Unconscious bias

gender-balance-2.jpgEnormous discrimination against women still continues to exist in the workplace, even in first world countries like the United States.  The profiles of C-Suite employees around the   world show that most companies still favour promoting men over women but, even at more junior levels, there is bias against women – albeit that this bias is sometimes unconscious.

This fact was highlighted in a recent experiment in America.  Here are the details:

A resume of a fictitious person was sent to a selection of 147 college professors at 6 major research universities.  The professors were asked to rate this resume as part of a study.  The ‘candidate’ was a recent graduate who was seeking a position as a laboratory manager.  All professors received the same one-page summary which portrayed a promising candidate, but not someone outstanding.  The only difference? – on half of the resumes, the mythical candidate was called John; on the other half the candidate was named Jennifer.

The results:

  • On a scale of 1 to 7 (with 7 being the highest) professors gave John an average score of 4 for competence and Jennifer 3.3
  • John was seen more favourably as someone they might hire for their laboratories or would be willing to mentor
  • The average starting salary offered to Jennifer was $26,508.  To John it was $30,328.

Some people claim that the problem of discrimination has gone away – but it very clearly hasn’t.  What is even more surprising was that the professors tested were a mixture of men and women – the biased evaluation was no different depending on whether a man or a woman was making the assessment.  It is perhaps understandable that men would discriminate, but why would this be true of women?

Women discriminating against women

The fact that women still consider themselves inferior in many cases should come as no surprise.  This is the result of centuries of conditioning.  Even Aristotle advised that: “Woman may be said to be an inferior man.”  When women succeed in business they most often tend to try to emulate men.  They then believe that they have somehow ‘risen above’ the normal woman, and so still tend to discriminate against other women who haven’t displayed enough masculine tendencies.  And so the cycle is perpetuated with women themselves believing that they are less competent than men.

This is an area that will need serious addressing as we work towards gender balancing in the workplace.


About Anne G

My company, SkillsSource, is committed to the process of gender balancing and to the change management needed in public and private enterprise to improve the representation of women at all levels of decision-making. We believe that humanity is like a bird with two wings: the masculine and feminine. Only when both wings are balanced and strong can the bird fly.
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