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An activity to help uncover and combat bias, created by

Instructions

Below is a high level overview of what you'll do to moderate the activity. You can also find more detailed notes in the Moderator Guide.

  1. Set the tone. Read a few reminders to the group to encourage open and respectful conversations.

  2. Introduce the Bias Types. Watch the overview video or choose a participant to read the definition of each bias aloud to the group.

  3. Choose a set. Each set takes roughly 1-2 hours to complete and includes 12-13 different examples of gender bias in the workplace.

  4. Warm up the room. Set the stage by posing the “Did you know?” icebreaker questions for the group to answer.

  5. Read situations & solutions. Participants take turns reading a situation to the group, discussing solutions together, and reading the research-backed recommendations for what to do.

  6. Facilitate the closing activity. Participants commit to one action they can take to address gender bias in their workplace.

Next: How it Works

How it works

Today's activity will help people recognize and combat gender bias at work. It is divided into four parts:

1

Learn about gender bias

2

Set the stage with a few icebreakers

3

Dive into specific situations and solutions

4

Finish with a closing activity

Next: reminders

A few reminders

This activity is meant to encourage open and respectful conversations. Please keep the following in mind:

Bias isn't limited to gender

Women can also experience biases because of their race, sexuality, religion, and other aspects of their identity—and the compounding discrimination can be significantly greater than the sum of its parts. This concept is called intersectionality, and it applies to men, too.

Give people the benefit of the doubt

Remember that everyone is here to learn and do better—and an open and honest exchange is part of that process.

We all fall into bias traps

People of all genders can consciously or unconsciously make biased comments or behave in other ways that disadvantage women.

Knowing that bias exists isn't enough

We all need to look for it and take steps to counteract it. That's why these cards outline specific examples of gender bias with clear recommendations for what you can do.

Stories should be anonymous

When sharing stories about seeing or experiencing bias, don't use people's names.

Next: Bias Overview

Overview of gender bias

This activity covers the five most common types of bias women face and addresses the concept of intersectionality—how women can experience multiple biases due to other aspects of their identity. Watch the overview video or click the tiles below to read the definitions.

An introduction to gender bias (12 minutes) Play the video

Choose a set

Choose a set

The 50 specific examples cover five common workplace scenarios where bias can appear: hiring, meeting dynamics, everyday interactions, mentorship & sponsorship, and reviews & promotions. They have been mixed and divided into sets of 12-13 situations.

Pick a set to get started.

Or

Create your own! Choose from any 50 bias cards to create a custom set which you can share among your group.

Get Started

Custom Set

Choose your icebreakers

Start creating your set by choosing 3-5 icebreakers. These icebreakers challenge the group to guess the findings of some of the most surprising research on gender bias in the workplace.

Choose your cards

Create your set by selecting various cards from the 50 ways deck. Create your set by selecting situation cards from the 50 Ways to Fight Bias card deck. Use the filters below to view cards within a specific category.

Order your deck of cards

From the cards you’ve selected, click and drag them into the order you would like to present. We recommended that you start with situations that are more comfortable for your audience to discuss, followed by those that may be more difficult. Icebreakers always come before Bias cards.

Icebreaker cards

Bias Cards

Sorry, CYOA is not supported on small screens.

Go back to Set selection
Icebreaker 1/3 : Did you know?

In a study of performance reviews, what % of women received negative feedback on their personal style such as “You can sometimes be abrasive”? And what % of men received that same type of feedback?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

66% of women and 1% of men.49

Icebreaker 2/3 : Did you know?

How much more likely are women than men to plan on leaving the workforce to focus on family?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Actually, there is virtually no difference. Women and men plan on leaving to focus on family at similarly low rates (2% or less).166

Icebreaker 3/3 : Did you know?

When 1 in 10 senior leaders at their company is a woman, what % of men and what % of women think women are well represented in leadership?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

45% of men and 28% of women.167

Situation 1/13 : Meeting dynamics

A woman suggests an idea in a meeting and it falls flat. A few minutes later, a man suggests the same idea and gets an enthusiastic reaction.

Why it matters

Getting credit for ideas is important—it’s often how employees get noticed. When people don’t feel heard, they may also stop speaking up and sharing their views. Over time, if their contributions go unseen, it can slow their advancement.61 In both cases, companies end up missing out.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

You can remind everyone that the idea originated with your woman colleague: “I think [Name] made that point a few moments ago. I like this direction.” Advocating for women coworkers in this way can help them get noticed for their contributions—and it can also position you as a leader.

Why it happens

Because we tend to underestimate women’s performance and overestimate men’s, we often don’t give women as much credit for their ideas. This can play out in meetings. The team doesn’t “hear” an idea when a woman raises it, but when a man says the same thing, they pay attention.62

Rooted in: Attribution bias

Situation 2/13 : Hiring

After an interview, a colleague says they didn’t like how a woman candidate bragged about her strengths and accomplishments.

Why it matters

In general, candidates who are well liked are more likely to be hired—so when women are seen as less likeable, they’re often less likely to get the job.53 And companies that fail to hire talented women miss out on their contributions and leadership.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Ask your colleague to explore their thinking: “That’s interesting. Do you think you’d have that reaction if a man did the same thing?” You can also reframe what happened: “I noticed that too, but I don’t see it as bragging. I just thought she was talking confidently about her talents.” It’s also worth pointing out that a job interview is exactly the place to talk about your strengths.

Why it happens

We expect men to assert themselves and promote their own accomplishments. But we often have a negative reaction when women do the same thing.54 This puts women candidates in a difficult spot. If they tout their achievements, it can hurt their chances of being hired. If they don’t, their achievements might be overlooked.

Rooted in: Likeability bias

Situation 3/13 : Everyday interactions

Someone suggests that a woman on your team be given a big, high-profile project, and a colleague says, “I don’t think this is a good time for her since she just had a baby.”

Why it matters

Your company likely wants to retain and promote talented women. Sidelining them—even with good intentions—works against that goal by denying them opportunities that can lead to advancement.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Remind your colleague that this could be a career-changing project for whoever gets it, so it’s better to let the new mom decide for herself whether or not she wants to take it on.

Why it happens

Motherhood triggers assumptions that women are less competent and less committed to their careers. As a result, they are held to higher standards and presented with fewer opportunities. Studies show that the “maternal wall” women face when they have kids is the strongest gender bias.55

Rooted in: Maternal bias

Situation 4/13 : Meeting dynamics

In a meeting, a woman strongly disagrees with a man about how to approach a problem. He says, “We can’t talk about this anymore. She’s getting too emotional.”

