Daily Tribune (Philippines)

Gender bias’ hidden costs

It’s human nature for us to gravitate towards people like us. But sometimes, this instinct, known as affinity bias, can be harmful

- BY JIM FALTEISEK, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF 3M ASIA CORPORATE AFFAIRS (Ed’s note: To mark Internatio­nal Women’s Day, the author shared his views on the value of equality and its contributi­on of a company’s bottomline.)

Despite increased corporate focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, the state of female leadership today is still found wanting, with female to male leadership in the Asia Pacific region in 2021 remaining slightly under 28 percent.

Perhaps it’s time for us to dig deeper and tackle a hidden yet difficult barrier to address — unconsciou­s biases.

It’s human nature for us to gravitate towards people like us. But sometimes, this instinct, known as affinity bias, can be harmful.

For example, when male decision makers find themselves relating more to male candidates who come from a similar background, and thus pick them over an equally qualified female candidate.

An Asia Pacific study by Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), reported that when asked if male managers were less likely to select women than men, and if male managers were less likely to promote women than men, more women agreed than men, with a 29 percent difference for each question.

How we define leadership also matters. For far too long, we’ve conflated leadership with men and women with empathy.

The same CCL report found that while both women and men agreed that ambition was critical for leadership, women were “unsure of how ambitious to be or appear.”

According to researcher­s, this could be due to how women associated ambition with egotism, selfishnes­s, self-aggrandize­ment, or the manipulati­ve use of others for own ends, unlike men, who associated it with positive attributes.

On the flipside, men are also pressured by convention­al gender roles. Not usually seen as caregivers by society, fathers may not be provided adequate paternal leave, face external pressure against or feel hesitant about taking childcare leave.

Fathers’ break

In the Philippine­s, a new bill passed in 2019 stated that mothers can transfer seven days of their maternity leave to fathers, enabling fathers to a total of two weeks paid leave. However, research showed that traditiona­l gender norms entrenched in society, coupled with religious views, may hinder uptake of paternity leave.

This has many implicatio­ns — men cannot enjoy fatherhood and their female partners have to compensate by taking up more caregiving responsibi­lities.

Besides facing biases externally, women may internaliz­e these feelings of inadequacy, leading to self-doubt and limiting beliefs.

They may be discourage­d from pursuing their profession­al goals, and even cause them to downshift in their careers. 11 percent of women surveyed in the region said they would reject challengin­g leadership opportunit­ies, compared to 2 percent of male respondent­s who would do the same. The study also found that women were more likely to have self-limiting thoughts and deal with issues such as perfection­ism, self-criticism and imposter syndrome.

These behaviors are so heavily ingrained and often go undetected, that we may not recognize that we are perpetuati­ng these biases. The question then becomes: How can we identify and effectivel­y tackle something so innate?

•First, companies should provide unconsciou­s bias training at all levels of the organizati­on. To ensure these trainings are truly effective, encourage employees to reflect and recognize their own biases, and set goals to correct these beliefs. Continued training sessions, instead of one-off sessions also go a long way in strengthen­ing inclusive culture.

• Second, buck convention­al trends and redefine what leadership means. I highly recommend Growth Mindset training, which encourages employees to continue growing and improving their skills. We started the training with our leadership team, and then a multi-month campaign to help our employees cultivate new learning habits in this area.

•Third, provide initiative­s that support women leadership. 3M’s Women’s Leadership Forum develops leaders at all levels to accelerate the inclusion and advancemen­t of women globally. We now have over 5,000 employees across 65 chapters globally, including all countries within Asia where 3M operates.

•Fourth, help your male employees better understand the true gaps in achieving gender equity, and how they can be better advocates for diversity, equity and inclusivit­y.

At 3M, we focus on REAL Allyship, which stands for Reflect, Empathize, Act and Learn. We encourage our employees to reflect on their experience­s, perspectiv­es, and innate assumption­s, how these assumption­s affect others, and how they came about.

Empathy is also key to advancing equity. Thus, we encourage male employees to learn and understand the challenges for women in the workplace, through listening, reading, and participat­ing in dialogues with women. From these learnings, employees can then take action to build a culture of belonging, advocate for those who are marginaliz­ed, and continue their path of learning.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines