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How Bias Makes It Harder For Women To Gain Trust In Their Capabilities

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Talent and dedication are the keys to a successful career, no matter what field you are in. Aren’t these two qualities enough to prove that a person holds the potential to do justice to their job, or to be trusted with more responsibilities? However, there is a third factor that comes into play, especially where women employees are concerned; that of gender. The conditioning that still tricks many into believing that men are better at “office work” and women are cut out for “rearing kids”. This often costs a lot of women the success they rightly deserve. It is a struggle for them to gain trust at workplaces, to prove that they have it in them to get a job done. Unless we deal with this lack of trust, will we ever be able to achieve equality at our workplaces?

SOME TAKEAWAYS:

  • Women often have to face gender bias at their workplaces which casts a shadow of doubt over their capabilities.
  • Women have to work harder than men to prove their mettle.
  • Isn’t it fair that a gendered gaze often obliterates potential?
  • Could this also be the reason why women often settle for less at their workplaces because they don’t have the bandwidth to fight this bias?

The conditioning that still tricks many into believing that men are better at “office work” and women are cut out for “rearing kids”. This often costs a lot of women the success they rightly deserve.

Award-winning science journalist Angela Saini recently triggered a conversation on trust issues faced by women at workplaces when she tweeted, “At every single step of my career I have felt the critical gaze of people not quite believing I can do my job, of taking extra time to trust me, and not being sure if that’s because I’m a woman, or brown, or both. That’s how discrimination feels. Subtle, constant, undermining.”

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A 2019 study found that women are less likely to receive valuable research grants if their applications are reviewed based on who the lead scientist is, rather than what the proposed project is. It further found that in the field of public health, men were twice as likely to win foundation grants than women, despite the fact that women applicants outnumbered them. So when you are equally qualified, show equal potential, what could be the reason for this preference given to men? Could it be the lack of trust? The fact that most people still fail to see beyond a person’s gender, when assessing their potential?

You may want to ask at this point, is there such a thing as gender bias in trust at the workplace. Yes, there is. Yet another study titled Trust in the Workplace: Factors Affecting Trust Formation Between Team Members, found that male respondents indicated low initial trust levels for a new female employee on the team and higher initial trust levels for a new male employee on the team. There were no such effects among female respondents, on the other hand.

The presence of more women in higher positions and boardrooms will motivate women to keep pursuing their dreams and will normalise the presence of women in all walks.

This lack of trust could keep employers from handing over crucial tasks to their female employees, and male colleagues from seeing women as their equals. This also means that women have to work harder to prove their potential and gain trust, than any average male employee at their workplace. Imagine how exhausting it must be for women to repeat the process of gaining trust with every promotion they get, or every job switch that they make. Could this be the reason why many women accept the paychecks and positions they are offered, because they simply do not have the bandwidth to prove their mettle to doubtful higher-ups again and again? How is this not unfair?

The reason for this lack of trust in women’s capabilities is the stigma that people carry from their homes to their workplace. A lot of us still grow up seeing fathers head off to work, while moms manage the household. The strong association of the term “bread-winner” with men keeps them from seeing women as capable and hardworking employees. Also, there is always a lingering doubt that women will prioritise family over official duties, if it comes to making that choice. These stigmas deter employers from investing wholeheartedly on women employees.

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However, this mindset needs to change. First, no woman should have to work harder to prove that she is as talented and worthy as her male counterpart. Similarly, she shouldn’t have to choose between running a household or having a successful career. Second, aspect is visibility. It is important for workplaces to not just embrace a bias-free work-culture but also make conscious choices to ensure equality at the workplace. The presence of more women in higher positions and boardrooms will motivate women to keep pursuing their dreams and will normalise the presence of women in all walks of life.

A bias-free society seems like an oasis that women are chasing; always within our grasp and yet a bit farther than we thought it to be. However, we owe it to the women who have broken numerous glass ceilings for us to be able to set foot in workplaces and earn economic independence, and the future generation of girls that’ll look at us for inspiration, to keep pushing through.

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.