Why it matters

In a healthy workplace, debates happen all the time—and often result in better ideas, clearer strategies, and stronger teams. Shutting down debate can be counterproductive to your company’s goals. Plus, being tagged as overly emotional can diminish a woman’s standing at work—and send a message to other women that they shouldn’t speak freely.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Speak up. You can say something to support the woman’s point of view: “I think [Name] is making a good point. We should consider it.” You can also push back on the “too emotional” comment directly: “She doesn’t seem too emotional to me. Let’s keep talking.”

Or you can help your team get back to basics: “We’re all just trying to come up with the best approach. Let’s continue this conversation so we can land on the right solution together.”

Why it happens

Women tend to be stereotyped as overly emotional, while men tend to be viewed as rational—and therefore more professional and better suited to lead.56 This dynamic can lead people to see a woman with an opinion—especially if she expresses it with conviction—as being overly emotional, while the same view voiced by a man is considered reasonable.57

Situation 5/13 : Everyday interactions

A coworker confides in you, “I honestly just find it easier to work with men.”

Why it matters

Your colleague’s preference for working with men could lead them—consciously or unconsciously—to overlook talented women. When this happens, women can miss career opportunities, and your coworker can miss the chance to work with women from whom they might learn something.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

A comment like this may signal that your coworker thinks women are less talented or less likeable than men. You can ask, “What makes you say that?” When people are asked to explain themselves, it sometimes leads them to rethink their position. You can also explain why it happens—it can be eye-opening to understand how bias works—or share your own perspective: “I’ve had great experiences working with women.” Even if you can’t convince them to think differently, you can push back on their point of view.

Why it happens

Your colleague may say this because of performance bias, which can lead them to incorrectly assume that men are more competent than women.58 Likeability bias can lead them to feel that competent women are less likeable and therefore harder to work with.59 And if your colleague is a man, his comment may be rooted in affinity bias—he may prefer to work with people like himself.60

Situation 6/13 : Everyday interactions

A colleague says they’re glad to see so many women in leadership at your company. In reality, only 2 out of 15 senior leaders are women.

Why it matters

If people think that women are well represented in leadership when in reality they’re not, they’re less likely to do anything to fix the problem—they simply don’t see it. That’s a loss for your company: when companies have more women in leadership, they tend to have more employee-friendly policies and produce better business results.50

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Point out the numbers, which speak for themselves. You can say, “It’s great that we have those two women on the leadership team, but they’re only two out of fifteen. Women are half the population, so women are still really underrepresented.” You can also share that having more women in leadership can be good for a company’s bottom line.51

Why it happens

When it comes to women in leadership, people tend to be too satisfied with the status quo: 45% of men and 28% of women think women are well represented when only 1 in 10 senior leaders at their company is a woman.52 These low expectations are the result of generations of inequality. When there used to be no women senior leaders, seeing just one or two can feel like a huge step forward. It’s hard to imagine a groundswell for change when we don’t have higher expectations for what equality looks like.

Situation 7/13 : Reviews and promotions

You’re on a review committee and several members argue against a woman’s promotion because she is not “seen as a leader,” even though her team delivers outstanding results.

Why it matters

The review committee may be making incorrect—and unfair—assumptions about the woman’s abilities. Additionally, if the review committee uses a narrow definition of leadership, they may unfairly exclude a lot of people, like this woman.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Point out that the woman’s team delivers superb results, and suggest that their performance speaks to her leadership. You can also ask them to explain the attributes she lacks. When people are asked to justify their thinking, it can help reduce bias in decision-making.63

As a longer-term solution, suggest creating detailed metrics for performance reviews, including clear expectations for leaders. This way, all employees will be evaluated based on a more complete definition of good leadership and using the same standards, which reduces bias in the review process.64

Why it happens

Both women and men more readily associate men with leadership.65 This bias is so strong that when women work on teams, their contributions are often attributed to the team as a whole. In contrast, when men work on teams, they are more likely to be seen as taking a leadership role.66

Situation 8/13 : Everyday interactions

You’re talking to a woman of color on your team. A coworker from another team joins you and assumes she is much more junior than she really is.

Why it matters

This happens to women more than men—and to women of color most of all.67 Being mistaken for a more junior employee can feel disrespectful, even humiliating. Over time, the bad feelings from slights like this can add up and leave employees feeling unhappy and more likely to leave their job.68

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Correct the record by stating the woman’s actual title. If it feels right, add some context that highlights her contributions to your company—for example, “She’s running point on our largest initiative this quarter” or “She’s our COO’s right-hand person.”

Longer term, consider recommending that the company implement bias training, which can help people avoid assumptions like this one.69

Why it happens

Research shows that we strongly associate men with leadership—but not always women.70 Women are twice as likely as men to be mistaken for someone much more junior—and women of color are the most likely to experience this.71

Situation 9/13 : Mentorship and sponsorship

You decide to mentor someone because they remind you of yourself.

Why it matters

Good mentors can make a big difference. Employees with mentors are more likely to get raises and promotions.72 But because managers and senior leaders are more likely to be white men, and because people tend to gravitate toward mentoring others like themselves, women and people of color often miss out on that support.73 That also means your company could miss out on fostering talented employees.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Be aware of this dynamic and let it inform your choices. If you’re a white man, you’re more likely to be in a position of authority someday.74 You can make the workplace fairer by being thoughtful about whom you mentor. Consider proactively reaching out to mentor someone from a different background. If you’re a woman or a person of color, you might decide instead to mentor someone like yourself—especially if you remember struggling to find mentors when you were coming up through the ranks. In your case, mentoring people like yourself supports diversity and inclusion.

Why it happens

Because of this bias, we tend to prefer the company of others who are like us.75 This can lead us to invest more in people who remind us of ourselves, perhaps because we assume these relationships will feel more comfortable.76

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 10/13 : Hiring

You’re on a hiring committee and you notice that your colleagues prefer candidates who are men over women with very similar experience.

Why it matters

This could be a sign of bias in your hiring process—and may unfairly disadvantage women. When qualified women are overlooked, your company misses out on their talents and on the chance to build more diverse teams.

LeanIn.Org thanks the Stanford Women’s Leadership Lab for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Mention to the hiring committee that you’ve noticed they tend to select men over women with similar abilities. You can also explain why it happens. Then suggest a solution. Research shows that when teams agree on a set of clear criteria and use it consistently for all candidates, the hiring process is fairer and the most qualified women and men can rise to the top.77

Why it happens

We tend to rate women lower than men, even if they have similar qualifications.78 This can make a real difference in hiring. In one study, replacing a woman’s name with a man’s name on a résumé increased the likelihood of being hired by more than 60%.79

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 11/13 : Everyday interactions

Someone complains to you that a new dad on the team is taking too much of his allotted family leave.

