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Successful women are not an exception, they are the rule.

Fighting the beast of bias

Being a woman is wonderful, and I would not let anyone convince me otherwise. That said, even if it is 2018, there are still a few things that we are doing wrong.

The rule, not an exception.

Echoing the main point of an inspiring TED talk by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon about women entrepreneurs in war zones, I think it is important to point out one issue that often goes unnoticed when talking about gender inequality. In general, we tend to celebrate each successful woman in isolation like it was an exception whereas we should be emphasizing a bigger picture. I think that we should put emphasis on women's overall success, show aggregate numbers, and, more broadly, support the claim that successful women are not an exception, they are the rule.

Bias, not behavior.

At work, at school, at home, we do too much. For example, data from last years' Google report on what women watch on YouTube highlight that women seek empowerment even outside of their working hours by exploiting the growing availability of business-related content online.

I am not saying that we should do less, but we should not expect to fight bias with hard work only. In a compelling Harvard Business Review article about gender bias in the workplace, the authors describe their experimental results showing that women are not treated differently because they act differently. Using sociometric badges to measure actual behavior and interactions in the workplace, researchers were able to show that despite women displaying the same behavioral patterns as men, they were not being promoted as much.

After considering all alternative explanations (e.g., lack of access to seniority, lack access to critical informal networks, lack of mentoring) researchers concluded that differences in workplace promotion rates were not due to how women acted, but to how these actions were perceived (i.e., gender bias). For example, after they have children, women are often seen as less committed to work while men are seen as more responsible.

Scientific problem, scientific solution, less gendered choices.

Unconscious bias is our enemy. A solution that we should advocate for is to treat gender equality like any other scientific problem. We should study it both qualitatively and quantitatively and propose strategies to overcome it. Once a solution is in place, outcomes in balancing career advancement by gender should also be measured to direct further studies.

As the HBR article suggests, we can also start by implementing simpler changes based on what we already know about biased thinking. For example, by having managers evaluate a group of candidates instead of assessing a single candidate for a promotion, companies could improve gender balance and reduce biased decision-making.

Companies need to approach gender inequality as they would any business problem: with hard data.

Examples, not exceptions.

Also, if you are half as obsessed as my mom was at raising a strong independent woman, you would love this book for your children. Nothing better that telling your girl, or boy, a story about a successful woman before they go to sleep.

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