Gender inequality continues to be an issue in Britain and across the world.
It’s visible in the persistent gender pay gap, continued occupational segregation, gender stereotyping and the perception that women are carers first and earners second.
There are many causes of this inequality that I could write about but I want to focus on one – unconscious bias. This is widely considered to be a fundamental cause of not just gender inequality, but inequality more widely.
Unconscious bias can be defined as “attitudinal biases about gender, age, race etc. that we are unaware we have, and are unaware we act upon” (Naureen Young, CEO of the Diversity Council of Australia). It is shaped by our society, our family, our experiences, and is a reflection of cultural norms.
Unconscious bias has been the topic of a number of studies in the USA. What seems clear is that this kind of bias is something that everyone is likely to have but by identifying and challenging this bias we can enable ourselves to take off the blinkers it can otherwise create.
In terms of gender, unconscious bias can present itself in many ways. It can affect who we are likely to recruit, it can shape ideas about what a leader should look like and cause women to feel they must “out lad the lads” in order to succeed at a senior level.
Unconscious bias is held by both men and women.
It can also shape ideas about family and caring responsibilities that continue to be a significant factor in women’s career decisions and options.
So how do we tackle this bias? There are many options. It can be as simple as encouraging people to take an online test to identify what bias they may have. This could be particularly effective for people that are involved in recruitment.
Gender awareness training is another important tool. Learning to look at things through a “gender lens” allows us to see clearly the role that gender plays in shaping our male and female lives, work, experiences and choices.
It is important to remember that both men and women hold unconscious bias. For example, research has shown that female recruiters are just as likely to follow traditional stereotypes as men. Often women themselves have ideas about what roles are suited to different genders.
Therefore, it is important that everyone is encouraged to identify and challenge their own bias. This will in turn challenge cultural norms and help to make gender inequality a thing of the past.
Why not challenge your own bias and take the test? You might be surprised