Unconscious gender bias preventing women from leadership roles: survey

Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of working women believe gender discrimination is the main cause for the lack of female executives, compared to 41 per cent of working men, according to a new study by Randstad Canada.

The study, which surveyed 2,000 female and male workers to understand why more women aren’t in leadership roles in Canada, found women make up just 19.5 per cent of board members for Canada’s top 500 companies, while only 8.5 per cent of the highest paid positions in Canada’s top listed companies are held by women.

It also found a majority (71 per cent) of working Canadians believe balanced representation of both genders on a leadership team have a positive impact on a business’ financial success.

Read: What is the key to boosting gender equality at work?

“If we look at gender discrimination, 41 per cent of men feel it plays a role, but that is up considerably to 62 per cent of women feeling that way,” says Carolyn Levy, president of Randstad Technologies and the company’s diversity and inclusion ambassador. “So to that demographic, why aren’t there more women there? Well, there’s a large majority of them feeling there’s a discrimination piece that sits there.”

Fifty per cent of female respondents said prioritizing family life keeps women from leadership roles, while 42 per cent of men said the same. Similarly, 26 per cent of women said women don’t take enough risks to advance their career, while only 19 per cent of men agreed.

All survey respondents agreed family responsibilities are a barrier for women taking on leadership roles because family and home responsibilities often fall on women. When asked if more men taking parental leave would help balance expectations around gender in the home, 62 per cent of women agreed it would help, while 46 per cent of men agreed. Forty-six per cent of women said they believe men taking parental leave would help women advance in their careers, compared with just 38 per cent of men.

Read: How to bridge the parental leave divide

So what role do employers play in supporting parental leave for their male employees? They should be ensuring women and men men are sharing what’s going on, “so people feel like they can show up at work as their real self,” says Levy. “When we see this, the reporting around what’s coming up with unconscious bias, or this difference in perception, the more organizations focus on creating that inclusive, safe work environment was where people will show up not only as their real self but feel empowered to be their best selves.”

In turn, this can pave the way for more men to put their hands up, she says. It’s about employers creating a culture and space that allows a male employee to feel like “I’m excited to go on parental leave.”

Read: Editorial: Making space for a room of one’s own