part II second-gen gender bias - option 2In part one of this two-part series, we discussed the gender study Harvard University conducted over the last two years, and the changes the institution is implementing as a result. We also introduced the term “second-generation gender bias,” and defined it as the cultural engagement and policies in workplaces and academia that impact men and women differently.

In this week’s blog, we’ll discuss the research of Deborah Kolb, professor emerita at the School of Management for Simmons College, as well as recommendations for both employees and corporations to address second-generation gender biases in the workplace.

As the part of her role at Simmons, Deborah focuses on gender issues in negotiation and leadership. She recently co-authored an article titled, “Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers, which is featured in this month’s Harvard Business Review.1

“It’s not enough to identify and instill the “right” skills and competencies as if in a social vacuum,” writes Deborah and her colleagues. “The context must support a woman’s motivation to lead and also increase the likelihood that others will recognize and encourage her efforts—even when she doesn’t look or behave like the current generation of senior executives.”

Deborah’s advice is to begin by educating everyone about second-generation gender biases. She suggests that companies create safe identity work spaces to help women transition to bigger roles by encouraging coaching relationships, women’s leadership programs, and peer support groups.

When it comes to the double-bind—the scenario where a women’s assertiveness is perceived as either too brash or too kind—Deborah recommends that women anchor their development efforts with a sense of purpose in what the organization and what teams need.

Effective leaders develop a sense of purpose by pursuing goals that align with their personal values and advance the collective good, “writes Deborah and her colleagues. “This allows them to look beyond the status quo to what is possible and gives them a compelling reason to take action despite personal fears and insecurities.”

The idea here is to be authentic and transparent enough for your colleagues to trust you. This is also about taking risks “in the service of shared goals.” But don’t go it alone. It’s important to connect others to this larger purpose to inspire commitment, boost resolve, and help them find purpose in their work.

10 Tips to address second-generation gender biases

Here’s a rundown of steps to help address second-generation gender biases at both the corporate and individual level:

For corporations

  1. Educate employees about second-generation gender bias.
  2. Create women’s leadership programs and/or peer support groups.
  3. Encourage coaching relationships.
  4. Examine workplace policies to see if they impact one gender differently than another.
  5. Revise policies that provide advantages to one gender over another.

For employees

  1. Examine your own personal biases.
  2. Remove names and gender-specific pronouns from resumes before passing them on to senior leadership for review.
  3. Work with a sense of purpose, guided by the needs of your organization and team.
  4. Dress conservatively (especially in the finance industry) and speak confidently.2
  5. Seek networking opportunities, and participate in mentor programs as well as peer group discussions.

To hear more on addressing second-generation gender biases, listen to a recent edition of On Point3 where Tom Ashbrook interviews Deborah Kohl about her studies in leadership and genders issues.


[1] Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers. Available at: Accessed on September 4, 2013.

[2] How to Network Your Way Into Finance Without Getting Hit on or in Your Own Way. Available at Accessed September 4, 2013.

[3] Women, the Workplace, and ‘Second Generation’ Gender Bias. Available at: Accessed September 4, 2013.


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