If you think you can’t have unconscious biases against women because you’re a woman, think again.
“We’re just as likely to have them as men because we’re all receiving the same adverse messages and we’re equally susceptible to them,” says Tiffany Jana, D.M., a management consultant and author of forthcoming Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion.
Similarly, we’ve all got prejudices against men—yes, they do exist! “Most unconscious biases are in men’s favor, but when a man doesn’t fit society’s mold for a leader, because he’s, say, short or emotionally available, we unconsciously think he’s not leadership material,” Jana explains.
The fix for our biases—and our boss’ and colleagues’, unfortunately, isn’t easy. “When it comes to other people’s prejudices, pointing out instances of them doesn’t do any good,” Jana says. “In fact, it may do harm to your relationships, since no one wants to be told they’re a sexist or racist.”
Instead, Jana says that clearing away years of society’s messaging (or indoctrinating) must be self-initiated. It’s also an ongoing process. “First you identify your biases—this free Harvard test will help—and then you work on each one,” she explains. “It’s like good body hygiene: you wash and rinse—then repeat the next day.”
For specific tips on how to “work” on your unfair thinking, check out her book, Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences. Here are three common biases against women you can probably recognize in others, if not in yourself:
Bias #1. Men make better leaders.
Because men have been in charge for so long, we’ve come to accept it as a given that they have the vision, gravitas and decisiveness to lead, while women don’t.
Bias #2. Moms don’t work as hard as others.
In contrast to men or women without kids, moms may not seem to be fully committed to their jobs because they have competing priorities.
Bias #3. Women can be paid less than men.
The rationale for this used to be that women weren’t the primary breadwinners in their homes. It still lingers, but the excuse for the wage gap is also linked to #2, above.