Why it matters

All workers—men too!—should be able to spend time with their families, whether that’s to bond with new babies, care for sick kids, or be there for aging parents. When workplaces have generous family leave policies, employees are happier, more productive, and more likely to stay on staff.80 Plus, when men don’t use their leave, it makes it harder for women to use theirs without judgment.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Stand up for your colleague on leave. Point out why it matters—how family leave is good for workers, families, and companies.81 More importantly, remind them that no one should be forced to choose between being a good employee and a good parent.

Why it happens

Working fathers can face pushback for spending time with their kids. They tend to receive lower performance ratings and experience steeper reductions in future earnings than mothers who take the same amount of leave.82 Much like maternal bias, this pushback is rooted in gender stereotypes. Moms are expected to be more committed to family and less to their careers.83 But the reverse is true for fathers, and when they go against that expectation by prioritizing family, they are penalized.84

Situation 12/13 : Reviews and promotions

You’re on a team doing performance reviews and notice that a lot of women get feedback on their speaking style.

Why it matters

Criticisms like this can prevent qualified women from advancing, which hurts both them and your company.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

When you notice this pattern, point it out. Explain this is a common bias against women and why it happens. Suggest that the group focus on the substance of what people say, not their speaking style.

Longer term, recommend that your company use standardized criteria for performance reviews, which will reduce subjective opinions. Consider recommending unconscious bias training for employees involved in the review process. When people understand how bias impacts their decision-making, they are able to make more objective decisions.

Why it happens

Studies show that women often get negative feedback on their speaking style, while men do not.85 If women are confident and assertive, they can be criticized for speaking too loudly or often. But if they are quieter, they are more likely to be told that they need to speak more confidently and assertively.86

Rooted in: Likeability bias

Situation 13/13 : Everyday interactions

A coworker asks, “Who’s the new girl?”

Why it matters

Calling an adult woman a girl in a professional context can make her seem junior and inexperienced—and implies that she doesn’t need to be taken seriously. Comments like this are disrespectful to women.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

You can reply, “The new woman we’ve hired is …” That might be enough to make your colleague rethink their language. Or be more direct: “I’m sure it wasn’t your goal, but calling her a girl can undermine her standing here at work.”

Why it happens

People tend to think that women are less competent than men, which leads them to take women less seriously—and to assume they have lower status and less power. That can make it seem acceptable to refer to a woman as a girl, when they would not call a man a boy.

Rooted in: Performance bias

Closing activity

Today you’ve heard about a lot of different actions you can take to fight bias in your workplace. Now it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice.

  • Think of one thing you’re going to do when you see bias at work—or one thing that you’ve learned that you’re going to share with others.
  • Write it down. This is your “one action.”
  • Taking turns, go around the group and share your one action.
Icebreaker 1/3 : Did you know?

When a woman’s name was replaced with a man’s name on a résumé, how much more likely were evaluators to say they would hire the applicant?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Over 60% more likely.89

Icebreaker 2/3 : Did you know?

In a study of performance reviews, men who stayed late to help prepare for a meeting got a 14% increase in their rating. What increase did the women get when they stayed late to help?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

No increase at all. Research shows that when men help out with office tasks they are rewarded, while women are not. Conversely, women are penalized if they refuse.48

Icebreaker 3/3 : Did you know?

What % of Black women have never had an informal interaction with a senior leader at their company?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Situation 1/12 : Hiring

You’re on a hiring committee and a colleague rules out a woman of color because she’s “not a good cultural fit.”

Why it matters

Evaluations of “culture fit” tend to be subjective. They can lead us to screen out people who aren’t like us, which means we can miss qualified candidates and end up with less diverse teams. Plus, it can mean that talented job seekers lose out on opportunities.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

When someone rules out a candidate because of fit, ask them to be more specific. If their thinking boils down to “she’s different,” point out that different can be good. Propose that you look for someone who adds to the team dynamic—a “culture add”—instead of someone who simply fits into it.

As a longer-term solution, ask that a set of standardized criteria be used for all hires. This reduces bias by minimizing subjective evaluations.92

Why it happens

We tend to gravitate toward—and hire—people who remind us of ourselves, which can impact our ability to objectively evaluate who would bring the most to the job.93

Situation 2/12 : Everyday interactions

Your team is led by a woman, but a colleague from another department assumes that a man on your team is the leader.

Why it matters

When this happens, it reinforces the idea that women aren’t leaders. It can also undermine your team leader and her standing in the group.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Jump into the conversation to correct the record: “[Name] is our team lead.” You can also say something that underscores her leadership abilities or accomplishments—for example, “She heads all our biggest sales efforts.”

Why it happens

People tend to assume men are more senior than the women around them.94 This is in part because we unconsciously associate men with leadership more strongly than we do women.95 It’s also because in many companies, men outnumber women in leadership positions, so this view becomes the norm.96

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 3/12 : Reviews and promotions

You’re in a meeting to discuss performance reviews and notice that men are described as “strategic” and “visionary,” while women are “hard workers” or “good team players.”

Why it matters

How we describe people matters—and can unfairly influence performance reviews.97 In this situation, it’s not hard to imagine men getting the inside track on promotions and raises.

LeanIn.Org thanks the Stanford Women’s Leadership Lab for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Point out the pattern and explain why it matters. You can also talk to HR about creating a broad checklist of leadership attributes with concrete examples of what they look like in practice. Expanding the definition of a good leader will help with inclusivity, and using a standardized checklist to evaluate candidates can help remove bias from the review process.98

Why it happens

Gender stereotypes influence the words we use. Even when women and men produce similar results, we often talk about them differently. We tend to use words associated with leadership like “driven,” “big thinker,” and “visionary” to describe men. In contrast, we often describe women with communal language like “team player,” “friendly,” and “committed,” not words that speak to skill or impact.99

Situation 4/12 : Meeting dynamics

A meeting is starting soon and you notice that it’s mostly men seated front and center and women seated to the side.

Why it matters

If women are sidelined in meetings, it’s less likely that they’ll speak up, which means the group won’t benefit from everyone’s best thinking. Plus, it’s not beneficial to sit in the low-status seats in the room—and women have to fight for status as it is.100

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

If there are empty chairs at the table, urge women sitting to the side to fill them. If there’s no room, acknowledge the problem—for example, ask if anyone else sees that it’s mostly men at the table. If it happens often, consider saying to the person who runs the meeting, “I’ve noticed that it’s mostly men at the table and women on the sidelines. Maybe you can encourage a better mix.”

