Posted: 08 Mar. 2021 5 min. read

Gender Gap due to “Unconscious bias” and “Systematic bias”

【Part 1】 For Gender Equality ~International Women’s Day~

*This is an English translation of the D-NNOVATION article issued by Deloitte Tohmatsu Group on March 8, 2021. If there is any discrepancy between the Japanese version and the English translation, the Japanese version shall prevail.


IWD theme: ”Choose to Challenge”

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day (IWD). It was set in 1975 by the United Nations to empower women rights and promote participation in politics and economy. There are various initiatives all around the world to call for gender equality and freedom. 

This year, the IWD theme is “Choose to Challenge”.

“Choose to Challenge” conveys the message that challenges in gender equality should not be handled only by women, but by everyone in the society calling for a change.

Gender Gap in Japan

2020 was a year where female leaders’ achievements were admired under the pandemic around the world. However, it also means that “female leaders” are still rare that they make it into a news. While countries such as Iceland, Finland, New Zealand, and Germany -those with female leaders, are improving the gender gap, gender inequality is still a big issue on a global scale.

Especially Japan is facing with one of the worst Gender Gap Index. As you may already know, the Global Gender Gap Report by World Economic Forum in 2020 ranked Japan in 121st out of 153 countries, which is by far the worst of G7 nations. In the report, Japan marks the highest (= smallest gender gap) in categories such as literacy and primary education, but the gender gap in politics and economy - such as the number of female leaders and pay gap, is too huge that it ranked 121th overall. In Japan, women empowerment is slowly progressing, but the vast majority of politicians and management are men. You could say that most decisions are currently made by men and Japan is far behind in women empowerment compared to other countries.

Unconscious Bias

One of the reasons that Japan is so behind in gender equality is the unconscious bias related to traditional gender roles. Of course, there are unconscious bias everywhere else in the world, but why is the bias so strong in Japan that it prevents gender equality?

First, fixed gender role had been reinforced even further after World War II, which has led the social structure dominated by men. Post-war rehabilitation and development had been supported by long working hours and authoritarian leaderships by men, which supported high economic growth and made the basis of today’s Japan. The family model that “women provide family/house work while men work outside as bread earners” was established during those times and this still continues to be the case. Although the number of working moms double the number of stay-home moms now, men spend significantly less time in providing childcare and/or family work. This is a huge barrier to women working in Japan.

In a homogenous environment, members with different views may not be respected as much because people have natural instincts to prefer members who have similar opinions to their own. So, in a male-centric society, only members who have similar qualifications of traditional male leaders tend to be appointed as leaders. Thus, women may not be evaluated fairly and end up in having unfair opportunities for their “different” perspectives. This leads to women underestimating themselves and hesitant in challenging, which leads to less growth of females and the loop goes on. This is not about attitude - there is a systematic bias in the society.

Question the current value proposition

As we have seen, bias affects not just the society, but also women themselves unconsciously. Recently, there are various initiatives to tackle those unconscious bias at workplace. At Deloitte Tohmatsu Group, we have initiatives to promote understanding and recognition of bias – such as Panel Promise, as we have introduced in the previous article. We have various trainings to all members as well. For evaluation meetings where bias may have the most impact, we try to build a structure to have diverse perspectives at evaluating side, by having D&I champions at the meeting etc. 

Reconsidering the values by pointing out bias from different perspectives would enable members who are “different from traditional leaders’ models” get evaluated fairly. It is imperative to have frameworks to point out and question “unconscious judgements” to fight against bias. Members gathered based on biased evaluation, will lead to a halt when the environment drastically changes – just like COVID-19. Organizations become more resilient and stronger because they have diverse members with different perspectives and values.

【Part 2】”Choose to Challenge” to bring Butterfly Effect

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives at Deloitte Tohmatsu Group

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