A few days ago, I received the Global Gender Gap Report, as published by the World Economic Forum. As a father of three daughters, this is a topic I have been dealing with both professionally and privately for a long time and now seems like a good opportunity to write about it.
In particular, I’d like to focus on women in leadership positions. There are almost three times as many men as women in management positions globally and almost 2.5 times as many in Germany. This is despite women making up 50% of the total workforce (Germany is ranked 89th worldwide).
This imbalance is not a new or unknown phenomenon. You will find many articles on the Internet describing its impact and its background as well as potential measures to counter it (including collections at HBR, McKinsey, Catalyst.org).
As an organisational coach, I am particularly interested in the underlying patterns and habits that lead to this situation seemingly being so difficult to change. One crucial, deeply ingrained and usually unconscious habit on which I want to shed some light is gender bias, perhaps best known in the form of double bind:
Other forms of gender bias are (see Joan C. Collins):
– “maternal wall” (once a woman becomes a mother, it seems “unnatural” for her to work),
– “prove it again” (women are judged by performance, men by potential)
– “gender wars” (conflicts among women related to whether or not they adapt to the male-dominated world of work)
The effects should not be underestimated. A simple comparison is an underwater current that constantly pulls you out to sea as you try to swim to shore.
Psychologically speaking, gender bias is a behaviour, a social pattern, a habit that has become anchored in the subconscious. You automatically behave in this way without even being aware of it.
To change such behavioural patterns and habits, several steps are usually required: you have to become aware of them, you have to want to change them, and you have to practise a lot. When I want to change my shooting in basketball, a coach shows me a video recording of my movement, shows me what I need to do differently, and gets me practising for weeks if not months. During this time, my shooting initially deteriorates. It’s certainly not easy and adapting shooting techniques is much easier than adapting social behaviour, right?
What do you think? Where have you encountered gender bias before? How relevant is it for you? How would you go about changing it?