Gender Bias—A Study in Denial

As I started to write this blog, I thought I would take a look at what Wikipedia had to say about “second generation gender bias.” Guess what?  It isn’t even there. Wow! That was a metaphor for making my point: second generation gender bias is so hidden, so camouflaged, and so denied, not even Wikipedia talks about it.

As I pointed out in a previous blog, often no one knows second generation gender bias is happening – from top management to the women themselves who are being held back from the highest levels of corporate governance by it.

Unlike blatant prejudices of previous eras, second generation bias is subtle and echoes deeply- ingrained masculine values about leadership, alliances, and mentoring. Seemingly, there is no deliberate intention to discriminate which makes it especially difficult to attack and change these ensconced attitudes and the climates that inadvertently support them.

Let me give you a few examples of second-generation gender bias:

♦ A male manager believes that a 30-something woman is not a candidate for promotion to a VP slot because her biological clock is ticking.

♦ A senior executive is very impressed with a talented female middle manager. If she were a male, he would be her mentor in a heartbeat. However, he has concerns that if they develop a close professional relationship, “people will talk.”

♦ A talented woman who is highly qualified for a C-suite position, pats herself on the back for achieving her recent promotion to middle management and aspires no further.

♦  Three male managers who like, respect, and enjoy working with a female colleague, rarely invite her to join them for drinks after work, fearful they will have to behave differently in the company of a woman.

I would guarantee that if pressed about being biased, any of the individuals in these situations would deny it vehemently. Why am I so sure? Because these are stories I’ve heard and situations I’ve experienced through our WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. programs…and long before it had the name of “second generation gender bias.”

We at WOMEN Unlimited have seen the toll this bias takes on the women themselves and on the corporations who miss out on the profitable benefits of a diverse talent pool at their highest levels. We strive to educate and encourage our participants and our corporate partners to acknowledge second generation gender bias, look for it at all levels of their organizations and make changes accordingly.  It can be a long, arduous process, but one that our Corporate Partners report is well worth doing.

What examples of second generation gender bias can you share to help others recognize it in its many guises?


Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.