Strategies to Combat Gender Bias

Image result for breaking through biasWomen continue to face unconscious biases in the workplace that undermine their success, according to Andrea Kramer and Alton Harris, authors of the new book Breaking Through Bias. Although written by long-time activists working to break down barriers to women in the workplace, Breaking Through Bias is not an indictment of gender discrimination but, rather, a straightforward guide on how women can achieve success in spite of the discrimination.

For Kramer and Harris, a husband-and-wife team of attorneys, the secret to overcoming the gender bias, deliberate or unconscious, that pervades today’s workplace is to develop an effective communication style through which women can display their competence and experience while neither encouraging nor buying into gender stereotypes. The authors call this attuned gender communication.

The general message of the book, however, is twofold. First, while women are not to blame for gender stereotypes, they sometimes undermine their own efforts to overcome such stereotypes. The second message is that many women do not even attempt to battle stereotypes; instead they buy into them.

For example, a study of men and women who had graduated from an elite international MBA program revealed that women were far less likely to apply for jobs in finance and consulting and far more likely to apply for general management jobs — no doubt because of the unconscious bias of the women that men are better at math or handling the pressure of consulting, while women are better at the soft skills needed to successfully manage people.

The focus of their book, however, is to help women who refuse to buy into the biases but understand that they have a responsibility to help themselves. The challenge of this “help yourself” message is illustrated in the story of a leader that Kramer was coaching remotely. Ellen was constantly passed over for promotions because, according to her superiors, she was a “sloppy thinker.” When Kramer finally met Ellen, she discovered a leader who dressed so casually “it was hard for me to tell if she was wearing her pajamas or a sweat suit.” At Kramer’s suggestions, Ellen started dressing “like a banker” and never heard the “sloppy thinker” comment again.

The story does not end there, however. Kramer recounted Ellen’s experience in a workshop and learned later that many of the women criticized Kramer’s actions. “These women said that I had advised Ellen to be inauthentic and to buy into traditional stereotypes,” Kramer writes. Although disappointed that she had failed to get her message across, Kramer was also sad. “I realized that the women who had criticized me were unlikely to get as far as they wanted to in their own careers if they really thought that a woman would lose her authenticity if she didn’t go to important meetings dressed in her pajamas,” she writes.

The fact of the matter is that impressions count, and indeed, the importance of managing impressions is one of the key lessons in the book. As the authors explain, “…..

Click here to read the rest of this review. You can also sign up for our Executive Book Alert newsletter to receive reviews like this every month!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *