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Bias in the Workforce:
Combating Age and Gender Bias for Library Management
Emma Rose
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro




Women and men are different. Baby boomers and those in Generation Y are different.
There is no need for a citation for these types of statements because we all know them to be true.
This does not mean that one of these groups are any better than the other, simply different on a
variety of scales. Yet, the gender or age of a person can cause them to be mistreated, taken
advantage of and disrespected. This is because assumptions are made about these groups once
unconscious bias has formed. This bias is caused by one’s socialization and stereotypes and can
surface in the form of a light-hearted joke about women, men, teenagers, senior citizens, etc, or
they can manifest in more unhealthy or even dangerous ways such as hiring discrimination,
sexual harassment or oppression.
It is a manager’s duty to protect his/her staff from bias. This bias can be directed from
one staff member to another or even from a staff member to the general public, which could hurt,
not only the individual being mistreated, but the institution’s reputation as well. It’s important, as
a manager, to begin searching for unconscious bias by looking closer at one’s own socialization,
experience and assumptions that they hold. Most of these negative assumptions, if not exhumed,
will stay below the person’s awareness and may appear at inopportune times due to this bias.
Before leading others, one must have the ability to break down their beliefs, throw away the
unhealthy or discriminatory ones and rebuild on solid, logical and empathetic ground (Marshall,
There can be discrimination against any group of individuals but some major factors
which have been causing discrimination in the workforce in America have been due to race,
gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and age. Managers in various settings
deal with different types of bias. For example, someone managing a construction crew will most



likely have to deal with gender bias because the field is only comprised of 2.6% women. This
has caused issues for women working in this field, sexual harassment for example (Women,
2014). For this reason, a manager must know his/her staff, their culture, their demographics and
their socialization to ensure a stable work environment free from victimization and
Which biases are most likely to arise in the library setting?
To answer this question, we would turn to statistical analysis of the average
demographics of librarians and library staff members. The population of librarians and library
staff are mostly Caucasian, straight, women and mostly older individuals. Let’s focus on two of
these factors to narrow down the topic to a more manageable exploration: Gender and Age.
Gender Bias
In Barry Bowes’ (1979) book, between the stacks, he writes,
In the public psyche, a librarian is a woman of indeterminate age, who wears spectacles;
a person with either a timorous disposition or an austere disposition, wearing a long
sleeved blouse buttoned to the neck; someone who loves silence, likes books, and suffers
people. Librarians don’t laugh. They are covered with a thin film of dust. They have pale
skins, which, when touched (as if one ever could) might flake and prove to be reptilian
Although this stereotype has subsided somewhat since Bowes wrote these words over
thirty-five years ago, it is still easy to picture a grumpy older woman (complete with bun and
glasses) shushing vigorously when picturing the average librarian (Bowes, 1979). It is true that
most librarians and library staff are older women but hopefully that is where this example stops



resembling any actual library staff. According to a 2010 study, over 80% of librarians and over
75% of all other library staff members are female (Library Workers, 2011). Females may feel
more comfortable working in career fields such as library science, grade-school teaching, social
work and other female dominated fields as opposed to, for example, our earlier construction crew
example. Does this mean segregation is the answer to any gender inequality in the workplace?
I’m going to say no. Separate is not equal and allowing inequality to cause us to have strictly
men’s work and women’s work would be an unfortunate and inadequate band aid for a bigger
problem. We must keep striving to build a healthy working environment in which someone who
is willing and able can work without discrimination due to the social groups in which they are
Even in job fields considered “women’s work,” how comfortable are women as
managers, considering men have generally monopolized managerial roles across most
professions? (Household, 2014) Although, there are still more female library directors than male,
the rate of male library directors is still very high at 40% considering only 20% of librarians are
male (see APPENDIX A). The gender of library directors does not mirror the statistics on the
gender of librarians/library staff members. The salary of male directors is also quite a bit higher
than that of female library directors, a theme that is fairly consistent within all professions, even
the “female dominated” ones (See APPENDIX B) (Lynch, 1999). The wage gap is observable
and according to a 2010 study “female librarians had median weekly earnings of $841, compared
to $921 for men.” (Library Workers, 2014)
The issue with these types of disparaging statistics is not that “men are paid too much” or
that “too many men are in power” even in fields that are occupied primarily by women. Instead



