4 Patterns of Gender Bias faced by women at the workplace

According to Joan C. Williams, Distinguished professor of law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law and co-author of “What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know” it will take 250 years at the present rate of change to have an equal no of male and female CEO in Fortune 500 companies.

That is not very encouraging.

Joan C. Williams has described 4 patterns of gender bias that she has culled out from many sociological studies:

  • Prove it again: Women feel the need to prove and reprove repeatedly their competence at the workplace. This shows up as men are judged on potential versus women being judged on past performance. Since women are considered a wee bit riskier as a hire their mistakes are noticed more. When men achieve success it is attributed to skill versus it the case of women, it is attributed to luck etc.
  • The tightrope: Women literally have to navigate a tightrope between being perceived as too feminine and therefore liked but not respected and too masculine and therefore respected but not liked. Whereas to get ahead in life we need to be both liked and respected. During coaching a recurrent theme that emerges is how to navigate the tightrope. After I understood this bias, it made sense. Why some women leaders struggle to be respected and others struggle to liked. Using this back drop the 360-degree feedback received made sense.
  • The maternal wall: Negative assumptions are made regarding women’s competence and commitment after motherhood. The assumption is that good mothers should be at home. Amazingly this bias effects non-mothers as well as the assumption is that eventually they will become mothers. Routinely women’s marriage plans come up in interviews in India as do their plans regarding motherhood. This is not restricted to the corporate sector but I experienced it when we were trying to get our daughter admitted to school. We had to go through multiple rounds of interviews. Despite me and my husband having the same education every school asked him about what he did and me how many hours I work. So much so that he coached me to say, “Earlier I worked full time but now I am working only so many hours a week”. This psyched me to such an extent since at that time I had really cut down my working hours that after one such interview where I did not use the exact words above, I actually went back to the interviewer… The chairperson of a large educational group and said I actually do not work so many hours. She claimed that she did not imply anything. But could it be coincidence that 7-10 interview panels asked the same question?
  • Tug of war: Due to a perceived scarcity of positions for women at the top a fierce competition gets triggered. In fact, in all spheres women get judged adversely by other women because this competition is also because women’s identities are at risk. For example, women are requiring to make tradeoffs between home and work that most men are not required to do… this makes them feel that they need to validate their decisions by adversely judging other women who have made different tradeoffs. I once was told by a woman who gave up her career to look after her son that she could never let any maid look after her son. The way it was said was so judgmental that I felt a pang of guilt as I allowed maids to take care of my kids. Ouch!
  • It’s all very well to understand bias but the need of the hour is to create strategies to combat it on a personal, organization and social level.

    After the first edition of “Women-Lead – Leadership Workshop for Young Women Leaders” that we conducted successfully on 5th March 2016 in Delhi-NCR, we are conducting the next edition on 26th August 2016 (Women’s Equality Day). The aim is to equip them with strategies that work for women in leadership roles. Get the details


    Lovely Kumar is a facilitator, trainer, psychometric assessor and heads Larks Learning Pvt. Ltd. She has a unique background which combines economics, management, advertising, sales, teaching and training. She has worked with a range of corporates and academic institutions. Additionally she has obtained international certifications in training and psychometric assessments.
    Learn more and reach Lovely Kumar at www.larkslearning.com and follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for great updates.