues are disappearing in the younger generations in today’s workforce. Do young people truly have a less “gendered” view of leadership qualities? Will their images of leadership and success be less predictably masculine? Will gender diverse leadership be the norm?
I am out to expose and eradicate anything that gets in the way of women being able to reach their potential. One thing that gets in the way is “mind-sets” — often unconscious ways we think as a result of our early-life experiences. Images from the 1950’s capture ways people discounted the value of women. That thinking that may still influence the experiences of women – and give rise to obstacles like the double bind and gendered definitions of leadership.
A colleague suggested that we might attract more people, particularly men, to our cause if we emphasize, not gender diversity, but the business benefits of gender inclusion. Another author and facilitator reminded me that we get better results by focusing on what we want rather than on the “problem” we are trying to solve. Help me apply these two insights. If we invite people to a workshop about organizational culture and results, do we indicate up front, or once they are in the room, that the drivers we focus on are inclusive leadership and gender diversity? I want to focus on the desired outcome (businesses that thrive because of gender diversity) and not the “problem” (unconscious gender bias). How do we effectively address unconscious bias?