Unconscious Bias – Women in Leadership

 Unconscious Bias – Women in Leadership

Firstly, what is Unconscious Bias?

Essentially unconscious bias is a ‘natural programming’ we humans have. It means that we seek out people who are like us in some way – whether that is in looks, in ou women in leadership r behaviours, in our interests, hobbies, in our culture. Having a bias affects the way we behave, who we interact with, who gets our attention, who we influence and how we make decisions. The difficulty with unconscious bias is that it is an unconscious process – i.e. we are not aware of this filter on our assessments and decision making.

It’s not just women that are affected by unconscious bias. It may involve age, race, religion, sexuality, etc. But let’s focus here on how unconscious bias affects women.

Unconscious Bias and the Famous Orchestra Experiment

Until recently, orchestras were typically all male. Back in 2000 there was a famous research into unconscious bias in the selection of players for symphony orchestras. Harvard economist Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse from Princetown, found very interesting findings. Musicians were allowed to audition behind screens, (i.e. blind audition). This meant that their gender could not influence the evaluation of their performance. Astoundingly, women’s chances of making it through the first round increased by 50 percent – and in the final rounds by 300 percent.

Gender Stereotyping

Unconscious bias particularly plays out in the recruitment of candidates for a role. It is far less risky to recruit someone ‘like us’ than to take a risk. With so few women in the boardroom to compare, it’s no surprise that men may “unconsciously” choose to select someone like them.

Ask anyone what they look for in a leader and some of the most common answers include:


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