Two ways tech companies often try to improve their cultures for women are through unconscious bias training and mentorship programs. But these programs often fall short of their goals. Unconscious bias training attempts to combat bias in the workplace, but existing research demonstrates that such training can, at best, be ineffective, and at worst, exacerbate bias. Mentorship and development programs aim to increase women’s skills and confidence to help them advance, yet women continue to be under-represented in leadership.
In new research recently published in Gender & Society, I spent a year conducting an in-depth case study of one large Silicon Valley technology company implementing a gender equality initiative, which included unconscious bias trainings and mentorship programs. I found that these programs tend to place blame for inequality, and responsibility for addressing it, on individuals. They’re rooted in the belief that if men can be taught to limit unconscious bias (particularly when making important decisions such as hiring and promotion), and women can be taught to behave more assertively and demonstrate valued skills (through mentorship), then perhaps gender inequalities can be reduced.
But this thinking fails to do one important thing: hold the organization responsible for the role it plays in causing inequality.
And past research shows that organizations contribute to inequality in varied ways: through referral hiring that leads to narrow pipelines of candidates from similar backgrounds; through subjective evaluation criteria that open the door to bias during performance evaluations; and through a lack of transparency and accountability in pay decisions that leads to unfairness in who gets rewarded.
continue reading on Harvard Business Review