What is the best way to combat stereotypes in the workplace?

What is the best way to combat stereotypes in the workplace?

Despite all the progress in recent decades, gender bias is still very much present in today's workplace. According to the Pew Research Center, 50% of people in the United States believe a major reason for the gender pay gap is that employers treat women differently. Gender discrimination doesn't hurt only women, either. The entire organization may suffer when gender bias is present through lost productivity, higher turnover, and potential legal retaliation.

According to Shelley Correll, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, gender bias is informed by common stereotypes surrounding men and women, which can lead to unfair decision-making — often to the advantage of men. In her video, “Creating a Level Playing Field,” Correll outlines the best ways to combat stereotypes in the workplace. By implementing these suggestions, you can work to eliminate gender biases and create an inclusive, equitable workplace.

1. Educate yourself about stereotypes

Because we are not always aware of our biases, we may not realize when they influence our decision-making. This means education and awareness are key to moving forward. 

To educate yourself and other decision-makers, schedule diversity training on gender discrimination. In these sessions, have honest discussions about inclusion in the workplace. Hearing other people's perspectives often shapes your awareness. You may also read books or blog posts, listen to podcasts, or watch informational videos like Correll's to educate yourself on diversity and inclusion.

2. Establish criteria for evaluation

For decisions related to hiring or promotions, make sure you're establishing criteria to evaluate candidates before considering any applications. Correll says this strategy can improve the chances of women and other minorities being hired. "Research has shown the more formal the criteria are, the more women and underrepresented minorities will be hired," Correll says.

Work with hiring managers to set the expectations you have for candidates. For example, you may only want to consider those with several years of industry experience, or you might prioritize their educational backgrounds over other qualifications. Regardless of which criteria you choose, make sure you evaluate each candidate objectively.

3. Scrutinize your criteria

While establishing candidate criteria is a good first step, it's also important to review them periodically. Take an objective look at your benchmarks to ensure you're not unknowingly discriminating against certain groups in your hiring practices. For example, women have historically held fewer leadership positions than men, so if your criteria include senior management experience, you might discourage women from applying, even if you don't mean to.

Here's what Correll has to say on this subject:

“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.”

4. Hold decision-makers accountable

As a leader in your business, make accountability a priority for yourself and other decision-makers. Make sure you can reasonably explain the decisions you've made. Correll explains that doing this allows you to re-evaluate your decision-making and learn when you may be using stereotypes. “In the process of deliberating and thinking through the decision process more carefully, we break the tendency to use stereotypes as a short cut," she says.

"In the process of deliberating and thinking through the decision process more carefully, we break the tendency to use stereotypes as a short cut."

5. Be transparent

Making yourself accountable to others will help ensure you make objective decisions. Additionally, be transparent about your diversity efforts with employees in the workplace. Your team members look to you for guidance, so make sure you're modeling the behavior you want to see in them. For example, you might have company-wide meetings to share the diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.

“Be transparent in what you're doing in terms of hiring and promoting," Correll says. "To post the numbers and to keep track of our progress in terms of how we're doing in terms of gender diversity in our workplaces really does cause people to be more thoughtful about how they're making decisions.”

6. Vouch for the competence of women leaders

According to Correll, one of the most significant ways to overcome stereotypes in the workplace is to vouch for the competence of women leaders. Whether introducing a new woman leader or discussing her role with others, ensure you build them up. Be intentional when speaking about the leader's qualifications and achievements to show others you have complete faith in their strengths and abilities. Over time, this positive reinforcement helps to break down gender stereotypes, Correll says.

“Whenever you have the chance to introduce someone or talk about someone you're working with … describe her accomplishments, or talk about how successful you think she's been," Correll says. "That can help overcome the problem stereotypes often create: That we have doubts about women's competence.”

Gender stereotypes have existed throughout history, and it may feel overwhelming to work toward gender equality in the workplace. However, by enacting thoughtful strategies, you can educate others, hold decision-makers accountable, and create an inclusive environment. Eliminating gender bias in the workplace allows everyone an equal opportunity to succeed so your business can thrive.

More tips on creating gender equality in the workplace:

Realize the full potential of your workforce by removing barriers to career advancement for women.

To build an equitable workplace, create a successful diversity and inclusion recruiting plan.

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