We regularly hear from our corporate clients that not enough women apply for senior roles. Many organisations attribute this to fallacious factors – lack of ambition or not being ’tough enough’ for a senior position. In our experience working with global companies, we find too frequently, it is not the women, but the organisation’s policy and work culture that disadvantages women.
This gender bias is very subtle and often missed by the women themselves. While women may indeed blame their own ‘lack of ambition’ or disinterest in reaching the top, unconscious bias still creates these rationales. Unconscious bias by it’s very nature is unconscious, and so does not require an intent to exclude. Nor does it necessarily produce direct, immediate harm to any individual. Rather, it creates a context — akin to “something in the water” — in which women fail to thrive or reach their full potential. For example, let’s look at how this plays out in the recruitment of senior roles. In an article on Second Generation Bias in the Harvard Business Review, one male leader described how historical hiring processes encouraged one type of candidate; over-confident men to apply. His organisation had to make a concerted effort to review the job criteria for leadership roles – looking for bias:
One male leader said to me, ” We write the job descriptions- the list of capabilities- for our ideal candidates. We know that the men will nominate themselves even if they don’t meet all the requirements; the women would hold back. Now we look for the capabilities that are needed in the role, not some unrealistic ideal. We have hired more women in these roles, and our quality has not suffered in the least.”
The hidden costs of gender bias is high. High turnover, difficulty attracting women to the company, and a lack of diversity to match that of customers are just some of the disadvantages. If women are not applying to your top jobs, begin by assessing your hiring processes, starting with job descriptions, rather than blaming women themselves for a ‘lack of ambition’.