How to #BeatTheBias this International Women’s Day — Bright Space Coaching

image from rawpixel id 1225056 jpeg

image from rawpixel id 1225056 jpeg

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BeatTheBias.

Unconscious bias is a way our brains process information. We create mental shortcuts as we process information, and unconscious bias is a way to aid in decision-making.

This rapid processing leads to learned assumptions, beliefs, or attitudes that can reinforce stereotypes and judgements about different groups of people. And let’s be clear: we all do this.

Unconscious bias is also a contributing factor to the gender pay gap.

The World Economic Forum projects the gender gap (in both leadership and in pay) to close in 267 years. The gains women made in the last few years all but vanished during the Coronavirus pandemic.

McKinsey and Co. recently published their newest Women in the Workplace Report and reported that 1 in 3 women are planning to leave their current role or downgrade it due to burnout. That number has increased from 1 in 4 women last year.

According to Sara Sanford, creator of the Gender Equity Now (GEN) Certification, women are leaving the fastest-growing sectors, including tech, at 45% higher rates than men, citing culture as the primary reason.

Unconscious bias is at the root of women experiencing burnout and feeling unvalued at work, yet a recent HBR report suggests the $8 Billion spent on diversity training isn’t working and can actually backfire in some organizations.

It’s time to take a different approach to #BeatTheBias.

Instead of focusing on training as a way to remove bias, we need to look at the systems perpetuating bias within organizations.

As the saying goes, “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it produces.”

And that’s what’s happening in the workplace today; outdated systems, created by the racist patriarchy, still exist, even in modern companies, and continue to uphold antiquated standards of performance.

We need to go beyond bias training and awareness if we want to see the gender gap close within our lifetimes.


Here’s how to #BeatTheBias this International Women’s Day:

1. Reimagine Performance Management

Ah, the annual performance review. Your employees dread it, you’re glad it only happens once per year. And everyone knows it’s a “check the box” activity.

Performance management is a corporate management tool that helps managers monitor and evaluate employees’ performance at work. It’s often the basis for determining raises, bonuses, and promotions for the year ahead.

However, most performance management processes are breeding grounds for unconscious bias. Many organizations opt for the “nine box” method for performance evaluation, which measures both performance and potential as either high, medium, or low for each employee.

Potential for leadership is often described with characteristics such as assertiveness, charisma, ambition, etc. which are highly subjective, and stereotypically associated with men.

In a recent study of a large retail company, Yale professor Kelly Shue found that women were 7.3% more likely to receive a “high” rating in performance, but when it came to potential, they were rated 5.8% lower than men.

Women are more likely to be rated on their personality and receive feedback like “be more assertive, you’re too quiet, etc.” Personality ratings are subjective and are often based on the manager’s own biases and opinions. In one study, while 76% of women received feedback like that during their annual performance review, only 3% of men did.

Studies show that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on their experience and how they’ve already performed. We tend to underestimate women’s performance and overestimate men’s performance.

Women often have to “prove themselves” or feel like they have to accomplish more to be seen as valuable as men. Women are hired based on past accomplishments, while men are hired based on their potential. Therefore, women’s contributions are less valued than men’s.

So how can we #BeatTheBias when it comes to performance management?

First, it’s important to be objective. Instead of relying on the nine-box performance vs. potential rating or subjective feedback to evaluate performance, use objective measures like competencies, KPIs, or other criteria applicable to a job role or level.

This way, each manager is evaluating the objective outcome and results the employee produced and will be less likely to leave personality-based feedback.

Second, remove 1-5 scales or other subjective criteria, especially on the self-assessment. Have the manager evaluate each employee before seeing their self-evaluation. Women tend to rate themselves lower and are harsher critics of their work – because they don’t feel valued at work. They’re not given credit for their impact, so they don’t believe they have one.

Finally, make performance part of regular conversations with your employees. When you’re asked to evaluate all of your employees at the same time only once per year, it’s easy to experience unconscious bias, because you have a limited time to get everything done.

Instead, if you have regular conversations with your employees, or better yet, regular checkpoints for measurement, you’re more likely to remember the significant contributions from each employee, rather than what you think about them overall.

