Decoding the Gender Bias

Excerpts of the speech by Dr. Diana Bilimoria 1 at the international video seminar organized by IBS, Hyderabad on 5th of August 2021.  Dr. Bilimoria spoke on several gender issues in workplaces with an emphasis on unconscious gender bias.

The two questions that came up are:

  • What does gender bias look like in work places?
  • How can we become inclusive leaders?

The seminar covered topics ranging from gender stereotypes, unconscious gender bias, first generation and second generation gender bias and strategies for gender inclusivity.

Gender Stereotypes 2

 Gender stereotypes are leading to bias and unfair preferences in workplaces. To understand gender stereotypes, man is seen occupying leadership positions and a woman is seen as cooking or socializing her children. The Ideal characteristics of Stereotypes are that of transactional, unstructured, individualistic, self-promoting, career-progression, top-down leadership with a closed club like environment and gender blind.

Unconscious gender bias

Most of us exhibit unconscious gender bias and are partial in our actions. We admire a few women, who reached the top levels. But it is an atypical event.  The fact that we admire some, does not mean that we are not gender biased.  Social, individual, occupational factors and circumstances, all contribute in creating a powerful gender stereotypes and exhibit unconscious gender bias.

First Generation and Second Generation gender bias3

First generation gender bias is deliberate and exhibits overt discrimination. Second generation gender bias is unconscious, subtle, invisible, pervasive and inadvertent. There are lots of laws and organization norms to protect women from first generation gender bias. But not many protective legal guarantees exist.

‘The powerful yet often invisible barriers to women’s advancement that arise from cultural beliefs about gender as well as workplace structures, practices and patterns of interactions that inadvertently favour men.’4

Three Aspects of Gender Bias in Organizations

1. Performance Bias

2. Likability Bias

3. Affinity Bias

Performance Bias- It is manifested in underestimating women’s competencies and overestimating men’s competencies. To counter this, women have to accomplish higher competencies and work hard in relation to men to reach the top. When we look at women CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies in comparison with men CEOs, we find that while women are older and less experienced, possibly due to child-rearing, men have demonstrated higher competencies in the process of selection, hiring and mentoring which results in higher salaries to them at the beginning of their careers as CEOs.

Likability Bias- There is unconscious expectations from women to be more communal, nurturing, supportive, and collaborative and men to be assertive, confident, aggressive and individualistic. Women are liked less when they are strong and assertive and are penalised. They are considered more as incompetent for leadership.  But ambitious, aggressive, assertive and confident men are liked more.  Standard words used for men include exceptional, fabulous, extraordinary, super, unparalleled and amazing.  However the grindstone words used for women are hardworking, meticulous, dependable, responsible, reliable and organized. There are differences in expectations too. While men are to set vision and display more confidence, women are to focus on delivery with get along nature.

Affinity Bias- There is unconscious preferences too in similar ways. We want to be around those women who are mentored to take developmental advices and psycho-social support. The corresponding qualities of men are consciousness and activeness.

 Countering Bias

To counter performance bias, women need to self-advocate, specialized, know their limits and raise their hands when needed. To counter likability bias, women need to develop emotional resilience, define success in their own terms and strategically choose responsibilities. To counter affinity bias it is necessary to find strategic networks inside and outside their teams and organization. They have to seek out mentors, sponsors, coaches and deploy them well. They have to amplify the voices of other women who do not voice and make deep investments in their community through leadership and service.

Individual Strategies for Gender Inclusivity

Recognize that bias exists.

Engage in dialogue within and across gender groups about gender bias.

Understand the costs of gender inequality.

Act as a champion and ally men in gender initiatives.

Organizational Strategies for Gender Inclusivity

1. Educate men and women on gender equality

2. Provide technical training

3. Examine inconsistencies

4. Track promotions, lay-offs, succession plans

Q&A session

The Summarized answers of the questions raised during the Q&A session are as follows:

Q 1. Sometimes men are also not likable. Your comments on it

Yes, sometimes men also face similar problems. However, many a time, these are in their favour

Q 2 Does culture play a role?

Yes, it does. There is masculine culture and feminine culture. In USA and India, gender stereotypes are prevalent.

Q 3. Does group affect?

Stereotypes work differently in different cultures. In highly male-dominated occupations such as -police, military, surgeons, men exhibit leadership qualities and women experience glass-ceiling.  Reverse is true for men. There is no glass-ceiling for men in female-dominated occupations but they experience glass escalators5 .

Q4. Is gender bias higher in unorganized sector than in organized sector?

Personally am not aware.  While first generation bias, as manifested in intentional discrimination, is high in unorganized sector but second generation bias which is hidden, subtle and silent is high in organized sector.

Q 5. Regarding mothering and fathering instinct, studies show women leaders are more compassionate, emotional. Is that true?

Emotional intelligence competencies such as empathy, self-awareness are high in women and in men self-confidence, influence and organizational awareness are high ­

Learners’ Opportunity

Battling workplace gender bias need conscious approach. This is a key ingredient of the credible leadership. To know more about the leadership qualities, check out @ 

 Discussion Questions:

1. Discuss the need for diversity and inclusion in workplaces?

2. Inclusion does not mean mere representation of women in workplaces. Gender discrimination and gender oppression need to be curtailed completely for an equitable society.  Do you agree?

3. List out three steps initiated by your company to remove gender bias. Do you think these are effective? Why?


1. Dr. Diana Bilimoria Ph.D., is KeyBank Professor & Chair of Organizational Behaviour at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, United States.                                                                         

2. Gender stereotypes are the beliefs that people have about the characteristics of males and females                                                             

3. In first-generation gender bias, one intentionally discriminates against another, but in Second-generation gender bias refers to hidden, subtle, and silent bias that persists where women have made career progress, but still lack in the higher ranks.

4. Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers by Herminia Ibarra, Robin J. Ely, and Deborah M. Kolb.

5. Glass escalators: Men in female-dominated occupations such as nursing, primary teaching, social work etc., tend to get career advancements easily.

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