• gender bias

Gender Bias Starts Early and Lasts a Lifetime

By | 2017-01-13T13:41:52+00:00 March 9th, 2015|Categories: Respectful Workplace|Tags: , |3 Comments

Using acceptance speeches to further causes is not new. So, it wasn’t particularly surprising that actress Patricia Arquette used her time at the microphone at the Academy Awards last Sunday to implore us all to pay attention to equal rights for all women.

Society’s opportunities for improvement, when it comes to the issue of equal rights in the workplace, are well documented. Stacks of studies outline issues including the glass ceiling, pay equality, and maternal wall bias, or discrimination that occurs against caregivers, and particularly working mothers.

For instance, according to a recent Harvard Business Review study, if a woman has a child, her chances of being hired drop by 79%. If hired, her salary offer is reduced by $11,000 and, once on the job she is half as likely to be promoted as is a childless woman.

While troubling, this is neither new nor surprising.

What is new this week is a study by Tel Aviv University that suggests that unconscious biases of elementary school instructors dramatically affect student academic choices and trajectories later on.

In the research, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, students from sixth grade through the end of high school were given two exams. The first was graded by objective scorers who did not know their names. The second was given by instructors who knew them.

The girls outscored the boys in the test that was scored anonymously, but when graded by the instructors who were familiar with their names, the boys outscored the girls. The research concluded that, in math and science, teachers overestimate boys’ skills and underestimate girls’.

And, when the boys scored higher in math and science, they were encouraged to pursue these fields of study. The girls, conversely, were not encouraged.

Similarly, in a study published this week on gender bias and entrepreneurs, UC – Santa Barbara sociologist Sarah Thébaud found


[study] participants systematically rated women-led businesses to be less investment-worthy and less likely to be successful. The participants also rated women to be less skilled and less competent as entrepreneurs than their male counterparts, regardless of the industry of their start-up.”

These studies clearly point to the need for “bias interrupters.”

As a model, consider the popular television series “The Voice.” Judges keep their backs to singing contestants, forcing them to make decisions not on physical traits or gender, but on voice quality. Similarly, the benefits of such blind judging in the workplace could be significant.

Here are a few suggestions to start the “bias interruption” process:

  • Acknowledge and seek to better understand your own biases (both conscious and unconscious) about how you behave and make decisions involving others
  • Discuss and shine a spotlight on organizational biases (which are most easily identified by those adversely affected by them)
  • Redact incoming resumes of names, colleges and other information that the interview team may use to influence their decisions
  • Conduct blind tests of incoming applicants to test objective knowledge
  • Redact performance reviews of names when evaluating whom to promote

The thing about unconscious bias, be it oriented around gender, ethnicity, age or anything else, is that correcting it is a very slow and arduous undertaking. That’s because, to a degree, it’s simply another facet our personalities at the individual level and culture at the group level. It’s part of what makes us “us”.

At the same time, doing nothing to minimize it isn’t a very good option either. We are much less capable when we don’t create workplace environments that encourage every employee to grow and contribute to his or her full potential.

So how do we tackle this amazing opportunity to become better? With acknowledgement, intent, discipline and patience. As American anthropologist Margaret Mead said many years ago,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Please share a comment on this piece if you use these strategies or others to help challenge bias in your workplace.

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About the Author:

Paul Meshanko
Paul Meshanko is an author, speaker and business leader with over 20 years of experience in corporate training and culture change. As a presenter, he has captivated over a quarter million leaders and business professionals on five continents. His company, Legacy Business Cultures, is a global provider of organizational survey and training services. Paul holds a BSBA from The Ohio State University and an MBA from Baldwin Wallace College.


  1. Ellen Krause March 10, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    I am now an instructional designer and facilitator. When I first graduated college I taught music for three years at a pre-K through middle school institution. I knew several adults including my father who believed themselves “tone deaf”. Each one of these people had been told as children that they were awful at music. Therefore when I taught, the class and I rewarded every student who volunteered to sing solo. Nobody had input on the quality of the performance. When I had come into the school, about 1/2 the students weren’t singing on key. When I left 3 years later, every single student sang on key, with proper breath control and placement, and had a great time!

