Combating Gender Bias in the Workplace

What is gender bias, what is its role in the workplace, and what can we do to combat it.

Imagine a gender-equal world. A world where gender does not hugely define the way we perceive an individual, nor does it determine their chances and prospects. Despite society’s progress, we still have a long way to go. The road to equality is paved with a lot more than just good intentions – it takes strong will and courage to turn inwards, see and accept one’s own biases and show up daily to take the needed actions against them. As we know, change begins within oneself.


To a large extent, the same approach is valid for organizations. It takes courage to dive deep into the organization’s real culture and audit possible weaknesses. It takes a lot of effort and consistency to act upon the findings and ensure the whole organization works together towards battling biases in the workplace.


In this article, we will discuss what gender bias is, its role in the workplace, and how you and your organization can work to combat it.



What is Gender Bias?

According to the American Psychological Association, gender bias is defined as “any one of a variety of stereotypical beliefs about individuals on the basis of their sex, particularly as related to the differential treatment of females and males.”


Gender bias in the workplace is typically an unconscious or implicit bias, which happens when a person or group of people make unconscious assumptions about another person or group of people, based on their gender. 


Favoring one gender at the cost of another results in preferential treatment. It promotes unconscious attribution of particular qualities and attitudes to a person regardless of whether they exist. Being externally assigned a behavior often unconsciously results in the affected individual looking at it as a mirror, identifying themselves with the external view, and acting accordingly. Preferential treatment can be a great mirror to look at; a boost in confidence inevitably shows favorable results. But what happens to the rest? The ones with the crooked mirror, who are perceived as less talented, less capable, less worthy. 

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word “gender” does not exist: where everyone can be themselves” — a quote by Gloria Steinem

How Does Gender Bias Impact Organizations?

Gender bias in our society is also described as “sexism” and points out the unfavorable stereotypes women are being assigned and the prejudices they encounter based entirely on their gender. Decades of studies show that gender bias in the workplace results in male employees receiving preferential treatment over female employees. Men tend to get hired into better positions, are given better starting salaries, are promoted more often, are put into leadership positions more often, and have a louder voice in decision-making conversations.


Here are a few examples of different types of gender bias in the workplace:


Performance support gender bias

Performance support gender bias occurs when one gender is offered better opportunities at work than the other. For example, a study found that men in sales are typically assigned to high-performing accounts. In contrast, women are assigned to low-performing accounts, despite their ability to reach the same results. As a result, women cannot receive the same commission rates as their male counterparts, no matter how hard they work.


It is not only the commission rates that go missing due to undervaluing female performance: according to the latest Women in the Workplace 2021 report, for every 100 men who receive a promotion, only 86 women are promoted. This destructive phenomenon is known as the “broken rung” and explains why senior levels are still male-dominated.


Performance review bias

According to Harvard Business Review, most organizations have biased performance reviews, even after trying to remove bias by removing the structure and limitation and opting in for an “open-box” approach. The research team found out that opening the box also results in opening reviews for bias: it was discovered that women tend to receive “vague feedback” without actionable details.


Furthermore, during a performance review the perception of the same characteristic can be perceived differently across the genders. Men are perceived as passionate, while women with this trait are considered emotional. Male’s assertiveness can be perceived as female aggression. These perceptions are mirrored in our language. A Harvard Business Review article quotes an analysis of 81.000 performance evaluations which showcases that managers use more positive words to describe men in their performance reviews and more negative ones to describe women.


Performance reward bias 

Men and women are not rewarded equally for equal performance. If they were, the gender pay gap would not exist. Sadly, it not only exists today, but according to the Gender Gap Report 2021 by World Economic Forum it will continue to accompany us for yet another generation. Due to the severe impact of the pandemic closing the gender pay gap will skip a further generation as the timing has increased from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

Gender Bias Statistics

To gain a more concrete understanding of gender bias, here a few eye-opening gender bias statistics:

BreakTheBias - Combating Gender Bias in the Workplace
On this years’ International Womens Day PayUneers crossed their arms to spread awareness and help forge a gender-equal world. 

How to Reduce Gender Bias in the Workplace

Understanding how to reduce gender bias in the workplace is the first step toward making your organization a truly fair one.


Mitigate Bias in Recruiting

According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) hiring managers are more likely to hire a man over a woman for a STEM-related career. In a laboratory experiment that ensured equal gender performance, female candidates were discriminated against based solely on their appearance: “When employers had no information beyond appearance, they were twice more likely to choose male candidates than female candidates.” 


Bias-free recruitment ensuring equality and diversity is key. And while organizations should do everything in their power to not underestimate it, it should be clear that diverse hiring is merely the beginning. Head over to this LinkedIn article by our Talent Acquisition Director Sapna Pathak to learn why.


