This year’s International Women's Day theme - break the bias – gets to the root cause of why gender parity continues to be out of reach for women. Before the pandemic, the World Economic Forum estimated that it would take 100 years to achieve parity. This estimate was unacceptable, but the pandemic has made the situation even worse.
Millions of women have dropped from the workforce, some to care for children when daycare and schools closed, while
others lost restaurant and retail positions as these segments lost footing in the current economy. The reasons are varied, but the bottom line is that women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and the World Economic Forum upped their estimate on the time it will take to achieve gender parity from 100 to 135 years. Losing 35 years of progress in the blink of an eye is not okay. Women and male allies must act now and breaking the bias is the best place to start. The negative impact of gender bias starts at the very first promotion. According to LeanIn.org and McKinsey, for every 100 men who are promoted for the first time, only 72 women are promoted. The gap is worse for Latinas and Black women. Because women earn more college degrees than men, women should be winning a higher percentage of these early promotions, but the opposite is occurring. Gender bias is the culprit.
Ten actions that we can all take to break the bias are:
- Check Your Own Bias. The Harvard Implicit Bias Test is a free, online test that measures your biases not only about gender but also about race, ethnicity, religion and more. We all have a responsibility to understand and manage our own biases.
2. Challenge Gender Stereotypes. Stop referring to doctors and scientists as “he” and nurses and teachers as “she.” Give gender neutral toys to the children in your lives and encourage them to pursue their individual interests. Ensure equal sharing of childcare and household responsibilities at home.
3. Start a Mentoring Program. Mentoring programs have been shown to help women and other people who are underrepresented advance, and they also help men develop new skills. Formal programs are the best option because it takes the burden off women to find a mentor.
4. Support Working Parents. Encourage your organization to support parents with remote, hybrid, flex, or shorter workweek opportunities, as well as both maternity and paternity leave, and make sure that your business culture does not punish parents when they opt in for these benefits.
5. Audit People Practices. Encourage your organization to conduct an audit to ensure that your people practices are equitable and free of bias. Blind applications have been shown to reduce gender bias in hiring decisions. Reexamine how decisions to promote are made so that the focus is squarely on competency and not on relationships and “gut feel”. Audit salaries to reduce the gender pay gap, and do not ask women how much they earn at their current jobs so that gender pay gaps don’t follow women from job to job.
6. Be Inclusive. If a woman is interrupted during meetings and calls, stop the interrupter and redirect the conversation back to her. If the lone woman on the team is being left out of informal conversations about a project, stop those conversations until she is present. If women are not receiving equal airtime during conversations, create the space for her to contribute.
7. Announce Your Pronouns. The best way to ensure that you are using someone’s correct pronoun is to announce your own pronouns so that others feel comfortable to share their pronouns. Include your pronouns on social media, your Zoom and Teams profiles, email signature, bio, and other places which ask for your name. You can learn more about how to use pronouns at MyPronouns.org.
8. Understand Bias. Educate yourself about common biases that women face. For example, women are required to prove that they are competent over and over again while men are presumed competent, and half of all U.S. employees believe that after becoming mothers, women are less committed to work.
9. Lean In Allies. We need men to lean in and meet women halfway by being mentors and sponsors, by speaking up when bias occurs, by refereeing meetings and calls to ensure that women are included and not interrupted, and by having open conversations with women asking what they need to be successful.
10. Encourage Authenticity. Women receive mixed signals at work to fit in, conform, and fall in line, but also to be authentic. Authenticity is the only pathway to parity. While women are trying to fit in, they are less focused on problem-solving and innovation.
Together we can accelerate change for greater gender parity by breaking the bias. How will you break the bias?
Cathy (she/her) is a former executive of a Fortune 500 Company where she founded her company’s diversity and inclusion initiative. She is now a DEI strategist and speaker, and theCo-Host of Parity Podcast focused on accelerating gender parity. You can find Cathy on LinkedIn, www.par-ity.com, or CathyNestrick@gmail.com.