Bias, Bias, Everywhere

The surprising places gender bias lives in your organization – and how you can begin changing it

Unconscious bias affects 100% of people some of the time.  95% of people have gender bias.  That means it okay to embrace your bias.  In fact, that is the first step in managing it.  It is hard to solve a problem if you do not know what the problem is or how bad it really is.

Bias training has been the most popular form of diversity training in the 2000’s.  Despite its appeal, it has left little impact on most organizations.  Leaders tell me that they learn a lot in the half day or full day they spend together.  It is deeply uncomfortable conversation, and then people go back to their day jobs, and behave just the same as they did before.

Why even bother?  Training should drive behavior change.

Unconscious bias defined

Unconscious bias is the unintended, subtle and unconscious thought that happens to most people much of the time.  Bias could include attitudes and stereotypes we develop based on characteristics such as race, age, ethnicity, weight, gender, abilities, cultural values, or appearance.

Why unconscious bias matters

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Bias impacts the employee experience.  Affinity bias is a type of unconscious bias.  As humans, we naturally want to be with and work with people like us.  This is often unintentional and we are unaware of it in the moment.  Common areas of hiring bias are university affiliation, race, gender, network commonalities, and industry experience.

The challenge is those in the majority group (white, cisgender, male, able-bodied, straight, etc.) tend to hold most of the positions of power and influence most decisions in Corporate America and society at large.  They are the standard.  For those that are underrepresented (non-white, gender non-binary, not male, disabled, or LGBTQ+, etc.), bias is much more likely to come into play.  This is important because organizations with diverse and inclusive teams make better decisions 87% of the time and have 19% higher revenues.

How gender bias shows up today

According to Joan C. Williams’ What Works for Women at Work, there are four key gender biases that hold women back today:

  • The maternal wall – If she has another baby, she won’t want the promotion.
  • The tightrope – She’s so aggressive, she needs to tone it down or people will think she is a bitch.
  • Prove it again – She did it once, but can she really do it again? Maybe it was a fluke.
  • Tug of war – There are only so many seats for women at the table. I don’t want them stealing attention from me.

These gender biases are alive and well inside organizations today.  While they are more prevalent in male-dominated organizations, I hear about them all the time in all organizations.

Seeing bias is a chance to lead like an ally

Bias can be interrupted.  This is where most unconscious bias training programs fall short.  They fail to explain what to do to interrupt the bias.  In my Uncovering Unconscious Bias training, I teach several intervention strategies that work effectively:

  • If you have not already, take the implicit association test via Harvard at (it is free and anonymous) to increase your own self-awareness
  • Call out others’ unhelpful behavior with curiosity, “when you said that…what did you mean?”
  • Be an upstander, not a bystander when someone says something offensive
  • Use inclusive language (they vs. he or she, all instead of guys)
  • Empathize with those that are underrepresented
  • Keep your radar on for exclusive behavior
  • Ask “how do you know that is true?” when someone assumes something about someone

Like this content?  Then, you will love my new book Lead Like an Ally.  Click on the link to order your copy, watch complimentary videos, and begin your ally journey.  A great place to start is by taking my free online assessment and printing my free inclusive leader checklist to kick start efforts at your organization.