When alarm bells should be ringing for women returning to the office

Team of young coworkers working together at night office.Young woman using mobile laptop at the table, workaholic

According to experienced change and transformation strategist Fiona McKay, some workplace feedback and behaviour on returning to the office should be ringing alarm bells for women – but there are warning signs you can look out for.

At all stages of their career women are likely to be receiving gender-biased feedback – and often colleagues might not even realise they are doing or saying anything that disadvantages women. Her findings and research show that men get critical feedback on average 60% of the time at work, whilst that figure skyrockets to 91% if you are a woman and if you are in menopause, the disadvantage doubles.

It has a huge impact on women’s careers and the workplace at large.

Already, there have been reports of women being taken by surprise after a long period working remotely at some of the behaviours on display on the return to the office.

Founder of Lightbulb Leadership Solutions, Fiona McKay is a leading expert on gender biased feedback in the workplace and says her mission is to eliminate it completely. She says there are phrases and behaviours from colleagues that women at work should be looking out for when they go back to the office as they might be a sign that gender-biased feedback is at play. And the most common feedback women receive is based on their personalities rather than their performance, plus their communication styles are overly critiqued compared to men.

And she says, that for women continuing to work remotely warning signs can also be evident over zoom or video calls.

Importantly gender-biased feedback doesn’t have to come from men. Women can, and do, also give other women gender-biased feedback – often unconsciously – especially if they themselves have worked in a gender-biased culture for some time.

Ten common signs of gender-bias on returning to the office to look out for that should ring alarm bells:

  1. Critical feedback based on your personality and not your performance
  2. Interrupting or talking over you, or pretending not to hear a point you have made
  3. Describing a female colleague as ‘pushy’ or ‘aggressive’
  4. Suggesting you aren’t coping, with questions like ‘are caring responsibilities keeping you up at night?’
  5. Being asked inappropriate questions about your personal life, such as ‘what are your plans for family in the future’ when being discussing career planning and aspirations
  6. Making inappropriate ‘jokes’ about your ‘time of the month’ or menopausal symptoms and expecting you to laugh along rather than be offended
  7. Questioning your commitment, due to trying to balance home and work life
  8. Using undermining or derogatory words because it’s “obviously just a joke” and “can’t anyone take a joke these days?”. An example might be “Is it hot flush time again?”
  9. Assuming that you will make the drinks for meetings, or sort out the card and cakes for someone’s birthday
  10. Having it ‘mansplained’ to you in career conversations the reality of what it takes to lead in an organisation with questions like ‘are you clear about the sacrifices required?’

Ten warning signs in a virtual meeting that might mean gender-bias is at play:

  1. Questioning how much time you are really working 
  2. Excessively monitoring your time online – more so than male colleagues who are given more slack 
  3. Talking over you in online meetings and not giving you a chance to contribute
  4. Leaving your input to the end of the meeting, and letting the men speak first
  5. Asking you to take notes, or take charge of the recording, even though you are not a secretary
  6. Giving you a harder time to prove the business case than your male colleagues if you request investment to host female client events rather than male only golf’ days that always seem to get signed off
  7. Being informed of the results of a key meeting that you weren’t invited to
  8. Having overtly transactional rather than developmental discussions
  9. Being seen as ‘less than’ because of your status as a home or hybrid worker
  10. Pointing out your mistakes in a gender-biased way – with comments such as ‘don’t worry it’s a menopause moment’.

Comments Fiona McKay: “Even when we intend to be completely fair, scientists say our brains have a hard time remaining impartial. Whether you are returning to the office or working remotely there are signs of gender-bias to look out for and to challenge. Removing or reducing gender bias is not difficult, and the first step is to recognise it is happening. My mission is to get rid of gender-biased feedback in the workplace and to stop women being evaluated according to their gender rather than their performance”. 

Lightbulb Leadership Solution’s #Feedback First campaign aims to level the playing field and advance the understanding of gender bias globally. The company’s research shows there may be an implicit gender bias that manifests in:

  • Role stereotyping 
  • Assumptions about suitability for roles and tasks 
  • Insults masquerading as jokes
  • Devaluing women’s opinions and voice
  • Lack of feedback that links to business outcomes and wider business performance

She believes gender bias is something that all workplaces should be challenging, being more open to guidance, challenge and development. If left unchecked a pattern can emerge, often becoming codified into the workplace culture. This inadvertently influences the gender pay gap, equal access to leadership opportunities, discretionary bonus awards and potential poverty in retirement for women.

And to ‘break the bias’, Fiona believes women need to understand the impact that feedback has on their roles and careers, challenge feedback given and amplify that feedback needs to be based on their performance rather than their personalities.

Fiona McKayAbout the author

Fiona McKay is a business-strategist, leader and entrepreneur and the founder of Lightbulb Leadership Solutions. Lightbulb’s Menopause Maze TM  method is a game-changing evidence based workplace development and online coaching programme and online community professional women that has been shown to equip organisations and high-performing women with new tools that retains and develops their talent, improves career health, transforms career wealth and maintains career momentum for women as they transition through menopause.

www.lightbulbleaders.com / www.Fiona-Mckay.com

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