Overcoming Unconscious Gender Bias

I was speaking at a seminar with a major banking group recently. There were 100 women in the audience with a scattering of supportive men. This bank is spending a great deal of money on helping women reach their potential within the organisation. Indeed this seminar was part of that offering. When it came to questions a woman in the audience picked up the Bank’s business magazine that had been placed on each chair and made the fascinating observation that there were no women featured in it at all! There were a couple of photos of women at seminars and attending events – but none of the articles was was about a woman. Gasps from the (female) Head of Banking and much rifling through the magazine in a vain attempt to discover a featured woman.

During my speech I had made much of the power of similarity as an influencer among men at the top of organisations – especially at these stressful times. What I think happens is that men go for comfort and people they can trust – other men! They know where there are with a man – they can play golf with him, talk about football and cars.

After the seminar one of the few men attending came to chat with me. He was at great pains to point out that when he plays golf with the chairman they never talk about business. And my question was “How many women play golf with the chairman and don’t talk about business?” That whole bonding experience is simply not available to senior women. Of course you can’t STOP this among men that would be political correctness run riot but men need to be helped to understand the unconscious bias that exists. Even amongst those men who are genuinely supportive of women in senior roles.

 – away from the 19th hole- as well as equal access to the magazines that represent the business.

I constantly hear senior men opine that they have no women ‘in the pipeline’ for senior or board posts and if they are there, they have not stepped forward asking for promotion. The reason for this is that women have to be encouraged to step forward as they tend not to self – promote but instead work steadily providing others with support. Behind every senior director are women doing the work. So if leaders don’t delve into who actually completes projects not simply those who sell the accomplishments they will never see the pipeline of women who are under their noses.

The RTC Women as Leaders Course provides the skills necessary for female participants to get promoted through group work, coaching and encouragement to step forward and in addition offers mentoring access to senior directors. Over 30% of these women have been promoted already. We know this works.