Leaders: Do they have gender biases?

08 2017 March
Executive Education INCAE

Although women today are educated and hired on similar terms to men, they are less likely to rise to the top of the companies they work for. Leadership groups (especially in Latin America) are dominated by men.

Even the best-trained woman in the world, like those emerging from global business schools, are not protected from the leadership barriers women face. In the ten years after graduating, the data shows that not only have they failed to rise to the top like the men they graduated with, nearly half of them have stopped working full time altogether.

This is a big problem for companies. A large and growing body of data indicates a link between gender diversity in leadership and company performance. To survive in an increasingly global and difficult environment, an environment where talent continues to be a scary resource, Latin American companies need to overcome the barriers that half of their potential leaders face.

The mission in INCAE Business School it is preparing future leaders for the business and social changes they will face. This is precisely why we do a mandatory gender diversity course for all MBAS.

Although I am honored to teach this class, it is not an easy task. To get started, our future leaders don't think barriers exist.

To paraphrase the students: "We are a new generation, more progressive and open-minded." "Yes, women faced barriers in the past, but not today."

Usually, students base their beliefs on poignant anecdotes: “My dad taught me that as a child I could do whatever I wanted”; “When I was a child I played with both legos and dolls, I played house and soccer. I never saw barriers in doing what I wanted.

5 years ago when the course was first implemented, I was tempted to believe in my students. Maybe it really was a new, equitable and oriented generation! Today, the battle put to the test, I am ready to challenge you: “You and your partner work for the same company, at the same level. They are both equally qualified for a promotion. Only one of you will get it. Should the promotion be given to women or men?

Last month, I decided to ask Juan, he is in the top 10 of the class, and he is dating a woman who is also in the top 10. Before he responded, there was a long pause in which he saw up and down to your computer monitor. "Just tell the truth!" Someone yelled from behind.

His response, when he finally arrived, was in a low voice, but the acoustics of the class were enough to hear him: "I think it should be for me."

The class applauded, clearly supporting his honesty. Also unaware of the main point he was making.

But if you all agreed that our female MBAs do not face professional barriers compared to men. So how is it possible that after a simple question, everyone is so sure that the promotion should be given to the man? ”I asked.

While he was taking on a dark pink hue, a deathly silence fell over the class, his girlfriend spoke: She was angry, probably with me.

"I agree with Juan, it should be him." But not because of any gender barrier, but because it is normal. If I take the promotion, our relationship will be difficult, it will be complicated, right? If I'm that good, there will be another promotion opportunity for me, what's the problem with waiting?

As always, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. What I am witnessing in real time is an example of the main barrier that prevents women from advancing. Unconscious gender biases.

According to the 2016 Harvard Global Online Study, designed to highlight unconscious behavior that we do not realize we are exhibiting (and thus cause us to reinforce gender stereotypes and biases), 76% of more than 200 thousand participants were found to have gender biases. They may say that men and women are the same, but their unconscious behaviors indicate that they think that men are better suited for careers and women are better as homemakers.

Are you gender biased? Consider the following scenario: A boy and his father are involved in a car accident. The father dies, but the child is taken to the hospital for surgery. Upon seeing him, the person who performs the surgery says: "I cannot operate on this child, because he is my son."

What gender did you imagine the person who was going to perform the surgery? If you assumed it was a man, you are in the majority. This is not a conscious attempt to evaluate men and women differently. It is because you are part of 76% of the world conditioned to associate certain roles with men.

As long as our new generation of leaders fail to recognize that gender biases exist, and continue to subvert leadership opportunities for men, companies and societies, they will fail to reach their full competitive potential.

Column published in the Costa Rican newspaper The Republic. Susan Clancy is recognized as a thought leader on the issue of the importance of gender diversity and female leadership. 


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