Survey Reveals Unconscious Gender Bias Stands in The Way of Female Leadership

TORONTO, ON— 62 per cent of working women identify gender discrimination as the leading cause for lack of female executives vs. 41 per cent of working men.

Randstad Canada, a leader in the HR services industry, recently surveyed 2,000 adult workers (an equal proportion of women and men) to understand why there aren’t more women in leadership roles in Canada. The survey, commissioned as part of Randstad’s Women Transforming the Workplace initiative, reveals the extent to which unconscious gender bias and stereotypes hamper female advancement and leadership.

Research consistently demonstrates that businesses benefit from female leadership, however women remain woefully under-represented in leadership roles within organizations and at the board level in Canada. In fact, women make up just 19.5 per cent of board membpoders for Canada’s top 500 companies and only 8.5 per cent of highest paid positions are held by women in Canada’s top listed companies.

why aren’t women advancing?
Overall, the survey showed a majority of working Canadian women and men (71 per cent) believe balanced representation of both genders on a leadership team will have a positive impact on a business’ financial success. However, this is offset by a much lower proportion of men (65 per cent) than women (77 per cent) who acknowledge the potential gender-balanced leadership teams hold.

When asked why there aren’t more women in leadership roles, the majority of women (62 per cent) identify gender discrimination as a factor, while only 41 per cent of men held the same view. Addressing this discrepancy will be crucial to creating meaningful change and shifting the perception held by more than a quarter of male respondents (27 per cent) that the reason there aren’t more women in leadership is because of a lack of qualified and skilled candidates.

Half of Canadian women (50 per cent) said prioritizing family life keeps women from leadership roles, compared to 42 per cent of men who stated this to be true of women. Similarly, 26 per cent of women responded that “women don’t take enough risks to advance their career” whereas only 19 per cent of men shared this view.

Surprisingly, to account for the lack of women in these roles, nearly one third (32 per cent) of Canadian workers believe the lack of executive female role models is the leading explanation for why we don’t see more women in C-suite roles, with nearly as many saying there is a lack of training and support (25 per cent) for women.

“The fundamental differences in how women and men are responding to the same question forces us to consider what underlying unconscious biases are at work – for both women and men – and how organizations can address them,” says Carolyn Levy, President, Technology, Randstad Canada. “If this number of working men don’t believe gender discrimination is an issue and that there simply aren’t qualified women for leadership roles, it creates a barrier for women’s advancement – by acknowledging these issues, we correct them and create more balanced leadership teams and boards,” she adds.

While Randstad anticipated the survey would reveal differences between women and men through their responses, some of the variances were surprising indeed; Levy cites the gender pay gap as a striking example. “Where 63 per cent of working women believe there is pay gap, only 45 per cent of men state the same – a number that shrinks to 39 per cent among working men aged 35-54. When the majority of men don’t believe the gender pay gap actually exists, they won’t be inclined to try to address it in their organization.”

old stereotypes die hard
The survey revealed Canadian workers continue to think of men as more confident and analytical while women are seen as empathetic and active listeners. Both men and women responded that men are more likely to excel at math, science and computers whereas women are more likely to excel at caregiving, communications and fine arts.

Men and women agree family responsibilities present a barrier for women taking on leadership roles because family and home responsibilities often fall to women. When asked if more men taking parental leave would help to balance expectations around gender in the home, 62 per cent of women agreed this would help, compared with just 46 per cent of men. The majority of women (60 per cent) also believe this would help balance gender expectations in the workplace, while only 45 per cent of men believe the same. In fact, 46 per cent of women believed men taking parental leave would help women advance in their careers, compared with 38 per cent of men. Positively, neither group believed taking parental leave would create a strain on the workplace.

looking ahead
Four in ten working Canadians believe men in leadership roles in Canada should be working to create more opportunities to help women advance professionally – an additional two in ten would agree if this extends to minority groups too. There is good news as we look to the future: 70 per cent of women and men in the younger 18-34 cohort agree men in leadership should be doing more to help women advance professionally.