Are You Biased against Women Leaders?

February 10, 2016

If asked, most of us would say that discrimination against women in the workplace is wrong and unacceptable. Unfortunately, research shows that treating women and men equally in hiring decisions, job evaluations, and leadership positions is more of an ideal than a reality. So if we agree that sex discrimination is wrong, why is it still happening? One answer is that many of us harbor unconscious biases that can affect our judgment, even though we may be unaware of them. Uncovering these unconscious, or implicit, biases can be the first step to eliminating them.

So how do we uncover them? AAUW has collaborated with Project Implicit and Harvard University researchers to create a test that looks at the mental associations we make between gender and a variety of concepts, many of which affect our beliefs about women in positions of leadership.


This tool tests for unconscious associations, and your results will help further AAUW’s research.

Take the test* »  |  Read more »

*Desktop or laptop computer required. Not compatible on mobile or tablet devices.

We all have implicit bias.

Psychology research shows that most Americans tend to automatically associate positivity with white people and negativity with African Americans, an association that has pervasive effects on our society. Studies of racial bias were some of the first to use implicit measures, which allow for the investigation of attitudes or associations that people may consciously deny, reject, or even be unaware of. Studies using the Implicit Association Test (IAT) have shown that most people more easily associate men with science and women with the arts, men with careers and women with homemaking, and men with being leaders and women with being supporters.

Bias matters.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the pervasive gender associations documented by researchers, academic scientists who evaluated identical résumés belonging either to “John” or “Jennifer” perceived Jennifer as less competent. They were less likely to offer to mentor Jennifer and were more likely to say they would hire John to be a lab manager. What’s more, when asked what starting salary they’d offer the two candidates based on the same résumé, scientists proposed a salary that was $4,000 (13 percent) higher for John than for Jennifer. And female scientists showed the same type of bias against Jennifer that male scientists did.

We can reduce bias!

Fortunately, studies suggest that it may be possible to reduce bias in our minds and in our workplaces. One study found that systematic consideration of personal judgments can help combat bias in the evaluation of women in leadership positions, while another study of university professors found that a program of anti-bias education improved the environment in their departments.

Knowing about the unconscious associations and connections we hold is the first step toward correcting our biases. That’s why AAUW is conducting our own original research on people’s associations between gender and leadership, and you can contribute by participating online. All results are anonymous.

*Desktop or laptop computer required. Not compatible on mobile or tablet devices.

Update March 30, 2016: Read the early results of AAUW’s Implicit Association Test.


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