Which brings me to my next point:


2. Create a Coaching Culture

Marcus Buckingham teaches that performance management is two things: performance measurement (think the evaluation process I described earlier) and performance acceleration, or what happens the rest of the year.

Studies show that when companies integrate more frequent feedback points, especially around a specific project, women are more likely to be rated on performance, not personality.

Taking this approach allows you to create a coaching culture within your organization; one where having conversations about performance and development are natural between managers and employees.

One reason women are leaving companies in the Great Resignation (besides burnout) is because they don’t see themselves reflected in the organization’s leadership team. This leads women to believe that there isn’t a career path for them in the company.

When women don’t see people who look like them in industries and leadership roles they aspire to, they don’t believe it’s available to them. And when companies don’t prioritize developing women leaders, unconscious bias makes it an afterthought.

To build a coaching culture, focus on developing the employees you already have in your company – the women and women of color that are most often overlooked for projects or promotions. Instead of looking outside your company to fill a leadership role, tap into the talent that’s already there.

Coaching is a great skill to instill in managers, because it keeps them curious. It allows managers to ask questions and get to know women as individuals. This creates an environment of trust, where employees feel comfortable talking to their managers about their work, what they want to work on next, and where they see themselves in the future.

We need to address the gender gap from both sides – undo the damage that has already been done; the damage that causes women to doubt themselves and think “there’s something wrong with me” rather than “there’s something wrong with this system.”

The racist patriarchy still exists, even in women-owned companies. The traditional systems and processes and the “way we’ve always done things” contributes to perpetuating bias in organizations.

And instead of women recognizing that it’s the process or the system, we internalize it. We think “maybe I need to be more direct or less direct” or speak up more or speak up less….

Women put the onus on ourselves to change when the real change that’s needed is inside the organizations where we work.

Which brings me to my final point:


3. Commit to Transparency

The thing that’s on everyone’s mind this year – pay transparency. Openly sharing the salaries of employees is becoming more accepted as organizations are focusing on creating more equitable workplaces.

Currently, only 17% of companies practice full or partial pay transparency, and according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 75% of workers are discouraged or prohibited from discussing wages and salaries.

Data brings transparency and provides a basis for taking action. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, as the adage goes.

Buffer, the social media scheduling tool, implemented full pay transparency by not only sharing compensation details for every employee internally; they also shared this information with the general public.

Pay transparency leads to better cohesion and collaboration. When everyone knows the salary ranges for each level or role, you can level the playing field. Instead of having employees whispering about their salaries in the breakroom and creating animosity among their coworkers, you create a culture of trust by being transparent.

Employees who trust their organization and feel respected by their leaders are 110% more likely to remain with that company. Buffer’s retention rate is 94%, and they received twice as many applications than before they published their salary information.

You don’t have to follow Buffer’s lead and openly share each employee’s salary; you can practice partial transparency by sharing salary ranges.

Start by doing an internal audit of employee salaries against the standard ranges or bands for each role or job family. Analyze where your employees fall by factors like gender, race, tenure, etc.

Report the findings and what your organization plans to do about it. Share pay bands and ranges with every employee in your organization. Share salary ranges by role or title so if an employee wants to grow into a specific leadership role, they already know what kind of salary to expect (and ask for).

You can take the next step by being transparent about the salary range when interviewing candidates. Add it to the job posting or mention it during the phone screen.

Stop asking women to tell you what salary they’re looking for. They want the salary that’s fair and equitable and compensates them for the experience and expertise they’ll bring to the organization.

Be open to negotiation, especially from women and women of color, who may be learning about these ranges for the first time.

Pay transparency leads to more diversity in organizations, sharpening their competitive edges and supporting their bottom lines.


The Takeaway

Gender bias in the workplace is a clear barrier preventing women from being promoted, being paid equitably, and rising into leadership roles. To #BeatTheBias, companies need to move beyond diversity training and consider the systems and processes that perpetuate bias in their workplace. Reimagining performance management, creating a coaching culture, and committing to transparency are three ways leaders can fight bias within their organizations.

Take action now: Use the questions in this article to evaluate your company’s culture and performance management processes. Consider whether your company is doing enough to #BeatTheBias, and what you want to improve moving forward.

If you’re ready to address gender equity in your company so you can become the workplace of choice for women in STEM, send me a message, and let’s chat!

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