#BreakTheBias: Building a More Gender Inclusive Workplace

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In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, Great Place to Work® delves into our Emprising survey statistics and asks:

“What kind of gender bias can arise from an employee’s viewpoint and what are some indicators of gender bias that employers and employees alike can be aware of?”

Great Place to Work’s MD, Evelyn Kwek also weighs in on some of the common gender bias perceptions below and how companies can close the gap.

As we celebrate women’s achievements and advancements around the world this International Women’s Day on March 8, let’s consider this year’s theme (#BreakTheBias) and reflect on our own gender bias and its potential impact, especially within the workplace.

We can establish and acknowledge that everyone has an unconscious bias which is typically shaped by social stereotypes and cultural experiences. Unconscious bias can be both positive and negative, and comprise preconceived notions and implicit assumptions about others based on their gender, age, race, nationality, sexual orientation and a range of other personal characteristics. One example of this happening in the workplace is to acknowledge an assertive woman as “aggressive” while a man with similar attributes might be described as “confident”.

Many of these unspoken biases drive our daily actions and behaviors when we interact with and/or make decisions about these individuals. From a manager’s standpoint, if we are unaware of our unconscious bias, it can negatively impact workplace behaviors and norms—or worse, become entrenched as a systemic discrimination against particular groups of employees. In fact, YouGov Singapore’s survey data indicates that seven in 10 women in Singapore agree that men and women experience unequal treatment at work1.

In light of this, Great Place to Work reviewed our extensive survey responses across different industries in Singapore to see whether male and female respondents experienced their workplaces differently. Based on our analysis, we found that males tend to have a more positive workplace experience overall.

The top five indicators where male and female respondents differed were about:

1. Favoritism

More male than female respondents felt that managers avoid playing favorites. Favoritism in the workplace can lead to differential behaviors by decision-makers that impact an individual’s career growth; these could include training and development opportunities, exposure to key projects, promotion decisions and even opportunities to network and participate in social activities involving top management, key partners and clients.

2. A Sense of Purpose

sense of purpose is one of the key aspects of employee well-being, and an important factor influencing employee engagement, productivity and retention2. Our data indicated that more males than females felt that they made a difference at work.

3. Showing a Sincere Interest

Among great workplaces, leaders recognize that employees are individuals with personal lives outside the workplace. Social connections and relationships are built when leaders demonstrate a sincere interest in them rather than regarding them just as employees. We found that more males than females had a positive experience in this area.

4. Approachability of Management

The importance of two-way communication and listening to employees has long been recognized as a fundamental component of a great workplace. A key factor in enabling this is management’s accessibility and willingness to connect with different groups of employees. Our data showed that more males than females found management to be approachable and easy to talk with.

5. Equity and Recognition
In Singapore, women are paid less than their male counterparts, though the gap has narrowed over the years. The adjusted gender pay gap was 6% in 2018, down from 8.8% in 20023. Our data showed that more males than females felt that people are paid fairly for their work and similarly, more males than females perceived that everyone has an opportunity to get special recognition.

Research by the International Labour Organization4 highlighted that HR processes and programs that reflect stereotypically masculine criteria would inadvertently place women at a disadvantage. This is of concern and reinforces the gender bias findings highlighted above. The research also found that some workplace norms might hinder women’s careers. For example, when senior leadership positions are held exclusively by males, it perpetuates the “think-manager-think-male” perspective.

In the Singapore context, unconscious gender bias in organizations can impede women’s career progress and limit their contributions at work. This may result in an uneven reciprocation of a workforce that is already struggling with gender inequality. It can also perpetuate long-term implications on an organization’s ability to engage and retain female talent and hinder the benefits of gender diversity in its talent strategy and leadership pipeline.

