We'd all like to think—while, say, binge watching old Mad Men episodes—that a certain brand of unapologetic, in-your-face chauvinism is a historical relic. Wishful thinking, right? It only takes a five second Google search to find eye-rolling examples of workplace sexism in action: A female veterinarian asked to call in her male counterpart for help, or a female doctor told by a patient to fetch a sandwich.
That being said, such overt examples of gender bias are on the decline, says Catherine Hill, vice-president for research at the American Association for University Women (AAUW). That's the good news. The bad news? Implicit gender bias—a negative feeling or stereotyped view that is held unconsciously—is alive and well in the workplace, and because it's subtle, it can be harder to root out.
Last Thursday, the AAUW released a sobering report demonstrating that implicit bias remains common in the fields of science and technology—and results in fewer women being deemed competent, hirable or recommended for mentoring. The report cites a 2012 study authored by Corinne Moss-Racusin, a social psychologist at Skidmore College, and a team of researchers at Yale University. In the study, Moss-Racusin created a fictional resume for a lab manager position; put a male name ("John") on half of the resumes, and a female name ("Jennifer") on half; then, asked more than 100 faculty members nationwide to assess the resume they received. Although the resumes were identical in every regard except the name at the top, "John" was rated as significantly more competent and worthy of hiring than "Jennifer." What's more, when "Jennifer" was offered a job, she was given a lower salary than "John"—an average of $4,000 less annually. And this finding was consistent whether the faculty member judging the resume was a man or a woman.
Implicit gender bias isn't just a STEM phenomenon. "It's something you see in many fields where women have a less traditional role, or that are more associated with men," says Hill. Take the legal profession: In 2010, University of Hawaii researchers reported that "both male and female law students implicitly associated judges with men, not women, and also associated women with the home and family," which likely factors into why more women don't reach the loftiest law positions. Same goes for medicine: Female physicians make about 29% less than male doctors, in part, experts say, because they go into less lucrative specialties (i.e. primary care medicine vs. surgery). And why do they choose those specialties? One reason: Because they avoid more male-dominated fields where implicit gender bias is thought to predominate.
For women of color, implicit bias is particularly pernicious because they must combat both gender and racial stereotyping. Case in point: Research published in the American Economic Review found that people with so-called white-sounding names (i.e. Emily) received 50 percentmore callbacks for job interviews than those with traditionally African-American associated names (i.e. Lakisha).
Implicit gender or racial bias is tricky to deal with. But the experts say there are some concrete actions you can take to rid yourself of these prejudices—and to reduce their effects at work.
1. Learn about your own internal biases.
Scientists at Harvard University, the University of Washington and the University of Virginia developed an online test that "measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy)." The results may surprise you.
2. Make an active effort to rid yourself of stereotypes.
"Our implicit biases can trail behind our real world experiences quite a bit," says Hill. "Try to be aware of them and try to counteract them."
3. Request that your workplace institute a way to get anonymous feedback from employees.
In a 2008 report on unconscious bias the consulting firm Cook Ross cited the benefits of an "anonymous, third-party complaint channel such as an ombudsperson," explaining that "since most of the behaviors that employees perceive as unfair are not covered by current laws–e.g. bullying, very subtle bias–existing formal complaint channels simply don't work."
4. Join groups (inside and outside of your office) that work to foster diversity in the workplace.
Ignorance flourishes in darkness; when your coworkers are a diverse mix, it's much harder for prejudiced views to get a full airing.
Change the statistics. Learn how to #ask4more: Do your homework, practice, get inspired by influential women's stories, and ask.