Gender Bias In The Workplace Lives On

Lori Cornmesser

Women in the Workforce

We may laugh at the overt and backward retrosexism on display in shows like Mad Men, but how far have we really come as a society in giving women their due in the workplace? According, to a recent article in Fast Company, not nearly enough. Part of the problem seems that we are so subtle in our workplace sexism that we may not know that it is there. The article points to two primary areas where sexism still reigns and points the evidence to back it up.

Descriptive Bias

Descriptive bias is where a person, when faced with a lack of information of what someone is actually like, will fill in the blanks with descriptions from popular or culturally embedded stereotypes. In the case of women, words like ‘caring’ or ‘nurturing’ might fall into that category. These descriptors might have a positive connotation is some contexts, but evidence shows that is works against a woman when she seeks a position traditionally held by a man. The article cites a study where test participants were to hire a candidate by their performance of a math skill which men and women performed identically. Men still were hired twice as often as women due to the perception that women are bad at math.

Prescriptive bias

Prescriptive bias serves as the other side of discrimination’s coin. Here, women are perceived as uncaring or cold when they perform the functions of a position normally held by men. Again, sources cited in the article point to a surfeit of evidence that indicates that when women move beyond their ‘prescribed’ roles as nurturers and caretakers, they are perceived negatively. Evidence shows this works the other way, as well. Men who seek out female dominated professionals are also looked down upon, though with women that perception is also usually coupled with a pay cut.

The article also points to our willingness to deny that discrimination in the workplace remains a problem, which allows the problem to continue. There are methods that institutions can implement that do curb the effects of these biases in the workplace.

To read more, check out the original article and links at Fast Company.

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