Gender bias, a working black woman’s reality
Gender bias may encompass sexism and discrimination toward people based on their gender identity or their gender or sex differences. Gender bias is especially defined in terms of workplace inequality. It may arise from social or cultural customs and norms. In workplaces, leaders tend to be seen as confident, competent, decisive, forceful, and independent. Men are stereotypically seen in precisely the same ways. As a consequence of this gender bias, men are regarded as natural leaders, but women must overcome serious challenges to be seen as competent, confident leaders. Some prevalent forms of gender bias in the work place are:
- Biased recruitment strategies: Employers may unconsciously (or consciously) place open roles on platforms with predominantly male candidates or actively target men through ads. Aside from being unethical, know that this is also illegal.
- Biased job descriptions: Even something as mundane as a job description contains traces of unconscious bias. Language inherently has gendered associations, so including words like confident, decisive, strong and outspoken have been found to attract male candidates and deter female candidates. Research also shows that men apply to jobs where they meet 60% of the qualifications while women only apply to jobs that they meet 100% of the qualifications. Meaning if your job description has a lot of unnecessary or strict requirements, you are unintentionally weeding out women from applying to your open roles.
- Biases in professional development: In order to achieve upper-level positions, it is highly beneficial for individual contributors to have a mentor supporting them throughout their career. Companies that have mentorship programs are found to boost promotion and retention rates for women by 15-38%. Not only that, but 67% of women view mentorship as a highly important factor contributing to their career advancement, yet only 10% of women actually have a mentor during their career. However, women aren’t exactly helping younger generations progress as only 54% of women consider being a mentor. The time commitment alone dissuades three out of four women from mentoring a younger colleague. The second most common reason women don’t mentor is because they don’t believe they have subject matter expertise. But at the same time, 71% of women said they would become a formal mentor if someone asked them.
- Sexual harassment bias: A staggering 70% of women who experience sexual harassment, experience it in the workplace. And of the women who experience it within the first two years at a new job, 80% quit and move to a different company. Not only that, but the stigma around sexual harassment in the workplace is still extremely prevalent, affecting 45% of women who are not confident in their senior leadership’s ability to address the issue. Not to mention the 75% of women who face retaliation after reporting harassment to their employers. Whether women decide to start over somewhere else or risk retaliation from addressing the issue, they are at a constant risk of harming their careers after being sexually harassed.
White women are stereotypically seen as pleasant, caring, deferential, and concerned about others. Their leadership challenge, therefore, is to avoid being seen as so communal as to be an ineffective leader without being seen as so agentic as to be unlikable. Black women face a very different challenge. They are not stereotypically seen as communal but rather as assertive, angry, and “having an attitude.” Their challenge, therefore, is to avoid being seen as so angry or assertive as to be unlikable without being seen as so subservient and compliant as to be lacking in strength and independence. Thus, while both white and black women face challenges as the gender minority, black women’s double minority is far more precarious than that of white women’s. If white women are seen as too communal to lead, they will still be seen as likable, but black women lose either way: if they are seen as angry they are unlikable, if they are seen as subservient they are not respected. In other words, black women must navigate their lose/lose dilemma in such a way that they get it just right or they will be seen as neither leaders nor likable.
Women tend to be put under pressure to conform to dominant masculine behavioral norms. Black women, however, are also under pressure to conform to dominant white behavioral norms. Thus, they are often under pressure to change how they dress, wear their hair, and speak, and also to become more sociable and less “ethnic.” Of course, there are limits to how far black women can go in conforming to white cultural expectations without losing a sense of authenticity. A woman’s sense of authenticity—a conviction that her outward behavior is consistent with her inner values and identity—is essential to her emotional well-being, productivity, and personal satisfaction. Yet because black women are under pressure to conform to white workplace norms, even highly successful black women, such as graduates of Harvard Business School, report they find it difficult “to be themselves” at work. Thus, black women pursuing careers in gendered workplaces are continually walking a tightrope between “fitting in” and feeling authentic.
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