Breaking Gender Bias with Jenn Skylakos, Mary Matthews and Guest Speaker Dr. Amy Bonomi

November 12, 2021

New York City, New York

The New York office hosted the “Breaking Gender Bias” Breakfast at the Yale Club. The event was organized by Jenn Skylakos, Managing Partner of the Global Infrastructure & Energy Practice, and supported by the New York partners.

DHR invited Dr. Amy Bonomi to present to a group of C-suite and senior leaders of diverse organizations. Dr. Bonomi is a professor and co-administrator of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Michigan State University. She is also the author and co-editor of Women Leading Change in Academia: Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Cliff and Slipper.

Dr. Bonomi’s presentation focused on education around the gender bias issues that women face in the workplace and action steps that individuals and companies can employ to break through the bias. Her presentation showed results of successful female empowerment at work and how it positively impacts the culture and bottom line.

The event drew a diverse crowd and promoted learning from others through the discussion of different perspectives and experiences with gender bias. Below is a recap of the key takeaways from the event and educational resources provided by Dr. Bonomi.

Key Takeaways from the DHR presentation on “Breaking Through Bias: Glass Ceilings, Cliffs, Slippers, and Broken Rungs” by Amy Bonomi, PhD, MPH.


This interactive discussion focused on four central issues facing women and their organizations:


1.  Glass Ceilings – A general term describing the barriers women face in achieving the highest levels of leadership. In 2019, only 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and only one is a black woman, Mary Winston of the BBB.

2.  Broken Rungs – The reality that the first step to a manager position is sometimes a big obstacle and therefore the long-term leadership career path for women is “broken” early on. According to a study conducted by McKinsey and, for every 100 men who receive their first promotion, only 72 women achieve similar promotions. This makes it difficult for women to catch up to men at senior levels of leadership.

3.  Glass Cliffs – Describing a situation where often when achieve a leadership position in an organization when it is in crisis and therefore the risk of failure is high. Examples of this

4.  Glass Slippers – The “Think Leader – Think Male” phenomenon where it is assumed that leadership traits like “strong” and “competent” belong to men. This is also exemplified by an analysis of 81,000 performance evaluations where it was shown that managers use more positive words to describe men and more negative ones to describe women.

These issues can impact the bottom line – economic studies have proven that organizations can see a 15% net profit increase when at least 30% of leadership includes women as CEO, in board seats, or in other C-suite roles.

What is the root source of glass ceilings, cliffs, slippers, and broken rungs for women:

Extreme perceptions – either “too soft” or “too tough,” never “just right.”

  • Higher competence threshold – have to be twice as good to get half the credit.
  • Competent or disliked – perceived as competent OR liked, but rarely both.

What are strategies to buffer against these problems:

Dr. Bonomi provided five specific strategies people and organizations can use to reduce the influence of implicit bias:

1.  Stereotype replacement – Recognize when you have stereotypic thoughts, such as “Men are better able to lead the country” and label it. Then identify what caused you to have the stereotype and challenge the fairness of it. Then replace it with a non-stereotypic response, such as, “I know that training and experience, rather than gender, are the main determinants of leader competence.”

2.  Counter-stereotypic imaging – Begin to change your response by imagining a counter-stereotypic figure in detail.

3.  Individuating (vs. Generalizing) – Avoid making a snap decision based on a stereotype. Instead get more information about the person. And practice making situational attributions rather than dispositional attributions.

4.  Perspective-taking – Take time to adopt the perspective (in the first person) of a member of the stigmatized group. Imagine what it would be like to have your abilities called into question or be viewed as less committed to your career than colleagues with similar training and effort.

5.  Increasing opportunities for contact – Seek out opportunities for greater interaction with counter-stereotypic people.

In addition, there are opportunities for organizations to focus on creating formal and informal networking spaces and professional development opportunities and cultivating and supporting women in leadership roles.

Resources Mentioned During the Presentation:

    Dr. Bonomi’s book: Women Leading Change in Academia (use code Change2019 for a 20% discount)

    Gender Bias Calculator

    How We View Surgeons (video)

    Women Leading Change in Academia

    Implicit Association Tests

    Exclamation point tax commentary published in MSU Today 

    Data on Professor Ratings:

    The Different Words We Use to Describe Male and Female Leaders – HBR

    Managers use Different Words to Describe Female and Male Leaders – Forbes

    Why Female Professors Get Lower Ratings – NPR

    A Study Used Sensors to Show That Men and Women Are Treated Differently at Work – HBR

 Helpful Organizations for Gender Bias Resources:

    White Men as Full Diversity Partners

    Breaking the Bias Habit – Genders (University of Wisconsin)

    Breaking the Bias Habit – Diversity and Inclusion (University of Wisconsin)


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