  2. Norman Jentner, Ph.D. March 22, 2015 at 11:29 pm


    I acknowledge you for this thoughtful and courageous blog.

    I have only recently begun to follow your work — and with increasing enthusiasm.

    I find your assertions here consistent with a practical focus on RESPECT on behalf of PEAK PERFORMANCE with SUSTAINABILITY.

    This is also the focus of my company; we are in many ways like-minded professionals! Kudos! Your work is VERY IMPORTANT.

    The data you share concerning gender bias in the workplace is not new or surprising, but it is troubling, as you have asserted.

    Especially in light of research that shows, paradoxically, a strong relationship between female C-level leadership and long-term business sustainability. For example,
    – Profitability is between 48-53% higher for companies with the highest levels of women in top leadership.
    – The more women in leadership positions, the better companies perform in leadership accountability, and motivation.
    – Performance significantly increases only when a critical mass is obtained — at least 3 women on senior management committees.
    Sources = McKinsey & Company, 2003-5; Catalyst, 2007; personal communication with Barbara Trautline, Ph.D., Change Catalysts (see her powerpoint on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ev1Cm_uKSoM&feature=youtu.be).

    The evidence is that gender similarities far outweigh and outnumber our differences. Even so, males and females, in general, seem to developmentally unfold neuro-genetically in some ways differently over time. Males and females often possess different preferential, behavioral interests at different ages. But again, gender commonalities far outweigh and outnumber our differences.

    I appreciate, Paul, your sharing ideas with us here concerning ways to reduce our own biases.

    I agree that this is precisely where it starts: with our self.

    But how do we change our self, especially considering that these biases are largely unconscious? This makes it more challenging, no?

    I’d like to build on your assertion that we need to take pro-active actions, rather place our heads in the sand.

    I’d like to add four suggestions here, in addition to yours, to guide or validate readers’ current efforts to reduce gender (and other) workforce biases, on behalf of sustained peak performance.

    To begin, the only real antidote to unconscious negative and positive biases, as you have asserted yourself, Paul, is to start with oneself.

    #1: We must begin by first — personally — actually confronting our self behaviorally — with personal action.

    After all, this is real. None of us is immune. We can be aware of it, or we may be largely unaware of it, especially if we work hard to not be biased. This is normal experience.

    It is only our self who can willingly take confrontations, to make our biases conscious, and then to replace our own stereotypic biases with more accurate and constructively adaptive understandings — and actions.

    This is an option for each and every one of us. But it is only an option if we are personally open to taking strategic action concerning this, even if we can’t fully see it too clearly at first.

    Ditto for me.

    Ditto for all of us.

    Again, how do we reduce our own biases?

    #2: We each start by beginning to educate our self concerning gender bias. Look again at the statistics presented by Paul in his blog here, and also presented by me, above. Ask yourself, “What’s up, really? I’ve summarized my own thoughts about this in my own blog at http://businessculturesolutions.com/are-there-gender-differences-generally-in-business-contributions/. Note that the comments to my blog are incisive too.

    #3: While perhaps “simple,” the third step is a little tricky for some to fully stick with, to fully enjoy the results. You ensure that you regularly tap into your own strategic “being” without distraction, in addition to your own strategic thinking and doing.

    You do this by regularly taking time, preferably each and every day, away from your normal “doing” — even if only briefly — to temporarily quiet your intellect, through relaxation with observational “mindfulness” (while sitting, walking, breathing, stretching, etc.).

    By regularly taking time to practice natural relaxation with mindfulness, you enable and ensure that you, personally and perhaps seemingly paradoxically at first, tap into your “whole mind.” You do this by taking “time out” each day (or taking “time in,” depending upon how you choose to look at this) to ensure this regular personal whole mind experience.

    By your “whole mind” I mean, in most simple terms, awareness of your five senses + your proprioceptive senses + your feelings — each as distinct sources of information for you — in addition to and complementary to your intellect.

