Combating Unconscious Gender Bias in the Workplace

gender bias at work

“Gender bias holds women back from being hired and advancing in their careers. It’s important to be aware of how that manifests,” says Raena Saddler from Lean In. That’s why Lean In created an activity that helps you combat gender bias at work. It’s called 50 Ways to Fight Bias, and the digital versions are free. Raena explains, “This activity is an engaging way to think through your own biases and call out and navigate bias when you see it in the wild.”


Examples of gender bias—and how to take action

Lean In outlines 50 situations in which gender bias presents in the workplace, along with why it matters, what to do, and why it happens. 

Here are some examples:

  • Your hiring committee favors male candidates over female candidates with very similar experience. Get ahead of this by agreeing on an ideal candidate profile at the beginning of the recruitment process, and measuring all candidates against it. 
  • Your team overlooks a woman for a high-profile, career-changing project because they think it would be too much responsibility after recently having a baby. Suggest that it’s better to let the new mom decide for herself whether or not she wants to take the project.
  • Someone from another department incorrectly assumes that the man on your team is the leader. Gently correct the assumption and underscore your leader’s accomplishments. For example, “[Name] is our team lead. She heads all our biggest sales efforts.”
  • Your hiring committee rules out a woman of color because she’s not a good culture fit. Ask them to be more specific, and point out that “different” can be a culture add.
  • Someone complains that a new dad is taking too much of his family leave. Counter by saying that family leave is good for workers, families, and companies. Remind them that no one should be forced to choose between being a good employee and a good parent.
  • A colleague asks a woman to pick up food for an office gathering, even though that’s not her job. Suggest a solution that distributes the work more fairly, like a potluck or a team rotation.
  • A man is recommended for a promotion over a woman because the woman is recently engaged and wants to start a family soon. Combat maternal bias by suggesting that women should decide for themselves whether or not they want to take on new roles at work. You could also point out the double standard, suggesting that nobody would think twice about promoting a newly engaged man.

It’s important to consider intersectionality in each of these scenarios as well. Women (and in men) also experience biases based on other aspects of their identity, such as race and sexuality. A woman of color will often experience more discrimination in the workplace than a white woman.

A few surprising stats to be aware of and share with your teams:

  • When a woman’s name was replaced with a man’s name on a resume, evaluators were 60% more likely to say they would hire the applicant. 
  • When hiring managers believed a woman had children because “Parent-Teacher Association coordinator appeared on her resume, she was 79% less likely to be hired. If she was hired, she would be offered an average of $11,000 less in salary.
  • For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 60 Black women are promoted.

Ensure every candidate and employee is treated fairly and inclusively and understand how to assess and what to do when you see unconscious bias in action.

How to get started with gender bias training

It’s not enough to help our teams identify gender bias—we need to enable people to overcome them. Lean In’s 50 Ways to Fight Bias is a great place to start. Here are a few ways you can use them:

  • Company-wide training: The activity is broken into 4 sets, and each takes between 1-2 hours to complete. Lean In suggests breaking into mixed-gender groups of 6-8 people to go through each set. You could do this over several weeks, or aim to do one per quarter.
  • Interviewer training: There are scenarios specific to hiring within each set. Pick those out to review with your interview panel prior to your recruitment process. This can help you accomplish a more equitable hiring process.
  • Before a review cycle: Hold a training with your managers and company leadership prior to your annual review cycle. Pay specific attention to the “reviews and promotions” cards.
  • Address ongoing issues: There are many common, every day scenarios in the activity, such as women’s ideas being ignored in meetings. Reference this resource when you come across such a scenario, so you know how to respond the next time it happens.

Final thoughts on gender bias in the workplace

According to Lean In and McKinsey & Company, 64% of women have experienced microaggressions in the workplace. As Lean In states on their website, “For the last four years, companies have reported that they are highly committed to gender diversity. But that commitment has not translated into meaningful progress. Women continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level.” 

Unconscious gender bias training needs to go beyond recognizing bias, and actually provide ways to combat it. Lean In’s 50 Ways to Fight Bias is a terrific, free resource to enable organizations to create a more inclusive workplace.

Is diversity and inclusion a key focus at your organization? Download our free checklist: 5 Ways to keep Your Diversity Goals in Check.