Furthermore, organizations must train their recruiters and managers to hire from a diverse slate of candidates and ensure that the position attracts men and women equally. A basic example here is ensuring job postings use bias-free language. Words like ninja, dominate, hacker, and rockstar can be seen as masculine terms and attract more male than female applicants. A variety of tools are available to organizations to mitigate the risk of using biased language: a free tool we can recommend is Gender Decoder Katmafield.


Regular Unconscious Bias Training

Unconscious bias can be tricky because it is often hardwired into an organization and its leaders. At PayU, we have Diversity & Inclusion and Learning & Development at the heart of everything we do. As stated in our D&I statement – “We enable continuous learning to ensure PayUneers feel empowered to call out any instance of bias, while embracing conscious inclusivity in our DNA.”


Our leaders, managers, and consequently their teams are deeply committed to banishing bias from the organization. We partner with top universities as well as subject matter experts from the D&I field to provide our PayUneers with pieces of training on Unconscious Bias and Building Inclusive Leadership Skills. For example, recently, we partnered with LifeLabsLearning to enable managers across the organization to create and actively encourage bias-free meetings. In a two-hour workshop, managers participated in thought-generating discussions that helped them uncover bias and received hands-on action points to increase inclusion skills.


Organizations are well-advised to regularly provide employees with various learning resources. The resource library of the The International Women’s Day organization offers a large variety of materials: for example, the 50 Ways to Fight Bias toolkit. Created in partnership with LeanIn 50 Ways to Fight Bias is a digitally optimized workshop aiming to raise awareness and encourage action. According to IWD, the workshop has an impressive success rate: 95% of participants report higher commitment to challenging bias, and 96% of management feels better armed to fight bias in their teams.


Discover more about Diversity and Inclusion and the importance of battling unconscious bias from our CEO Laurent le Moal in the video below.



Push for gender-equality through Mentoring

Mentorship programs can be a true game-changer. Based on research, the academic journal TheConversation suggests that establishing the right approach to mentoring is crucial to closing the gender gap in leadership. The three vital mentoring elements that can promote change are mentees’ empowerment to set the agenda, diversified mentors, and mentor networking events enabling resource-sharing.


In PayU we have several mentorship programs across our regions. One example is Return. Reset. Reimagine, which focuses on supporting women returnees in PayU India. Find out all about how PayU is bringing talented women back to the workplace here. This pilot project will be replicated globally across the organization and followed up by EMEA WOMENtoring – a program aiming to increase female representation in key-decision making roles through targeted career development. Creating a pipeline of women leaders by mentoring high potential female employees is a priority of PayU’s D&I agenda.


Increase Awareness around Gender Bias

Not speaking about an issue will only ensure that it persists. Openness is a crucial value of PayU’s Culture and manifests in PayUneers celebrating differences, embracing diversity, being open and receptive. Through our dedicated Diversity and Inclusion council, we can ensure a variety of initiatives are regularly taking place across our global business. Workshops, fireside chats, dedicated internal communication channels, and the kind support of our D&I chatbot June constantly draw attention to relevant D&I topics. We aim to equip PayUneers to spot bias, speak up and actively participate in the creation of a bias-free workplace.   


Here are a few inspiring PayUneers quotes on the topic.

PayUneers #BreakTheBias

The latest example of such an initiative is our globally celebrated International Women’s Day. PayUneers joined forces around this year’s official IWD motto #BreakTheBias and crossed arms to spread awareness and help forge a gender-equal world. 


Here are two examples among many local IWD initiatives:


Uncompromising: A conversation with Yarden Garbi

PayU’s team in Israel invited Yarden Garbi, a retired Israeli judoka World Champion and Olympic bronze medallist. In this empowering session, Yarden shared her insights about handling competitions and rivalries, success and failure, recognizing individual strengths and weaknesses alongside technical and mental abilities. 

Yarden’s lecture touched on resilience’s importance, empowering us never to stop developing our personal and professional capabilities. Her long track of challenging gender bias in Judo – a sport that requires both strength and strategic skills – allowed us to draw inspiration for mastering our own struggles on our quest of breaking the glass ceiling.


Women Entrepreneur Support Program

Our colleagues in Turkey hosted an impressive press conference to share data and insights from the first two periods of their Women Entrepreneur Support Program. Participants were invited to share their experiences in an open forum: four female entrepreneurs shared their encouraging success stories. You can find the data presented in the below infographic.


Women Entrepreneurship in Turkey in Numbers

Break The Bias

As stated in the beginning – it takes courage to fight bias. It takes courage to look inwards and even more so to take action. Thankfully courage is a fundamental trait of PayU’s identity. Alongside Openness, Integrity, Ownership, and Collaboration, Courage is one of the five PayU values that ensure we don’t give up when facing challenges. Instead, we look them boldly in the eye; we push the boundaries until they break. The same we do with bias.