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Bringing unconscious bias out of the workplace shadows

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From our clients to our colleagues, there’s no shortage of strong women here at We Are Unity HQ. And with this year’s International Women’s Day theme being #EachforEqual – we were compelled to call out unconscious bias in the workplace.

The data doesn’t lie

Unconscious bias is all around us.

Did you know that tall, dark and handsome equates to about $US790 in your pocket each year for every inch over 5 foot 5? Have you heard that blondes have more funds? Because, they do: Earning approximately 7% more during their career than their brunette counterparts. Not to mention the studies confirming that women who wear makeup are perceived to be 10% more competent.

And inside the boardroom?

While the response to traditional sexism at work has opened up more opportunities for gender equality, the fact is that only 6% of S&P 500 CEO’s are women.

Diversity pays

The companies that can overcome unconscious bias and embrace gender diversity realise the commercial value.

  • Companies with more women in top management experience better Return on Equity and Total Return to Shareholders.
  • Companies who have at least one woman on their board have higher return on assets than those with none.
  • And, companies that have boards with three or more women tend to be more profitable, have a higher return on asset and better market performance, according to the research from Macquarie Business School.

With the Australian Institute of Company Directors announcing that the number of women on boards of ASX 200 companies had hit 30 per cent for the first time at the end of last year, more companies are starting to reap the benefits of female representation.

Dr Farida Akhtar from Macquarie Business School, a senior lecturer in Actuarial Studies and Business Analytics and researcher on the success of large companies with female CEOs, highlights Shemara Wikramanayake of Macquarie Group, Mirvac’s Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz and Elizabeth Gaines from Fortescue Metals as examples of women at the top driving positive commercial outcomes.


While any event that brings awareness to gender inequality is always good, we wanted to take a deeper dive into this issue with a simple, actionable step we can all take to reduce unconscious gender bias – even when International Women’s Day is no longer in the news.

Let’s remember everyone’s vulnerable. So, whether an interaction happens between men and woman, men and men or women and women… unconscious bias is out there influencing decisions, judgements and actions everywhere, all the time.

Action step: It’s human behaviour to become complacent with what is familiar. Making a conscious effort to recognise and call out unconscious bias in the moment is the first step. Easier said than done? We suggest getting comfortable with uncomfortable moments by responding in a common, unemotional way by asking the person to #CheckYourBias.


ABDULLAH, S., ISMAIL, K., and NACHUM, L., (2016) Does having women on boards create value? The impact of societal perceptions and corporate governance in emerging markets Strategic Management Journal, Vol.37(3), pp.466-476

Boddy, N. (2020), ‘Do women make better CEOs?’ Australian Financial Review, 2 March. Available at: https://www.afr.com/work-and-careers/careers/do-women-make-better-ceos-20200211-p53znx

Catalyst, (2020, February 11), Women CEO’s of the S&P 500. https://www.catalyst.org

Etcoff, N., Stock, S., Haley, L., Vickery, S., & House D. (2011) Cosmetics as a Feature of the Extended Human Phenotype: Modulation of the Perception of Biologically Important Facial Signals. PLoS ONE 6(10).

Main, L., Clark, A. (2019), ‘ASX 200 cracks 30pc female directors target’, Australian Financial Review, 19 December. Available at: https://www.afr.com/work-and-careers/leaders/asx-200-cracks-30pc-female-directors-target-20191218-p53l09

Johnston D.W. (2010), Physical appearance and wages: Do blondes have more fun?. Economic Letters.

Judge, T., Cable, D., (2004). The Effect of Physical Height on Workplace Success and Income: Preliminary Test of a Theoretical Model. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 89(3), Jun 2004, 428-441.

Steinpreis R. E., Anders K. A., & Ritzke D. (1999) Sex Roles; 41, (8).

March 9, 2020, mazz.napier