Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Neuroscience of Gender Bias within Organisations: Implicit and Explicit Influences

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posted on 2021-11-22, 00:58 authored by Wicks, James

It has been 30 years since the metaphor of a ‘glass ceiling’ was introduced, yet progress to address gender bias in organisations has been slow. Within a context in which employment is rapidly changing and technologies are enabling new ways of working, gender bias in organisations remains a persistent and complex issue that requires new ways of thinking. This study integrates across two scientific disciplines: social cognitive neuroscience and complex adaptive systems, in order to examine the complex nature of gender bias in organisations and advance implications for practice.  The central proposition underlying this study is that the gender composition of a person’s ‘in-group’, that is the group of people one most closely relates to in a work setting, has implications for their level of gender bias. The relationship between in-group composition and gender bias is examined from implicit (unconscious) and explicit (conscious) bias perspectives. The composition of in-group is measured by homogeneity, size and trust, and is captured within an integrated instrument that includes measures of implicit and explicit bias.  The study is informed by the theory of interactive person construal. It is proposed that biases are a dynamic, continuously evolving phenomena emerging from top down and bottom up cues. Specifically, the essence of this research is the relationship between the neuroscientific dynamics of in-group and out-group differentiation within the human brain and the complex systemic nature of the modern workplace. The study endeavours to make a contribution to the understanding of how people who share common values and interests (ingroup) influence gender bias in organisations.  The research has been conducted in a professional services organisation. A group of people within the organisation were asked to participate in an online survey to capture implicit bias, explicit bias, composition of their in-group and demographic details. This research applied a quantitative survey methodology.  The aims of the study are to:  • examine the relationship between in-group composition and gender bias building from theoretical insights from neuroscience and complex adaptive systems theory,  • test both implicit and explicit attitudes towards gender bias,  • test the relationship between implicit and explicit measures of bias, and  • provide a contribution to theory and practice in relation to addressing the issue of gender bias in organisations.  It is concluded that there is a statistically significant association between in-group composition and the manifestation of implicit and explicit bias using a variety of measures. The model of in-group composition developed for this study could be used as a means to understand gender system dynamics. A dynamic systems model of bias is proposed based on the research variables and complexity ideas examined in the study. For organisations, this research has implications for how the issue of gender bias should be approached. Connecting ideas from social cognitive neuroscience and complex adaptive systems, this research highlights the interrelationship between recurring levels (neural, individual, group, organisation) within the bias system and the nature of interventions that may lead to enduring change.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Commerce

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970115 Expanding Knowledge in Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Management


McDonald, Paul