Unconscious Gender Bias in the Blue-Collar Industries

Hundreds, if not thousands, of years of culture and gender pigeon holing can be hard to shirk off.  Some jobs are considered “too hard” or “inappropriate” for one gender or the other.  Regardless of anti-discrimination laws and how hard we try these notions are often too deeply ingrained in us.  We still have an unconscious bias that affects our decisions in hiring and the workplace.  This is definitely prevalent in the blue-collar industries: trucking, construction, manufacturing, etc.

It’s in all of us

This unconscious bias is held by both men and women.  Sometimes it can be so subtle, that many people may not even know it exists.  Since gender equality is out in the open, the biases have gone from direct and deliberate to the indirect and subtle.  In the article “Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers” by researchers Herminia Ibarra, Robin Ely, and Deborah Kolb show how gender bias is still seen in “underrepresentation in leadership roles” and “often invisible barriers for women that arise from cultural assumptions and organizational structures, practices, and patterns of interaction that inadvertently benefit men while putting women at a disadvantage.”

This bias is represented by assuming a secretary would be a woman or a truck driver would be a man.  Our culture and society has pigeon holed these roles over several decades, but there is literally nothing reasonable that would keep a man from being a secretary or a woman from driving an 18-wheeler.  This is also stemmed from what we consider to be feminine or masculine qualities.  Female stereotype qualities are “nurturing, caring, supportive, kind” while males should show “aggressiveness, independence, control, drive.”  However, we all know at least one woman and one man who has none of those gender qualities.  It seeps into who we consider for various job positions.

Construction Workers

It’s Cyclical 

This bias is self-perpetuating.  Since our society believes leadership traits fall more in line with male qualities there are fewer females in those industries.  With few female representatives, fewer younger females try to get into those kinds of jobs.  For example, women make up less than 10% of the truck driver work force.  A lack of role models perpetuates the gender gap in the blue-collar industry.

This unconscious bias is hard to fight than the deliberate and direct bias that we saw in the 1950s and 1960s.  The key is acknowledging it and being aware of it.  Ignoring it and/or being complacent with it is just as harmful as the bias itself.  Furthermore, companies and individuals who do not work against this unconscious bias will be the losers in the end by missing out on quality individuals for open jobs.  Or worse, hire the wrong individual for the job that ends up costing the company repeated hiring expenses replacing the wrong worker.

Female Fork Lift Truck Driver Working In Factory

But wait, there’s a solution

Both men and women need the education.  Researchers Ibarra, Ely, and Kolb call this “second-generation bias” and that it is “embedded in stereotypes and organizational practices that can be hard to detect, but when people are made aware of it, they see possibilities for change.”  Being open to change is also important, along with humility in realizing that something that was “true” forty years ago may not be “true” today.

In the business world, with the bottom line, wouldn’t it be better to hire the right person for the job?  Who knows, that woman could out sell that man with 10 years of experience.  That woman could work circles around that man in construction.  If profitability is the goal not hiring someone because of a stereotype is…well just silly and counterproductive.  We can take it one step at a time.  First things first, there IS an unconscious bias in the workplace.  Agreed?  Now keep that in mind, make the right hire for the right reasons, and watch your company flourish with a solid workforce!

Original source: Industry Week