Biases are beliefs held about certain groups of people. All people and all genders hold biases. When biases show up in the workplace, they contribute to wage inequality — perpetuating a 26% pay gap between women and men in Canada.

We know that when women thrive, we all thrive. According to Leanin.org, employees on diverse teams are more committed and work harder. Furthermore, companies with more women in leadership produce better results. With these facts in mind, why is it that women still get paid less?

1. Unconscious bias

Sneaky prejudices that exist beyond our awareness

As a survival mechanism, every human brain makes mental shortcuts and snap judgements. Unfortunately, these judgements can be extremely harmful when they’re made towards others.  Unconscious biases are social stereotypes we hold against people outside of our own conscious awareness.

One common example of an unconscious bias women face in the workplace is the belief that women should be homemakers and caregivers. In fact, experts at Harvard conducted an Implicit Association Test over two decades that found 76% of participants (both male and female) associate men with career and women with family.

2. Performance bias

Harmful assumptions shaped by stereotypes

Performance bias occurs in the workplace when we make a superficial evaluation about employees and assume one group of people is better at their work than another. According to Leanin.org, research indicates that many people underestimate women’s performance and overestimate men’s performance. In fact, having a man’s name on your resume improves the odds of getting hired by 60%.

3. Attribution bias

Jumping to conclusions without the facts

Attribution bias is closely linked to performance bias and relates to the likelihood that people will explain a person’s behaviour by referring to their character, not their circumstances.

One way Attribution bias shows up is in meetings. A 2014 study from George Washington University found that men interrupted women 33 percent more often than when they spoke with men. Some might assume that women are less engaged in meetings or don’t have important opinions to share, rather than focusing on the circumstance that women are routinely interrupted.

4. Likeability bias

Women are “bossy”, men are “leaders”

Likability bias is the tendency to find women less likable when they don’t display traits associated with traditional gender norms. For example, men that display leadership qualities, are assertive and competitive are perceived as being likable. Women who display the same qualities are perceived as being bossy, aggressive, or demanding and therefore less likable. This means women who display leadership qualities are less likely to be promoted or given the same career growth opportunities as their male colleagues.

In contrast, women who do exhibit traits associated with their gender norms will be considered more likable, but they will also be considered less competent and therefore less likely to be given career growth opportunities. This creates a catch-22 for women in the workplace.

5. Maternal bias

The motherhood penalty

Maternal bias is the assumption that women are not focused on their careers. In the workplace, mothers are given fewer opportunities and held to higher standards than fathers. This means the pay gap is greater for mothers. According to Census data from 2022, working mothers earn 42% less than working fathers. When moms are paid less, it has a severe impact on the financial stability of families everywhere.

6. Affinity bias

Rejecting those who act or look different

Affinity bias means that we gravitate to and favor people who are most like us. We also tend to unconsciously reject those who act or look different from ourselves. This means that hiring managers are most likely to promote and hire people who are the same gender, age, ethnicity etc. Because white men hold more positions of power, they are more likely to give opportunities to other white men. This means that women and people of colour are often overlooked.

How can you help?

The first step is being aware of your own biases and how they affect people in your workplace. Think about these six examples and identify where you might have your own unconscious bias.

You can also Take the Pledge to pay employees the same for work of equal value. Begin by completing a gender wage gap analysis and outlining an action plan based on the results.