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Addressing gender stereotypes at work

When my super boss called me to his cabin, I assumed he wanted to guide me on preparing for the overseas Internal Job Posting that I had applied for. As a top performer, I knew I had a good chance of being selected.

Sadly, he hadn’t called to provide me guidance. The meeting circled around whether I had discussed the application with my husband and both our families, and what their reactions were. I was asked to rethink if plans to start my own family, if any, were in sync with the decision to apply for an overseas position.

Discouraged, I naively remember asking a male colleague who had applied as well, if he had received such a meeting invite? He hadn’t.

Did I feel disappointed at the turn of events? Yes.

But did I realize then, that my super boss had gender-stereotyped me? No.

What are Gender Stereotypes?
Gender stereotypes are preconceived ideas that attribute specific characteristics to all the members of the gender. For instance, men are leaders and that they are good at science.1 Or that women are great at being caretakers and are natural collaborators.

The impact of gender stereotypes

  • World over, men are held in higher esteem and considered to be more powerful and promising when compared to women. As a result, when men and women receive identical performance appraisal ratings, studies have shown that male employees are more likely to be promoted.

 

  • A negative correlation between women and power and success2 results in women facing the brunt of gender stereotyping in resume selection, interviews, hiring, salary, performance appraisals, potential, opportunities, and promotions.

 

  • Men also experience gender stereotyping by being disincentivized for opting for roles traditionally held by women, etc.

 

  • When gender stereotyping overlaps with stereotyping against races or people of color or those in minorities, its impact is amplified.

Gender stereotypes exist everywhere and in everyone

They are deep-rooted and incredibly tough to uproot. Organizations that invest in Diversity training programs to educate employees witness limited impact because employees emerge from the training equipped to identify the biases and stereotypes in others, but not their own!

Behavioral Economist, Iris Bohnet, shows us another approach to remove gender stereotypes – By Debiasing and redesigning organization processes.

How do we remove Gender Stereotypes at work?

  • Recruitment:
  • Use Neutral language in JD’s: Gendered languages in JD’s are biased towards men. For instance, the use of ‘ninja’ in JD’s increased by 400% in recent years3. Associated with masculinity, it did not resonate with female applicants who didn’t always apply for such jobs. Using neutral language not only eliminates gender bias but also helps organizations receive a larger number of applicants4.
  • Hide Demographics: Candidates have a better shot at an unbiased interview when organizations hide their ‘name, gender, address and educational background’ from the resume.
  • Ask for work samples: By asking for work samples and weighing it high in evaluation, interviewers are less likely to succumb to gender stereotypes.
  • Structured Interviews and Fixed Evaluation Criteria: Structured interview formats with fixed evaluation criteria help interviewers stay objective.
  • Comparative Performance evaluations: Evaluating an employee’s performance as well as relative performance to the peer group, ensures merit in the process.
  • Breaking down existing stereotypes:
    • Training: Training helps employees understand biases and gender stereotypes, but provides modest gains. However, they are ineffective when made mandatory.
    • Model behavior: When senior employees model the behavior they want to spread, it becomes the new norm, that employees try to match. For instance, calling out those who engage in gendered behavior.
    • Symbols of gender-equality: Actions like gender pay-gap audits, transparency in promotion criteria, equal access to mentors, default gender-neutral benefits (Telstra offers flexibility for all employees) enables equality.

There is a heightened sense of awareness of gender stereotypes across organizations around the world. It behooves organizations to redesign their processes and tackle gender-stereotypes, to benefit from a gender-balanced workforce.

1 https://www.nature.com/articles/495033a

2 https://www.leadershippsychologyinstitute.com/women-the-leadership-labyrinth-howard-vs-heidi/

3 https://www.hbs.edu/recruiting/blog/post/simple-ways-to-take-gender-bias-out-of-your-jobs

4 https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/9434-gender-neutral-job-ad.html

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