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How Organizations Can Reduce Gender Bias and Stereotypes

Championing equitable norms to help all employees.

Key points

  • Overemphasis on competition, instead of teamwork, can create poor work environments.
  • Workplaces need to be mindful of the intentional and unintentional norms they create.
  • Organizations can normalize activities for which women are more likely to be viewed negatively.

March is Women's History Month. As far as we have come in 2024, gender stereotypes continue to impede women’s career advancement.

In a 2024 Annual Reviews article, Heilman, Caleo, and Manzi highlight research on the gender stereotypes that continue to include beliefs about women’s “incompetence in male gender-typed settings” and “the kinds of workplace behaviors that are deemed suitable for them (women).”

I’ve highlighted some takeaways to promote the strategies the authors encourage organizations to use, in supporting women at work.1

Jr Korpa / Unsplash
Jr Korpa / Unsplash

Women in the workplace are viewed negatively when they engage in stereotypically masculine behaviors (e.g. displaying dominance, being assertive) and when they don’t engage in stereotypically feminine behaviors (e.g. being agreeable, being helpful).1 This bias may come from societal norms and second-generation bias.

Heilman, Caleo, and Manzi, 2024, describe organizational changes needed to alleviate the negative e­ffects (bias and discrimination) of stereotypes including:

  • To improve the representation of women in the physical work environment, increase the number of women in your organization’s leadership roles.
    • Organizations intentionally or unintentionally send messages to employees about who is represented and what is accepted in the workspace. If fewer women receive promotions at any level, the message is about who can be promoted. Increasing women in leadership roles and creating teams of women can help create norms that all qualified individuals can be leaders and increase diverse perceptions of women’s performance. For example, if a team is comprised solely of women it may be easier to see that each member has unique qualities, such as some are better delegators and some are better at analysis, rather than projecting traits on the only woman in a group otherwise comprised of men.
  • More gender-neutral or women-welcoming spaces in the workplace.
    • Providing space for breastfeeding individuals sends a message that individuals starting families are accepted, and that they are still valued in the work environment.
    • Ensuring that communal and leadership spaces are accessible and welcoming to all.
  • Use communal language in offi­cial documents.
    • Routinely audit and monitor documents for language that unintentionally reinforces gender stereotypes. For example, documents that only use the pronouns he/him or default positions to masculine, such as chairman. The use of the pronoun “they” and a gender-neutral term such as “chairperson” are more welcoming of all.
    • The American Psychological Association has an inclusive language guide that can offer some guidance.
  • Prioritize collective well-being and rewarding teamwork.
    • Organizations that focus on competition and penalize signs of weakness have higher rates of workplace bullying, incivility, and poor leadership, as well as lower employee well-being.2 Competition between colleagues can be toxic to the workplace and can create a negative bias toward women as they may be judged harshly if they seem too assertive or motivated toward their own promotion. Creating an environment in which teamwork and support between colleagues is expected and supported by leadership will likely be beneficial for all.
  • Create, communicate, and enforce o­fficial organizational policies that normalize behaviors for which women (but not men) are penalized.
    • Formalize guidelines that encourage all employees to engage in certain behaviors related to tasks. “Examples might include organizational guidelines dictating that self-nominations are a prerequisite for promotion and rewards, or that feedback for subordinates should always include areas to improve upon.”1 Having policies in place to normalize activities for which women are more likely to be viewed negatively can help to change the organizational culture and create a more collegial environment.

Consider sharing these strategies with your organization in an effort to create a more equitable environment.


1. Heilman, M. E., Caleo, S., & Manzi, F. (2024). Women at work: pathways from gender stereotypes to gender bias and discrimination. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 11, 165-192.

2. Berdahl JL, Cooper M, Glick P, Livingston RW, Williams JC. 2018. Work as a masculinity contest. J. Soc. Issues 74:422–48

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