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What a Cookbook Taught Me About Unconscious Gender Bias

Updated: Jan 18

08/28/2023


I felt proud entering the headquarters of the 110-year-old lumberyard where I had just been promoted as the company’s first-ever female director. The lumberyard’s leaders were proud, too, and they marked my two-year rise in the company by presenting me with a gift. It was a book, which they made extra special by writing congratulatory messages on the front cover pages.


The name of the book was "The Baking Bible."


I appreciated the thoughtful gift and thanked them for their generosity. It was only years later that I wondered why these gentlemen purchased a cookbook for me. Did this gift mean they assumed that, because I was female, I would enjoy a cookbook? Yes, some might have been aware I was a terrible cook, but more of the group knew me as someone who played sports most of her childhood and adulthood, loved watching football games with the team, and enjoyed competition.


I realize now that this event was one of many examples of Unconscious Gender Bias I have encountered through my work. I have seen how stereotypes and attitudes regarding supposed gender differences can hinder an organization's growth and progress. It taints communication and collaboration. Stereotypes may inadvertently influence interactions, leading to unequal participation and the devaluation of specific contributions. 


The biggest problem with Unconscious Gender Bias is that it’s just that—unconscious. For instance, a few years ago a lumberyard manager who was hearing me speak about bias simultaneously began to think about a dispatching job he wanted to fill. It suddenly occurred to him that he should speak to one of his inside salespeople, who happened to be female. She had shown strong organizational and communication skills and frequently worked with the dispatch team and drivers to resolve issues. During a break, he called this employee and asked if she would be interested in taking this position. Her answer was a resounding yes, and she was excited to take on the new challenge.


When I asked the manager why he had not thought about this individual as a candidate prior, he stated that he had never encountered a female dispatcher and thus had never imagined a woman in the job.


To mitigate the detrimental effects of unconscious gender bias, organizations must embark on a multifaceted journey of awareness, education, and action. Implementing diversity training programs and unconscious bias workshops can help employees recognize and confront their biases, promoting a more inclusive work environment that makes better use of every employee’s talent.


One great way to start is simply to get to know your employees better. Don’t assume everyone likes what you like; the world is full of people who brushed up on last night’s sports scores because they’ve seen the pennants in the boss’ office. Increasingly, gender is no predictor of preferences: There are women who’d rather be in a tough mudder competition than go to a spa, and men who’d choose a cooking class over a turkey shoot. You must ask.


By the way: I still have the treasured cookbook displayed in a prominent place on my bookshelf. Along with the recipes, it’s a reminder that sometimes our unconscious biases may stand in the way of the best decisions we will make. 


Play to Win,

Dena

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