Gender bias is, unfortunately, alive and well: According to the second annual Talent Intelligence and Management Report by Eightfold, an artificial intelligence recruiting platform, 43% of U.S. employees say they have been impacted by discrimination based on gender and marital and parental status—among other things like age—despite companies’ efforts to stem discrimination.
While gender bias comes in many forms, Jennifer Spoelma, career coach and host of the “Career Foresight Podcast,” defines it as “when people expect someone to be, act, or achieve in a specific way because of their gender. Bias is opinion-based and subjective to the person making the judgment based on their preconceptions. It is not a true reflection of the person being judged.”
In a work environment, that might look like anything from roadblocks to advancing a career—such as being passed over for a promotion—losing clients to male competitors, or even sexual harassment, says Emily Meghan Morrow Howe, corporate gender strategist and career coach.
Spoelma adds, women often face gender bias in the form of having their commitment to their job or career questioned by others, or being accused of being too masculine if they take a hard stance on an issue. If they are rewarded at work, women might see gender bias take the form of rumors that a promotion, raise, or another perk was given only to meet a corporate gender equality goal.
“Often, when women encounter gender bias due to their ambition, it comes off as skepticism or disapproval,” she says. “People may ask questions about why she was chosen for a position, or what experience qualified her to earn the position. Disapproval may sound like, ‘Look at what she had to give up to get there,’ or ‘How is she going to keep up the new job and her family?’”
What to do if you encounter gender bias?
If you’ve encountered gender bias at work, you don’t have to grin and bear it. Instead, you can—and should—take these steps to challenge and correct gender bias in your workplace, experts say.
Learn to identify gender bias.
At work, “take note of what makes you uncomfortable, and practice defining the behavior and why it makes you feel the way it does,” advises Spoelma. She explains gender bias can persist in the workplace because we don’t have the right language to define it. “When something’s vague, it’s difficult to stop,” she says. “But when you can identify gender bias in specific ways, you are equipped to call it out, report it, and have constructive conversations about how to resolve it.”
Speak up in the moment.
Speaking up when bias occurs can “humanize stereotyped demographics,” Spoelma says. She suggests that you “practice ways you can shed light on social issues and opinions by using your personal story or vantage point. Respond to people’s ignorance with patience and a belief they can change. Invite them to see your perspective and how their views or actions are hurting you.”
Talk to a manager.
In cases of gender bias that could affect your career—such as when promotions, clients, and big projects are involved—Howe says talking to your manager or boss may be key. “Speak to your manager about setting up a system to divide these things more evenly among people,” she says. “Loop in HR if you think they would help you influence your manager in the right direction.”
Take credit when you’ve earned it.
Past research has shown that bias against female leaders dissipates when credit is explicitly given to them. Unfortunately, “it’s common for women to deflect their success or achievements, and give credit to a team or advisors that helped them,” says Spoelma. But to fight gender bias, it’s important to take credit when that credit is due. “If taking credit feels uncomfortable or unnatural to you, then spend some time creating a list of go-to phrases that you can use that reinforce your leadership, such as, ‘Thank you for supporting me in this project,’” Spoelma recommends.
Talk to HR when you need to.
When it comes to sexual harassment or assault at work, you must involve human resources, says Howe. “Start looking for another job ASAP and meanwhile, talk to other women who have been in the orbit of this individual to see if they have tips or can provide emotional support, and talk to the human resources or legal department,” Howe says. “this is their problem to fix, not yours.”