Gender bias refers to the unequal treatment and perceptions of individuals based on their gender. Historically, it has most frequently manifested as bias against women, such as workplace bias.
Stemming from a society’s biases about gender roles, it includes stereotyping, discrimination, and unequal distribution of resources or opportunities (World Health Organization, 2019).
Gender bias can manifest in numerous ways across different societies – and, indeed, within different sectors of the same society, such as in workplaces and education (United Nations, 2010).
For instance, in the professional world, gender bias often surfaces in the form of unequal pay or opportunities for advancement. Women, in many occupations, often earn less than men for equivalent work (gender wage gap), even when controlling for variables such as experience, education, and performance. This discrepancy in earnings is a clear example of gender bias (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2010).
In education, it may manifest in the assumption that boys are better at math, while girls excel in language-based skills (OECD, 2015). Such predetermination can lead to unfair treatment and can limit the academic and career possibilities for individuals based on their gender (Duckworth & Halpern, 2012).
Gender Bias Examples
1. The Gender Pay Gap
The gender pay gap refers to a phenomenon in many societies where women often earn less than men on an hourly or salaried basis for equivalent work (Blau & Kahn, 2017).
There is a range of possible answers for why this occurs, including the idea that men may be more assertive in insisting on raises than women to due gender socialization and gender expectations. Historically, it was also seen as being due to the assumption that men are the primary breadwinners, so should be paid more.
Despite legislation and corporate declarations of pay parity, the gap persists in many industries globally, likely due to deep-rooted biases and systemic issues.
It affects career trajectories, retirement security, and the ability of women to gain financial independence.
2. Lack of Paternity Leave
Many societies still hold onto traditional gender roles, seeing child-rearing as primarily a woman’s role while men are typically expected to provide financially, leading to an absence or lack of paternity leave policies (Rehel, 2014).
This perpetuated gender norms that absolve men from participation in child rearing, curtails the involvement of the father in a child’s early life, and may also manifest as a bias that harms single fathers and same-sex fathers.
Furthermore, it places an unfair burden on women.
Rhe absence of a gender-blind parenting leave arrangement could lead to work-life imbalance issues for families, affecting overall family dynamics and the development of the child.
3. Job Adverts with Gendered Language
Job adverts can unknowingly perpetuate gender bias by using language that leans towards one gender (Gaucher, Friesen, & Kay, 2011).
For example, an advert mentioning phrases like “dominant force” or “competitive environment” may unintentionally be seen as inviting traditional ‘alpha’ males to a corporate environment, and deter women from applying.
This use of subtly gendered language can lead to unnecessary sorting of applicants by gender even before the interview stage.
4. Gendered Interview Questions
Gender bias often manifests in a host of non-work-related interview questions, such as marital status, childcare arrangements, or plans for maternity leave, typically asked to women candidates (Rivera & Tilcsik, 2019).
Such questions are asked by employers who may select a candidate who is less likely to have family commitments. While this may make sense to the employer, overall, it seriously disadvantages women in the workforce.
Such a mindset contributes to the gender disparity seen in both hiring and promotional decisions across industries. It reinforces discriminatory practices and constraints gender diversity in the workplace.
Interesting Study: Gender bias leading to the glass ceiling was tested in a study conducted in 2012 at the University of Yale (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012). A group of researchers created two identical CVs, but one had a woman’s name on it (Jennifer), while the other one was a man (John). The CVs were randomly sent to different university departments for assessment. The results showed that resumes were not evaluated just on the merits shown: Jennifer was considered less competent, universities were less willing to hire her as a lab manager and even the salary they would offer her was 13% less than John’s.
5. The Glass Ceiling
The ‘glass ceiling‘ is a metaphorical barrier that impedes women and minorities from ascending to top corporate positions, hampering their career growth (Cotter, Hermsen, Ovadia, & Vanneman, 2001).
Despite possessing the requisite qualifications and demonstrating the necessary competencies, they are tacitly restricted from advancing beyond a certain point.
Oftentimes, this is because higher-level promotions and business deals are arranged in “men’s spaces” such as after-work meetups among the men, or on the golf course.
This phenomenon perpetuates a disproportionate gender balance and lack of diversity at senior management or board levels. It often enforces the stereotype of executive roles being a ‘man’s job,’ which inadvertently sustains gender bias in corporate structures.
Crazy Fact: Until 2018, there were more CEOs named John than all of the women CEOs in America. In 2022, only 24 of the top 500 companies are run by women
6. Gender-based Harassment
This is an egregious form of gender bias, often manifesting as unwelcome verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct based on an individual’s gender (Willness, Steel, & Lee, 2007).
It creates a hostile work environment, infringes upon an individual’s dignity, and adversely impacts professional and personal life.
Gender-based harassment, including sexual harassment, often involves toxic masculinity in the workplace and targets women, intensifying gender disparities and echoing patriarchal domination.
The negligence towards harassment allegations often results in a chilling effect, deterring victims from raising their voice against such biases.
7. Gender Role Assumptions
These are preconceived ideas about roles and feminine and masculine behavior attributed to men and women based purely on their gender (Eagly & Wood, 2011).
This can result in a type of bias where men and women are expected, and socially pressured, to behave in ways aligning with their stereotyped roles.
For instance, assuming women should be nurturing and domestic and men should be assertive and career-driven, underpinning cultural biases.
Such assumptions limit the potential of individuals by forcing them into stereotypical molds and discouraging deviation.
8. Test Bias in Education
This refers to how a school’s tests might favor one gender over the other (Arnot, David, & Weiner, 1999), which was a big issue in research and the media in the 1990s.
For example, scholars found that, on balance, questions that were less contextualized tended to lead to higher grades for boys, while questions that were more wordy tended to lead to higher grades for girls.