Why it happens

Women typically get less time to speak in meetings. They’re more likely than men to be spoken over and interrupted.101 As a result of signals like these, women sometimes feel less valued, so they sit off to the side.

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 5/12 : Hiring

Your colleague advocates for a job candidate with no gap in her résumé over another with a gap from when she was a full-time mom.

Why it matters

Companies that look negatively on job applicants who take time off to raise kids risk missing out on qualified candidates—in particular, women. Mothers are more likely than fathers to take time off for childcare, and they face harsher career penalties when they do.102

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Push for the candidates to be evaluated on their skills and experience, without taking into account the time taken off for caregiving.

Longer term, recommend that your team use standardized hiring criteria and apply them consistently to all candidates. That can help ensure you judge everyone by the same yardstick.103

Why it happens

When a woman becomes a mother, it can make others think that she’s less committed to her career—even less competent.104 As a result, she is often held to higher standards and offered fewer opportunities.105 Seeing a gap in a woman’s résumé can trigger this maternal bias and hurt her chances of being hired.106

Rooted in: Maternal bias

Situation 6/12 : Everyday interactions

A colleague is talking about a woman who landed a big project. They say, “Wow, she got really lucky.”

Why it matters

Getting recognized for accomplishments can make a difference, especially when it comes to performance reviews and promotions.107 When achievements are attributed to luck rather than hard work or skill, it minimizes them.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Ask your colleague, “I’m curious—what makes you think it was luck?” This may prompt them to slow down and rethink their assumption. If your colleague responds in a way that suggests they doubt the woman’s abilities, you might want to press more and ask why they think she’s less competent. Is there a reason? Can they give an example? If not, that speaks for itself.

Why it happens

We tend to overestimate men’s performance and underestimate women’s.108 Because of this, we often attribute women’s successes to “getting lucky,” “having a good team,” or other explanations that diminish their achievements, while we accept men’s accomplishments as proof of their abilities.109

Rooted in: Attribution bias

Situation 7/12 : Mentorship and sponsorship

You realize that a colleague who is a man only mentors other men.

Why it matters

Mentorship can be critical to success.110 We all benefit when a colleague shows us the ropes or sponsors us for new opportunities—particularly when that colleague is more senior.111 If your coworker only mentors men, the women he works with are missing out on his advice and, potentially, on opportunities to advance. He is also missing out on their best thinking.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Talk to your colleague. Explain why mentoring is so valuable and share your observation that he only mentors men. Recommend he mentor at least one woman, and offer to help him identify a few promising candidates. If he confides he’s uncomfortable being alone with women, point out that there are plenty of public places to meet—and remind him that mentorship really matters.

Why it happens

We’re often drawn to people from similar backgrounds. The problem is that this can disadvantage people who aren’t like us—and this is especially true when we’re in positions of power.112 Additionally, some men are anxious about mentoring women for fear of seeming inappropriate. Almost half of men in management are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring or working alone together.113

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 8/12 : Everyday interactions

A colleague comments that a mom on your team is working late at the office when she should be home with her family.

Why it matters

All parents, regardless of their gender, should be able to manage their work and family responsibilities without judgment.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

You might push back on your colleague’s comment by saying something like, “I think it shows commitment to her job, just like when a father stays late.”

Why it happens

When women become mothers, we often assume they can’t be highly committed to both work and family.114 And when mothers do show that they’re highly committed at work, they’re often judged negatively for it, because of the strong cultural belief that moms should be home with their kids.115

Rooted in: Maternal bias

Situation 9/12 : Hiring

You’re asked to interview candidates for a role on your team and notice none are women.

Why it matters

Your company is likely missing out on talented candidates—and women are missing out on a chance to advance their careers. This is a widespread problem: fewer women than men are hired at the entry level, and at every subsequent step, the representation of women further declines.116

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Talk to the hiring manager. Point out that there aren’t any women being interviewed. Suggest an additional push to identify two or more viable women candidates.117

Longer term, recommend that your company start using diverse slates—that is, include at least two women and underrepresented minorities in each candidate pool. This has been shown to reduce bias in hiring.118

Why it happens

This may be happening because fewer women work in your field. But it may also reflect bias in your company’s hiring process, an area where all types of bias can come into play, from favoring people like yourself (affinity bias) to holding women to higher standards (performance bias).119

Situation 10/12 : Everyday interactions

You are in a staffing meeting, and a coworker recommends you put one woman on each team for better diversity.

Why it matters

One in five women report they are often the only woman or one of the only women in the room at work.120 These “Onlys” have a worse experience than other women. They are more likely to have their abilities challenged and be subjected to unprofessional remarks.121 This takes a toll: women who are Onlys are 1.5 times more likely to think about leaving their jobs than women who aren’t.122

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Applaud the spirit of the idea, but explain the downside of inadvertently isolating women on separate teams. Instead of adding one woman to many teams, recommend putting groups of a few women on teams together. If you’re in a position to do so, suggest that your company create opportunities for women Onlys to connect with other women, such as networking groups. Also, surface that this is a symptom of a larger problem: your company likely needs to hire more women.

Why it happens

When women are underrepresented in organizations—as they often are—they tend to be spread thinly across teams, which means they stand out. This can make the gender biases they face especially pronounced. With everyone’s eyes on them, they can often be heavily scrutinized and held to higher standards. As a result, they feel pressure to perform, on guard, and left out—and may be less likely to speak up and contribute fully.123

Situation 11/12 : Reviews and promotions

Your company announces its latest round of promotions. Nearly everyone moving up is a man.

Why it matters

This imbalance may signal bias in how your company evaluates employees for promotion—which means women may be missing out on valuable career opportunities and your company may be failing to get the strongest candidates into leadership positions. This is a widespread problem in corporate America: on average, women are promoted at lower rates than men.124

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

If you’re involved with reviews, seize the opportunity to make the process more fair. Suggest that your company set detailed review criteria up front and then stick to them.125 Consider using a rating scale (say, from 1 to 5) and ask reviewers to provide specific examples of what the employee did to earn each score.126 You can also suggest that your company set diversity targets for promotions, then track outcomes and monitor progress, which can also help move the numbers.127 If you’re not part of reviews, you can still make these suggestions to your manager.