Ms Evelyn Kwek, managing director of Great Place to Work in ASEAN and ANZ echoes the sentiment that even in a country like Singapore where women have made progressive strides, the 2021 data is nonetheless showing that men and women are having uneven experiences in fundamental day-to-day workplace interactions. “Our mission is to help every place become a great place to work for all,” she says. She adds that to maximize human potential, companies need to close this gap. “Great Place to Work strives to continue to share data, provide the tools and shine the spotlight on companies leading the way on what it means to be a great workplace.”

Great Place to Work hopes to recognize our female colleagues for their achievements and contributions in their journey thus far. This is also a time for us to pause and reflect on whether there is unconscious gender bias in our existing HR processes and programs, which are creating unintended bumps and potholes along the road. To find out whether your female employees are experiencing the workplace differently from their male colleagues, use our employee survey.

A Great Place to Work-Certified™ company and Singapore Best Workplace™ shares its best practices to mitigate gender bias at work and how it actively supports female employees

Embracing Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is one of five AbbVie Principles. It started raising awareness about workplace issues such as equality, bullying, harassment, and code of conduct in 2017. This period also saw the formation of its Professional Women’s Network (PWN), to encourage the examination of gender-related topics in the workplace and foster an environment that empowers women to be confident at work. In 2019, the PWN was expanded to become Diversity Matters, to promote greater ethnic and cultural understanding among employees. The Women’s Leadership Journey is another program borne from its D&I efforts; it provides targeted learning content for women and facilitates mentoring and networking opportunities for women who are in, or preparing to take on, leadership positions.

To ensure that its efforts in fostering an open and inclusive workplace environment for all employees permeates every level of the organization, managers are responsible for building diverse and high-performing teams, and this is built into their performance assessment. AbbVie is clear about its expectations on the role of managers and articulates this in its Ways We Work leadership traits.

It recently launched a ‘Break the Bias’ campaign in Operations to help employees learn to confront their unconscious bias. As part of this campaign, it conducted workshops and provided self-check lists and resources, to help employees develop a keen awareness of situations in which their biases might go unchecked and impact the quality of their decision-making. As an extension of this, it also conducted mandatory Inclusive Leadership training for managers, with 100% attendance recorded in 2021.

As a testament of its success, women in AbbVie leadership positions in Singapore stands at 48% and AbbVie aims to continue to do more to support the women in its workforce.

1 Seven in ten women in Singapore think gender inequality still persists in the workplace, YouGov, March 1, 2022.

2 Help your employees find purpose—or watch them leave, McKinsey & Company, April 5, 2021.

3 Singapore women earn 6% less than men, but gap has narrowed: Study, The Straits Times, Jan 9, 2020.

4 Breaking barriers: Unconscious gender bias in the workplace, The Bureau for Employers’ Activities (ACT/EMP), International Labour Organization, August 2017.

Daphne Lee

Daphne Lee is the senior writer and content marketing manager at Great Place to Work® ASEAN and ANZ. She believes in building community-relatable content, telling stories through narratives that add value in today’s workplace and in culture-building. A trained journalist, she spent 15 years writing for trade publications, lifestyle magazines and supplements. She is also a mum of two teenagers and two adopted dogs and rides on her trusty two-wheel bicycle to see new sights and sounds in Singapore.

Pamela Sng

Pamela is our Senior Consultant and Research Lead for Great Place to Work® ASEAN and ANZ. She has over two decades of consulting and policy experience helping organizations in their journey to become fair and progressive employers. She believes that every organization has the potential to be a great workplace, and works with data to distil insights and develop resources to help them. When she’s not burrowing down the rabbit hole of numbers and words, she’s probably immersed in a new K-drama or catching up with friends over a virtual drinks session.

Raymond Teo

Raymond is a talent-builder, having trained and coached hundreds of leaders and staff in systematic problem-solving skills. He is also a Certified Gallup Strengths Coach and a LEGO® Serious Play facilitator, using these tools in strategy development, team building, problem solving, visioning and leadership development. Today, as a Senior Consultant for Great Place to Work®, Raymond brings in his extensive coaching, business performance management, and team development experiences to help clients build stronger workplace cultures and employee engagement that is pivotal towards business success.

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