Is gender bias really that big of a problem?
Wednesday, March 08, 2017
How can we live in one of the most advanced societies in history and still be fighting biases in the workplace? With amazing opportunities, continued focus on improving corporate culture and advances in the ways we can work together, is it really possible that gender bias is still a problem?
It’s Not You, It’s Me
KPMG, Microsoft and Qualcomm were all fighting significant gender bias complaints in 2016. Last August, Qualcomm agreed to a $19.5 million settlement in response to its employees’ gender bias complaint.
Instead of arguing that they did nothing wrong, Qualcomm stated that they "elected to focus on continuing to make meaningful enhancements to [our] internal programs and processes that drive equity and a diverse and inclusive workforce, which are values that we share and embrace." Further, this agreement between the parties was reached and submitted for approval before a lawsuit was even filed.
In other words, shortly after the complaints came to light, Qualcomm agreed to take significant steps to address it. This proactive approach to addressing gender bias issues reflects the complexity of the problem. Gender bias is no longer as simple as women are secretaries and men are managers.
The Invisible Enemy
Much of the problem with gender bias is how subtle and simultaneously pervasive it is. As noted by Caroline Turner, an inclusion and gender equity expert, gender bias is "mostly invisible and mostly unconscious," though there is tangible evidence of the problem.
According to research by LeanIn.org and McKinsey, women are not as likely to receive a first big promotion to manager as men are, and then systematically continue to fall behind as they climb the corporate ladder. Further, based on leadership promotion and representation rates over the last three years, it will take another 100 years for companies to achieve gender parity.
Thus, gender bias is a problem and it is arguably bigger and more universal than ever. This is despite the increasing amount of data and research into gender equity and the corresponding improvements in best practices across all industries.
So what are we supposed to do? How do we fight a pervasive yet apparently invisible problem that many of us contribute to without even knowing? We must start with ourselves.
As noted in this useful infographic from Catalyst.org, a non-profit with the mission to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion, we all have biases, it is what makes us human. However, we can take steps to acknowledge and address those biases by proactively questioning our assumptions and stepping out of our comfort zones.
Once we know more about our part as individuals, we can figure out ways to create a more equitable work environment.
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