It’s interesting how big the divide appears to be growing between those who recognise bias and discrimination and its impact on women, and those who don’t. The numbers of women noticing bias are growing as fast, it seems, as the numbers of male politicians and right wing journos who remain blind.
For those who can’t yet see it, women put up with stereotypes and bias at work on a daily basis. The most common examples include:
- Being talked over, dismissed or ignored at meetings;
- Missing out on interesting, high profile or challenging work which could be good for their development, profile and career because of assumptions about their commitment, reliability or availability because they have a family (or are of child bearing age);
- Criticism about their communication style: ‘women are too aggressive, too emotional, too wordy, indecisive, too direct, and not direct enough.’ We just can’t win! (By the way, this has nothing to do with communication and everything to do with stereotypes: the stereotype of a leader is masculine, strong, decisive. The stereotype held about women is that they are nurturing, caring and ‘soft’. When women step outside the stereotype and communicate in a way that’s perceived ‘task focused and direct’, they’re criticised, not because they’re doing anything inappropriate, but because they’re not conforming to the female stereotype).
- Exclusion from networks which are the source of mentors, champions and referrals.
The cumulative impact of all of this is that many women become confused and think they’re not good enough, doubt themselves and decide they’re not good enough to progress or that they don’t want to because it’s just ‘too hard.’
Gender bias is reinforced socially, culturally and organisationally. We must not collude in perpetuating it or accepting it.
- Recognise and understand that workplaces work far better for men than they do for women. It’s not an even playing field: working hard and being good at what you do is not a sufficient career strategy: you must be seen and noticed for the work you do and that is up to you.
- Pay attention to your assumptions: about yourself, your ability and your options. Women have been well trained to undervalue their skills and contribution. If you don’t think you’re ready for the next step – get a second opinion, not a second degree.
- Pay attention to your language: don’t apologise when you’ve done nothing to apologise for; don’t qualify what you say by using language that sounds unsure or devalues your contribution.
- Be explicit and clear about your intentions and career aspirations so that no one can make assumptions about you.
- Don’t ask for permission when what you need is support or guidance. Don’t ask your boss if he thinks you’re ready for the next level. Tell him you intend to apply for a promotion and ask for his support. If it’s not forthcoming ask why not and fix the issue.
- Instead of working harder and longer, get better at managing your profile and reputation. Be strategic, consider whose attention/support you need and position yourself so you get noticed.
- Networks are important. Schedule time fortnightly to meet with people so you stay on their radar.
And when you feel like your confidence is eluding you: practice the power pose!