What is implicit bias and how does it affect women?

An implicit bias, or implicit stereotype, is the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group. In short, it means that all the time, people are assigning judgements and expectations to you, whether they mean to be or not.

As a woman in the job market, fighting implicit bias can be an arduous battle. How do you demonstrate that you have good leadership qualities without coming across as “difficult” or “bossy”? How do you take ownership of projects on which you collaborated without coming across as passive? How do you strike these balances?

You might be thinking, “Miss CV, we are well into the twenty-first century, surely we are done having the ‘women in the workplace’ conversation, right?” Well, not quite…

In October of last year, Amazon’s machine learning specialists had to scrap an AI technology that was learning to select the best job candidates because… you guessed it: the machine didn’t like women.

The experiment went like this: the machines were provided with information on top candidates who possessed desirable traits and learned to select from various resumes based on these traits. The trouble, of course, is that many of these preferred resumes came from men, so it wasn’t long before the computers began penalizing graduates from all-women colleges and discounting candidates with credentials such as ‘women’s chess club captain’. Even when such biases were deprogrammed, the computer scientists behind the technology could not establish that further discrimination was not taking place.

Implicit bias is inescapable, such that even machines are not immune to the phenomenon. If you are a woman in the job market, you cannot count on your would-be employer or your interviewer to mitigate their own implicit bias. Such biases are the product of centuries if not millennia of psychological programing. Instead, you must do what you can to remove the parts of your professional CV or cover letter that may promote these stereotypes, and enhance what you do have to present yourself as competitively as possible.

How do you do this? Part of the issue may be related to masculine versus feminine language. Amazon’s AI learned to select resumes for words such as ‘executed’ and ‘captured’, words that tended to appear on men’s CVs. On the other hand, women tend to use words such as ‘collaborate’ and ‘helped’, which may suggest a lack of confidence or leadership ability.

Other studies have shown that men are more likely to overstate accomplishments on their resumes (i.e. four hours of Python experience is ‘proficient’) while women are more likely to understate theirs (i.e. thousands of lines of code is ‘beginner-level’).

So does this mean that we, as women, should overblow all of our accomplishments, pretend to be a master at everything, and lie until we get hired? No, of course it doesn’t, but when you are preparing to enter a competitive job market, you might as well play by the rule book that your competitors are using. After all, why shouldn’t we enjoy the advantages that we’ve earned?

With years of experience in the professional writing and job development sector, Miss CV understands what these biases may be and can work to free your application materials from those subconscious impressions that may be holding you back. In the coming months, I will be regularly publishing articles to help women and non-women alike sharpen their competitive edge and learn to present themselves to employers in the most positive, authentic way possible. Stay tuned for more!

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