A graphic for the definition of second generation bias

What is Second Generation Bias?

Second Generation Bias is a form of discrimination women experience in the workplace. Rather than first-generation bias – which is visible and purposeful discrimination, it is more subtle and typically perpetuated through stereotypes and organisational systems. 

Researchers Ibarra, Ely and Kolb describe how Second Generation Bias creates a context in the workplace akin to “something in the water” that prevents women from reaching their full potential. This bias is not necessarily intentional; instead, it represents the environment in which women face repeated barriers to progression. It is a collection of factors such as;

  • Organisations’ gendered career paths and talent systems that define leadership traits akin to male characteristics.
  • Networks that subtly exclude women.
  • A lack of female role models.
  • Women who find themselves in a ‘Double Bind‘ as people judge them as ‘power-hungry’ and ‘self-promoting’ compared to men who are seen as ‘likeable and capable’ for similar behaviours or in the same context.
  • The ‘Motherhood Penalty‘ whereby women incur a professional ‘cost’ by having children. 

Without an explanation of Second Generation Bias, many incorrectly interpret women’s lack of progress as a lack of aspiration, ambition or capability. 

Related Concepts

Double Bind 

Motherhood Penalty

Related Research

To find out more about women’s career progression and the barriers they face please read ECC’s summary of ‘Taking Gender into Account Summary‘ and the research piece published through MIT Sloan School of Management titled ‘“Potential” and the Gender Promotion Gap‘. 

Related Resources

ECC’s explainer ‘Why there are so few women in leadership roles‘ provides an overview on conflicting factors to women’s progress.  

Click here to learn more about Women’s Development Programmes: 6 Lessons from Designing Women’s Development Programmes

Click here to learn more about Inclusive Leadership: Intro to Developing Inclusive Leaders