Unconscious bias is a thing. Full stop.

What Are Little Boys Made of?

What are little boys made of? What are little boys made of? Frogs and snails, And puppy-dogs' tails; That's what little boys are made of. What are little girls made of? What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice, And all that's nice; That's what little girls are made of. ~19th Century Nursery Rhyme~

You may think that someone being sexist or biased is when misogynistic language and behaviors are being used, but there are many more subtle ways to be anti-women. Sitting down to compile this post, I was trying to find a study I had read a year or so ago about male and female business students selecting a successful ‘male’ entrepreneur in a case study over a ‘female‘ entrepreneur when they both had the same credential and qualifications. At the conclusion of this study, it was revealed that they were in fact the same person, and that person was indeed a female. That unconscious bias really stuck with me, even though finding that study seems to elude me, as it seems to be lost in the many other studies examining unconscious bias that are readily available on the internet. I managed to pull a few examples to demonstrate not only the bias but the extent to which it impacts the everyday life of women:

  1. S.K. Johnson and D.R. Hekman from the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business did a study which had 307 working adults to review a hiring decision made by a fictitious manager. Participants read a description of the hiring decision, saw a photo of the manager (showing their race and gender) then completed a survey where they rated the manager on competence and performance of that hiring decision. What they found was that all managers were judged harshly if they hired someone who had the same gender or ethnicity as them, unless they were a white male. These findings are alarming as it suggests that if a ‘low-status’ group member hires another ‘low-status’ group member they are perceived as incompetent and poor performers. Not exactly encouraging news when hoping to increase diversity in the workplace, as our unconscious biases are at play judging those around us.

  2. Moss-Racusin et al, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gave scientists applications from a student applying for a lab manager position who intended to go onto graduate school and was looking for mentoring. Half the scientists were given an application with a male name, the other half a female name. The results found that the ‘female’ applicant was rated lower than the ‘male’ in competence, hire-ability and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student. More shocking still, is that the scientists also offered the female applicant a significantly lower starting salary than the males.

Infuriating, yes. And both sexes are to blame. Women and men were both participants of the studies and held the same biases. As the authors of the C. Moss-Racusin et al study said “If faculty express gender biases, we are not suggesting that these biases are intentional or stem from a conscious desire to impede the progress of women in science. Past studies indicate that people’s behaviour is shaped by implicit or unintended biases, stemming from repeated exposure to pervasive cultural stereotypes that portray women as less competent...”

Being aware of your own biases are the first step towards limiting bias. ‘Project Implicit‘ was created in 1998 as an ‘international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition - thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the Internet.” Run through Harvard University, multiple research teams at the Universities of Washington, Virginia, Harvard and Yale study the results of multiple tests that people can take to rate their biases. There are tests on Gender-Career, Sexuality, Weight, Religion, and your results and pooled results of everyone who has taken the test are shown to you at the end.

I encourage everyone to explore this website and this project:


It starts with you, and how you treat those around you, and especially how you treat children. It all starts at a young age, they watch how those around them treat others. We need to be more aware of our biases.

  • by Mary Ann Doré

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