Recognizing and Questioning Unconscious Gender Bias


Every day we make decisions that are unconsciously biased. This means that you don’t realize the moment you make the decision that you are being biased. The decision can be a reflection of multiple reasons or situations which may or may not be your fault.

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By definition, unconscious bias is the term used to define the concept that individuals have preferences for objects and people at a subconscious level that unintentionally influence their behavior and decision making

According to the Harvard Business Review, “Most of us believe that we are ethical and unbiased. We imagine we’re good decision makers, able to objectively size up a job candidate or a venture deal and reach a fair and rational conclusion that’s in our, and our organization’s, best interests. But more than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.”

Why does it happen?

It’s natural. As humans, we tend to make decisions based on the given knowledge about a subject. That knowledge comes from the people we meet, the books we read, the places we visit, the events we attend and many other situations and scenarios. All these events create a set of information in our brain for the purpose to create certain opinions and make decisions. Most of the times,  our brain creates shortcuts and uses past knowledge to make assumptions. This is when you start forming opinions which are biased towards one race, one ethnicity, one cast or one “gender”.

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Realizing unconscious gender bias to question it

While this applies to both genders in our society bias towards women and their ability to perform a certain job is alarming. Most of the advocates of gender equality do not realize the unconscious gender bias they have towards women because even before you question your bias, the first step is to come to this realization that you have one. When we become aware of our biases and watch out for them, they are less likely to blindly dictate our decisions.

A study through the Clayman Institute of Gender Studies concluded that the total of women musicians in orchestras went up from 5% to 25% since the 1970s–a shift that happened when judges began auditioning musicians behind screens so that they could not see them.

Some superficial biases we need to debunk right now

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Your unconscious belief system leads you to think in a certain way, that after some time, seems correct to you. Unconscious gender bias makes you ignore the ability of one person and start hindering it with the pre-conceived notions that society fed you. Some of these superficial biases that I’ve observed include:

  • Women can’t do business because of their personal commitments.

  • Women let their business and clients suffer because of their emotions.

  • Women’s emotions dictate their decision-making ability.

  • Women are bad with numbers, hence they can’t project the ROI of an investment.

  • Women entrepreneurs tend to avoid the technical aspect of the business.

  • Women will leave their professional careers when they get married or have a child.

Challenging the unconscious bias so it doesn’t affect your decision

Getting rid of the unconscious bias is not cookie-cutting in real life. After realizing that you may be making unconsciously biased decisions, the next step is to challenge it and start questioning it. In the same way as questioning others, you can question your own unconscious assumptions and biases as well.

Whenever you notice yourself making an assumption without the evidence to support it, remember to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is this true?

  2. Is it always true?

  3. What evidence do I have?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, reconsider your thought and trace this assumption or association to challenge it for future.

Gender parity and unbiased inclusion for the better world

At Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, we envision a diverse and inclusive world for all. We also believe that it’s high time we all start questioning our gender bias and walk towards a future that is free of gender discrimination because when you bring diversity and inclusion to the table, it benefits all.

While programs at Miller Center equip both men and women with tools and practices that help them become successful social entrepreneurs, we support more social enterprises’ focus on women and girls as customers and beneficiaries. Why? Because we reckon that conversation-led-actions around gender-bias should be started by stakeholders and conveners like us and this is why we also put our trust on women economic empowerment for a sustainable future. Our new affinity group of women-led social enterprises in our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) online accelerator program is  one step toward the same direction. Applications for our 2019 GSBIⓇ programs are being accepted through November 2, 2018, and we encourage women-led social enterprises to take a step forward and apply.

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