Bias - the origin of gender inequality in the workplace

Preconceived ideas are the first obstacle many women face when it comes to their position within the workplace

Los prejuicios el origen de la desigualdad de género en el trabajo
05/10/2016 · The Homuork Team

Here's a riddle for you: a father and his child are in a car crash. The father dies and the son is taken to hospital to be operated on. When the boy is taken to surgery, the surgeon who is meant to operate on him refuses to perform the operation, proclaiming: “I can't operate on him, he’s my son.”  

How could this be? Put simply: because the surgeon is the boy’s mother.  

Maybe this answer seemed obvious and you guessed it right away, but this is not the case for nearly 75% of people who hear this riddle. A woman being present in an operating theatre is not something that immediately springs to mind. In fact, references to surgeons being male is very much the norm. Even in fiction, you've got the likes of Doctor House, George Clooney as Doug Ross in ER.

Well actually, this direct association between gender and profession is nothing more than a type of bias. Nobody wants to acknowledge that they are biased, not even if they are only moderately or inconsistently so, but this denial stops us from being able to rectify our own behaviour.  

We can see how gender bias affects the labour market. Various studies show that women are not rewarded for having a good attitude at work, but they are at the receiving end of much more unfavourable evaluations than their male counterparts if they refuse to perform a task of some kind.  

In statistical terms, men putting in overtime receive evaluations which are up to 14% more positive than those given to women in the same situation. However, when a woman decides to stick to her hours, her employee evaluation can be as much as 12% worse than a man’s. We take it for granted that women should give their all at work and they are actually penalised when they limit themselves to carrying out their specified role. Men, on the other hand, are rewarded for giving more.  

These are everyday situations which stem from bias, but they also have some very serious repercussions. In other blog entries, we’ve talked about salary difference among genders, which can be up to 20% in countries like France, or about how out of the thousand largest companies in the world, only 54 have a female CEO.  

Even when it comes to hiring, bias unconsciously sways our decisions. Many companies have already chosen to analyse CVs only once information about the candidate’s gender, age or country of origin is omitted.

As we’ve already mentioned, nobody likes to admit that there are biased towards others because of their gender, race or culture and so on, but we do need to be aware that bias exists so we can analyse our own behaviour and improve our treatment towards people. After all, there’s a chance that our current behaviour is based on preconceived ideas.  

Why not take a moment to do the Harvard Implicit Bias Test? You might not agree with the results, but they will certainly help you to reflect on the topic. 

Discover our MOOC 'Gender (in)equality in the workplace'.


The Homuork Team