Madeline Albright said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
The reality I’ve met is a little more complex.
The fourth kind of common, invisible, non-litigious workplace bias covered in What Works for Women at Work by Williams and Dempsey is bias against women by women.
When I run my sessions on reducing gender bias at work, this portion of the work is often highly revealing. Here’s why.
Everyone speaks up. Especially the women. Women are only too happy to share how women are worse bosses, how demanding they are, how they were kept back by another woman, how they were shamed or how they were yelled at by a woman in a higher position, etc. Sometimes, it’s a proper free-for-all.
Now, hold your horses, (Woah, Nellie!). I am sure those things happened. But why do we remember them so harshly? Why do we see those behaviors as being part of the gender of the boss involved and not just part of that person in that role? And why do women let fly during this part of the work?
I think it’s because:
1. It’s still safer to accuse women of poor behavior than men.
2. The other forms of unconscious bias come into play when we evaluate the performance of women — we expect them to be more motherly, more caring, more nurturing, etc. and when they are not, we are quick to call them names. We note their poor delivery of an idea more closely, forgive them less, etc., etc., etc. When women fail to live up to our unconscious expectation that they should behave like a stereotypical mother, we dislike them more than we would a man who failed to nurture, etc.
3. Until we start to see how bias plays out, we will perpetuate it.
4. So much for the sisterhood.
Most people still prefer male bosses. Most have never had anything else. There just might be a connection there.
In short, what happens in discussions on gender bias? Gender bias.