Second-generation gender bias

Second-generation gender bias refers to practices that may appear neutral or non-sexist, in that they apply to everyone, but which discriminate against women because they reflect the values of the men who created or developed the setting, usually a workplace.[1] It is contrasted with first-generation bias, which is deliberate, usually involving intentional exclusion.[2]

An example of second-generation gender bias is that leaders are expected to be assertive, so that women who act in a more collaborative fashion are not viewed as leaders, but women who do act assertively are often perceived as too aggressive.[1] This kind of bias, or gender stereotyping, can be entirely unconscious.[3]

First- and second-generation bias

The first-generation bias was a function of practices that were once legal. With legislative changes that make gender discrimination illegal in the workplace, in sports, and in college, for instance, second-generation bias refers to the subtle forms of inherent and unconscious bias that stems from organizational practices and patriarchal structures that Harvard Business School professor Robin Ely argues explains the persistent glass ceiling, or the failure of achieving significant change in gender parity in corporate boardrooms, senior management positions, and in the general workforce.[4] Despite the passing of a half century since the modern social movement for women's rights began, many of the same public gender gaps persist. "By 2015, one might have expected significant leaps forward in corporate gender diversity. But the numbers don’t lie, and the barriers, both overt and subtle, seem to be stuck in place."[5]

Due to the subtle and unintentional nature of second-generation gender bias, women may deny or be unaware of the barriers to the same social rewards and opportunities men seem to have in obtaining management and leadership positions in all aspects of social and political life from education to business to politics in any patriarchal society.[6][7] It can also lead people to de-legitimize constructive debates about gender disparities.[8] A significant cost of second-generation gender bias is that previously successful junior level women may experience identity threat as they move up the ladder of success and face the need to re-situate their identity roles in positive and negative ways.[9] All of these make the struggle for gender equality seem more psychological and stressful as if the barrier is solely created in their own minds.[10]