Why it happens

Multiple forms of bias may contribute to a workplace in which fewer women are promoted. People tend to see women as less talented and competent than men, even when they’re equally capable.128 Because of this, women are less likely to get credit for successes and more likely to be blamed for failures.129

Situation 12/12 : Everyday interactions

You impulsively reach out and touch a coworker’s tattoo.

Why it matters

For some people, being touched isn’t a big deal. For others, it understandably is. Depending on the situation, it can feel anywhere from uncomfortable to violating. In some cases, it can even constitute harassment.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Say, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have touched you without asking” and commit to being more thoughtful moving forward. Never enter someone’s personal space without knowing they’re OK with it. Even if they say they are, be aware that they may feel pressure to agree, especially if you’re in a position of power. Ideally, your company also has guidelines for respectful behavior that you can use to inform your thinking.130 And when in doubt, keep your hands to yourself.

Why it happens

Sometimes, we touch people in celebration or friendship, like a high five or a quick hug. This can be perfectly fine, and even welcomed. But some touches suggest we see another person as a novelty—like when we touch a Black woman’s hair, a pregnant woman’s belly, or a disabled person’s wheelchair—and this is demeaning and disrespectful. Some touches are also sexual in nature, and that is never OK at work.

Closing activity

Today you’ve heard about a lot of different actions you can take to fight bias in your workplace. Now it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice.

  • Think of one thing you’re going to do when you see bias at work—or one thing that you’ve learned that you’re going to share with others.
  • Write it down. This is your “one action.”
  • Taking turns, go around the group and share your one action.
Icebreaker 1/3 : Did you know?

How much more likely are men to ask for a raise than women?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

This is a trick question. Women negotiate for raises and promotions as often as men do.131

Icebreaker 2/3 : Did you know?

When hiring managers believed a woman had children because “Parent-Teacher Association coordinator” appeared on her résumé, how much less likely was she to be hired?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

79% less likely to be hired. (And if she was hired, she would be offered an average of $11,000 less in salary.)132

Icebreaker 3/3 : Did you know?

For every 100 men promoted to manager, how many Black women are promoted?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

60 Black women.133

Situation 1/12 : Everyday interactions

A coworker asks a woman to pick up food for an office party, even though that’s not her job.

Why it matters

Women are expected to do more “office housework” than men, or work that’s not part of their core job.134 Doing office housework takes women away from their core responsibilities and suggests their time isn’t as valuable, which can be demeaning.135

LeanIn.Org thanks the Stanford Women’s Leadership Lab for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Say something like, “That’s not really [Name’s] job.” Then suggest a solution that distributes the work more fairly: “Let’s make this party a potluck” or “Let’s switch things up and choose someone else this time.” If your coworker pushes back, explain how women are more likely to be asked to do these tasks and why it’s unfair.

As a longer-term solution, take note of who does the office housework on your team. If there are gender, racial, or other disparities, talk to your manager about rotating these tasks so they don’t fall heavily on any one group.

Why it happens

Tasks like taking notes, planning events, and onboarding new hires tend to be seen as “women’s work” due to stereotypes that women are more communal and giving than men.136 When women decline requests for help, they are often penalized for it, while men can say no with less pushback.137

Situation 2/12 : Hiring

You realize that your company gets most of its new employees through referrals by current employees.

Why it matters

If you’re not careful, you may end up with a lot of employees of the same race or gender, or from similar educational or economic backgrounds. This could mean that your company is failing to get the benefits of diversity—and isn’t necessarily getting the best talent.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

If the new hires lack diversity, talk to HR or someone senior. Say that you’ve noticed that your company tends to hire people who are referred by other employees and explain the shortcomings of this strategy. Another issue could be that your process for evaluating new hires is too subjective, so someone saying, “He’s my friend” ends up carrying a lot of weight. To counter that, suggest using a list of standardized criteria, so all candidates are judged by the same standard.

Why it happens

Affinity bias makes us more comfortable with others like ourselves.138 This can make it feel safer and more comfortable to hire people who are already known and liked by existing employees.139

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 3/12 : Everyday interactions

You’re in a conversation with coworkers and someone without children asks a woman with children, “How do you manage work and raising your kids? You must be overwhelmed.”

Why it matters

This question reinforces an often unconscious belief that dedicated mothers can’t also be dedicated employees.140 It also assumes that the woman is overwhelmed, which can feel like a judgment on her ability to handle her workload and may lead to her getting passed over for opportunities. If this happens a lot, it can make women feel unsupported as working parents, which can make them more likely to leave the company.141

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

There are a few ways you can respond, based on what feels right. You can point out that feeling overwhelmed is something everyone experiences from time to time, whether or not they have kids. You can make the point that it’s not just working moms who have a lot to manage: “I imagine all working parents feel overwhelmed sometimes.” And if your colleague doesn’t seem overwhelmed to you at all, you can say that too.

Why it happens

Many people fall into the trap of believing that women can’t be fully committed to both work and family. That can fuel skepticism about women’s abilities. Fathers are often exempt from these assumptions.142

Rooted in: Maternal bias

Situation 4/12 : Reviews and promotions

You’re on a review committee and a woman with an excellent track record is up for promotion. But the group is nervous about giving her the opportunity, since no one feels like they know her well personally.

Why it matters

When you rely on personal relationships to decide who gets promoted, you may overlook the most qualified candidates.

LeanIn.Org thanks the Stanford Women’s Leadership Lab for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Encourage the group to consider the woman’s full profile, such as her business results and her effectiveness as a manager. Ask why knowing someone personally is important for promotion. When people are asked to clarify the evaluation criteria they’re using, they tend to make fairer decisions. If they push back, remind them that her personal relationships probably don’t have anything to do with how well she does her job.

Why it happens

Because we tend to gravitate toward others like us, and because most leaders are men, this dynamic can disadvantage women.143 In addition, social outings can sometimes exclude women, which makes it harder for them to network with colleagues and senior leaders. For example, evening events may be difficult for parents to attend. On other occasions, women might not be invited at all.

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 5/12 : Meeting dynamics

You’re in a meeting and a woman colleague is spoken over or interrupted.

Why it matters

If women’s ideas aren’t heard, it can make it harder for them to be perceived as key contributors, which can harm their career progression. When teams miss out on women’s insights, it can also mean your company is missing out. Teams that foster diverse points of view often have better ideas and get more done.144

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

When a woman gets interrupted, speak up. You might say, “I’d like to hear the rest of [Name’s] thoughts” or “[Name] raised an important point. I’d like to consider it further before we move on.”

If you’re leading a meeting, reduce interruptions by following an agenda and asking people to contribute in a structured way. You might say, “Let’s go around the room and get everyone’s ideas.” You can also invite individual women in the room to contribute their opinions.

