Bias might be built in to how our brains work, but that doesn't make it acceptable. Recent advances in psychology and neuroscience have given us unprecedented insight into how biases interfere with good decision-making. When it comes to leadership, biases create a 'sticky floor', making it hard for women to rise to the top. The good news is that the change to gender balance can be accelerated if you know more about how bias works.
In the new book Beat Gender Bias (Major Street Publishing, $29.95, 1 May 2020), Dr Karen Morley explains how biases, particularly the insidious unconscious ones, trip us up. She outlines an approach for minimising their impact in organisations, with Bias Busters – specific, practical actions you can take with the goal of making it easier to notice, talk about and overcome bias. By creating an inclusive culture, organisations create personal, social and economic value that will sustain future success.
A practical guide for leaders, Beat Gender Bias shows how anyone can make a difference and play a bigger, more satisfying part in creating a more inclusive world.
About the Author
Karen Morley is an authority on the benefits of gender balanced leadership and how to help women to succeed at work. It's her own history of experiencing difference and exclusion that drives Karen's motivation to beat bias. She's working hard to help leaders understand the value of inclusive leadership to organisational as well as social outcomes. Karen has helped organisations like Bunnings, CSL, Department of Education, Department of Justice, Downer, Fulton Hogan Australia, HASSELL, Melbourne Water, QBE, Officeworks, and the University of Melbourne on their diversity and inclusion programs. She has previously published Gender-Balanced Leadership: An Executive Guide to help organisations be fairer and get great results and Lead like a Coach: How to Make the Most of Any Team to help leaders increase engagement and get better work done.
Author: Dr Karen Morley
Available through www.karenmorley.com.au
What originally inspired the idea of Beat Gender Bias?
Dr Karen Morley: I had been aware for some time that while some conversations with men about gender equality were very positive and engaging, others were really hard work. It's a contentious topic, and not everyone is going to agree; what I wanted to do was to show how to take some of the heat out of the discussions with the idea that the more positive the conversation, the easier it would be to promote equality.
What I wanted the book to do was to explain how unconscious bias works, and importantly show how to have better conversations that helped to reduce bias.
What is the real impact of gender Bias in the workplace?
Dr Karen Morley: You can see the impact of gender bias in the proportional differences of men and women in leadership roles.
Part II of the book is called 'Why your organisation isn't fair (even if you think it is)' and it describes three key ways in which bias impacts.
Affinity bias constrains women's own choices, as well as organisational decisions: women can't be what they can't see. Expectancy bias means that women are expected to behave in particular ways, not others, and this leads to being 'damned if you do and doomed if you don't'. And confirmation bias distorts the ways we see women's potential and talent, making it much less visible, 'what you see is not what you get'.
What masculine norms do you believe exclude women at work?
Dr Karen Morley: A masculine culture promotes physical and social dominance, invulnerability and avoidance of weakness. Key characteristics are firstly, don't show weakness, you can't express doubt or admit that you don't know. Secondly, you need to show strength and stamina, and bigger is better. Masculine norms mean putting work first, including working long hours and not letting family needs interfere. Finally, masculinity is always a contest, which means you need to watch your back, it's very 'dog eat dog'; you can be in one minute and you can be out the next.
These norms exclude women, and they exclude some men too. They don't exist in all workplaces but when they do, they contribute to toxic cultures.
What do you do if your ideas are repeatedly stolen by colleagues?
Dr Karen Morley: This is a really irritating feature of workplaces when male dominance is not noticed or managed well. Most women have experienced it; even very successful women have the experience of having their ideas ignored or stolen. It can be hard to call it out when it happens to you; team rules that pay attention to the pattern are the best way to go. If the team is primed for it, anyone can call it out, divert attention back to the person who has generated the idea, acknowledge what's good about it, and if it's yours, own it.
What is the sponsorship effect - and why is it worth it?
Dr Karen Morley: A sponsor is a mentor with a twist. Corporate sponsors increase your visibility to senior leaders, connect you to career opportunities, give career advice and make external connections for you.
Men with corporate sponsors are happier with their rate of progress, more likely to get a 'stretch' assignment and more likely to ask for a pay raise. Take care when you look for yours – women are more likely to reject potential sponsors because they don't fit the bill. Don't be too picky, having one brings greater advantages than not having one.
How should women negotiate a toxic male culture?
Dr Karen Morley: Getting a corporate sponsor is a great idea! A corporate sponsor can advocate for you, and help you to understand what might work best for you in the culture. To be frank, unless you love your job, can be protected from the toxicity, and remember to always take good care of yourself, I believe you need to seriously consider whether the toxicity is really worth it. It often isn't, and you don't discover that until you've invested too much. Withstanding the pain doesn't give you an automatic gain. Make sure you have an external sponsor or coach who can help you navigate this tough territory.
How should we avoid a career dead-end?
Dr Karen Morley: One way is by not staying in a toxic culture too long……
Women are often expected to do office housework or support others, which chews up time. Try to avoid this by discussing priorities and suggesting everyone shares these activities. It also means that women are given opportunities that are safer or less challenging; do your homework and get advice on whether or not to take opportunities that don't look quite as wonderful as you're being told they are.
And women don't get enough of the right kind of feedback. Feedback to women focuses on their interpersonal sensitivity, how they get along with others. Men get feedback on how to be ambitious and forthright to claim their place as leaders. Women need to be very careful to have good sources of advice and feedback that help them focus on their leadership capability and potential.
What's next for you?
Dr Karen Morley: I'm looking pretty carefully at how we are adjusting to working from home. Acceptance of #WFH has been hard to achieve, until now that is. It's not been without its challenges, particularly that of schooling from home, but it's a great experiment. Working from home is critical to increasing flexibility as well as work:life balance. My next project is working out how to make flexibility workable and sustainable so that it benefits women's careers.