Viewpoint: How everyday sexism holds women back 

Microaggressions and subtle biases can pile up and collectively cause massive effects on employees that may hold them back from reaching the next level, writer Jessica Nordell argued in The New York Times Oct. 14. 

Outright discriminatory practices are widely unaccepted and outlawed in workplaces, but small digs and underappreciation of employees can also take a toll. Networking opportunities that employees aren't invited to, unfair attribution of credit for group projects and the expectation to be unfailingly helpful are all ways in which women experience everyday sexism at work. 

In an attempt to quantitatively map the effect of such experiences, Ms. Nordell worked with a computer science professor to build a model. The simulation accounts for the effect of microaggressions on career progression by factoring in slight undervaluing of female employees, stereotyping and higher penalization from others. 

Her model shows how everyday sexism grinds women down over time, with the number of women at the executive level decreasing over time. In the model, employees at a fictional company complete projects alone or in pairs, and top scorers are promoted after twice-yearly performance reviews. The model slightly undervalues women's successful projects and penalizes them more when they fail. One woman starting at the entry-level position makes it to the C-suite following 17 performance review cycles and 208 successful projects. In the same model, a man starting from the same level only needs eight performance reviews to get to the same level and half the number of successful projects. This simulation was set to a 3 percent bias level and didn't take into account the intersectional experiences of women of color. 

Ms. Nordell argued that quotas and anti-discriminatory workshops in the workplace don't work well enough in the long term. Instead, she suggested that the mindset of leaders is the most important factor to preventing microaggressions and gender disparities. Having managers mentor and sponsor women and insist on objective criteria for promotions are essential. If leaders are truly committed to aiding equality in the workplace, they are more likely to take strong action to tackle gender bias.

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