5 Easy Steps to Remove Bias Against Women

  1. 1. Recognise that nothing will change before you do

I’m the male head teacher of a large co-ed school and I am missing out on something important – the female perspective. What’s more, it’s my fault! I’m prejudiced! As a father to two daughters entering the workforce, I see the obstacles put in their way by people like me. However, I want women to be fully represented in the leadership of the school because it will make us a better organisation for all concerned. So, I will be the champion for gender equality not just in theory but also in practice. Without a champion, good intentions shrivel and die.

  1. 2. Change your language and that others

I have come to realise that I, and people like me, are the problem because of way I see the world. So I have set about changing the way I lead and how I encourage women into leadership. Critically, this means changing the language I use and stepping back from directing to coaching because the former might get the job done, but the latter builds capacity and confidence. This is the key ingredient for many women (and some men) to help to envisage the possibilities.

  1. 3. Don’t be afraid of positive action to get things going

We all need role models to help us imagine the possible. And we have had a breakthrough. When recently advertising for a senior role we added a single, yet critical, line to the advert encouraging women to apply and looked carefully at the gender bias of the language used in the job description. The result?  All finalists for interview were highly capable, with 4 out of 5 being women. This is a complete reversal of previous appointment stats. The line we added was obvious yet so powerful “…we would particularly welcome applications from women” – all perfectly legal providing you have a good business case and do not select on the basis on gender.

  1. 4. Add oestrogen and drain away the testosterone

We also changed the job spec from “give whatever time is necessary to the position including during school holidays” to “a balanced lifestyle is a key component of the job but due to the nature of the position some holiday, weekend and evening working may be required”. Recognising that the language you use drives the emotional reaction applicants have to a role is vitally important, as it’s the way people feel that determines their behaviour; in this case, whether to apply or not.

  1. 5. Use your colleagues and spread the word

Finally and in the same way, I asked a woman colleague to strike through any traditionally masculine adjectives in the person specification that might deter women from applying. Out went words such as decisive, independent, powerful, competitive and in came words such as committed, supportive and dependable – in order to make up a more attractive balance. None of these are exclusively male or female descriptors so it’s the balance that’s important and, of course, remembering the emotional response their illicit in the reader.

View comments (1)
Lesley Dolben
13 Jun 2018 / 09:06

Insightful as ever Mike! Thank you.
I was particularly interested to read about the manipulation of language to appeal to a non gender-specific recruitment strategy and am convinced that there is much to be explored here.
That women, seeking a move into leadership, have felt the need to fuel up their testosterone in order to project as 'decisive, independent and powerful' and thus gain promotion has not been my experience! I know a huge number of influential females who have a portfolio of character traits including the 'dependable' softened edges :) and happily I have concluded that EQ is not entirely tied up in Oestrogen as my committed , supportive and dependable male colleagues will attest.

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