Tackling gender bias at workplace is like with any other bias, it’s part of leadership.

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Female Element blog is about experience and current trends in project management, digitalization and agile organizational transformation seen by eyes of a woman. Why to distinguish such view? Female and male brain operates differently and we may have various interpretations for the same situation. Female leadership is a thing and should be recognised. But mostly because more inclusivity for women is good for all aspects of business and we still have way to go.

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Categories: Communication, Leadership


Gender bias is like any other bias we face at work. It has a lot to do with the way we were raised, what we were taught, what is the culture we are coming from. But it is also caused by receiving too many information we can’t process and rather use shortcuts in our thinking to quickly come up with conclusion. In other words we are sometimes following stereotypes rather than spending time to rethink what’s going on. 

Gender stereotypes are not one-way directional. It’s not at all that only men would be biased about their female colleagues. We as women fall into stereotypes too, for instance we often feel we are not ready rather then to go for ambitious task and show our strengths. Bias or stereotypes come from mental models that got coded in our minds over the time. To avoid falling into these traps, we first need to be aware of them and than bring the practice of challenging the bias in the workplace so that both male and female team members benefit. Being aware is the first step to reprogram our mental models towards more objective situation assessment.

Why is it important specifically for project managers? Project teams are temporary and have limited resources, that’s why it is important to correctly assess skills and competencies of the team members to promote the team performance and address areas for further development. Being biased as Project Manager may result in overestimating or underestimating abilities of individuals and unwelcome team dynamics.

 

The source for the second part of this post is article “Tips for the workplace” from Leanintogether.org. LeanInTogether is NGO co-led by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. The article lists 6 biases and tips how to raise awareness and deal with them. I’ve shortly summarized them below. Please feel free to challenge them in the comments section or to share your experience.

Challenge the like-ability penalty 

Successful man are more like-able, but successful women are not. Assertive women are seen as aggressive, ambitious, but men with the same behavior are seen as confident and strong.

How to deal with this: The advice from the article is to listen to the language of like-ability penalty and when you hear it, request a specific example of behavior when a female colleague was seen as pushy or aggressive. Challenge the situation by asking if men with the same behavior would be seen the same way. The answer is probably no. 

Evaluate performance fairly

There is a difference on how we evaluate men and women performance. Women are promoted based on what they already achieved, men are promoted based on their potential.

How to deal with this: The key is fair and transparent performance evaluation. 

For instance when you check top influencers on this forum you see very few women. Would you think that someone pushed competent women back and put men on their places? Of course not, the system is transparent. But whenever is evaluation based on gut feeling, the transparency is lost and fairness is in question.

Give women credit

Men attribute their success to innate skills while women see reason for their success in external environment, e.g. I was lucky in getting this job. As a result, women often undervalue themselves, have lower confidence and are undervalued by the others. They are then less likely to go for stretch assignments or promotion.

How to deal with this: Make sure that your female colleagues get credit they deserve and don’t let them downplay it by saying: oh, I just helped.. Encourage women to go for it!

Get the most out of meetings

Men tend to talk more on meetings and sit at the front. Women held themselves back and choose to sit at the end of the room. 

How to deal with this: Facility the project meetings in a way that everyone have space to talk. Encourage women to sit in the front, ask women directly to share their thoughts. Be aware of “stolen” ideas and recognize your female colleagues for their contributions. 

Share office housework

Women tend to take more of the office housework, for instance to arrange meeting rooms, to take notes, to organize events. We expect women to do it, it’s for granted. When men takes over such task, we appreciate him for supporting the team. But it’s not only the small office work, the article is pointing out that 2/3 of executive women in Fortune 200 companies are responsible for supporting business parts rather than for profit and loss units.

How to deal with this: distribute the project office administrative tasks equally. Appreciate whoever is setting up meeting room and don’t assume it’s a job for female.

