How Gender Roles, Implicit Bias and Stereotypes Affect Women at Work

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In the race for top talent across all industries, women are a critical, yet underutilized, business resource still in 2018.

With the world now officially a global village, it makes business sense for all organizations to come up with strategies to ensure women thrive at work. Leadership provided by women can be a key to expanding into new markets, increasing diversity and creativity in decision-making, enhancing consumer loyalty and offering insights into an expanding consumer base. However, despite proving to be an important business strategy, women still face numerous problems as they attempt to assume leadership positions and rise up the corporate ladder.

These barriers are still present in both large and small organizations. Harvard’s global online research study, showed that 76% of people (men and women) are gender-biased and tend to think of men as better suited for careers and women as better suited as homemakers.

A 2007 University of Virginia study (2.5 million responses) reported that 68% of participants demonstrated negative implicit attitudes toward black people, dark skin, and black children. They are a result of a process of invisible policies and practices that have successfully block affected groups from rising up the corporate ranks. There are many benefits of effectively managing inclusion and diversity at the workplace. However, until stereotypes and bias are adequately addressed, an organization will not enjoy these benefits.

Stereotype and Bias

Stereotypes and bias are still significant barriers for women to move up and assume leadership positions. Although Affirmative Action legislation offers equal access to opportunities, it doesn’t solve the underlying problems affecting women as they seek to catch an elevator for upward mobility.

Stereotypes against against women are negative, harmful and hurtful… These pink elephants are seen by and often heard but rarely ever acknowledged. For example, Hispanic women are often perceived to be unassertive while African-American women are assumed to be aggressive, hostile, incompetent and lazy. Asian-American women are perceived to lack the ability to supervise others, though they are also perceived to be research-oriented. Women with disabilities are often viewed as incapable of performing their tasks while older women are perceived as inferior and unproductive. Muslim women are stereotyped as mysterious and dangerous.

These stereotypes and others keep getting passed from one generation to the next like an awful Christmas sweater and are impediments for real change to occur. The data is fairly conclusive in that women have it much more difficult than their white male colleagues.

Political-Correctness and fear has also gone amuck. African-American women often fear that they must not appear to be “too black” so they attempt to blend in with their white peers. If she is promoted, there is a likelihood that she will wonder whether the promotion had something to do with her gender or race. Similar situations face other non-traditional employees (LGBT, Muslims, etc.). Such occurrences are common in the “new normal” at work.

There are unspoken rules and norms of decorum which govern the behavior and interactions between people of different genders, religions, sexual orientations or races. Affected groups are often anxious that colleagues will view them as the “token representatives” of their specific group. It can be hard for them to directly address the most ordinary issues at the office because they are afraid, and also restrained by political correctness and stereotypes. As a result, constructive relationships at the workplace fail, performance drops and resentment increases. It is not all doom and gloom. Racial biases are similar to habits, and like any bad habit, they can be changed with a series of deliberate steps.


  • Equip employees with the requisite soft skills via training (instead of rules/norms) to build constructive relationships and avoid the pitfalls of bias, stereotypes and political correctness.
  • Develop and enforce zero-tolerance policies and sensitivity training to show that the organization is truly committed to eliminating bias and providing valuable cultural knowledge.
  • Restructure job ladders and promotion systems to improve advancement opportunities for women (affected groups).
  • Redesign organizational diversity policies and initiatives to shift from just changing attitudes to also decreasing structural inequalities in the organization.
  • Recognize, acknowledge and provide time for special events and days such as International Day of Persons with Disabilities, International Day to End Racism, Gay Pride celebrations, Ramadan celebrations, among others
  • Create conversation ground rules and hold yourself and your team accountable for following them. Develop a shared understanding and language about inclusion and exclusion.
  • Don’t shy away from talking about difficult topics. Each of us — regardless of our race or gender — has a role to play. Be open to feedback and learning. If you see destructive behavior in the workplace, say something. Otherwise, your silence makes you complicit in it.
  • Sponsorship — Not enough leaders are sponsoring highly qualified women by speaking up on their behalf — For women, sponsors — advocates in positions of authority who use their influence intentionally to help others advance — are essential to ensuring career advancement and professional development.

In conclusion, removing these barriers is a critical aspect for any organization moving forward and effectively implementing a successful diversity and inclusion strategy. These barriers certainly differ from one organization to the other. However, their impacts are the same. You have a choice. You can find a way or you can find an excuse.

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Keynote Speaker | Mindfulness Maven | Happiness Muse | Author | Diversity & Inclusion Advocate |

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