Balancing Bias

By Jennifer PeeksMease

Is the challenge of balance a hill only women climb?

usatsi_9431971_168381878_lowresFact: tune into any gymnastics competition, and you’ll only find women flipping, turning, and twisting on a strip of wood just 4 inches wide.

Whether you’re on a beam, or at work, it seems the ability to balance is a necessary virtue for any woman who wants to bring home the dough. 

But as we’re sure you, your besties, and Simone and Laurie have clearly demonstrated: women ARE master balancers. We will find a way to get to that charity event, console our friend going through a terrible breakup, hit the gym, read a book (to our kids if we have them), do the laundry, feed the mouths that need to eat, and still find time to make sure our family knows they are loved.

The moral of the story—we’ve got this.  

But I’m afraid there’s more to it than that.  

While you may think you have this work life balance thing down, your boss may not…and that can spell trouble for you.

Jenny Hoobler, Sandy Wayne, and Grace Lemmon of the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a survey of employees and their bosses to assess perceptions of work/life conflict and its effect on promotability.  

As it turns out, women employees actually reported less work life conflict than men who were surveyed, but that didn’t change the fact the bosses were more likely to perceive women employees as having greater work life conflict.  

More importantly, this perception of women’s work life conflict impacted boss’s perception of female employee’s “fit” with the organization and promotable roles, two factors they found to be most important to a boss’s perception of promotability.  (Yep, these two things mattered even more than their perceptions of an employee’s performance.)

Let me recap this for you: If your boss perceives you to have work life conflict, they are less likely to see you as “fit” for promotion.  And, bummer for you ladies, they are more likely to perceive women as having this work life conflict.

But what good does it do us to know this?

First, if you’re a person in the position to promote, check yourself! (And we mean all of you, the sex of bosses in this study didn’t significantly change this bias.)  Don’t let even casual conversations about an employee’s “fit” for a promotion digress into speculation about her obligations outside of work.  

And while we hate to put the burden on women to navigate yet one more hurdle, we encourage you to monitor how you talk about your obligations outside of work.  

Show your love for your family by talking about how wonderfully supportive they are of your career, and how much they help you out at home. (Oh, and don’t waste your time on a partner who isn’t worth bragging about in the first place…but that’s another blog post.)

Finally, make sure you’re managing your relationship with your superiors to position yourself well for promotion, to….balance out….this bias.

Not sure what you can do? Check out some of our other posts on promotion, networking, mentoring, and self-promotion.

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