While women are actively conquering the workforce, there are still some who continue to hold outdated notions of what working mothers can and cannot do. Based on popular and stereotypical perceptions, when our competencies are questioned, we start questioning ourselves; in short - we internalize the bias we see around us.
Sutapa Sanyal, Former Director-General of the UP Police, shares, “When you are continuously given the message that you are not capable enough of competing with the people around you, something sinks into your psyche.”
How does internalized bias impact working mothers?
While bias can be external too, internalized bias stems from deep-rooted beliefs and conditioning that women are often subjected to. In order to understand how to overcome it, we first need to figure out its impact on working women, especially mothers.
The subtle discrimination that working mothers are often subjected to leads to low self-confidence, causing them to question their abilities. Consequently, they start doubting the very skills that have brought them far in their careers. This self-doubt can leave a lasting impression on working mothers.
The internalization of bias puts mothers in an either-or situation where they start believing they can either be good mothers or good at their job. Therefore, when it comes to putting their hands up for a seat at the table, they end up second-guessing themselves. It also results in situations where soon-to-be mothers hesitate to take on additional workplace responsibilities because of their upcoming maternity leave. Encouraging such internalized bias creates a gap in the careers of women belonging to this group.
While such prejudice can be unconscious, women who internalize bias may also start doubting the capabilities of other women. It enforces the vicious loop of connecting underproductivity to working mothers.
How do we stop the internalization of bias?
Self-awareness as well as external support pave the way for stopping the internalization of bias. Here is what mothers can do.
Before diving into a spiral of self-doubt, working mothers must conduct a self-analysis. A word of advice from Sutapa Sanyal is, "The only thing you can do is connect with yourself. How much are you able to look at your thoughts and actions? Once you look at them, you will understand what biases you have." Sanyal’s words encourage mothers to comprehend if it is indeed the biases that are overwhelming them.
A useful tool in detecting internalized bias is talking to someone who can offer objective adbice. When you find yourself practicing unconscious internalized bias, take action. Talk to a mentor to understand where you stand at work, and whether your self doubts are a result of others’ biases.
If you find your managers and colleagues not giving you the responsibilities you are ready to undertake because of a child, raise your voice! In such cases, remind co-workers of your position at the table. Logically examine and discuss the opportunities you can work through while acknowledging your responsibilities on the personal front. Communicating your situation with the team can help reduce bias internalization.
Building a support system at the workplace can help with rebuilding that self-confidence. Employee Resource Groups within organizations or platforms like Vaahini by Accenture provide support and guidance through articles, videos, and blogs. Join a network of leaders like yourself who are as committed to your success and will help you be most productive without burning yourself out.
Being aware of internalized biases requires patience and self-awareness. However, not recognizing them can take a toll on the professional life of working mothers. As a working mother, reflect on the decisions you make at the workplace and question if your internalized biases are driving you away from your goals.