5 ways to bust gender bias in your workplace

Ruby Dark

Mar 8, 2022

The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. At Fair HQ, we’re year-round bias busters, but we’ve prepared a list of small yet powerful changes you can make today to break down (gender) bias in your workplace. Let’s go:

Advertise all roles as flexible by default. 🤸

Take a glance at diversity in your company. Do you see a gender balance? Maybe so at junior levels, but is this reflected all the way up the ladder of seniority too?

Flexibility can attract more women to apply to your (senior) roles. Not only that, flexible work is hugely popular with all job seekers. A study conducted by the Behavioural Insights Team found that jobs advertising flexible work attracted up to 30% more applicants than those that didn’t mention flex arrangements.

Flexible positions – including part-time and job sharing – attract people who may otherwise be excluded from traditional 9-5 setups due to family responsibilities or disabilities. When Zurich Insurance UK tweaked their job ads to boast their flexible work options, they attracted 19.3% more women to apply to their senior roles. The company ended up boosting the number of women they hired by 33%.

So if you offer part-time, job-sharing or flex work options, say so loud and proud in your job ads! ✅ Add it into the job title: Business Analyst – part-time / job sharing / flex hours available

Never ask about candidates’ previous salaries when making an offer. 💸

On the surface, asking about candidates’ previous salaries seems like a totally reasonable practice. It lets you base your offer on their expectations and experience. But when you look a little closer, it’s deeply flawed. In UK tech specifically, women are offered on average 4% less salary than men. When translated into cash, that’s a £3000 difference per year.

Imagine you ask Paulina, the frontrunner for your senior engineer position, her salary in her previous role. She comes out with a number £20k below what you had in mind. You’re a bit baffled. She’s got 5+ years of experience and is totally qualified, so why are her expectations so low?

When Paulina started at her previous job, she was offered a low-ball salary because the hiring manager thought she seemed a little inexperienced. What she didn’t know was that male engineers on her team, with the same level of experience and qualifications, were paid much more just because they had the confidence to negotiate. Should that hiring manager’s decision 5 years ago impact your offer today?

If starting salaries depend on candidates’ previous salaries, then pay inequalities will follow them throughout their careers.

Pay shouldn’t depend on someone’s confidence to negotiate, or on the fairness of their previous company’s pay policies. Thoroughly benchmark your pay bands so you know you’re making fair offers. And if you are open to negotiation, state so clearly in your job ad. There’s good evidence that women are more comfortable negotiating if they know it’s expected, so be upfront if negotiation is welcome in your company. It’s an easy way to level the playing field.

Set the norm to give actionable and equitable feedback. 🖊️

Developmental feedback from our managers is hugely valuable. It sets us on the right direction, encourages us to grow and spells out what we should do differently in order to progress. But did you know that men and women tend to receive different feedback?

A recent analysis of over 1000 written pieces of feedback revealed that women tend to receive more vague feedback than their male peers. Without specific, actionable feedback, women are left guessing at how to do better. This has serious knock-on effects for promotion rates and goes some way to explain why we so often see a dearth of women in senior positions.

One easy, cost-free nudge to resolve this disparity is setting a minimum and maximum word count for written feedback. This prompts managers to standardise the level of detail they give to all their reports.

Feeling ambitious? We love to hear it! Here’s another idea for a powerful nudge towards equitable feedback: review manager’s feedback for bias, and tell them you’ll do so. When people know their evaluations will be reviewed by someone else, they’ll think more carefully about what they say.

Here’s the type of gender bias to look out for in employee feedback:

Examples of feedback women vs. men receive. For example, women may hear

Automatically consider everyone for promotion, unless they opt-out. 🪜

How do you run promotions in your company? Do employees nominate themselves? If so, you might be overlooking employees just because they’re not bold enough to put themselves forward.

Studies have shown that women tend to self-nominate for promotion at a lower rate than men. Women are also less inclined than men to boast or self-promote, even when performing equally as well.

Remove the confidence barrier by automatically considering every eligible employee for promotion, unless they explicitly say they don’t want to. This evens out the opportunity to progress.

Equally distribute ‘office housework’. 🧹

Who offers to help out with booking meeting rooms, organising the birthday party, keeping notes organised? These admin tasks are essential for the smooth running of a workplace, but unless they’re a core part of someone’s role (say an executive assistant or office manager) they can take time away from visible, promotable work.

The research tells us that women tend to bear the brunt of the responsibility for office housework. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that men accepted office housework requests 51% of the time, whilst women accepted 76% of the time. Women not only volunteer to help out more, but when they refuse to take on these tasks, they face backlash.

To distribute work fairly, keep track of these tasks and rotate them between the team. We’ve written a whole post on how to do just that. This means everyone takes on their fair share of office housework, and women can spend more time on tasks that have high returns for career progress.

There you go! 5 changes you can make right away, even if you’re an early-stage startup. It’s always easier to prevent bias than deal with inequalities later down the line. This international women’s day, what change will you make to boost gender equality in your workplace?

Backing it up

Babcock, L., Recalde, M. P., & Vesterlund, L. (2018). Why women volunteer for tasks that don’t lead to promotions. Harvard Business Review

The Behavioural Insights Team (2021) BIT’s biggest trial so far encourages more flexible jobs and applications. BIT Blog

Hired (2019) The UK Tech Equality Report.

Doldor, E., Wyatt, M., & Silvester, J. (2021). Men Get More Actionable Feedback Than Women. Harvard Business Review

Pazzanese, C. (2020). Women Less Inclined to Self-promote Than Men, Even for a Job. Harvard Gazette

Stevens, K., & Whelan, S. (2019). Negotiating the gender wage gap. Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society58(2), 141-188.