Women @ Work: Understanding and Overcoming Gender Biases

#metoo overcome gender bias

WinBiz CEO and Founder, Jennifer Adeli, on a panel led by Velvet Suite’s CEO Melissa Simkins to share current facts and data on gender bias and actionable strategies for deflecting common biases.

Quick show of hands: How many have been singled out to order catering or book a conference room—even though your peers were present too? How many are expected to take notes or track action items during a meeting—and it’s not part of your role and others are just as qualified? How many aren’t included in golf or other activities…even though your other peers are?

We don’t have to be face-to-face to know “who” is raising their hands. Statistically speaking, the people raising their hands are predominately women. With all the hype for women to lean in, take charge, and be seen as equals; women are often still expected to both run the meeting and pour the coffee.

The issue hits close to home too for those in GovCon. Women working in the proposal development industry are making significantly less than their male peers. According data from the 2017 Association for Proposal Management Professionals U.S. Compensation Report, men out-earn women in nearly every role—even roles composed predominately of women:

  • Bid manager: $18,126-$39,257 more
  • Business development manager/director: $43,676-$50,700 more
  • Opportunity manager: $10,377-$49,500 more
  • Proposal/business development consultant: $4,386-$13,082 more
  • Proposal director/director of proposal center: $15,372-$35,750 more
  • Proposal graphic designer: $7,893-$19,600 more
  • Proposal manager: $9,412-$31,364 more
  • Proposal writer: $5,560-$25,000 more

To make matters worse, according to the Claymen Institute for Gender Research and Govloop.com, women are still vastly underrepresented in all leadership roles. And the reality isn’t improving—only  37% of federal hires were women in 2012, compared to 43% percent in 2000. Only 4.5% Fortune 500 CEOs are women. And while roughly 30% of local government department leaders are women, only 13% hold Chief Administrative Officers (CAO) positions. Additionally, women only hold:

  • 31% of government IT positions
  • 44% of federal jobs
  • 14% of executive officer positions
  • 18% of elected congressional offices

Why Is This Happening?

Human brains are efficient. They streamline information, strip away irrelevant data, and provide us with the ability to make snap judgements to keep us safe from threats. These snap decisions—once vital to our existence—now cause us to work under biases we might not know we have. These biases form the bases of the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in the way we view men and women in the workplace.

  • Likability quotient. Men are more often promoted regardless of the likability, where women must be both efficient and well-liked, but not too well liked, or they are soon viewed as less competent.
  • Differences in expected work. Women are often the first person asked to make coffee, clean up a kitchen, and take notes. Men are often the first ones asked to help move furniture, fix computers, and confront an employee. The gender biases can lead to loss of opportunities for both genders.
  • Women are often over mentored and under sponsored. Women who are mentored rarely see any upward mobility, while men do. Women often think of networks as a negative value trade on their social capital. But, networks and sponsorship relationships are mutually beneficial—as the sponsee grows and takes on greater roles and responsibilities, the sponsor often receives new opportunities too.
  • Adhering too much to qualifications. In many industries, research shows women truly do need to meet more of the qualifications to be hired their male counterparts. And, according the Harvard Business Review, women tend to take job requirements more seriously than men since women are typically hired for work experience and track record whereas men are hired for potential. This issue can cause women to have their own internal bias and prevent themselves from applying for a job if they don’t meet 100% of the qualifications.

Overcoming Gender Bias

Knowing and overcoming biases is crucial for maximizing the potential of women—especially in male-dominated industries. Gender bias disrupts women from seeing themselves as leaders and prohibits them from learning the relevant skills is takes to become a leader.

Companies can take an active approach to remove the gender bias and include more women in their workforce. Research has shown that equitable work environments increase employee satisfaction and reduce job burnout—two key variables for improving retention.

Here are several ways all of us—men, women, individual contributors, and leaders—can mitigate gender biases:

  • Make it a cultural foundation to reject gender biases and educate employees on what gender stereotypes and biases are and are not—and how to intervene when any form of discrimination is witnessed. It’s hard to eliminate biases when you cannot identify them—and employees may need training and support to increase their awareness and understanding.
  • Establish standard metrics to assess candidates in relation to the role and remove biased language—like “bossy,” “aggressive,” “intimidating,” or “cold”—from performance reviews to evaluate actual performance and not personal impressions.
  • Ensure male and female employees receive equal levels of feedback—according to a McKinsey and Lean In report, managers cite the biggest reason they aren’t providing feedback to women is because they don’t want to be mean or hurt their feelings. Specific, developmental feedback is crucial for women to receive more challenging assignments, participate in strategic meetings, and gain access to senior leaders.
  • Hold blind resume reviews and make sure hiring criteria are relevant. This not only helps women, but also increases diversity. Companies are using technology, like Slack, to help remove unconscious biases during the interviewing process and encourage a wider net of qualified candidates to apply. For example, by simply removing the “years of experience” requirement, you can better attract qualified women—who may have taken time off to take care of family and wouldn’t meet that requirement—to apply. Reflect on the actual needs of the job and what it will take for the candidate to be successful to make certain hiring requirements aren’t unconsciously stifling diversity.

As a women-owned company with a diverse team, WinBiz continually questions the status quo and consciously developed an inclusive culture. If you want to hear more about how we built a foundation of proactive inclusion—reach out!