And while it’s up to organisations and our wider working culture to combat this insidious problem, we won’t quash it by calling out bias alone.
We have a collective responsibility to “dig deeper” in overcoming culturally ingrained gender prejudice, argues Lila Ibrahim, chief operating officer at education-focused technology company Coursera.
Ibrahim began her career as a computer hardware engineer in the 1990s – where, as she explains, “I was not only a woman in a male-dominated field, but also at least a decade younger than most of my colleagues”.
And she says one thing really helped with fielding assumptions about her gender and age.
Writing in Fortune.com, Ibrahim says she learnt to embrace the very differences that made her stand out in the workplace.
“When I started that first computer hardware job, I tried to hide my youth,” she writes.
“I pulled my wild, curly hair into a tight bun, wore fake glasses, purged my desk of personal photos, and smiled as little as possible. But burying my personality under a facade of adulthood (or what I thought was adulthood) made me miserable—and it didn’t work. I still had to respond to snide comments like, “Have you graduated from high school?”
But later in her career, when she was deployed to Intel’s consumer department in Japan, Ibrahim decided to take a different approach.
“As a young American woman in a foreign country, I couldn’t avoid standing out… I knew I was valuable to the division, and instead of focusing on why I was the oddball, I focused on the advantages that my unique background offered,” she says. “I asked questions fearlessly, contributed fresh ideas, and built strong relationships.”
“Bias feeds on insecurity,” she continues. “We all have the impulse to hide our differences. But if you’re ashamed of who you are, you’re silently telling the world that you agree with stereotypes. Hold you head high and remind yourself that your differences are an asset, not a liability.”
Images: iStock and Rex