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Women at Work: Second Generation Bias

September 10, 2013

This month’s article in HBR about unseen barriers women in the work place face really resonated with me.  Similar to my anecdotal blog post about the beginnings of my engineering career, the article focuses less on overt sexism and more on what they call “second-generation” sexism.

  • A paucity of role models for women.  The people in power are typically men, which suggests being a women is a liability.
  • Gendered career paths and gendered work.  Men are more likely to pursue they types of positions that lead to positions of power, even if the path isn’t necessarily the only or best way to gain the skills needed for high-level positions.  Similarly, coveted international assignments often assume a “trailing spouse”, which is a much more common situation for men than women.
  • Women’s lack of access to networks and sponsors.  Informal networks tend to give men more an advantage than give to women.  More men are  power positions, and they tend to see junior males as having more potential than females.
  • Double binds:  Studies show that women tend to be viewed as either likable or competent, while for men likability and competence are correlated.

Depressing, huh?  Especially the last one.  And the 2nd.   And the 1st and 3rd….   HBR offers a few potential actions to help, including educating men and women about second generation bias.

I don’t have a lot to add to this, but I did want to do my part in educating about 2nd generation bias.  I’ve seen a lot of great things in my personal experiences in a male dominated field, and I know it is better than the old days.  But we have a looooong way to go!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2013 3:22 pm

    I’ve always thought a female mentor was the greatest barrier I had. It wasn’t until I found A mentor (any mentor, male or female) that I started to really take off. Still, a female one would have given me a better perspective, although in my field of work, it’s mostly men and I have to think like one as well.


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