Why it happens

People tend to value women’s contributions less than men’s.145 One way this plays out is in meetings, where women—and in particular, women of color—are interrupted more and get less time to speak than men do.146

Situation 6/12 : Mentorship and sponsorship

You offer the rising star on your team a stretch assignment, and she says she doesn’t feel qualified to take it on.

Why it matters

When women turn down opportunities they’re qualified for because of self-doubt, they miss out—and your company isn’t able to fully leverage their talents.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Let her know that you believe in her. Remind her she is being offered the opportunity because of her strong performance, not as a favor. You can also reassure her that how she’s feeling is perfectly understandable: “It’s normal for anyone to be nervous about taking on a bigger role. And women get sent signals that they’re not good enough. It’s hard not to internalize them.”

Why it happens

Women can be prone to more self-doubt than men, and it’s not because they’re missing a special confidence gene.147 Because we tend to underestimate women’s performance, women often need to work harder to prove they’re capable. And they are more likely to be passed over for promotions and stretch assignments. This bias is so pervasive that women often underestimate their own performance and are more likely than men to attribute their failures to lack of ability.148

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 7/12 : Reviews and promotions

A colleague recommends a man for promotion over a woman, saying, “I’m not sure about her long-term commitment. She just got engaged, and I think she wants to have kids soon.”

Why it matters

When coworkers make assumptions about a woman’s commitment to work based on what’s happening in her personal life, it unfairly limits her opportunities—and could cause your company to miss out on a highly committed candidate. It’s also illegal in many states to consider a person’s marital or parental status as a factor in promotions.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Suggest to your colleague that women should decide for themselves whether or not they want to take on new challenges at work. If you’re feeling bold, you can also point out the double standard: “It’s hard to imagine that we’d say that about a man who recently got engaged.”

Why it happens

When women get engaged or married, studies show that they start to experience maternal bias.149 People—consciously or unconsciously—start to question their competence and commitment, based on the mistaken belief that women can’t be fully present at work if they have family responsibilities at home.150

Rooted in: Maternal bias

Situation 8/12 : Everyday interactions

Your boss questions your colleague’s knowledge of something firmly in her area of expertise.

Why it matters

On its own, this incident may seem inconsequential. But moments like this add up: women are twice as likely as men to have their competence questioned at work.151 Over time, it can make them feel less happy in their jobs and more likely to consider leaving.152

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Support the woman by highlighting her expertise. You can say something like, “You may not know this, but [Name] is our resident expert on the topic” or “[Name] actually wrote a report about this last year.”

Longer term, consider making a more concerted effort to highlight the expertise of all the women on your team—not only in the moment, but regularly. Seek their insights in meetings and point people with relevant questions in their direction.

Why it happens

People tend to overestimate men’s performance and underestimate women’s.153 As a result, they are more likely to doubt women’s competence and question their judgment.154

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 9/12 : Reviews and promotions

A manager describes a woman who reports to her as “overly ambitious” when she asks for a promotion.

Why it matters

When a woman is criticized for competing for a promotion, it can have a negative impact on her and on the company as a whole. She may miss out on the chance to grow at work. Other women may hear the message that they shouldn’t ask for promotions. And the company may miss an opportunity to advance a talented team member and make her feel valued.

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Prompt your colleague to explain her thinking. For example, you can say, “Generally, I think we like ambition as a company. Why does it bother you in this case?” You can also suggest that there may be a double standard at work by saying something like, “How do you feel when a man on your team asks for a promotion?” And if you think that women at your workplace are often criticized when they seek promotions, this would be a good opportunity to say so.

Why it happens

Because of stereotypical expectations that women should be selfless and giving, they can face criticism when they appear to be “out for themselves”—for example, when they compete for a bigger job.155 By contrast, we expect men to be driven and ambitious, and we tend to think well of them when they show those qualities.156

Rooted in: Likeability bias

Situation 10/12 : Meeting dynamics

You often see biased behavior on your team, and your manager lets it go unchallenged.

Why it matters

When employees have a manager who regularly challenges bias, they are more likely to think that everyone has an equal chance to advance—and women are almost twice as likely to think they have the same opportunities as their peers.157 Yet less than a third of employees say that managers at their company often challenge biased language and behavior when they hear or see it.158

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Talk to your manager about what you’re seeing and the important role they play in setting workplace norms. You might say, “The team really respects you. If you step in when you hear these comments, it will push everyone to be more thoughtful.” You can also talk to senior leadership at your company. Less than 20% of companies hold managers accountable for making progress toward gender parity—and even fewer offer financial rewards.159

Why it happens

Your manager may not realize that certain comments and actions are biased. Less than half of managers have received unconscious bias training.160 When people understand how bias works, they are able to make fairer decisions and more clearly see bias when it crops up. 161 There are other possible reasons, too. Managers may not realize the critical role they can play in creating an inclusive workplace—or may not be bought into your company’s diversity efforts.

Situation 11/12 : Hiring

A colleague advocates for a man with strong potential over a woman with proven experience.

Why it matters

When a more experienced candidate is passed up in favor of someone with less experience, your company can miss out on valuable wisdom, talent, and skill. And in this case, the woman loses out on an opportunity that she’s well suited for.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Point out how experienced the woman is for the role and note the value of proven experience over potential. You might also take a moment to explain why it happens and why it matters.

Longer term, it’s worth recommending that everyone on your team aligns ahead of time on clear, objective criteria for open roles, then uses them to evaluate all job candidates. This minimizes bias by making sure that every candidate is held to the same standard.162

Why it happens

Research shows that people often hire or promote men based on their potential, but for women, potential isn’t enough. Women are often held to a higher standard and need to show more evidence of their competence to get hired or promoted.163

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 12/12 : Everyday interactions

A coworker comments that an LGBTQ woman on your team doesn’t “look gay.”

Why it matters

This comment plays into stereotypes about what LGBTQ people do and don’t look like. Demeaning comments like this can make LGBTQ people feel humiliated—and more likely to leave their jobs.164

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

You can push back in a few ways. You can speak to the hurtful nature of the remark: “I think it would make [Name] feel really uncomfortable to hear you say that.” You can even say, “That’s pretty stereotypical.” You can also make a general point about how commenting on a coworker’s sexual identity is nearly always inappropriate.

