It’s International Women’s Day partly because the game’s not fair. If the world is the playing field and the prize is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the field is not level, it’s unbalanced.
According to Oxfam International, “Gender inequality is one of the oldest and most pervasive forms of inequality in the world. It denies women their voices, devalues their work and make women’s position unequal to men’s, from the household to the national and global levels.”
In work and life, bias undermines women’s ability to play the game and win. We win anyway sometimes, but it takes more effort.
Here are some types of bias that create an uneven playing field:
Affinity Bias. This is giving preference to people who are like us, who are attractive to us. We include them in our groups and tend to avoid others who are different from us. Affinity bias shows up both in and out of the workplace. (I confess, though mostly women seek me out for coaching and consulting, I’m careful to tell people I coach male-led businesses as well.)
Attribution Bias. This is attributing the reason for another’s behavior as internal characteristics, but attributing our own behaviors to environmental factors. (Visit Mediate.com to learn about other attribution biases.) When does attribution bias show up for you?
Intersectionality. Compunded effects of overlapping forms of discrimination such as race, gender, or socioeconomic class. For example, when someone’s economic situation puts them at risk of being late or missing work, the negative assessment may be attributed to gender or race, or both.
Likeability Bias. To be liked, females are expected to be caring, docile, meek and beautiful. Leaders are expected to be assertive, ambitious, goal oriented and strong. When women are powerful, they’re not likeable, and when they’re likeable, they’re not perceived as leadership material. The double bind of this bias lowers the numbers of women hired and promoted.
Performance Bias. This conditioning that starts when we’re young. It is making the assumption that one group (males, in this case) always performs at a higher level when they do not. (See the Harvard Business Review article How Gender Bias Corrupts Performance Reviews, and What to Do About It, by Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, to learn how bias shows up in performance reviews.
Positional Bias. Assuming that certain positions are appropriate for only one gender based on past historical and cultural stereotype.
International Women’s Day calls attention to the fact that the the playing field isn’t level. One way to start leveling it is to fight bias. What can you do to counter bias in yourself, your circle, your teams, your company, and our culture? You can start by adopting the International Women’s Day theme for 2019 – #BalanceIsBetter!