International Women’s Day: Break the Bias
Paige McDonough, Career Development Officer at Qatar Career Development Center
Captaining a cargo tanker across major ports around the world isn’t statistically a common role for women, with less than 8% of all merchant mariners being female, according to the International Chamber of Shipping. But navigating a 188,000-deadweight ton tanker through narrow passages such as the Suez Canal is exactly what my friend Karen Davis did for 16 years. Drawing on this experience, she continued in leadership positions across the global maritime industry, culminating with her recent appointment as the first-ever female Managing Director of a global shipping organization.
Her trailblazing career in a traditionally male-dominated field perfectly embodies this year’s International Women’s Day Theme: ‘Break the Bias’. In fact, Karen’s drive to pursue and excel in a non-traditional role demonstrates her own desire to challenge the status quo of “gender-oriented” careers, which she took a step further with the establishment of a charitable organization that supports women in non-traditional roles.
Despite these efforts, women like Karen represent a minority in today’s labor force across “non-traditional” occupations – a term defined by the US Department of Labor as a field with less than 25% of women employed. Industries such as mining, technology, and mathematics continue to see underrepresentation of female professionals, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. While women have become increasingly more involved in the workforce over the last several decades, we are yet to achieve gender equality across all sectors.
This year’s theme of ‘Break the Bias’ illustrates the unfortunate reality that biases still exist, and that without taking action, we create more barriers for women to overcome. Some biases may be subtle or even unconscious, meaning the preferences are so deeply ingrained that it is hard to recognize that they exist. This unconscious bias can be gauged through online implicit bias assessments offered by organizations such as Project Implicit, a not-for-profit organization founded by a group of scientists with the aim of educating the public about biases. As Project Implicit indicates, there is a frequent association between males and career rather than females, which further perpetuates a very real, albeit invisible, roadblock for women pursuing non-traditional careers.
Further to this, research shows that a lack of female role-models in non-traditional roles significantly contributes to lower numbers of women employed in those fields. Take leadership roles, for example. With less than 10% of females represented amongst all Fortune 500 CEOs, this is a strong indicator that more still needs to be done to support and promote women to fulfil their greatest potential. Role models such as Karen act as advocates for young women seeking to pursue a similar path, and slowly help erode the unconscious bias that holds women back.
What’s being done
That said, women have nonetheless gained increased exposure to non-traditional roles in recent years, with increased representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and architecture, according to LinkedIn. Additionally, many organizations have pledged their support for gender parity through establishing and reporting on the number of women hired. While this progress is encouraging, there is still work to be done to break the bias that perpetuates the “glass ceiling” concept for women.
To further support women in non-traditional roles, we must first shift our own mindset, recognize our possible unconscious biases, and strive toward overcoming them. We must continue to champion women in non-traditional roles, and raise awareness of what role models like Karen can do in advancing human development. So, let us join forces in the lead up to this year’s International Women’s Day and work together to break the bias. With concentrated efforts, we will support young female professionals’ success to further advance our mission of building a prosperous and vibrant Qatar.