Different leadership styles play a big role in gender bias in the workplace. The persistence of the so-called “glass ceiling” and salary gap between men and women is often chalked up to the fact that men historically have been more assertive about negotiating for higher salaries, promotions, and other contributors to career success. The fear that they will be viewed as unlikeable and consequently discriminated against for negotiating on their own behalf is one reason women have avoided negotiating for their own advancement.
Some companies are recognizing their role in this state of affairs. In a New York Times article, Farhad Manjoo describes the initiatives that Google is undertaking to improve the representation and advancement of women within the company. At Google, 70% of employees are male, and 83% of the company’s engineers and 79% of its managers are men. In 2013, Google disclosed that only three of its 36 top managers were women.
Leadership Styles in Business Can Play a Role in Gender Bias
In July 2016, Time reported that at Google, “69% percent of its employees are now male, while 31% are female…But only 19% of Google’s technical roles are held by women, while 81% of them are held by men.”
The company’s leaders say they are determined to hire and promote more women and also to address the “severe underrepresentation” of African Americans and Hispanics, according to Manjoo. Google has launched a series of workshops focused on making its internal culture more welcoming to women and minorities.
Interestingly, the company’s diversity training workshops, which more than half of the company’s nearly 60,000 employees have attended to date, are grounded in the concept of unconscious bias—the hidden preferences that shape our decisions and behavior.
The idea for the workshops was born when Google’s HR chief, Laszlo Bock, read about research finding that women and racial minorities are systematically discriminated against when applying to scientific jobs in academia, apparently in large part due to unconscious bias.
We like to think we treat everyone we encounter equally and fairly. Yet most people who take a simple online test are surprised to discover that their underlying attitudes toward race, gender, and other differentiating traits are more biased than they thought.
If you believe you’re immune to pernicious stereotypes, try taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The test, developed by researchers Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington, Mahzarin R. Banaji of Harvard University, and Brian Nosek of the University of Virginia, reveals deeply rooted attitudes that can influence our judgments. For example, test takers who think they are free of racial bias nonetheless often have more difficulty associating the word “good” with “Black” than with “White.”
In negotiation, such unconscious stereotypes can be compounded by in-group favoritism, or the tendency to evaluate positively and give preference to those who belong to the same groups you do. When we have favors to award, such as a promotion or a construction contract, we tend to give them to people who are similar to us demographically.
Guessing that this type of pernicious effect was holding back Google, Bock assigned a researcher-led team to create a video lecture on unconscious bias. The lecture explains how even a systematic 1% bias against women in performance evaluation scores can result in serious underrepresentation of women in the company’s upper ranks, writes Manjoo.
Google believes that exposure to the video and workshops are motivating employees to audit their own behavior and that of others for unconscious bias. During one recent promotion meeting regarding a female engineer, for example, a senior manager warned his all-male colleagues that the fact that they were all men could lead them to undervalue the different roles women perform in work teams.
Such moments are just a start, but they could eventually pay off in the form of greater diversity at Google. You may be able to guide your organization toward more equitable policies as well that will lead to mutual gains for your organization and employees in both business negotiations and interoffice dynamics.
Do leadership styles play a role in gender bias in your workplace?
Originally published in 2014.