Yasmine El-Ramly during her presentation at the Cayman Islands Institute of Professional Accountants summit in November, 2019.
By Anna Wootton
Despite progress in the equitable employment of women, unconscious gender bias is still preventing them from earning as much or reaching the same career heights as men.
During the two-day annual summit presented by the Cayman Islands Institute of Professional Accountants on 25-26 November, Yasmine El-Ramly, a senior manager with the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, spoke about the impact of unconscious bias on women in the workplace. She began her presentation with some eye-opening statistics: While women represent 44.7 per cent of the workforce, they represent just 26.5 per cent of executive or senior-level managers, 11 per cent of top earners and just 4.8 per cent of CEOs.
The field of accounting shows similar gender bias. Although the percentage of women entering the field of accounting has increased significantly over the past 40 years, the percentage of women becoming partners in firms hasn’t kept pace. This gap reflects the fact that women are entering the accounting workforce, but they are either not staying or not being promoted.
“This is why organisations need to be intentional about advancing women,” El-Ramly said.
To demonstrate how people develop unconscious biases, she projected a number of faces — which ranged in age, gender, ethnicity and style — and then asked attendees to partner up and discuss which face they would most prefer to be stuck with on a trapped elevator. Answers ranged from choosing someone based on their friendly smile, choosing an older companion because they looked maternal and choosing others because they looked “fun,” “creative” or “efficient.”
El-Ramly noted that unconscious biases are an “inescapable human condition [to which] no one is immune,” adding that after a fifth encounter with someone, the brain becomes lazy and writes a script for what it believes it knows — thus developing unconscious biases.
Some common unconscious biases include:
- Confirmation bias — having a preconceived judgment about a group of people or place, and looking for evidence to confirm this judgment
- Affinity bias — having a connection or preference for someone due to familiarity or personality similarities
- Observation bias — the tendency to see what we expect to see
- Conformity bias — behaving similarly to others in a group, even if doing so goes against your own judgment
- Halo effect bias — the transference of one good deed or act onto a person’s entire personality
- Horn effect bias — the transference of one negative deed or act onto a person’s entire personality
El-Ramly theorised that one reason women are remaining in the minority when it comes to leadership positions is because of affinity bias, which causes inherent preference for someone else due to familiarity or personality similarities. This is just one reason why the onus is on companies to recognise workplace bias, El-Ramly said, noting that there are several channels through which bias needs to be monitored. These channels include marketing and communications, recruitment and advancement, job placements and assignments, benefits, and company policies, among others.
Although companies should step up their ownership of perpetuating historic patterns that do not serve or support diversity in the workplace, El-Ramly said it is also important that individuals become more aware of their biases.
“Recognise, reflect and respond,” she said, giving a three-step approach to awareness, noting that perception is reality and to change reality, people must change their perceptions.
“Individuals who are looking to advance in an organisation should have a sponsor, or someone within the organisation, who can help them become more visible and advocate on their behalf when or as needed,” El-Ramly suggested. “Sponsors spend political capital as necessary for the advancement or access to opportunities that will benefit their protégés.”
El-Ramly believes the answer begins with an inclusive and coaching culture.
“It is the foundation that is needed to groom talent and build successful firm-wide initiatives such as mentoring and modified work arrangements that will engage talent and keep the best and brightest in our organisations and professions.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2020 print edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline “Addressing Gender Bias in the Workplace.”
About the Author
Anna Wootton is the Digital Marketing & PR Manager for Dart’s real estate companies and assets, including Dart Real Estate, Provenance Properties, Camana Bay and The Residences at Seafire. Born in the Cayman Islands, with British heritage and a Canadian passport, Anna is multinational with a Caymankind heart. Anna has a background in journalism and a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from University of British Columbia. She has worked in Camana Bay for the past six years and can be found at an afternoon Ryde class or getting her paint on at 3 Girls & A Kiln.