Make work work for parents

Well, this is a nice one. Motherhood triggers so many assumptions, for instance that mothers are less committed to their careers. This bias can not be further from reality and completely undermines very hard decisions that parents have to take when it comes to figure out care for their kids. But this bias does not impact only women, men who take family time off face similar “punishment”.

I personally consider this bias as the most deep rooted and the most damaging. 

How to deal with this: Don’t assume that parents, mothers or fathers, are less committed. They are not. They just have more on their plate to manage. As project manager avoid planning meetings too late or too early in the day, respect parents‘ needs and let them finish their job in flexible hours. Parents are committed. After all they really need their jobs to take care of their families.

 

I’m happy to say that I see less and less gender bias throughout my career. I believe we as society are changing but it’s also me who grew professionally in much stronger and confident women. Bias is just a bias after all, we can minimize it by being aware of it and fight it.

Posted on: December 02, 2018 07:41 AM | Permalink

Comments (15)

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Good article Lenka!!!!

Lenka, thanks for bringing awareness to this matter, sometimes natural phenomena cause certain behavior as well on both genders.

Interesting post by Lenka. Thanks for sharing

Nice post Lenka, and good to see that you are seeing less gender bias as time goes by. The trend should continue.

Thanks Sante, Rajesh and Tamer for paying attention to this matter.
Riyadh, thanks for your comment. The point of this article is really to raise awareness. It’s natural that we all have our biases. If you grow up in country where people drive in the left, it is natural to think that driving on the right is somewhat strange. I don’t like to see gender topics formulated or perceived as competition between men and women. I believe that on professional level we should look at it as topic that requires attention, open dialog and leads to better leadership accompanied with raised social intelligence.

Good points Lenka - I see gender bias becoming less and less these days which is great and women are getting the credit they deserve to get.

Good one, Lenka and thanks for sharing.

Thanks Lenka. You've provided some great, practical ways to gently(?) uncover and help people unlearn(?) unconscious bias.

Lenka, I agree with you 100% that it should not be to compete between men and women on professional level both would perform equal tasks, and the real problem happens when competition occurs between husband & wife, both have different roles and they would complete each other not to compete, I am supportive of justified equality in a certain operating context, and I drove on both right hand drive left side and left hand drive right side
so the road signs and laws almost same and apply on both so the idea is not to discriminate against any gender in a workplace (Men also get harassment and discrimination in a workplace but mostly they swallow that and hide it. Thanks for your article which bring lots of awareness.

Apt. You rightly concluded changes are happening and its very visible and biases are narrowing.

Hi Lenka: Thank you for this blog. Another possible item to consider is the gender bias in pay. Once a boss sent out a document that contained everyone's pay on our team. Of course, he sent this in error - but it really opened my eyes when I realized what my pay was compared to male peers.

Hi Lori, that’s indeed terrible to discover pay inequality in such way. Different pay to male and female is discussed across industries, I agree that there’s an issue. That is something that companies can look at and solve. I used to work for a company that was really focusing on this and had a goal to eliminate the gap. But not all companies are that aware and willing to be fair. I had similar experience at the very begging of my career, I changed a job then. I was not willing to tolerate that and that company was not willing to fix it.
Thanks for your addition!

Another great job Lenka! Great article and I thought that I had read it somewhere before! Seems like we're both looking at the same blogs! :)

@ Emily, you may find a reference in the middle of my post to the article from which I cited the 6 gender biases, “The source for the second part of this post is article “Tips for the workplace” from Leanintogether.org. LeanInTogether is NGO co-led by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. “
LeanIn is cooperating on their research and sources with McKinsey who focuses on gender inclusion and diversity for long time, they produce now for 10 years a summary report called Women in workplace. So if you’re looking for more details and statistics, I would recommend McKinsey website.
The LeanIn article was published in 2016, it’s possible that you saw these biases listed somewhere. The purpose of the article is to raise awareness.

@Lenka, good job!

@Lori...wooow, I don't want to see one of those.

All: Sheryl Sandberg has a good book. Lean In, highly recommended.

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