    By your “whole mind” I mean regular visiting and experiencing your own inner “space” or “place,” where you personally experience peace of mind — via your five senses (that is, comfortable and without distraction), via your physical body experience (that is, “proprioceptively”), plus emotionally, and intellectually. You are alert, very aware, and “in flow.” Your intellect is fully available to you, but not solely in control. Your intellect is your assistant, but only as needed, for a larger purpose. This larger purpose is defined by your whole mind that includes, and is supported by, your intellect. You are less judgmental in attitude, and yet you are, paradoxically, more discerning.

    Your larger purpose is increasingly understood by you, with increasing clarity, depth, and appreciation, because you are guided by your whole mind and not only your logic. Your larger purpose involves your heart and soul, in addition to your intellect. Your intuition is active and available to you. Your larger purpose evolves over time. You are at one with yourself. You feel great. You are relaxed and open to new information that will help you in your tasks of increasingly joyful focus, even if not necessarily always easy implementation.

    You physically feel better than ever. You feel mentally clearer than ever. Your personal achievements are enhanced.

    You know at a gut level that this regular “time in” (or is it “time out”?) is completed strategically by you, as a priority, on behalf of your own greater awareness and peak performance, with sustainability. You can back this assertion with your own behavioral data and results, if ever needed. You have greater peace of mind, ultimately, along with greater awareness.

    #4: Take actions with others “across the aisle.”

    Enter into dialogue, with humble inquiry and transparency.

    Remember, you are not playing “King of the Mountain” when you are doing this. No. Back off from this. Admit you need to and want to learn something new. Seek to connect. Ask, “Why?” And then listen. It’s wise to take personal note of, but to also suppress, your initial behavioral reactions to “do something” as you listen. Instead, you “simply” want to “be” with this information that is shared with you. Remember, people are sharing with you. Instead of immediately reacting with your own logical judgments at first, primarily listen empathically. Learn where that person is coming from, and why.

    Why listen empathically?

    Because if you simply listen logically at first, you will remain stuck in your own intellectual “box“ and will likely become judgmental. This is, in part, the nature of intellect. In this case, you do want to broaden your intellectual understandings. But you want to first quiet your own intellect, in order to hear something new.

    (The skills you learn in Step #3 enable you to do this more effectively and effortlessly.)

    When you listen empathically, you will hear something new. You can logically make sense of it later. For now, listen for understanding. Build bridges, with humble listening and acceptance.

    Also, as you proceed with your learning in Step #2, above, you will come to more keenly appreciate that each and every one of us, without exception, grows up in, and is embedded within, various sub-cultures. “Success,” at least initially, is defined — for each of us as individuals — by the very sub-cultures within which we are a part. Different sub-cultures differ in available resources, goals, and rules for success.

    Men and women each learn a variety of rules for success. In each case, men and women are influenced by their sub-cultural experiences as boys and girls. These experiences can continue to evolve for us, if we are open to this, as men and women.

    Know it or not, you and I each are making choices today concerning gender relationships.

    What is the gender relations legacy you are leaving behind as an adult?

    Is your legacy going to be one of relatively immature “boys and girls,” that is, with each gender somewhat isolated from each other in understanding, experience, and respect, in order to achieve “business as usual”?

    Or will your legacy be one of “men and women” working together in mutual respect and recognition, for superior results?

    Our commonalities far outweigh and outnumber our differences.

    Profitability is between 48-53% higher for companies with the highest levels of women in top leadership…

    I, for one, remain committed to working as a man alongside men and women, respecting and recognizing both men and women for what they bring, both tangible and intangible, to synergistically create even more, with each other. I reject as useful any notion of gender superiority. I support notions of gender complementarity, with mutual respect and recognition.

    What about you?

    What are your values?

    What actions are you taking?

    Do my four suggestions make practical sense to you?


    • Paul Meshanko
      Paul Meshanko March 26, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      Ellen and Norm,
      Thank you both for your responses and stories. Norm, I really appreciate the time you took to share your data…it’s not only useful, but important to share with our readers. Your four suggestions for minimizing bias were also spot on.

      All the best,
      Paul Meshanko

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