If you ask young children to draw a picture of a scientist, you get both men and women scientists, but when you ask slightly older children to draw that picture, most draw a male wearing a lab coat with unruly hair, all with a close resemblance to Albert Einstein.
Things are changing, though, ever so slightly, as more children now draw a female wearing that lab coat. This often-repeated social science experiment is an example of bias. Children are not taught to draw scientists as males, but the media they are exposed to shows scientists primarily as males.
Bias it is not just about gender. Biases come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. We all have biases, but the key is to acknowledge that you have them and take steps to balance your biases with action.
Researchers have categorized biases against women into six areas:
- Performance: Based on deep-rooted and incorrect assumptions about women’s and men’s abilities. We tend to underestimate women’s performance and overestimate men’s.
- Attribution: Linked to performance bias, this is giving women less credit than men for similar accomplishments and blaming women more for mistakes.
- Likeability: When men lead it feels natural. We expect women to be kind and communal, so when women assert themselves, we like them less.
- Maternal: Motherhood triggers false assumptions that women are less committed to their careers.
- Affinity: We gravitate toward people like ourselves in appearance, beliefs, and backgrounds. We may avoid those who are not like us.
- Double discrimination and intersectionality: Women may also experience bias based on not only their gender but also race, sexual orientation, disability, or other aspects of their identity.
Even though our biases are ingrained, there are steps we can take to mitigate their effects. Here are a series of cards, 50 Ways to Fight Gender Bias, helpful in starting a discussion of gender bias with your team. You can download the cards or buy a set to use at team meetings.
For more information or resources on implicit bias, visit our IDEAs in Action website.