Of course, this is an overall trend and not reflective of any individual’s learning styles.
At the time, it was found that the bias in test questions tended to favor boys; and subsequent changes in the wording of tests (without even changing the questions themselves), tipped the scales more toward girls.
9. Inadequate Research on Women’s Health
Traditionally, medical research has predominantly focused on men, leaving gaps in knowledge pertaining to women’s health (Mazure & Jones, 2015).
This historical male bias led to findings being generalized to women without accounting for the physiological, hormonal, and social differences that might impact health outcomes.
Key examples include autism research – where manifestations of autism in girls were historically underdiagnosed because of insufficient research – and heart health.
Such bias can have detrimental impacts on healthcare provision for women and leads to ill-informed decision-making regarding treatment options.
Addressing this bias, by including women proportionately in research studies, is imperative for promoting equitable healthcare.
10. Doctors Dismissing Women’s Concerns
There is a well-researched phenomenon where gender stereotypes about men as “brave” and women as “emotional” play out in the doctor’s office.
Doctors who have an unconscious gender bias may be more inclined to be dismissive of women’s complaints of pain, while being more responsive to men’s complaints of pain (Samulowitz et al., 2018).
This may subsequently manifest as delayed treatment of illnesses or dismissiveness of chronic illnesses.
11. Assuming the Woman is the Nurse and the Man is the Doctor
Stereotypical assumptions about job roles stem from gender bias, with the medical field often perceived as being hierarchically gendered (Bartley & Roeser, 2011).
Here, the woman is frequently relegated to a caregiver (nurse) role and the man assigned a more authoritative (doctor) role.
These assumptions diminish women’s contributions to medicine and undermines their potentials as healthcare providers.
Not only does this bias oppress women within the medical profession, but it also discourages aspiring female medical practitioners.
12. Males Discouraged from Teaching
Stereotypes positioning teaching, especially at elementary levels, as ‘women’s work’ can discourage men from entering the profession (Skelton, 2012).
Moreover, societal biases associating males working with young children with predatory behavior can deter men from considering teaching careers.
This gender bias contributes to an imbalance in the teaching profession and deprives students of beneficial exposure to diverse role models.
A more balanced representation can challenge gender norms and enhance educational experiences for students.
13. Gender Stereotypes in Textbooks
Textbooks often reinforce traditional gender roles and stereotypes, suggesting a form of academic gender bias (Blumberg, 2008).
For instance, men may be depicted as active, decisive figures in history or science texts, while women may be marginalized or depicted in more restricted roles.
These biases in educational materials subtly shape students’ perceptions of gender roles, limiting their potential and contributing to perpetuating gender stereotypes.
Counteracting such biases is vital for championing an inclusive, diversified, and egalitarian education system.
14. Disproportionate Discipline Based on Gender
School discipline practices often reflect and reinforce gender biases, with boys statistically disciplined more harshly than girls (Losen et al., 2015).
Such a bias can lead to harmful consequences, including pushing boys out of mainstream education, leading to decreased educational achievement.
At the same time, girls may face unfair discipline, too, such as their parents disciplining them for not being “ladylike” or giving them rewards and punishments that push them toward embracing a veneer of mainstream femininity.
15. Gender Bias in Student Evaluations
Students’ evaluations of professors have also demonstrated gender bias, that tends to negatively impact female professors.
One study by Mitchell and Martin (2018) found that women instructors are often viewed as less qualified compared to their male counterparts. This mirrors the idea that women are nurses and men are doctors in healthcare.
The perception stems from the assumption that female professors will be of a lower academic rank and have lesser qualifications than male professors. This might stem from gendered assumptions that men are leaders, or media-reinforced ideas about noble professors being men.
Gender bias manifests in a variety of ways. It can affect men as well as women, although due to the patriarchy that manifests historically in most societies, women tend to be more affected than men in more domains.
Arnot, M., David, M., & Weiner, G. (1999). Closing the gender gap: Postwar education and social change. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
Bartley, A., & Roeser, R. (2011). Women physicians: Choosing a career in academic medicine. Journal of Medical Education in Europe, 6(1), 13-23. doi: https://doi.org/10.1097%2FACM.0b013e31823ab4a8
Blau, F. D., & Kahn, L. M. (2017). The gender wage gap: Extent, trends, and explanations. Journal of Economic Literature, 55(3), 789–865.
Blumberg, R. L. (2008). The invisible obstacle to educational equality: Gender bias in textbooks. Public Administration and Development, 28(4), 279–290. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-009-9086-1
Cotter, D. A., Hermsen, J. M., Ovadia, S., & Vanneman, R. (2001). The glass ceiling effect. Social Forces, 80(2), 655–681. doi: https://doi.org/10.1353/sof.2001.0091
Eagly, A. H., & Wood, W. (2011). Social role theory. In Van Lange, P. A., Kruglanski, A. W., & Higgins, E. T. (Eds.), Handbook of Theories in Social Psychology (pp. 458-476). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Gaucher, D., Friesen, J., & Kay, A. C. (2011). Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inequality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1), 109–128. doi: https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/a0022530
Losen, D., Hodson, C., Keith II, M. A., Morrison, K., & Belway, S. (2015). Are we closing the school discipline gap? University of California. Los Angeles.
Mitchell, K. M., & Martin, J. (2018). Gender bias in student evaluations. PS: Political Science & Politics, 51(3), 648-652. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S104909651800001X
Samulowitz, A., Gremyr, I., Eriksson, E., & Hensing, G. (2018). “Brave men” and “emotional women”: A theory-guided literature review on gender bias in health care and gendered norms towards patients with chronic pain. Pain Research and Management, 2018. doi: https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/6358624
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]