How To Avoid The Gender Bias Trap…. Or…‘may the force be with us’
The other day I went to see the new Star Wars film – it wasn’t my choice but my partner’s and I would get my choice next (The Greatest Showman if you are interested!)
It turned out that Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the most feminist film I had ever seen. Women; and that is mature, powerful women; feature in all areas and have complex characters integral to the plot. And I bet that in Star Wars space, there is no gender pay gap.
Then I received a video via my facebook of a bar that had been taken over by Stylist Magazine. They were adding an 18% Man Tax to all orders by men (note 1). If they protested then the server took a straw and drank the 18% from their glasses! A point well made. Worth watching for the reactions and, fair play, most were supportive.
In "Why Gender Bias Is ‘Normal’ And What You Do About It" (from Change Wisdom, Insights from Successful Change Makers to Guide Your Future - note 2) I wanted to move away from the obvious injustice arguments. I hope that the time is right for culture change and the momentum builds. The piece I was interested in to examine was ‘What can I do to change it for me here and now?’
The problem I found in my early career was that I was neither tuned into gender bias nor prepared to meet it headway at the time. So I wanted to pass on some strategies that would help keep each one of us on the rung of the ladder that we deserve.
What is the real enemy?
I believe that the thing that causes this gender bias (and all other kinds of diversity biases too) to be stubbornly present is not the calculating power mongers who put women down – they are mostly easily avoided. The real enemy is BIAS. Something we all have and rarely recognise. We make judgements based not on fact but our past experiences. These are infectious as society frequently reinforces them – films rarely depict strong women (see The Bechdel Test - note 3) and there are more CEOs named Dave in top 500 companies than women so up and coming Dave’s rarely experience positive women leaders.
Implicit bias can be reset. Organisational bias can be managed once the bias is spoken.
Naming and Norming: Don’t assume that something you have done to impact on productivity will be respected as having value. It will be easily overlooked unless you make it clear that it was your intentional action to increase effectiveness as a strong member of the team. By offering a different alternative to the old norm you help create a new norm.
Negotiating: If you want your style of working to be integrated into the work plan then it will help to get it valued from the beginning by positioning it into the task by voicing how you can impact an outcome.
Framing: In research using actors in work situations we see that when women defend their point of view forcefully she was seen as being antagonistic. The same research showed that this negative effect can be countered if women frame their statement by signalling to the receiver that you have clear and thoughtful intentions.
Networking: Forming connections is important and you may have to create your own way to do this, women often have their own networks, both formal and informal, on and offline, to exchange career advice and other intelligence. And if you can’t make a standard evening networking session you can let the people who matter see that you would have liked to catch up with them at another time over coffee.
Organisational: Organisations taking this problem seriously should be looking to get their leadership to recognise it and verbalise it. Most corporate systems are designed to reward technical competence, autonomous action, linear thinking and competitiveness - all typically ‘masculine’ traits. Empathy, enabling and collaboration and creating trust are seen as ‘feminine’. They are valued, but are not easily measurable and rarely take any role in the reward or salary process. When was the last time at an appraisal you were asked “What have you done to help other people achieve their goals?” As David Walker and I argue in another chapter in Change Wisdom (The Art of Coping with Complexity) when organisations have to tackle more and more complex problems linear thinking may at best delay or even compound a complex problem.
And by the way – someone, I doubt with positive intentions, decided to edit Star Wars and renamed it The Last Jedi: De-feminised Fan-Edit (note 4). He removed all women and mention of them ‘having ideas’. The result was 46 minutes of incomprehensible rubbish and much ridicule from all the male stars of the show. There is much support out there, let’s make the force be with us.
Nicky Carew writes about gender bias and what to do about it in "Change Wisdom" available globally on Amazon. Find out more or get a free chapter here.