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What’s in a Name? Gender Bias


keynote speaker, JJ DiGeronimoGender bias is an unconscious problem facing women in tech today. Experts have been studying the issue and yet movement towards a more diverse, collaborative industry still seems a long way away.

In 2014, in an article from Stanford entitled, Why Does John Get the STEM Job Instead of Jennifer, the researcher, Corinne Moss-Racusin works to understand and uproot the biases of scientists.

In the study, two identical resumes were submitted for review with the only difference being the first name: John or Jennifer. The only difference.

  • Experiences were the same.
  • Achievements were the same.
  • Education was the same.

“Gender bias is often an outcome of an implicit cognitive process in which pervasive gender stereotypes shape our judgments, regardless of our intentions.”

And yet, the result was that Jennifer was perceived, for the most part, as under-qualifiedgender bias, not worthy or mentoring and garnered a salary package if offered anything, that was $4,000 less than John.

Did I mention that the resumes were exactly the same except for the candidate’s first name?

One Company’s Approach to Gender Bias

Moss-Racusin then created an educational program to make the scientists, who had reviewed the resumes, aware of the gender bias:

“In a separate study, she and her colleagues developed a diversity course for scientists. Their goals were to reduce implicit gender bias among academic scientists and to increase their motivation to address the under-representation of women in STEM.

One hundred twenty-six scientists participated in the course. First, the scientists were told about Moss-Ruskin’s original findings and other research on gender bias. Then the scientists discussed and drew their own conclusions about the results. Finally, they practiced strategies to reduce gender bias at their own institutions.

The participating scientists completed surveys about gender and diversity before and after the course to see if it led to any change in attitudes. The research team found that the course significantly reduced gender bias and that the scientists showed a stronger, more assertive approach to pursuing actions that would increase gender diversity after participating. Research-driven diversity interventions such as this one are crucial to closing the gender disparity in STEM fields, argues Moss-Racusin.”

Making leaders aware of their gender bias and then educating them on how to avoid/eliminate the bias going forward had a positive impact on those that participated in the study.

Female CEOs are Not Immune to Gender Bias

In a recent survey (2018) of entrepreneurs conducted by Fast Company, 60% of female business owners admitted to experiencing bias from investors and bankers. Christina Stembel, who runs a San Francisco-based florist startup had this to say:

“For most of our lives, we’ve only seen men in CEO positions, so we subconsciously believe that they are more qualified to lead—even if we would say otherwise,” she says. “We’ve been marketed so many images of men in leadership positions. How can our brains not be trained to think so?”

Shelley Correll, a professor of sociology at Stanford University has created 6 steps to eliminating gender bias in the workplace.

Here are the first three:

  1. Educate Employees About How Stereotypes Work: Because we are not always aware of our biases, we do not realize when they are influencing our decision-making; therefore, education and awareness are key to moving forward. “When people hear how stereotypes work, they tend to scrutinize their own decision-making more carefully, and that tends to break the tendency to use stereotypes as a shortcut.”
  2. Establish Clear Criteria for Evaluation. “When making hiring or promotion decisions…establish clear criteria and qualifications for our decisions. Research has shown the more formal the criteria are, the more women and more underrepresented minorities will be hired.”
  3. Scrutinize Your Criteria. Take an objective look at the existing criteria you use to make management decisions, as they may be flawed. “Scrutinize the criteria you’re using when making hiring and promotion decisions. Are they the right criteria? Do they predict success on the job? Are they filtering out a disproportionate number of women? If so, it’s really important to understand if the criteria really matter in terms of who’s going to be successful on the job.”

Research Companies for their Diversity  Programs

As women in tech seeking new opportunities or advancement within your own company, you must ask yourself what is being done to recognize and eliminate gender bias. Are their education programs in place? Are the criteria for evaluation equal?

If you are looking to change companies, you might start by examining the Forbes list of the Top 10 Companies with the Most STEM Opportunities. Companies like:

  • Raytheon
  • Oracle
  • CACI International, Inc.
  • Booz Allen Hamilton

It is a proven fact that companies with a diverse thought-leadership team are more successful in their industry. However, it will require leaders who can set aside their unconscious gender bias to bring together the best and brightest, regardless of race, gender or background, to be successful.

Additional Reads

JJ DiGeronimo - Tech Savvy Women - http://bit.ly/TSWNewsletter