Confronting gender bias

We all need to start this conversation (especially men) because gender bias is a real problem that is very difficult to discuss and understand its conscious and unconscious expressions. Very few people understand it, have any idea how to confront it or make changes to improve it. In this episode, we will look at why this is a real problem, what a realistic outcome would be, the nine different types of bias, and what we can do about it.

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I’ve been thinking about and working on this show for a long time. Its honestly why there has been such a gap between the last show and this one because I have been writing and re-writing this show over and over again. There aren’t many topics I find intimidating but this is one of them and I’ll be candid that doing this show scares me. But in doing this podcast I’ve tried to take on a number of things that I think we don’t want or like to talk about. Often through exploring tough subjects I think we grow the most. This is another one of those topics and I feel like since I have this platform that if I don’t try and talk about it then I am part of the problem. Today I want to talk about gender bias.

There are a million reasons why a white, male, executive usually runs screaming from a topic like this. But I also want to be clear that I am talking about gender bias – not discrimination or harassment. There is nothing to discuss there because those actions are wrong – period. What made me want to talk about this was a very brave woman asked a questions after one of my sessions at MAX his past year. Several people came up to me afterwards to say thank you for what I’ve said and I’ve gotten more comments and emails about that question than the talk itself. The reality is that I have a platform and if I don’t use it to talk about the real problems then I’m letting you and most importantly me down by taking the easy road.

This is a real problem

Bias is real in how few women when they are in a leadership position, how they are paid, and how they are treated in general. Research shows that men don’t see this bias and that makes sense because it doesn’t effect us. It is something I only became aware of when I was at Starwood. My leadership team was majority female for about half my time there and completely female for the other half of my time. I slowly became aware of the fact that these women and I thought alike and we saw things alike 99% of the time – especially my head of design. Yet when she would give feedback it would be heard and actioned very differently than when I would say the exact same thing.

It opened my eyes and made me start to look for things that I glazed over before. I also need to point out that the woman who was my head of design was one of the most creative people I know and the best creative partner I’ve ever had as we worked together for nearly 9 years. She continues to be an inspiration to me. I spoke with her and a few other amazingly creative women I know in writing this episode because I see the problem but haven’t experienced it first hand. She talked about how some characteristics are celebrated in men but not for women. She talked about how she needs to think about how she dresses and image that conveys – so you don’t come off too sexy or feminine.

What should the outcome be?

What should people expect to out of this episode and what do we think a reasonable outcome should be? I guarantee you that if you want to find something wrong with this episode, if you want to make me a bad guy or pick on me making the wrong word choice then there will be plenty of ways to do it. I get emails after all my sessions and podcasts pointing out my flaws and mistakes of my biases. Let’s get that out of the way and say they will definitely be there. I am not perfect and I don’t have all the answers. Perfect is a goal but an impossible standard.

No one is perfect. No one will ever act perfectly. I hope that the standard we can walk away from this with is a way to start having these conversations and start to find ways to make things better. I think society rushes to celebrate and our differences so quickly that in many cases it crushes the ability to see another perspective or even have a conversation about our problems. I have talked before about how change happens from a lot of little things that add up to something big and I think that applies here as well.


There are two type of bias – conscious and unconscious bias. Conscious bias is just that it sounds like – it is a decision and a behavior you are actively aware of. Most decent people like to think they’re unbiased in their dealings with other people, especially in the workplace. But this is rarely the case, despite our best intentions, because most of our biases are unconscious. Good and ethical behavior is not, then, as easy as it may appear. Consciously wanting to and believing that you’re acting ethically is not enough. You have to actively manage your unconscious bias by remaining vigilant about the ways in which your decision making is compromised by forces that may be beyond your control.

9 types of bias’

In researching this show I have found 9 different flavor of unconscious bias

Conformity Bias
Based on a famous study that’s been around for decades, conformity bias relates to bias caused by group peer pressure.

Beauty Bias
This is the view that we tend to think that the most handsome individual will be the most successful. But this can also play out in terms of other physical attributes a person may have.

Affinity Bias
This plays out a lot in terms of recruitment! Affinity bias occurs when we see someone we feel we have an affinity with e.g. we attended the same college, we grew up in the same town, or they remind us of someone we know and like.

Halo Effect
Halo is when we see one great thing about a person and we let the halo glow of that significant thing affect our opinions of everything else about that person. We are in awe of them due to one thing.

Horns Effect
The Horns effect is the direct opposite of the Halo effect. The Horns effect is when we see one bad thing about a person and we let it cloud our opinions of their other attributes.

Similarity Bias
Naturally, we want to surround ourselves with people we feel are similar to us. And as a result, we tend to want to work more with people who are like us.

Contrast Effect
We judge whether or not the person in front of us did as well as the person that came before them. When really, the only thing we should be comparing are the skills and attributes each individual has, to the skills and attributes required for the job, not those of the person that came directly before them.

Attribution Bias
When we do something well we tend to think it’s down to our own merit and personality. When we do something badly we tend to believe that our failing is down to external factors like other people that adversely affected us and prevented us from doing our best. When it comes to other people, we tend to think the opposite. If someone else has done something well we consider them lucky, and if they’ve done something badly we tend to think it’s due to their personality or bad behavior.

Confirmation Bias
When we make a judgement about another person, we subconsciously look for evidence to back up our own opinions of that person. We do this because we want to believe we’re right and that we’ve made the right assessment of a person.

What can we do about it?

I do want to make a point here because I think it might be easy to think that this is unconscious so there is nothing I can do about it. If you know me or have listened to this show you know I would never say that you don’t bear the responsibility to change and make things better.

Don’t treat women like a damsel in distress
They are strong enough to solve their own problems. Don’t feel like you have to ride in and save them.

Hold people accountable for biased behavior and words
Instead of saying the same thing again, ask why people treat others differently and why they think that their opinion isn’t valid.

Calibrate your team to a universal standard based on their work
Take gender out of any work discussions. Set standards for your team as a calibration for how they will be rated and how they will advance. Then look at their work against those standards without gender, personality, etc.

Think about the words you use
Bias can express itself in everyday language so watch and think about the words you use when talking to people.

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