the unfortunate facts are that men and women are still not paid and promoted equally. These
facts can be discouraging to female library staff who hope to be in a position of power one day
so that they can make a difference for their library and community. It has been over thirty years
since legislation was passed which theoretically banned discrimination against women in
management positions and assured that regardless of gender, men and women would be paid
equally. As we can see from the above statistics and possibly from our own experiences, men
continue to have higher salaries and progress up the career ladder with more ease than do women
(Gatrell & Swan, 2008).
Let’s discuss some hypothetical issues that may stem from gender bias at a library we
will call: branch 650. Let’s say there are 10 staff members at 650 and the staff mirror the
statistical averages (so there are 8 female and 2 male staff). Men and women communicate and
are socialized differently from birth. Another type of socialization occurs when one is hired at a
new job. The socialization that a person receives when beginning a new position can affect the
way that they view much of the rest of their time at this workplace. “Libraries seem to be
especially challenged in recognizing the importance of the socialization process” (Moniz, 2010,
p. 73) We see that libraries have an area in need of improvement and that is when hiring
employees. Library managers should take care and monitor their unique socialization process
and how they adapt to the library’s specific culture. The first scenario considers the male’s
psychological and emotional state: Scenario 1: Because the male staff is so outnumbered, they
could feel outcast or uninvolved which could have a negative effect on their motivation, loyalty
to the establishment and their productivity. Scenario 2: Let’s say a male employee is a very hard
worker and is able to accomplish a lot and applies for a management position. If he gains the



position will the female staff believe he deserved it (in our scenario he has) or that he was
promoted because he is a man and they are considering the well-established knowledge that men
hold more managerial positions and make more money than women in general? If other staff
members believe the latter, this could cause animosity or micro-aggression. How do we combat
these issues as library managers? Before answering this question, let’s learn about another bias
that is potentially detrimental in the field of library science.
Age Bias
Along with a gender disparity, librarians have an age disparity as well. Most librarians
are between the ages of 56-65 (See APPENDIX C) (Library Workers, 2014). I would like to now
encourage you to, again, imagine the stereotypical librarian we pictured previously. Is she in her
twenties or thirties? If not and the person you pictured is much older, you wouldn’t be alone in
that assumption. This assumption does make sense though because, statistically, most librarians
are in their later years. The various generations collide in this type of work environment and this
collision can cause an array of issues for a library manager and his/her staff.
Ageism is defined as prejudice on the basis of a person's age. Some argue that ageism
may be even more prevalent in today’s society than sexism or racism. Unfortunately the research
on this bias is limited and this type of discrimination is not always easy to identify (Rupp,
Vodanovich, & Crede, 2006). A legislation was passed in 1967 to protect the employee’s ability
to work without discrimination solely on their age and not their ability. This first legislation
protected those between the ages of 40-65, then an amendment was produced in 1978 which
extended the age to 65-70, finally in 1987 the age limit was lifted entirely (The Act, 2002). It’s
the twenty-first century, in a first-world country like the United States many people are living



longer and living better, so it makes sense to lift this age limit completely and protect the rights
of those who would like to work for as long as they are able. Like the obvious differences
between men and woman, people differ from one generation to the next. If someone is born 10
years later or 10 years earlier their socialization is entirely different. What may be politically
correct terms for a millennial may cause a baby boomer to say, “What does politically correct
mean?” Many people are very open about their dislike of children, teenagers and/or old people in
a way that makes it seem as if they were never children or teenagers and don’t believe they will
ever have to grow old themselves. I have heard managers and other administrative professionals
say very casually that they “don’t like kids.” or “don’t like old people.” These statements are
fairly common and acceptable in our current society. I’m not sure why though. If someone were
to say that they don’t like another type of minority because of gender, sexual orientation, culture
or race that would be considered offensive. Why is someone’s age any different? Is it because
age is not a constant trait? Is it because we were all children and teenagers once? Is it because the
beliefs that some older people hold, due to the era that they were born into, doesn’t always
coincide with our current societal atmosphere? This last question reminds me of one of Gandhi’s
famous sayings, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” because we cannot fight
bias and discrimination with bias and discrimination. We can only fight bias with education,
acceptance and understanding.
Reducing bias in the Library
“Wisdom begins with awareness, of the self, and the world outside the self; it deepens
with our awareness of the inherent tension between the inner “I” and the outer world.” (Hall,
2011, p. 9) As a manager, before instructing others, it’s important to educate yourself. As



