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Beyond the Bias: Challenging Gender Norms with Your Job Application!

Beyond the Bias: Challenging Gender Norms with Your Job Application!

Traditional views of what women and men are ascribed to can be powerful enough to influence a company’s employee selection process – how one applicant is favored over another. For example, some employers might prefer a male over a female applicant to avoid possible maternity and/or pregnancy leaves (which, by the way, women have the right to!). For some employers, the possibility of a woman bearing a child is perceived as a hindrance and this drives them to offer the job to the male applicant even though, she is equally as, if not more, competent than he is.

In technical-vocational work, this could be true as well. There are employers who might favor men over women for mechanical jobs due to the traditional view that men are deemed ‘stronger’ than women when female  mechanics could be just as skilled. 

TBH, sometimes we don’t notice these ourselves when we’re applying for jobs. It could be that we have internalized such gender biases that we see them as something normal now, instead of something questionable. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do anything about them!

Biases about family responsibilities and emotional control

Some common assumptions are that women carry their home problems to work and this will affect their performance. This is driven by the traditional notions on gender roles imposed on women — that they are homemakers and caregivers. With the burden of care they attend to at home and in their personal relationships, some employers assume that women are taking ‘too much on their plate’ and any pressure that arises could compromise the quality of their output at work. There have even been cases where employers ask their female applicants if they are in a relationship (um, is this a Facebook profile?) in hopes of gauging their work ethic. This is exactly why we should be thinking about this: if anything, women are showing a wider set of capabilities for being able to manage diverse functions across all aspects of her life. And anyway, why aren’t we holding men to the same standard? 

Another common assumption that shifts employers’ preference for male applicants is that women will have to clock out early to take care of their family or go on extended maternity leave if they have a child. But how does clocking out early equate to not being able to accomplish challenging tasks? If employers were really concerned with how female prospects will be able to accomplish their work, wouldn’t it be more apt to ask things like coping strategies or probe into their prioritization skills?

If you want to take it up a notch and take the opportunity to make them notice their biases too, you can respectfully respond if they ask the same thing to all applicants – women or men. This may also help you have an idea about gender attitudes you will possibly be confronted with when you join their workplace. Explore the idea with the interviewer. From there, your leverage is to let them know of your STRONG qualities – how you are able to handle work-life balance with smart decision-making, how you use your talents in your coping strategies, and how you stay level-headed and optimistic. Share an anecdote or two about a time you prioritized tasks well and were successful in handling both your professional and personal life.

Biases About Assertiveness and Leadership Abilities

When it comes to leadership roles in the workplace, there are employers who are biased towards men –  seeing them as ‘natural leaders’ – while women are viewed as timid or passive. This could be rooted in the history, upbringing, and media portrayal of women as homemakers attending primarily to domestic matters while men, on the other hand, have long been at positions of and are portrayed as wage-earners, thus forming a notion that they are reputable when it comes to the income-generating nature of a workplace setting, while undermining women’s capabilities for employment. 

At this age, these roles are no longer accurate and women have been successful at any type of occupation they choose to work hard on! 

As much as we want to phase out these biases, such traditional views have also led to stereotypes that can influence how employers today perceive assertive women and could affect how they favor (or don’t favor!) them for certain roles.

In detecting gender bias in leadership abilities, you can look at other characteristics of the company. A rule of thumb can be to check the ratio of men-to-women in management roles. Of course, this is not to say men in those positions are not fit but this raises the question:  Why aren’t women more represented by this position? Is there something hindering them from doing so? There might be underlying factors regarding how women are perceived in the workplace, which could influence  whoever gets to climb up the promotional ladder quicker. So to help you prepare for gender biases that you might encounter at work, research as much as you can about the company’s employee diversity. Will I be working with people my age? Will I encounter conservative ideas from the generational gap between my potential co-workers?

Biases About Role Fit

There are still certain jobs some people deem as more suited for women and for men (unfortunate, I know!). For example, some employers may be surprised to have women apply as computer technicians. This is likely because society has long nurtured us into thinking only men were capable of doing technical jobs. Likewise, there are people who raise their eyebrows over male nurses for taking on a ‘caring’ occupation. 

Some companies might corner you into a gendered role that may prevent you from exercising your full potential as an employee and as an individual. Similarly, you might think that the best job for you is the one which your female peers usually apply to. There is nothing wrong with that, but remember: doing something beyond what’s expected of you, of your gender, might also help you find the career that you best excel at.

While a lot of the challenging of role fit biases should come from the company, you can also take simple steps to have your foot in the door. For instance, something as simple just including your name – without a photo – in your resume might reduce their focus on gender. How you speak in your resume might also help recruiters recognize how you will possibly fit the role. Mind you, there are male-coded descriptions that exist in resumes that employers could subconsciously be favoring. Research has shown that people tend to associate certain adjectives with men (eg. “competitive”, “outspoken”) and others with women (eg. “collaborative”, “compassionate”). So as you craft your job application, remember that you may need to use gender-neutral language or provide a tad bit more info to outweigh certain beliefs employers may have.

As much as we want to see progressive work cultures, role fit biases still exist today. This can prevent companies from getting amazing employees and can also hinder women from maximizing their professional potential. Role fit biases can impede women’s advancement in the workplace by being shut out of assignments, excluded from communication networks at work, which can also lead to women being paid less.

While specializations are important, what can also make a good employee are behavioral skills that employers might overlook at the hiring stage due to biases – attitudes at work, open-mindedness, and ability to work with a team. Make sure to highlight these as well as you go through your applications!

A STRONG quality could be talent. It can be planning and goal-setting. It can be noticing the little things, like knowing the best energy-saving way to manage the office. There are strong qualities that may require training and specific skill sets but strong qualities can also be about listening, communicating well, and having an overall good work ethic – all of which disregard gender.

 

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