Unveiling Unconscious Bias: How Women’s Leadership Programs Challenge Deep-Seated Assumptions

bright-eyed woman in women's leadership programs raises hand

How Women's Leadership Programs Challenge Deep-Seated Assumptions

In recent years, a growing number of workplaces have been placing greater emphasis on fostering inclusivity, diversity, and equality within the workplace. However, the fact remains that unconscious biases continue to be a big issue in the workplace - from gender stereotypes to misconceptions about women’s suitability and capability for leadership. 

Although many people are committed to adopting a more inclusive and diverse mindset when it comes to women in the workplace, these stereotypes, biases, and misconceptions can be deep-rooted. In fact, many people have these biases without even knowing that they have them! 

According to one study from Yale University, male and female scientists were asked to review the job applications of male and female students. The male and female students were equally qualified. Despite this, both the male and female scientists consistently ranked the male students higher than the female students in relation to a number of competencies and criteria. This indicates that they were more likely to hire men and considered them to be more competent than women.  

This study is just one of many that shows the impacts that unconscious bias (or the unintentional biases, stereotypes, and prejudices we hold) continues to have on the way we perceive others and make decisions in the workplace. Gender is just one attribute that can be associated with unconscious bias, with age, gender, educational background, physical appearance, culture, ethnicity, religion, and other factors all also being subject to unconscious bias. 

There are many different approaches that may be taken to tackle unconscious bias in the workplace, of which women’s leadership programs are just one. Here are some of the ways in which women’s leadership programs help to challenge some of these deep-seated assumptions that are holding women back from achieving their dreams of becoming a leader: 

  • They help women to identify and acknowledge their own biases. Whether we like it or not, we all have our own prejudices, stereotypes, and biases towards others. Therefore, it is important that we are self-aware and that we do the work to be able to acknowledge the existence of these biases within ourselves. That way, we will be able to recognise when they are impacting our thoughts and actions and will be able to overcome these to ensure we can make decisions fairly, impartially, and without judgement.
  • They encourage women to think about what success means in the workplace. For too long, there has been one set in stone definition or perception of what it means to be successful at work, which ties into this notion of unconscious bias around what success really looks like. By questioning their own deep-rooted assumptions and beliefs around workplace success, female leaders can learn to challenge these norms and become champions in fostering an inclusive workplace culture where everybody is heard and valued – even if they don’t fulfil the traditional criteria of “success”.
  • They help women to become better communicators. Effective communication and collaboration form the foundation of any kind of success in the workplace. When unconscious bias occurs, this can often result in certain staff members missing out on opportunities, or their diverse thoughts, ideas, opinions, and contributions going unheard. Being able to recognise and address these unconscious biases as a leader makes it easier to foster an inclusive workplace where everyone feels valued and heard, and nobody is undervalued because of these unconscious biases that we may hold within ourselves. All these things help to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace that promotes fairer decision making – including in relation to things like hiring into leadership positions.
  • They encourage women to engage in reflection and introspection. By being able to look within ourselves and think deeply about our own thoughts, feelings, and opinions, we will then be able to identify patterns or trends in terms of the types of things that keep coming up. Are there certain reactions that we keep having, or the same assumptions that keep coming up in certain contexts? This type of reflection and introspection process can help us to identify unconscious biases and recognise where these may be holding us back from being able to act as a fair, impartial, and objective decision maker.
  • They allow women to open themselves up to feedback. Particularly in sponsorship or mentoring style programs, up and coming female leaders can open themselves up to feedback and constructive criticism from other women in the same or a similar position. It can sometimes be hard for us to self-reflect on our own actions or recognise our own thoughts, so seeking input from other women – be they colleagues, mentors, or fellow female leaders – can help us to recognise our own biases, even where we may not have realised that we had them.
  • They encourage women to do the work. Nobody is perfect, so it is important that we acknowledge this and commit ourselves to continuous improvement, growth, and change – all of which will enable us to better ourselves and become more effective leaders in the long run. Women’s leadership programs encourage women to make this commitment and support them as they take the first steps to becoming more effective leaders, decision makers, and champions for change in their workplace. 

As you can see, women’s leadership programs can have a number of benefits when it comes to overcoming unconscious biases in the workplace, as well as in the corporate world more broadly. When used in conjunction with other strategies, women’s leadership training can be a powerful tool in overcoming unconscious biases and equipping women with the tools, knowledge, skills, and resources they need to succeed as leaders.  


Caroline Kennedy is an award-winning CEO with a track record of leading multinational companies with up to $250 million in revenue. She is also the founder of Empowering Women Leaders: Awaken the Powerful Leader Within – a transformative eight-week program designed to help women master the art of leadership. If you’re ready to unleash your hidden potential and become the leader that you were always meant to be, find out more at https://www.carolinekennedy.com.

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