We live in a society predisposed to bias. Psychologists speak the truth when they say that if there’s one thing certain about biases, it is that everyone has them and they occur unconsciously. From this viewpoint, having biases are not inherently negative and often produce no harmful effects. Think of having a preference for one brand of clothing over another equally popular brand. No harm done, right?

Biases become harmful when people allow their biases to influence their behaviour toward certain groups of individuals. Harmful bias and stereotypes often spur discrimination which, if not nipped in the bud, can negatively affect relationships.

Bias and gender disparity in the workplace

We spend a considerable part of our day at work. And when negative factors like gender bias, discrimination, and inequality tilt the balance of our work dynamic, work productivity lessens, and employees’ welfare are adversely affected. During P&A Grant Thornton’s 2022 Growth in Relationships and Opportunities for Women (G.R.O.W.) Leadership event, we advocated and pushed to break the gender bias as the initial step towards promoting women empowerment. We realize that while attempting to prevent gender bias is a crucial initiative, there is a need for more intentional action from businesses, government, and other stakeholders to promote gender equality and support women.

The harsh reality is that gender parity exists and, as cited in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, it will take more than a century to finally close the gender gap. This was also reiterated in Grant Thornton’s 2023 Women in Business Report (WIB), which emphasizes the need for more intentional moves adopted to help increase the number of women in senior leadership. As mentioned in our previous article, while shifts in work models due to the pandemic actually did a lot to narrow gender inequality, particularly in the Philippines where nearly half or 49% of senior management roles in businesses surveyed are currently held by women, progress in pushing for gender parity remains slow, with the number of women in senior management roles up just half a percentage point since 2022.

Avoiding pitfalls

To more effectively push for gender equality, particularly in the workplace, it is pivotal to learn from experience. Like falling prey to forms of bias, it is relatively easy to slip through a rabbit hole and fail to help advocate for gender parity.

All things considered, here are some common pitfalls to avoid in a bid to narrow the gender gap and heed global calls for gender parity.

Improving flexible work practices

This means adopting work practices that are beneficial for all, including male employees who have as much responsibility at home as parents and keepers of the household as women. When it comes to supporting women in the advancement of their careers, our WIB research also highlights that office-based businesses have the lowest percentage of women in senior management.

As previously cited in one of our articles, although flexible working is not without its challenges, organizations must always ensure they have a culture which supports and facilitates flexible working. This is to avoid the common pitfall of businesses sliding back into pre-pandemic habits. Thus, an intentional commitment to flexible working could help avoid this.

Increase diversity

It may sound easy, but increasing diversity is much harder than it seems. The 2023 WIB also reveals that embracing diversity at the senior level and beyond is the responsible thing to do and the right thing to do commercially, as it is a proven driver of performance.

The important step to take is to act knowingly: Businesses, particularly those calling for a “return to the workplace”, must consider the effect that this will have on diversity, understanding that this may have unintended consequences on productivity. It also helps companies to be transparent and nurturing. This is because employee well-being and mentoring programs which support women into senior leadership are crucial, but this needs to be combined with greater transparency on pathways into those roles.

We live in a society where all of us fall victim to harmful biases, a common pitfall that even innovation and shifts due to the pandemic fail to curb. But while we will always have our biases, harmful or not, we can go out of our way to avoid other pitfalls that prevent us from narrowing the gender gap. The trick is to learn from mistakes, avoid common pitfalls, and be ready to support policies that answer calls for gender parity.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 29 March 2023