working women

Self-fulfilling Prophecies

Yesterday we wrote about the fact that creating awareness of our unconscious biases can actually cement them.  If that’s true of our unconscious thoughts, it must also be true of our conscious beliefs.  And apparently most Americans believe that women will not be equal when it comes to leading corporate America.

Pew Research Center has just put out a report summarizing survey results that show American men and women think that even with more time, women won’t achieve equality in corporate leadership.  The reasons?

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According to the chart above, most people think it has little to do with the choices that women make in terms of work-life balance, and much more to do with women being held to “higher standards”.  What are these standards?  When I read this, I strongly suspect that “higher standards” really means “unconscious assumptions and expectations” (aka unconscious biases) about how women should behave and perform.  If that’s the case, then unconscious bias is a huge issue for companies that care about plain old fashioned fairness and meritocracy (much less gender diversity).

The recent publicity companies such as Google, BAE, Dow Chemicals, and Microsoft have received for training their workforce on unconscious bias shows that some companies are at least taking steps to try to solve the problem.  The real question is whether these training programs are effective.  To answer that, you have to measure the “before” and “after”.  Unfortunately doing that is hard.  There are tests to measure that a person has unconscious bias but whether they practice it or not (and whether their behavior has changed subsequent to getting diversity training) is not easy to test.  Short of installing cameras at work to analyze behavior (which, to be clear, we are NOT advocating), its one of the reasons we’re creating a safe place for women to share their honest thoughts about what’s really happening at the office.  After all, things that are unfair don’t tend to go unnoticed, and over time, any changes for the better — as we optimistically believe there will be — will show up as trends.

Standard

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