Taking care of our mental health and wellbeing is as important as taking care of our physical health. MIND suggests that one in six employees experience common mental health issues including anxiety and depression, with work being the biggest cause of stress. And, whilst we all have ‘mental health’ (no matter what gender we identify with), there is evidence to suggest that women are more likely to have a common mental health problem and almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety. But, could mental health be improved in the workplace if Unconscious Bias was highlighted and addressed?
Women in the Workplace
Within many sectors, women are still significantly underrepresented. This is exaggerated at senior levels and even more evident for BME women and those with disabilities. Unfortunately, stereotypes and assumptions about women in terms of their skills, abilities and potential in the workplace remain. Some of these biases are conscious, however many will be unconscious. Either way, this invisibility or marginalisation can have a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing.
In male-dominated workplaces, women will be in “out-groups”, increasing their sense of isolation. Not only that but gender bias, a preference for one gender over another, combined with affinity bias, an unconscious preference for people who share qualities with you or someone you like, significantly influence how women are perceived and engaged with. These factors negatively impact on women in terms of recruitment or promotion, performance reviews, levels of bonuses and pay and even inclusion in decision making meetings.
Behaviours that Serve to Exclude
Unconscious bias can often show up in our micro-behaviours - the subtleties in our body language or choice of words, for example, that show how we regard those around us. Micro-behaviours can have an enormous impact on whether women feel valued and included in a team, group or organisation, or whether they feel excluded and unappreciated
What makes micro-inequities particularly problematic is that they are hard to recognise for both the person acting them out and the person on the receiving end.
Do you find that you are constantly interrupted during meetings or discussions with male colleagues; have you gone to a meeting where you were the only one not introduced; have your ideas been ignored or dismissed only for the same idea to be accepted when put forward by a male colleague? These are just a few examples of behaviours that women face in the workplace specifically linked to their gender.
Some further examples of micro-inequities include:
These subtle behaviours can go unnoticed, but if they are challenged, the behaviour and impact can be difficult to explain, and they can often be easily dismissed with a suggestion that the recipient is being ‘over sensitive’. This type of response can deter women from challenging the subtle behaviours and further compound the feelings of isolation and marginalisation.
An accumulation of these micro behaviours, in a day, week or month can become overwhelming and chip away at self-confidence, thus resulting in low self-esteem, feelings of alienation and eventually even impacting our mental health.
Together We Can Instigate Change
It is important that we are all aware of our micro-behaviours and unintentional biases; by merely raising awareness, we can begin to mitigate the effects.
So, how can we guard against these biases and behaviours impacting on our mental health in the workplace?
Paula Whelan, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at RightTrack Learning, says: "If you observe or experience micro-behaviours in your workplace, find a way to challenge them – you are not being over sensitive, they are negative behaviours that may seem small but they can have a big impact.”
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