Second Generation Bias: The Silent Career Killer

In these next two blogs, I’m going to use Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers by Herminia Ibarra, Robin Ely and Deborah Kolb, an article which appeared in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, as a springboard for sharing my perspective on barriers facing women in organizations. [click here for original article]

In this blog, I’m focusing on the phenomenon known as Second-Generation Gender Bias.
I totally agree with the authors when they say second-generation bias:

“…does not require intent to exclude; nor does it necessarily produce direct, immediate harm…it creates a context in which women fail to thrive or reach their full potential.  Feeling less connected to one’s male colleagues, being advised to take a staff role to accommodate family, finding oneself excluded from consideration for key positions – all these situations and practices reflect work structures and practices that put women at a disadvantage.”

 Additionally, second-generation bias is the insidious silent killer of many women’s higher career ambitions. Often, neither the perpetrators nor the women themselves know it’s going on; and when pressed will deny its existence in themselves or their organizations, pointing to women who have achieved modicums of managerial success.

As stated in Women Rising,“…without an understanding of second-generation bias, people are left with stereotypes ..[of]why women as a group have failed to achieve parity with men.”

At WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. we have long acknowledged the wide-spread existence of second generation gender bias and take a multi-faceted approach to attacking it.

First and foremost we start with the talented women themselves, who are most likely to be the recipients of these biases. Through our education process, women learn to identify the warning signs of second-generation bias, and better understand their organizational climate. But far from feeling victimized or hopeless, women learn how to forge a strategy that is likely to work.


No two situations…no two organizations…no two people are exactly alike. So, we help women develop a customized approach that will work in their organizations with the managers who, most likely unknowingly, are practicing second-generation gender bias.

Also, it is important to understand that not only must the anti-bias approach be customized to the organization; it must also be customized to the woman who will be using it. Each woman’s approach to taking on the biases in her organization must be in synch with her present position, her personality, her corporate goals and her ambitions. With the help of their mentors and their networks, women learn how to attack these biases effectively without sabotaging their chances for advancement. In doing so, they are often successful in opening the eyes of senior management to the wide-spread existence of second-generation bias in the organization – an all-important starting point to attacking the problem.

At WOMEN Unlimited, we can say along with the authors of Women Rising “…that when women recognize the subtle and pervasive effects of second generation bias, they feel empowered, not victimized, because they can take action to counter these effects.”

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