Sexual discrimination creeps into workplaces all across the nation on the basis of stereotyping. People are groomed to understand what a woman is “supposed” to act like and conversely, what behaviors a man is “supposed” to display. Being able to recognize sexual discrimination on the job is critical to receiving a fair shot at promotions, career growth, and justice.
Descriptive bias is the assumption that women demonstrate particular characteristics like outward emotion, sympathy, empathy, and care-taking. When an individual has never met a particular woman, but assumes her to embody these qualities, descriptive bias emerges. This is particularly relevant to stereotypically “male” careers, for example, engineering or law. There is an abstract “lack of fit” between the qualities needed to perform well in the position and the qualities the female candidate is assumed to possess. When people do not know for sure what someone is like, they generally fill in with biased assumptions.
Prescriptive bias happens on the contrary. When a woman succeeds in achieving a stereotypically “male” position, like CEO of a company, she is typically assumed to have qualities associated stereotypically with men, like callous, harsh, mean, or assertive. People might describe her as all of these qualities without ever having met her. She could be the most outwardly emotional person in the office, and a new employee would likely still believe her to be brash.
Being able to recognize and understand different types of bias is instrumental to being treated fairly in the workplace. Circumstances have the possibility of escalating even as far as wrongful termination if implicit bias is allowed to exist unchallenged. For example, if an employee’s performance on a project in a stereotypically “male” career is undocumented and she works on a team with male employees, her performance may be assumed to be poorer than her male counterparts’ regardless of legitimacy. Being courageous enough to question competence is essential to success.
In order to succeed as a woman in a stereotypically “male” career or position, you must love what you do enough to compensate for the inevitable bias that you’re going to face. Know that implicit bias is incredibly widespread, and do your best not to take any part of it personally.
Regardless of descriptive bias, prescriptive bias, and general sexual discrimination at work, women continuously progress as valuable members of the United States workforce. Being bold and competent enough to recognize and combat these phenomena is critical to continued advancement toward a more equal society.