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Women in Leadership

The number of women in leadership roles is growing, however many still face unconscious bias in the workplace. Unconscious bias refers to social stereotypes relating to specific groups of people, that are formed by individuals outside of their conscious awareness. The problem is this process occurs automatically – and you may not even be aware that it has taken place. This happens when our brain is triggered into making a quick judgement. The outcome? Women continue to face discrimination across many professional fields, whether that’s in the form of financial inequality or how they are spoken to and treated. 

Gender bias and climbing the ladder

Unconscious bias against women can be a significant barrier when it comes to getting a promotion. At the same time, having a diverse workplace is key to creating a successful organisation. Yet unconscious bias interrupts this by holding women back and by limiting equality. Men, for instance, often receive more independent recognition for completing a task. Women, on the other hand, often have their efforts attributed to a ‘team effort’. When it comes to promotions, this can lead to one candidate being chosen over another, based purely on their gender.


HR can play an active role in preventing this through appropriate hiring and by implementing policies that encourage everyone to feel happy at work – and confident when applying for a promotion. Things that can be done including offering adequate family leave, flexible working hours and telecommuting options. It’s also vital to outline job requirements in a way that is inclusive of both genders. Why? Because certain words and phrasing can either attract or discourage specific groups of people from applying for a role. 

Factors to consider 

Factors unrelated to how an individual will perform the job at hand should not be considered when choosing between employees for a promotion. This would be discrimination, regadless of whether it was carried out on propose or by assumption. For instance, a hiring manager should not go into an interview assuming that a female candidate would be unsuitable for the role just because they are pregnant. This would imply that women are not able to work and have a family, or that women should choose between them. Such thinking is harmful to the economic and professional future of women, which can contribute to gender inequality. 

Gender bias and providing feedback

Research suggests that men and women are assessed differently in terms of workplace performance. Managers may judge women more punitively for being aggressive. While men are often recognised as being assertive and proactive when acting in the same way. This thinking is an indication of unconscious bias, which can significantly impact workplace culture and equality. Women need to be encouraged and supported to take on roles that are generally male dominated to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity, and this can be achieved by providing fair feedback in all situations. Positive feedback can directly impact confidence, and if men generally perform better under set criteria, then this can lead to more men applying for new roles and getting promotions, when compared to women. 

Assessment and standards 

There is also a prevalence of women being held to a higher standard when it comes to performance reviews. Bias such as this, which remains under the surface, can continually impact a woman’s professional standing over the course of her career. This can also influence how we view certain groups of people and how capable they are of performing a role well. As a result, many women find themselves pushed into supporting roles, rather than leadership positions. Lower pay and less opportunities to grow can stem from the above ideas.   

The impact of unconscious bias in the workplace

Unconscious bias is a significant issue that workplaces should be conscious of. Basically, it makes us favour certain groups over others, leading to inequality and a poor workplace balance. Not only is this detrimental to the career of women, but it also impacts the efficiency and culture of an organisation. 

Three of the most important things that employers can do to combat the gender bias issue, and the struggles that women in leadership positions face, are:

Speak to our team to find out more

Want to eliminate unconscious bias in your workplace? Get in touch with Performance by Design. Our team offers expert training so you can operate at your best. Look to us for on-going support that will help you to create an environment that is inclusive and welcoming of everyone. Boost team satisfaction, increase productivity and more when you work with us. 

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