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Unconscious Bias missing piece in the gender equality puzzle

08 August 2014

Getting Over Barriers

The 2014 Westpac Women of Influence Report has found that professional women continue to face challenges at work, despite a high level of awareness of the gender gap from their male counterparts.

The report, launched to support the final nominations phase for the Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards, found that men are twice as likely (22%) to see their gender as an advantage at work than women (9%). It was also revealed that more than half of women (55%) believe that they must work harder to receive the professional recognition they deserve, with two in five men (43%) also acknowledging this as an issue for females.

The national survey of 1000 professionals - aged between 25 and 65 and earning more than $85,000 a year - uncovered that the majority of both genders agree on the continued existence of the glass ceiling (74% of women, 57% of men); a significant percentage still experience a ‘boys club’ culture (46% of women, 32% of men) and see the boardroom as a patriarchal institution (64% of women, 61% of men).

Progress for women, slow

“Recognition from both genders about the barriers women face at work shows just how far we’ve progressed in this conversation,” said Larke Riemer, Westpac’s Director of Women’s Markets.

“Gender issues aren’t just women’s issues; they are community issues because they impact productivity, companies’ bottom lines and the nation’s overall economy. So it’s really up to employers, employees, colleagues, government, partners and society to address this and find solutions.”

The Westpac Women of Influence Report found only one in three people were familiar with the term "unconscious bias", when a person's day-to-day decision-making process is unwittingly informed by stereotypes that can lead to discrimination. Once they were made aware of the term however, nearly half (46%) of the women surveyed believe they have experienced this bias in the workplace.

The majority (61% of women and 55% of men) also said they would like to see an increased awareness of both unconscious bias and discriminatory behaviour at work. However, only a small number of respondents (6% of women and 11% of men) proactively suggested an education or training program, and a further 15% of men and 16% of women didn’t know what do to about the problem, highlighting the challenges associated with finding solutions to overcome gender hurdles.

“Over one in five men still see their gender as an advantage at work which is very telling. Employers and employees need to take stock of their decision-making processes to ensure there are concrete policies in place to overcome bias. We’ve been doing this at Westpac with an unconscious bias training program that educates our staff to slow down their natural decision-making process to ensure they are making conscious and informed decisions to avoid inflicting their own bias on others and continue breaking down gender barriers,” said Ms. Riemer.

“This new study highlights the importance of initiatives such as the 100 Women of Influence Awards which profile influential female leaders and help to promote positive role models. This is just one element in the equation that can help assist us to create workplaces in Australia where recognition and participation will be based on merit over gender.”

The Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards program is in its third year. It celebrates outstanding and influential women across corporate, community, arts, philanthropy, public and not-for-profit sectors. (Nominations close August 10, 2014.) Winners will be announced – Wednesday October 22, 2014 at a gala event held in Sydney’s Town Hall.

Entry forms can be downloaded at

Completed entries can be uploaded online at

For more information about the 2014 100 Women of Influence Awards, please visit

Key Findings – Westpac Women of Influence Report

Gender in the workplace

Men are twice as likely as women to think that their gender gives them an advantage in the workplace (22%, cf. 9% of women)

More than half of women (55%) feel that women need to work harder to get the professional recognition they deserve. Men are less likely to agree with this statement (43%), although 2 in 5 acknowledge this issue

Three-quarters of women believe that women are still battling the glass ceiling in Australia, compared to just over half of men (74%, cf. 57%)

Both genders acknowledge that the boardroom continues to be a patriarchal institution (64% of women, 61% of men)

Almost one in two (46%) women say that a boys club culture exists in their company, compared to just under one in three men (32%)

Almost two in five respondents of both genders agreed that men tend to employ other men (39% men, 40% women)

Unconscious Bias

64% of Australian professionals are not familiar with the term “unconscious bias”

Nearly half (46%) of the women surveyed believe they have experienced this bias in the workplace

More than half of respondents would like to see increased awareness of unconscious bias/discrimination (61% of women, 55% of men)

The most commonly suggested ways to counter unconscious bias are:

Treat everyone equally based on ability (12% women, 15% men)

Talk to people involved (13% women, 11% men)

Point it out/call it out/ speak up (13% women, 8% men)

Education/training (6% women, 11% men)

Ignore it/get on with the job (9% women, 5% men)

16% of men and 15% of women do not know how to combat unconscious bias


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