International Women’s Day is here again – March 8, 2016. It is a time to celebrate our progress and reflect on our achievements. However, it is also a time to articulate the large amount of change that is still needed to achieve equality. This year’s theme is “Pledge for Parity” and the statistics are quite sobering. According to a World Economic Forum report in 2015, “it will take until 2133 to achieve global gender parity.” This figure seems bad enough, until you realise that in 2014, they predicted in would only take until 2095 – so, a big decrease in the speed of progress.
Why is this still the case? There a large number of reasons and barriers to parity. One area in which research regularly points out problems deals with our own subtle biases – sometimes held by us without realising them.
A number of studies have shown that there are inherent and subtle biases operating in the workplace which hinder women at all levels. While many of these biases are held equally by men and women, there are some exceptions. For example, a recent study showed how pernicious underlying attitudes about performance and skills are.
Male college students showed a distinct gender bias when asked to evaluate the academic attainment of their peers, consistently scoring male students higher than female students, and preferentially according expert status to the male. The study showed that this boost in scores was a result of over-estimating male performance. Interestingly, in this study, the female students showed no gender bias and did not over-estimate their male peers.
It’s a scenario that many women will recognize from their working life. Thus, the environment in which women are judged by their peers is less supportive, and could at least contribute to the reasons why women leave science.
These subtle biases are significant barriers to achieving parity in the workplace and, more concerning, this study demonstrates biases persist throughout the generations. As professionals, we should evaluate our own biases and work to limit their impact on our daily working lives.
Today, on International Women’s Day, consider taking your own personal Pledge for Parity and ask others to join you by:
- Helping women and girls achieve their ambitions
- Challenging conscious and unconscious bias
- Calling for gender-balanced leadership
- Valuing women and men’s contributions equally
- Creating inclusive, flexible cultures