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Overcoming Unconscious Gender Bias

Employers’ organizations can help their members to understand risk factors, identify specific threats and work with them to implement mitigation measures. Another option is to provide training that targets unconscious gender bias.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for unconscious gender bias. Effective interventions depend on the context and challenges in the company. Catalyst, for example, supports its member companies with the Stereotypes Diagnostic Instrument to help them assess their level of risk and select priorities for intervention. It assesses structural factors which have been found by socio-psychological research to be particularly important in the development and maintenance of gender stereotypes. The factors included in the Stereotypes Diagnostic Instrument are:

  1. Organizational size and industry: While organizational size does not directly affect risk, the number of employees may influence the ways in which other risk factors intersect and the effectiveness of human resource practices in promoting change. As for industry, male- dominated industries are found to be particularly prone to gender stereotyping and women in these industries encounter barriers to advancement.

  2. Ratio of women and men in the organization overall and within a division, and at different organizational levels: Stereotypic bias is more likely to occur where the gender composition of the workforce is lopsided or where a few individuals have been placed in token positions. Gender stratification, where leadership positions are held by one gender and support positions held by the other, may result in generalizations about the role of gender in determining which people can hold certain jobs.

  3. Human resource practices: Current efforts to become more inclusive are relevant factors, including the implementation of human resource programmes to improve hiring and promotional practices, and performance evaluation practices (for example, whether there is objective and unambiguous evaluation criteria). Other relevant factor are related to personnel, the gender composition of committees, and training. To accurately analyse human resource practices, research will need access to the participating companies’ performance management documents.

  4. Organizational climate: Primarily norms related to the “ideal worker” and the leadership style that corresponds to the corporate culture.

Employers’ organizations can also provide targeted training to companies on unconscious biases, whether related specifically to gender or other factors. Training programmes usually follow the formula of identifying implicit and structural biases in the company, demonstrating the impact of the bias and equipping the training participants with skills and strategies to recognize and overcome their unconscious biases.


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