Bias in the workplace
Bias in the workplace is a complex and nuanced issue. Bias tends to be born from our experiences, cultural norms, family systems, and what we tell ourselves about the world we live in.
Conscious bias is the clearest to identify and potentially confront. There are people in the world who are not shy about the fact they do not like a particular group, gender, shape, people they find unattractive, where someone was educated, where they are from etc.
In many societies these types of overt biases are not tolerated in the workplace, therefore the most difficult form of bias is unconscious bias.
Unconscious bias is something we all struggle with to some degree and can include some or all the biases mentioned above. We may never consciously exclude someone when considering them for a position, promotion, or assignment however, our bias can creep in and it’s important to be aware and become educated about them. It is so much easier to point fingers at conscious bias in the workplace but none of us is immune from our own unconscious bias.
Those of us who have been on the receiving end of conscious or unconscious gender bias understand how devastating this can be. It can be nothing short of traumatic having to show up to work every day knowing someone in a position of power has a gender bias.
The worst part is having to suffer in silence or be silenced if you speak up. On one hand, it demonstrates the strength of womanhood that often goes overlooked in companies when that power and resilience could be put to better use helping the company grow.
Seeing bias for what it is
As I said earlier, bias is complex and will vary in its potency from place to place, and country to country. Our biases are informed by the history of our societies, cultural norms, what is acceptable, and the legal system that supports it.
Asia is so diverse and as an “outsider”, I cannot answer why gender bias exists in Asia. I can only say that this bias exists in Asia for the same reason it exists in other places because bias is just a human trait.
In some societies, gender bias is systemic and spills over into the workplace and everyone knows it and conducts themselves accordingly. In other places, bias is “frowned upon” but still generally accepted and there may or may not be strong internal mechanisms to address it.
Identifying gender bias and being able to confront it is going to depend on how an organization acknowledges, trains, and holds people accountable. Identifying unconscious gender bias can be challenging for more reasons than I can articulate here, which is why training, intentional conversations, and patience are critical to dealing with it.
Bias by both sides
I’m sure social scientists and psychologists could fill several libraries trying to answer that question! The workplace is situated in a cultural, and political context and in some cases religious context as well. So, tolerating gender bias may just be an unfortunate reality of that context.
There is no easy answer or way out of it, but I am confident that this will not be the case ten or twenty years from now. We are living in a world that is vocal and passionate about social justice and equality.
Some places are further ahead than others, but voices are out there, and they are being heard. Women, as well as men, are being empowered to speak up and stand up on this issue. We are seeing more, though still a minority, of families where the man is putting his career on hold to be home with children while the woman is carrying the weight of being the breadwinner.
Children are learning earlier that roles can be fluid and being a boy or girl does not pigeonhole you into a limited defined capacity in society. I am confident that the days of both genders tolerating gender bias will be behind us sooner than we think.
The starting point for breaking the bias
We all know this is not an easy issue to address. However, it is always a good thing when we can have a conversation about gender bias. These conversations are happening much earlier, as children are being educated to think differently about what gender even means in society.
The generation behind us is seeing more women in important positions at every level, more than my generation and we are approaching the day when women in power will be ubiquitous.
On a more practical level, I have found that developing healthy workplace relationships is an important piece of the puzzle. Organizations can invest in the training to help their people learn how to do this.
In my own experience, I have been and continue to experience gender bias. I have addressed it in many ways but the most effective has been developing the relationship. Nurturing a relationship not only helps to open hearts and minds but it gives all parties capital to hold each other accountable. I have developed strong working relationships with male colleagues whom I can talk to and can count on to stand up if I need them to.
Finally, I believe that the best way to break gender bias is pointing to the bottom line. I am not talking about lawsuits and liability but instead wasted potential. Not using your talent to the best of your ability as an organization is costly and keeps you stuck.
Try to foster a collaborative environment instead of “rat-race” competition. Diversity of thought and experience can be the missing link to take an organization to the next level. If you have three people in a room all thinking and saying the same thing, two people are of no use. Bias hurts the bottom line.
Not wanting to listen to an idea or promote a person because of their gender or whatever the bias maybe, means an opportunity lost. We are living in a world that needs problem solvers and believing our solutions can only come from one group or gender will doom us all to failure.