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#BiasCorrect: The Impact of Words in the Workplace

In March 2019, Catalyst — a global nonprofit focused on creating workplaces that work for women — launched their #BiasCorrect campaign on International Women’s Day. Their goal was to confront unconscious gender bias by showcasing the power of words that are commonly used to describe women and encourage people to #BiasCorrect by paying more attention to theirs.

At the 2019 WISE/R Symposium, WISE president Kathleen Francis sat down with Serena Fong, vice president of strategic engagement at Catalyst to explore the issue of unconscious gender bias and their campaign’s results.

Unconscious Bias Defined

Aggressive, emotional, cold. These are just some of the adjectives that have been used to describe women in the workplace. These words also have a negative connotation. They’re examples of unconscious gender bias, a gender equality issue that Catalyst is determined to tackle.

The Double-Bind Dilemma

“We have something that we call the double-bind dilemma for women … [that is,] if you exhibit behaviors that are considered masculine, you’re too tough, obnoxious, aggressive, too much,” said Fong. “Yet if you exhibit behaviors that are considered feminine — like supportive, calm and helpful — then you’re too soft to be a leader.”

According to Catalyst, the double-bind dilemma for female leaders occurs when women take charge and are viewed as competent leaders, but disliked. Or when women take care, they are liked but viewed as less competent leaders. The result of the double-bind dilemma is that women leaders are seen as competent or likeable, but rarely both.

“Think about when you’re describing a woman and think about what your motivations were,” said Fong. “Would you have penalized that person if they were a man?” She shared an example of how it plays out in terms of your career and advancement: 

#BiasCorrect Launch

“When we launched the campaign, we got immediate feedback about how it had resonated with women,” said Fong. In the first five days, the website was visited more than 99,000 times and resulted in over 140 social posts from high-profile influencers, such as Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg. 

The social media campaign focuses on breaking down common gender stereotypes by analyzing the intended meaning behind the words used. Participants upload a photo of themselves and then choose a word that has been used to describe them. Each of the selected words feature a de-constructed definition, where Catalyst aims to get to the intended meaning, and then provides a synonym. (See examples in the slideshow above.)

Join the #BiasCorrect Campaign

Go to the “Bias Photo Generator” on the #BiasCorrect webpage to create your own image and share it on social media to be a part of the movement. Your photo can help spark conversation around unconscious bias and inspire others to be an advocate for gender equality.


Next month, we’ll share strategies on how you can flip the gender bias script in our "Member Exclusive" feature.