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Dealing With Second-Generation Gender Bias at Work

Dear woman, it's really happening to you.

Key points

  • Many workplace systems and expectations were formed based on the needs of previous generations.
  • Second-generation gender bias disadvantages women in invisible and unintentional ways.
  • Bolster your confidence and advocate for yourself by highlighting your professional characteristics.
Anete Lusina/ Pexels-Canva Germany GmbH
Source: Anete Lusina/ Pexels-Canva Germany GmbH

As a woman, you likely face discrimination at work and don’t even recognize it,1 especially as you may be caught up in a cycle of dealing with stereotypes, multiple roles demanding your attention (additional responsibilities at home), and a lack of female representation in high-ranking positions.2

This less-obvious discrimination may be due to second-generation gender bias,3,4 through which “practices that appear gender-neutral may disadvantage women in invisible and unintentional ways.”5 This includes meetings being held early in the morning or late in evening, gendered career paths, and a lack of access to networks and sponsors.6 Your experience of such bias can be even further nuanced when considering all of your intersectional identities (race, ethnicity, age, religion, physical ability, etc.).

In her book The Gender Penalty: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities for Women at Work, Anneli Blundell7 writes, “be confident in your character, not confident in your competence.”

Blundell encourages professional women to “choose confidence” while recognizing that they are working in systems riddled with second-generation gender bias. Women today work in environments in which the systems and standards of practice were created generations ago, when women were not afforded the opportunity to work outside of the home or take on leadership roles.

Navigating these systems can be tricky; therefore, it may be helpful to advocate for yourself based on your character. Be mindful not to discredit yourself or your abilities when facing new opportunities. For example, you may not have been asked to work on a specific task before, but your characteristics of being thorough, creative, resourceful, and motivated show that you are more than up to the challenge.

Reflect on instances when you have hesitated to pursue an opportunity because you did not feel you met 100% of the requirements.

  • How can you reframe your thinking to focus on your characteristics?
  • How do your characteristics make you an excellent candidate?
  • Are you adaptable, resilient, steadfast, a go-getter, or a life-long learner?

Knowing that you will have to navigate systems in which there is second-generation gender bias, even if it’s hard to see or accept that it’s there, advocate for yourself by highlighting your characteristics.


1. Crosby, F. (1984). The denial of personal discrimination. American Behavioral Scientist, 27(3), 371–386. Retrieved from

2. Batara, M. A., Ngo, J. M., See, K. A., & Erasga, D. (2018). Second generation gender bias: The effects of the invisible bias among mid-level women managers. Asia-Pacific Social Science Review, 18(2), 138-151.

3. Fletcher, J.K. (1999). Disappearing Acts: Gender, power, and relational practice at work. MIT.

4. Trefalt, S., Merrill-Sands, D., Kolb, D., & Wilson, F. (2011). Closing the women’s leadership gap: Who can help?. CGO Insight, 32.

5. Shapiro, M., Rivera-Beckstrom, M., Ingols, C., Blake-Beard, S., Gao, L., O'Neill, R., & VanDam, E. (2022). What's Power Got to Do with It? Seeking Gender-Equity in Organizations through Male Ally Initiatives. Advancing Women in Leadership Journal, 41(1), 1-12.

6. Ibarra, H., Kolb, D., & Ely, R. J. (2013). Women rising: The unseen barriers. Harvard Business Review, (September). Retrieved January, 2024, from

7. Blundell, A. (2023). The Gender Penalty: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities for Women at Work by

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