Second Generation Gender Bias How These Unconscious, Subtle and Invisible Social Barriers Are Inadvertently Stifling Women's Climb to the Top...

According to Diana Billimoria, KeyBank professor and Chair of Organizational Behavior at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, gender bias is quite prevalent in today’s society and embedded in its social culture. Billimoria explains that there are to two types of gender bias: first generation gender bias, which is still present in many of today’s professional settings and entails deliberate actions (harassment) and open gender discrimination, and second generation gender bias, which is much more subtle and prevalent since it is unknowingly woven into our societal fabric.

What Exactly Is Second Generation Gender Bias? 

As Billimoria so aptly describes it, second generation gender bias is “unconscious, subtle, invisible, and inadvertent barriers defined as powerful yet often invisible barriers to women’s advancement that arise from cultural beliefs about gender.” What’s more, Billimoria clarifies that these thoughts and actions are not done intentionally, but rather have gradually developed over time in society to become the “norm.” To further explain her point, Billimoria presents the following four aspects to explain why second generation bias is so present in 2017:

1. Women lack role models, such as concrete examples of female CEOs leading large companies and organizations.

2. Gendered career paths, or careers that are generally “tailored” to either men or women, make it challenging for women to break into “nonconventional” jobs.

3. Women lack access to rich networks and sponsors. Because many women still find it difficult to shift paradigms when it comes to connecting and networking for professional growth, they often see their chances for advancement diminish compared to their male colleagues.

4. Women suffer from the double-bind syndrome. This means that women who are too “feminine” are considered weak and spineless, and those who are perceived as too “masculine,” direct and task-driven are labelled as cold, disconnected and tyrannical.

In light of these four aspects, it’s no wonder women have a harder time reaching the top and leading Fortune 500 companies! What’s more, these subtle biases are programmed early on in childhood and continue their hold well into adulthood.

To drive the point home, take a stroll down the toy aisle the next time you visit the store; my guess is that you will be hit by a wall of pink and purple in the “girl aisle” and red and blue in the “boy aisle.” This is just one example, but a powerful one nonetheless, that works to ingrain stereotyped gender roles at a very early age. In effect, there are constant subliminal messages out there which depict women and men in “traditional roles.” Our job, then, is to remain vigilant—both as parents and professionals—to ward off such attempts to stereotype women and men (as well as children) accordingly.

Stopping the Cycle

Now that we are aware of second generation bias, what can we do to counter it? What active steps can we take today to halt the negative effects created by second generation gender bias? Here’s what Billimoria suggests:

1. Work collaboratively with your organization’s leaders and HR department to change current policies and practices that gender discriminate.

2. In your personal life, approach the myths of gender discrimination in a firm but warm and friendly tone to encourage positive dialogue on the topic.

3. Speak up and support other women in your organization as the need arises.

4. Create a positive, supportive network in your organization to promote women’s leadership.

5. On a personal level, develop key negotiating skills and become familiar with the political culture of your organization; this will help boost your sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence.

6. Lastly, Billimoria explains that every woman must invest in her own leadership development by actively and meaningfully engaging and connecting with others. In doing so, they will be harnessing the strengths of this precious resource to help build on their own strengths and abilities.

Your thoughts…

What subtle gender bias messages have you received in your workplace or society in general? If you are a parent, what active steps are you taking to help counter the negative effects of second generation gender bias on your children? Please feel free to leave a comment in the reply box below, or join our private FB discussion forum!

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