Why it happens

LGBTQ people, like other marginalized groups, deal frequently with age-old stereotypes about how they look, talk, and act. Stereotypes are dehumanizing, because they treat a person like a caricature instead of an individual. The workplace is not immune from these outdated notions: more than a quarter of lesbian women report hearing demeaning comments at work.165

Closing activity

Today you’ve heard about a lot of different actions you can take to fight bias in your workplace. Now it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice.

  • Think of one thing you’re going to do when you see bias at work—or one thing that you’ve learned that you’re going to share with others.
  • Write it down. This is your “one action.”
  • Taking turns, go around the group and share your one action.
Icebreaker 1/3 : Did you know?

How many times more often do men interrupt women than other men?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Almost 3 times more often.47

Icebreaker 2/3 : Did you know?

According to Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test, what % of people more readily associate men with “career” and women with “family”?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Icebreaker 3/3 : Did you know?

What % of women have experienced workplace microaggressions (everyday sexism like being mistaken for someone more junior or having their competence questioned)?

Did you know?

Guess the answer as a group.

Situation 1/13 : Everyday interactions

You overhear a coworker complaining that your company’s gender diversity efforts are a waste of time.

Why it matters

This comment may signal your coworker’s lack of commitment to gender diversity. Research shows that only about half of employees are personally committed to diversity.169 To drive change, it’s critical to raise awareness so more employees are on board.170

LeanIn.Org thanks the Stanford Women’s Leadership Lab for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Make a case for gender diversity. Explain that diverse teams often produce better results171 and that diversity efforts can make hiring and promotions fairer for everyone by weeding out bias. You can also share that diversity is good for morale: when companies are highly committed to gender diversity, employees are happier and less likely to leave.172

Why it happens

Many people think that their workplace is a meritocracy—so they assume diversity efforts unfairly favor women and other minorities. This is not true. Diversity efforts simply aim to counter the bias demonstrated by decades of social science research—for example, that stereotypes often bias evaluations in ways that disadvantage women.173 Moreover, when people think of themselves as fair and objective, they don’t scrutinize their decisions, which opens the door to bias. This is why organizations that believe they’re meritocratic can actually be more prone to bias.174

Situation 2/13 : Hiring

You realize that many of the candidates your colleague has hired went to her elite university.

Why it matters

If you only hire people you have something in common with, you’re likely missing out on great candidates who are different from you. This can hurt your company—many studies find that diverse teams perform better.175

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Point out that many of your colleague’s hires are from her university. Suggest that it could help her team to include qualified candidates from a broader range of schools and backgrounds. Recommend a job board or colleague in HR who can help her recruit more diverse teammates. If she needs convincing, explain why it matters.

Why it happens

Research shows that people unconsciously gravitate toward others like them—we are drawn to people with backgrounds and experiences similar to ours.176 This makes us more likely to want to work with and hire people with whom we already share common ground, including people of our gender or race—or people who went to our alma mater.177

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 3/13 : Reviews and promotions

In a meeting reviewing annual performance, a coworker asks how a woman could have possibly brought in so much new business—but doesn’t show the same skepticism about the men.

Why it matters

Underestimating or over-scrutinizing women can diminish their standing at work and lead to them being overlooked for promotions and choice assignments. If it happens often, it may point to bias problems at your company.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Ask your colleague if they have a reason to question this woman’s performance: “She’s clearly getting great results. Why are you doubting her?” If their answer suggests that they are discounting the woman’s performance unfairly, you can explain that women’s accomplishments tend to be questioned more often than men’s.178

Why it happens

People often question the basis for women’s achievements. They assume that women did well through luck or outside help, rather than with their own skills.179 As a result, women are often asked to prove themselves repeatedly, while men are not.180

Rooted in: Attribution bias

Situation 4/13 : Everyday interactions

A colleague confides that they’re frustrated that a woman on your team is taking her full maternity leave during such a busy time for the company.

Why it matters

Comments like this can make it uncomfortable for employees to spend time at home with new children—and research shows this can lead to lower productivity and make employees more likely to leave.181

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Explain that family leave is good for workers, families, and companies.182 When workplaces have good family leave policies, employees are happier, more productive, and more likely to stay.183 Plus, remind them that no one should have to choose between being a good employee and a good family member.

Why it happens

Maternity leave is often viewed as an unnecessary cost, even though studies show that business outcomes can improve when companies offer leave.184 In addition, people sometimes assume that women who take time off for their children are no longer as committed to their jobs.185

Rooted in: Maternal bias

Situation 5/13 : Meeting dynamics

In a meeting, a client only looks at and speaks to the men on your team.

Why it matters

This slight might seem trivial, but it sends a signal about who matters—in this case, the men. It can also create a dynamic where women miss out on valuable chances to join the conversation and shape outcomes. When this happens, your team isn’t able to put their best foot forward.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Do your part to make eye contact with everyone and try to find ways to bring more women into the conversation. When possible, you can pass the baton to a woman in a way that highlights her expertise: “[Name] would be great to answer this. She’s actually our resident expert on the topic.”

Why it happens

This may happen because of performance bias: your client may assume—consciously or unconsciously—that the women at the meeting are less competent and lower in status than the men.186 If your client is a man, this behavior could also be the result of affinity bias: people often gravitate toward others like them.187

Situation 6/13 : Everyday interactions

You see a colleague introduce a senior woman as “the nicest person in the office” without mentioning her job title or accomplishments.

Why it matters

When women are described only as “nice,” it can downplay their capabilities and reinforce the stereotype that women are nurturers—as opposed to leaders.188 This can be particularly undermining to senior-level women.

LeanIn.Org thanks the Stanford Women’s Leadership Lab for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Try to round out the compliment with a reference to the woman’s overall performance. If she recently led a project or is known to be a strong manager, say so. If you believe the woman’s personality is an asset to the company, you can make that point, too. For example, you might say, “Because of her way with clients, we’ve really expanded our customer base.” Just make sure to link it to a positive business outcome.

Why it happens

Because of traditional stereotypes that women are nurturing and communal, colleagues often pay more attention to their personality traits. This means that women’s hard skills, accomplishments, and leadership capabilities often go overlooked, which can slow their advancement.189

Situation 7/13 : Mentorship and sponsorship

Your manager, who is a man, often meets the men on his team for dinner or drinks—but rarely meets with the women outside of work.

Why it matters

Friendships at work are valuable. Important relationship building and information sharing can happen over coffee or pizza. When people are routinely excluded from outings like these, they can miss out. If it’s a manager making arrangements, it’s especially problematic—part of their responsibility is to make sure the whole team has equal access to networking opportunities.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

This is your manager, so you have standing to raise this with him. Say that you’ve noticed he goes for drinks with men on the team more than women. Explain why it matters. You can also offer solutions: if he’s uncomfortable going to dinner with women, suggest that he meet everyone for breakfast or lunch.

