International Women’s Day 2022: What does workplace bias look like?

By Rachel Griffith-Boyes

Happy International Women’s Day! Each year on 8th March, people and organisations around the world are encouraged to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BreakTheBias, so here at Totara we surveyed our female colleagues about their experiences of bias in the workplace. These can be hard conversations to have, but it is only by understanding these experiences that we can start to #BreakTheBias for women everywhere.

International Women's Day 2022 #BreakTheBias

Of course, every woman’s experience is different. While some colleagues told us that they have never knowingly experienced bias in their career, others shared horror stories about inappropriate behaviour from senior male colleagues in previous roles. What stood out to me was that many women had overcome these challenges to become successful leaders themselves, championing the next generation of female leaders here at Totara. Research shows that companies with female leaders outperform those dominated by men - so promoting women into these top management roles benefits not just the women themselves, but also the wider organisation.

Many women shared experiences of microaggressions - those small, frequent comments or behaviours that add up to much worse. This included being talked over in meetings, having their ideas repeated back to them by a male colleague, or being ignored in favor of male colleagues in meetings. Famously, women working in the Obama administration developed their own amplification strategy to overcome this.

Women also talked about the roles that women are expected to take in the office. 

Women are usually expected to carry out the 'social admin' of the workplace, whether that's organising team social events, decorating the office or arranging collections for colleagues. This is no more 'women's work' than it is anyone else's, and everyone should play their part in making a company a pleasant, fun place to work.”
- Kayleigh Tanner, Creative Marketing Manager

A number of women talked about the value of female traits at work, and the perceived pressure to act in a more masculine way. They told us that in the past they have felt "underestimated for being kind and empathetic." They also talked about the intersection of gender and age, with more experienced women more able to challenge bias and bring their authentic selves to work.

“As a 21-year-old woman, I just put up with it - now, I am outraged!”

However, we know that men and male allies are part of the solution. In the words of Totara's Lars Hyland:

"Research shows diverse teams lead to better workplaces and working environments that generate better outcomes for individuals, teams and organisations. To help rather than hinder positive change, men need to listen and think inclusively before acting, challenging their unconscious bias to the mutual benefit of all." 

Our survey found that there were plenty of positives too. Our conversations revealed impressive career paths and more achievements than we can list. Some women had run their own businesses, many had raised children, won awards, launched new products and achieved challenging professional qualifications. Women at Totara are performing roles at all levels and in all areas of the business, including senior leadership and technical roles. We asked who inspired them - and some colleagues named other women working right here at Totara. I feel lucky to have such talented colleagues contributing to our success.

Look out for today's second blog, where we’ll share some advice directly from some of our colleagues on breaking the bias in the workplace