Deliberate or Unconscious Bias is holding women back and here’s how to level the playing field – Ananda Shakespeare

“Get the PR girl to write up the press release,” he said, indicating the task be assigned to a woman with decades of experience.

Probably everybody in the PR sector has heard such a request uttered during their career. I know I have. Sadly, such biased language in different yet recognisable guises is often repeated across all industries and it is undermining the skills and experience of women everywhere.

Women grow up and live being treated very differently from men through conscious and unconscious gender biases. Language, as the example above clearly illustrates, still remains one of the most powerful means through which sexism and gender discrimination are perpetrated.

Gender should not even be a topic of conversation anymore, especially in the workplace and it is telling that it still is. That said, gender stereotypes are still deeply rooted in society and women grow up and live being treated very differently from men through conscious and unconscious gender biases.

Other examples of bias, deliberate in this case, in the work arena include employers who insist that a CV contains a photograph. If you are a woman of childbearing age, you are at times asked about your plans to have a baby, which is an indicator the employer wants to know if in the future you will be taking maternity leave at some point. Currently in the UAE, maternity leave is a short duration, and perhaps until there is equal leave for fathers, there will not be real equality in the work place here. Such biases, along with others, can have a significant impact on workplaces, shaping who gets recruited, hired and promoted.

Sexism, however, is not reserved for the male sex since women can also hold unconscious bias towards their own gender. Often, I have heard women in places I have worked discuss certain tasks that are not appropriate for women and have been quite bemused by workplace sports events with ladies and men’s categories. Again, the stereotypes deeply rooted in our society are at play with the idea we have about male and female so called natural capabilities. In the workplace, this translates to men tending to be promoted more on potential and women more on performance. Or again,

high-performing women being passed over due to assumptions such as “she’ll probably have babies soon and won’t want the pressure!”

A chief result of conscious or deliberate bias that holds women back in the workplace contribute to the creation of the glass ceiling for so many women in some companies in the UAE. One only has to look at the board members of such company, most of whom are male.

I believe to level the playing field companies actually need to run workshops to discuss unconscious and deliberate bias in the workplace. I am also a firm believer that such topics need to be tackled before people even get to the workplace, and therefore, I think education at primary level is a good place to start the lengthy process of undoing the gender stereotypes that are embedded so deeply in our society. Undoubtedly, action starts with this conversation. Now is the time to come together and move forward in unity towards a fairer society for all.