Why it happens

Your manager may feel more comfortable with men because of affinity bias, which draws us toward people like ourselves.190 Or he may be nervous for other reasons: some men are wary of spending time with women colleagues outside of work for fear of seeming inappropriate.191

Rooted in: Affinity bias

Situation 8/13 : Everyday interactions

You hear a woman being criticized for her leadership style—for example, being called “aggressive” or “out for herself.”

Why it matters

When women assert themselves—for example, by speaking in a direct style or promoting their ideas—they often get a negative reaction.192 In contrast, men do not.193 This discrepancy can have a big impact on women’s careers. Ask yourself who you’re more likely to support and promote, the man with high marks across the board or the woman who gets high marks for her performance but is not as well liked.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

When you hear someone criticize a woman for asserting herself, ask them about it: “That’s interesting. Would you have that reaction if a man did the same thing?” It may also be worth pointing out that being focused and decisive about moving the business forward is what’s expected of leaders.

Why it happens

Because of age-old stereotypes, we expect women to be nice and friendly.194 When they assert themselves, they go against that expectation—and as a result, we tend to like them less.195 This “likeability penalty” is often evident in the words we use to describe women, especially those who lead—such as “bitchy,” “demanding,” or “difficult.”196

Rooted in: Likeability bias

Situation 9/13 : Hiring

Over lunch, your colleague says, “It’d be great to hire more women, but I worry about lowering our bar.”

Why it matters

Comments like this promote the false idea that women are less competent and qualified than men. This comment is particularly concerning if it’s made by someone involved in hiring. If hiring teams unfairly overlook women, women miss out—and so does your company.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Try asking, “Why do you think hiring women would lower the bar?” Restating their words may prompt your colleague to rethink their assumption. You can also explain why it matters.

Longer term, push your company to use standardized hiring criteria.197 That way, the bar will be set before the hiring process begins, so all candidates will be evaluated against it and the notion that “we lowered the bar” is likely to fade.

Why it happens

Comments like this wrongly assume that the bar is set the same for everyone, so if women aren’t hired, it’s because there aren’t enough qualified women out there. In reality, the bar is set differently for women and men. We unconsciously expect women to meet a higher standard.198 The false belief that everyone is evaluated fairly and objectively is known as the “myth of meritocracy.”199

Rooted in: Performance bias

Situation 10/13 : Everyday interactions

A colleague doesn’t invite a woman on your team to an evening work event, explaining that they assume the woman prefers to be home for dinner with her family.

Why it matters

When women with kids are excluded from activities, it can limit their career growth. It can also make them feel isolated from the rest of their team. For companies that care about retaining women, that’s a problem.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Say, “We don’t actually know what [Name] wants. How about we offer her the opportunity and let her decide for herself?” Consider pointing out the difference in how mothers and fathers are often treated: “Do we assume fathers aren't interested in evening events?” You can also remind them of the bigger picture: “Let’s make sure we give the moms on our team the same chances as everyone else—sometimes they get sidelined.”

Why it happens

People often assume that once a woman starts a family, she stops being as committed to her job and career.200 This can lead to generalizations—for example, that moms will say no to stretch assignments, business travel, or invitations to work events after hours.

Rooted in: Maternal bias

Situation 11/13 : Reviews and promotions

A colleague comments to you that another coworker “only got the promotion because she’s a Black woman.”

Why it matters

If this idea goes unchallenged, it reinforces a damaging stereotype about the talent of people from underrepresented groups. Comments like this can foster sexism and racism and make the workplace feel hostile to some employees—and employees are generally less happy in hostile workplaces.201

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

You can simply ask, “What makes you say that?” Sometimes that’s enough to make someone rethink their view. Or better yet, stand up for your coworker: “I think she got the promotion because she’s terrific.”

You might also take the opportunity to make a larger point about the value of diversity: “Plus, it’s good for the company to have more women of color in senior roles, because diverse teams tend to perform better.”202

Why it happens

People tend to underestimate women’s talents compared to men’s—and that bias can be even stronger when it comes to women of color.203 That means that women often have to accomplish more to show that they’re as competent as men.204 And when a woman of color succeeds, some people discount her accomplishments and assume that her success is due to external factors like affirmative action, rather than her own hard work and achievements.205

Situation 12/13 : Hiring

A colleague mentions how aggressive and pushy a job candidate seemed when negotiating her salary.

Why it matters

Negotiation is a vital part of job seeking for any employee. But women who negotiate are often perceived as less likeable.206 Since people tend to want to hire coworkers who are seen as likeable as well as competent, this could mean talented women are overlooked.207

LeanIn.Org thanks Paradigm for their valuable contribution to this card

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

Prompt your colleague to rethink their impression of this woman. You might ask, “Have we had a problem with job candidates negotiating in the past?”

Longer term, recommend that your company make it clear what can be negotiated and how. For example, HR could publish a list of areas open to negotiation—such as promotions, flexible scheduling, or working from home—along with the criteria for how decisions will be made.

Why it happens

Women are expected to be communal and selfless.208 When they seek higher pay, they act against that stereotype, and people can respond negatively.209 Women who negotiate are more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy.”210

Rooted in: Likeability bias

Situation 13/13 : Meeting dynamics

You notice that the same woman is always asked to take notes at your weekly meeting.

Why it matters

When people take notes, they’re effectively taken out of the conversation. They aren’t able to contribute meaningfully, and the group misses out on their insights. Diverse teams are often more innovative and productive,211 but you can’t reap the full benefits of a diverse team if you don’t hear from all its members.

Start the conversation

As a group, discuss your reaction to the situation. Have you heard or seen something like this before? What can you do in these types of situations?

After the discussion, read what to do and why it happens.

What to do

At the start of the next meeting, suggest that everyone take turns taking notes each week. If you notice a colleague regularly asking only women to take meeting notes, pull them aside to let them know you’ve noticed this trend and suggest they mix it up.

Why it happens

Due to age-old stereotypes, people expect women to be more giving than men and to accept lower-level tasks. Secretarial tasks also tend to be seen as women’s work. As a result, women are asked to do more “office housework” like taking notes.212

Closing activity

Today you’ve heard about a lot of different actions you can take to fight bias in your workplace. Now it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice.

  • Think of one thing you’re going to do when you see bias at work—or one thing that you’ve learned that you’re going to share with others.
  • Write it down. This is your “one action.”
  • Taking turns, go around the group and share your one action.