Episode 4: Promotional Bias

What it is:

Promotional bias is when someone in a position of power — like your boss or a future boss — has subtle prejudices that affect whether or not you’re hired or promoted.

How to spot it:

  • In the context of gender, promotional bias often relates to unconscious (or conscious!) biases that someone in power has about what jobs women should or shouldn’t hold, or women’s roles more generally (for example, a woman shouldn’t take a job with long hours because it’s her job to look after her family.)
  • Ever seen this riddle before? A father and his son are in a terrible car accident. The father dies, and the boy is transported to the hospital. When the boy is taken into surgery, the surgeon steps out and says “I can’t operate on this boy, he’s my son.” Who is the surgeon? If you had trouble figuring it out, that might relate to unconscious biases you may have about women in medical fields.
  • Promotional bias often occurs intersectionally as well. Preconceived notions about women of color or queer women, for example, can also play into promotional bias and make it even worse.
  • The person in power who holds these biases doesn’t have to be a man. Women also often hold internalized unconscious biases about women’s roles.

Three ways to fight it:

  • Check your own biases: You can take Harvard’s Implicit Association Test about gender and careers here to find out what your own unconscious biases about women in the workplace might be.
  • Call it out when you see it: If you consistently hear someone at your company saying that a woman wouldn’t be a good “culture fit” for a role, have a conversation with them and help them to understand that “inclusion” isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a key driver of business success: A recent McKinsey study found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to generate financial performance above their national industry median.
  • Practice inclusive hiring: Take steps to make hiring at your company more inclusive, such as requiring a set number of women to be interviewed for each role.


Get the facts about the wage gap from the National Partnership for Women and Families and the National Women’s Law Center.