Workplace bias is one of the biggest hurdles stopping women from having the same opportunities as their male counterparts — and it’s only getting worse. Lauren Coe, Employee Experience Strategy Director, Zone, discusses what needs to be done.

Recent LinkedIn data showed that the economic slowdown had triggered a setback in women’s advancement into leadership positions to around 32%, reverting to levels seen in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. 

Workplace bias — decision-makers who naturally gravitate towards people who have the same views and beliefs as themselves — is seen as the root cause of this. 

In a world where boardrooms are still primarily dominated by men, female leaders are struggling to get their voices heard.

It can’t, therefore, just be up to women to challenge bias in the workplace. Change will never happen without male allies, because wherever you look, female leaders are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to equal opportunities.

One in eight employers are reluctant to hire women who might go on to have children. No surprise then that women are between 25-46% more likely to get the job when there are blind interviews or auditions. 

But that’s if they even make it that far, as less than half of women choose to apply for vacancies which use male-dominated language.

The benefits of disrupting sexism in the workplace

There are countless benefits in reducing workplace bias, including factors that directly affect the bottom line.  

A staggering 87% of the top 500 companies led by a female decision-maker delivered above-average profits. 

This is backed up by a McKinsey report which stated that companies committed to reducing gender bias and promoting women in the workplace tended to see increased revenues.

One of the most effective ways in creating a culture of fair opportunity is through female mentorships and communities — the latter of which don’t have to be exclusively attended or promoted by women. 

Hearing from female leaders, including those from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences, can go a long way in inspiring future generations, and it doesn’t just have to be within their own organisations either. 

Knowledge-sharing should be encouraged across industries and geographical borders to support wider female communities, not just where they work.

Female leaders can also turn the tide on workplace bias through storytelling and speaking opportunities to relay their own personal accounts, providing a clear picture to their male counterparts of the daily hurdles they have to overcome. 

By sharing what lessons they’ve learnt as well as offering coaching and support, we can make sure there is a continuous stream of women coming into positions of power. 

The future of female leaders

To solve the problem of workplace bias, we need to develop a wider understanding of the outside pressures facing female leaders today. 

Women are disproportionately impacted by things like Covid, the cost of living crisis, and economic downturns, so there has to be an organisational-led duty in monitoring factors that prevent equal opportunity. 

Women also still undertake the majority of childcare responsibilities. When returning to the office after maternity leave, new mothers are often having to juggle a hectic personal life behind the scenes while trying to ensure they are still ‘seen’ at work.

Until we start trying to tackle the problem head-on, women in the workplace will continue to be held back from opportunities that could ultimately have benefits that go beyond the business.

Completely removing bias from the workplace will take time, but by encouraging these kinds of conversations to happen in the first place, we can take greater strides in realising a better, fairer future for female leaders.