mentioned previously, begin by reviewing your own unconscious bias. If you believe you are
free of bias, think again. Our cultural socialization has been referred to by using the metaphor of
a pair of glasses that we can’t remove. The frames are the big picture which represents societal
norms which we are taught from birth (for example, “pink is for girls, blue is for boys,
democracy and capitalism are the best forms of government,…” etc). The lenses represent your
socialization on a personal level which holds your individual bias. Our view of the world is
distorted by the lenses and everyone’s lenses are a little different. Maybe instead of walking
around in someone else’s shoes we can try to look around with their glasses once in a while
(Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2011). It’s human nature to make judgments about the world around us
and apply those judgments to future experiences. This is a necessary feature but can malfunction
when we make judgments about groups of people that are all encompassing and flawed, this is
known as overgeneralization. A manager can evaluate themselves casually by taking time out of
their day to monitor their judgments and beliefs toward others and try to figure out where those
beliefs stem from, really see their lenses and maybe clear them up a bit.
Another, more structured way of evaluating your bias is through free online tests, surveys
and quizzes designed by professional psychologists and sociologists such as the non-profit
organization and international collaboration known as Project Implicit. Project Implicit uses
short tests in which you must categorize words very quickly into one of two categories to attempt
to gain more information about implicit social cognition. By pairing certain categories your
response may be slower or less accurate which this study would take to mean that your implicit
bias is diluting your ability to pair the items correctly with their categories. If you respond
quickly and accurately this may mean that you have already been primed by your socialization or



experiences to pair those items with those category combinations. I highly encourage anyone
who is curious about their unconscious bias to try some or all of these quick tests 1. Results of
web respondents on the Implicit Bias test to determine gender role bias 76% of participants have
a slight to strong automatic association of male with career female with family. (Project, 2011)
Once a manager has established his or her areas in need of improvement, he or she can
begin to make a positive change toward becoming a great leader in the war against harmful
unconscious bias. Fortunately for managers there are programs developing more often which
offer training on accepting diversity, recognizing unconscious bias and creating a more open,
safe and inclusive work environment. Resources can be found in many forms such as articles and
readings from publications like the journal of Management Development. Training agencies have
also began to pop up which provide software for training yourself and your staff to recognize
destructive unconscious bias and discrimination such as the course taught through the Human
Resources University, entitled, “Avoiding Discrimination and Bias: Training and Tips for
Managers”. This course is taught entirely online, takes only about 45 minutes and is free to all
federal government employees. The course description boasts, “The course describes biases that
everyone has and provides strategies that will help managers reduce costly and time consuming
employee challenges and promote a positive and productive work environment that keeps
everyone focused on the mission.” (Course, 2015)
Implementing a simple software program such as this course and making it available for
all library managers and staff could prove invaluable to a library’s culture and subcultures. A

Take the tests here at Warning: results may cause surprise or



manager can take one of these programs individually, can provide the training program to his
entire staff on an annual basis, can encourage staff to visit the websites, books, and software
programs which teach how to recognize and reduce bias or he or she can provide tolerance
training to a few individuals on an as needed basis when any incidents occur. I would suggest
doing all of the above. To gain a good baseline for future assessment, a manager could give the
staff annual anonymous surveys to gather feedback on any areas in need of improvement on the
topic of unconscious bias or discrimination in the workplace.
Some say that “Good managers have a bias toward action.” (Bruch & Ghoshal, 2004).
Gandhi proposed that we “Have a bias toward action-let’s see something happen now. You can
break that big plan into smaller steps and take the first step right away.” Reach for the positive
bias such as a bias toward action and shed the negative unconscious bias that causes you to
overgeneralize and discriminate. Educate your staff to know and understand themselves and one
another better and watch the institution, the library, progress and cultivate strength, wisdom and
tolerance from the inside out.



Bowes, B. (1979). Between the Stacks. Middlesex, UK. Landesman.
Course Information (2015). Human Resources University. Retrieved from
Gatrell, C., & Swan, E. (2008). Gender and diversity in management: A concise introduction.
London: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781446214053
Hall, S. S. (2011). Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience. New York, NY: Vintage.
Household Data (2014). Household Data Annual Averages. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved
Library Workers (2014). Library Workers: Facts & Figures. Department for Professional
Employees Fact Sheet. Retrieved from
Lynch, M. J. (1999). Library Directors: Gender and Salary. American Library Association.
Retrieved from
Marshall ACM (2015). [software]. Available from
Moniz Jr, R. (2010). Practical and Effective Management of Libraries: Integrating case studies,
general management theory and self-understanding. Oxford, UK: Chandos Publishing.
Project Implicit (2011). Harvard. Retrieved from



Rupp, D.E., Vodanovich, S.J. & Crede, M. (2006). Age Bias in the Workplace: The Impact of
Ageism and Causal Attributions. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(6), 13371364. Doi: 10.1111/j.0021-9029.2006.00062.x
Sensoy, O. & DiAngelo, R. (2011). Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts
in Social Justice Education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
The Act (2002) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.
Women in Construction Still Breaking Ground (2014). Women in Construction Still Breaking
Ground. National Women’s Law Center. Retrieved from



Male %
Female %
Total %
Academic 43
Combined 39
Gender of Library Directors (Lynch, 1999)















Average Salary of Library Directors (Lynch, 1999)



Results from Project Implicit Tests (Project, 2011)