Gender Bias in the Workplace: Real Stories and Solutions

Share it now

At Emtrain, we’ve been hard at work building a framework for measuring and scoring indicators of Inclusion, Respect, and Ethics. By providing research and benchmarking, we help companies be more intentional in their efforts. As we teach and gather insights, we also collect learner stories, and we’re always touched by the workplace situations they choose to share. Here are some of their experiences, in their own words about gender bias in the workplace.

Organizations have been aware of gender bias for decades, yet many still struggle to address it consistently. Here are three persistent issues. Share these stories to raise awareness of these common incidents and encourage your employees to follow these three tips to create a culture of healthy feedback and address gender bias in the workplace.

Gender Bias in the Workplace : Still Persists for Women

Tips to Creating a Healthy Workplace Culture

Be more aware of your perceptions – they impact how others perceive you

All too often, we say and do things we think are harmless without recognizing the negative effect they can have. Consider this incident:

“We took an engineering manager candidate out to lunch. During that lunch, he looked at me (a female) and said he did not hold women to the same standards when it came to liking Star Wars. We ultimately turned the candidate down for many reasons, but that statement left me wondering if he held female engineers to the same standards as male ones…”

Some may dismiss this as a funny comment, but it reflects a risk of ingrained gender bias. We must examine the thought processes behind such comments and address them, whether small or large. Many avid Star Wars fans are female!

Recently, Google faced significant backlash after a former female employee revealed her experiences of gender bias and discrimination in the workplace. This revelation led to a walkout by thousands of employees, demanding more transparency and action from the company to address these issues. Such high-profile incidents underscore the importance of recognizing and combating gender bias at all levels within an organization.

Pause before making assumptions

Senior women and technical women are often assumed to be less qualified than they are. Bias, both unconscious and conscious, leads to cognitive errors that undermine women and their expertise.

Consider this senior female engineer’s experience:

“Was introduced to a colleague at a work function; they admitted they thought I was ‘the new admin for the sales VP.’ Was asked by a male colleague to do his photocopying. Was asked by a male colleague to order lunch for his meeting. Asked ‘who developed this software’ when conducting a demo of MY work!”

And the frustration of this expert in her field:

“I was presenting my research data to my fellow engineers and because I was a woman they would not direct their questions to me, they would ask my boss. He finally told them that he did not have the answers because he did not do the work and if they wanted the answers they would have to ask me directly.”

When employees step up and correct mistaken assumptions quickly and consistently, they help create an environment where people are more alert to their own biases, leading to fewer disrespectful situations. Speaking up supports and elevates female experts.

Treat people the way they’d like to be treated

A client reminded me the other day of the Platinum Rule: “treat others the way they’d like to be treated.” It’s a great principle, especially when starting from a place of respect. Assuming our colleagues are here because they passed a rigorous interview and strive to do great work allows us to treat others as valued team members. This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Avoid hypocritical mistakes like this:

“There is a woman on my team who is a very strong, confident professional. Too often, I will see men treat her dismissively and hold her accountable for mistakes made years ago, while not holding themselves to the same standards.”

Or misjudging someone’s strength:

“The assumption that a woman couldn’t do the job because she wasn’t ‘strong’ like a man. When she was indeed strong enough for the job.”

Stereotypical treatment can lead women to feel they need to “do more,” even though they are qualified professionals. For example:

“The woman as organizer role has been a longstanding issue over my career. I’ve been told to ‘smile more’ to avoid being perceived as intimidating. I’ve been asked to get coffee or take charge of corporate events that are not in my role (e.g., can I be responsible for organizing company potluck Fridays).”

Systemic bias also prevents women from being treated equally in performance reviews, promotion, and pay:

“Strong history of the ‘good ole boys club’ within the organization – predominantly related to pay and promotion for gender-specific roles (aka glass ceiling).”

Take Action

What experiences are your employees having? How can you ensure people are aware of common stereotypes to avoid them? How do you nudge behavior change to treat people more fairly? We use a behavioral approach to learning, along with qualitative and quantitative insights, to help organizations drive change.

For more information and to see our recent “Welcome Women Back to Work” webinar, contact us!

Stay up to date with our blog posts!

Related Posts


Laraine McKinnon

Laraine McKinnon

Talent and Culture Strategist Women's Advocate Former Managing Director at BlackRockLaraine is an advisor to Emtrain, and an unconscious bias expert. Laraine is a passionate supporter of diversity in the workplace; she focuses on blending behavioral science (managing unconscious bias,...Read full bio

Okay, you got this far.
Let’s get compliant.