Unconscious Bias And Professional Women In Society

A black woman in suits sitting in front of the table with a MacBook while talking on her phone and writing down notes with a pen and paper

It’s 2020 and we are still not living in an equal world. A mere century ago, the idea of female workers in a male-dominated field was non-existent in most parts of the world. Today, women are taking up more important roles in professional settings. Still, we face challenges because of the biases against women.

Women in workplaces

There are two types of discrimination against professional women in workplaces, conscious bias and unconscious bias. Conscious bias, as its name suggests, is the obvious, direct discrimination. When your boss tells you “women are inferior” or “no women should be a leader”, that is direct discrimination. Both of you are aware of the implication of these statements.

In most societies, there is a degree of conscious bias against female workers, especially in male-dominated fields. This type of conscious bias is usually illegal to protect women’s rights. You can take legal actions against anyone that has made a blatant statement against your sex.

The tricky part of dealing with discrimination is to prove the offender’s intention and actions. With conscious bias, it’s not as challenging to prove. However, the real demon lies within the unconscious bias.

What is unconscious bias?

“We are going on a shoot tomorrow. It’s going to be heavy work with the snow. You are a girl, just stay here. I will take __ (a male colleague). Don’t worry about it.”

This was a real sentence I heard.

What is wrong with this sentence? Is it an innocuous concern from a caring supervisor or is it discriminating against women and annihilating all efforts of my hard work?

This is a good example of unconscious bias. Needless to say, my supervisor truly believed he was doing me a favour by “protecting me”. Without asking me, it seemed like my ability and power were determined by my gender, instead of my work. Despite my protest, I did not end up going on the shoot.

Things like that happened more than once. A while ago, I attended an interview with two male candidates. We were asked whether we would be comfortable with heavy filming equipment in extreme heat or the snow. Both men said yes and the interviewer let that pass. I also said yes. Hilariously, my yes was not enough. The interviewer made comments along the lines of, “it’s going to be tough work. I’m not sure how well you can handle it.”

Unconscious bias sewed into the system is damaging the efforts women workers make. A more frustrating thing women have to deal with is that most people don’t realise they have an unconscious bias against women.

Several female friends told me about their experience working in IT. Humans seem to be predisposed to trust men to fix a computer. If they see a woman technician coming out, they seem to need more answers to reassure them. The same for many lines of work. Women have to go twice the length to prove themselves.

What can we infer from the Harvard Business Review?

Harvard Business Review conducted a great study on gender inequality. One-third of the businesses are owned and run by women in Sweden. Yet, the fundings they receive is appallingly disproportionate to that percentage. Female entrepreneurs receive only 13-18% of government fundings.

In the study, researchers recorded and transcribed the interviews. There were 7 judges in the selected panel, of which two were women and five were men. In the final round of face-to-face meetings, only 21% of candidates were female.

Source: Harvard Business Review

Conversations recorded at the interviews reveals a shocking finding. Judges reinforced gender stereotypes on both men and women, questioning the credibility of women while praising the assertiveness of men. Though both male and female entrepreneurs were described as young, the males were seen as promising, while women’s potentials were diminished and viewed as inexperience.

Women are criticised for the very same quality people seek in men. The phenomenon is not exclusive to Sweden, nor any other societies. Discrimination against female workers is hindering the growth of professional women, undermining their efforts and is part of the gender inequality problem.

What can we do about it?

It’s probably not the first time you have heard someone defending a sexist by saying, “it’s probably not because of her gender, perhaps she is just worse at communicating or job performance. That’s why people tend to challenge her more and not give her work.”

There will always be 1,000 reasons why “it’s probably not because of her gender”. The reality is, the gender pay gap exists in almost every country. In the US, it’s more prominent with women of colour.

Education is the key to getting rid of the unconscious bias the modern society instils. If someone is shrugging their head, denying gender inequality exists, it’s probably time to give them a reality check with facts and statistics to get them out of their perfect bubble. Women have been fighting for equal rights for the longest time. It’s still a long battle to go on.

Genders don’t determine your work performance, you do. Women empowerment has given hopes to capable females around the world of what they can and should be recognised for.

We are far from the finish line, but it will be a journey worth being a part of.

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