Category Archives: Unconscious gender bias

Choose to Challenge: International Women’s Day Celebrates Allyship and Advocacy

Choose to Challenge is the theme of International Women’s Day this year and I, for one could not be prouder.  As they say on their website, “A challenged world is a changed world…. From Challenge comes change.”  If there is one thing we have learned from 2020, it’s that change is needed.  Change is happening.  Change is a choice.

There is so much to unpack here.  Who do we need to challenge?  How do we challenge?  What do we challenge?  What counts as important?  These are questions that people moving for change have always struggled with.  Learning from those whose shoulders we stand upon for strength can give us some answers.

Who do we need to challenge?

This one is easier than you think.  We challenge everyone and we start with ourselves.  Introspection towards our own bias helps us understand why it exists in others.  Do you at some level feel that all women should want to be parents?  Are there different rules for men and women in relationships?  Really dive deep and see if your language might betray your unconscious bias.  This is not an exercise in blame and shame, just reflection.  It should be done regularly in inquisitive self-analysis.  When we understand ourselves, we understand others.

Choosing to challenge others may feel awkward at first if you are someone who does not usually do this.  There is a certain awkwardness that may come with it.  Just remember, who owns that?  Is it the one who behaved poorly or the one who pointed it out.  So, yes is the answer to the burning question people always ask here.  It is ok to respectfully challenge older relatives who are intellectually able to understand  It is ok to challenge management at work.  It is ok to challenge friends, neighbors and children.  It is ok to challenge anyone who either willfully or through their own ignorance is holding up bias and inequality.

You can choose to not allow disparaging remarks.  You can choose to be the conversation changer.  Whether at home, online or in the great wide world, you lead by example and challenge when what you see makes you take that breath and think.  Anyone, regardless of age, rank or relation can be challenged in the name of making the world a better place.

How do we challenge?

We have been trained as a society to not challenge as it is impolite.  The truth is, staying silent is a choice that holds up discrimination.  How polite is that?  With this in mind, there are ways that we can challenge that shut down a conversation and ways that open one up.  Both ways have their place.

Ideally, people should strive to open up the conversation.  This is where real change and learning happens.  Move into a conversation with a curiosity.  Ask for explanations.  People often use parrot phrases they are used to hearing without diving deep into them and understanding what they mean.  Here’s an example.  A family are watching TV.  A young woman walks across into frame wearing a short dress.  One of the family members says, “She’s really asking for it dressed like that.”  Here is where we can be grateful for DVR and pause the TV for a discussion.  With a curious, non-judgmental tone, ask for clarification and elaboration.  What is she asking for?  It couldn’t be sex as that requires verbal consent.  It couldn’t be an attack as that implies the victim is to blame for the actions of a perpetrator.  If she is asking for something, what would that be?  Here a conversation can be opened.  You can share facts about how what a woman wears does not alter her risk of being sexually assaulted.  You can talk about body confidence.  You can talk about how this phrase has been used to keep women “in their place” for centuries.  It gives space for someone to say, “I’ve never really thought about that before.” There is less need to become defensive.  You can even talk about how you have used phrases in the past that you would never use now after really thinking about what they mean. There are times when it is best to shut down the conversation.  This could be for personal safety, to protect the vulnerable or to make a point.  Here is real life example of shutting things down in a way that was effective and powerful.   A woman was promoted onto an executive track position.  Her colleague entered the break room and heard someone call this woman a “diversity hire” and say, “Every time I see a woman get pushed up like that I just think that’s one less man able to provide for his family.”  The colleague then chose to enter the conversation and say, “Oh, don’t worry.  She has a family she is supporting.  Kids are still getting fed on the company dime.”  This was 2015.  The conversation was shut down.  Whether or not the colleague changed his mind we will never know.  However, the rhetoric of the break room became safer for everyone.

What do we challenge?

Whenever I speak on how to challenge, I get asked this question: “But, what counts as important enough to challenge?”  This is a personal choice.  It’s easy to see overtly discriminatory language and actions.  No one will say its ok for a boss to slap his assistant on the backside.  It’s the microaggressions, the snide comments that we let go even though we know they are wrong.  Which of those do we pull up?

You can start by not taking part in excusing discrimination.  “Locker room talk” is only that because people have been trained to do it and that it’s acceptable.  Locker rooms can be bias free without being silent.  From there, move onto the microaggressions.  Phrases like “She gets hysterical.” in place of a man being “passionate and driven” should be challenged.  Language and actions that imply someone is lesser should always be challenged.

In the UK, banter is a huge part of the culture.  I respect that.  The content of the banter is where we need to check ourselves.  Kicking like a girl should not be an insult.  Gender, race, sexual diversity and ability should not be a part of it.  If this feels limiting, I encourage people to read more to diversify their language and ability to be funny.  Banter also requires consent on both parts.  Check to be sure the other person is giving consent and not just afraid to challenge.

Advocacy and allyship for yourself and others are a life you live, a language you speak, and a value you embody every day.  Challenging clearly states your boundaries for what is acceptable to be in this world.  Being silent is being complicit.  Saying nothing says that you are willing to live with that discrimination.  So, you can choose to challenge or to be silent.    Just remember, you are making a choice either way.

Gwen Jones – Educating Matters

Gender Bias Parenting Does Not Only Affect Girls

“Don’t be such a girl.”  “That is not how a young lady behaves.”  Comments like these are more common than we realise in a child’s world today.  The words we use have so much power over our children.  They set boundaries and limitations that children take on as truths and, more often than not, limiting beliefs. 

Women have been battling labels like “bossy” for years.  As a society, we have been course correcting this type of negative labeling.  The awareness brought about by political movements has helped us notice it, name it and do better by the aspiring young female minds of the future.  But, does this mean that it is only a feminist issue?

Poor mental health in men and boys is on the rise.  Being male makes you much more likely to be identified with ADHD and Learning Disabilities.  It also means that, as an adult, you are much more likely to suffer from substance abuse and suicidal ideation.  Why is this?

Boys often hear language that encourages them to stifle any emotion other than anger and joy.  Their emotional vocabulary becomes limited and often riddled with sexist metaphors.  It is no wonder that men have such a difficult time dealing with stress and anxiety when as boys they were not allowed to learn it.

Gender Bias is not always as overt as “You throw like a girl” or “Good Girls don’t get mad”.  Subtle gendered undertones and overtones exist in the toys they play with, the media they consume and the clothes we offer them.  For example:

It’s clean up time in a year 1 classroom.  The teacher comes in and says, “Can I please have some strong boys help put away the chairs and some helpful girls put the paper away?”  These are reasonable requests for any child to do.  At the age of 5, there is no difference in strength between boys and girls.  Likewise, there is no inherent “helpfulness” in girls that is somehow lacking in boys. 

How could this teacher do better?  Simply change the language.  “Can I please have some helpful students carry the chairs and put away the paper?”  In this language, there is no implicit bias to one gender or another.  Also, the teacher is instilling the value of being helpful in all of her students.

Removing gender bias does not mean pretending that gender does not exist.  It simply means removing the unnecessary limitations based only on gender that we put on bio-psycho-social development of our children.  Both sides of the binary benefit from allowing their innate and learned characteristics to be freed from arbitrary restrictions.

How can we allow girls to be girls and boys to be boys without limiting them with gender stereotypes?  How can we provide them with opportunity to succeed and the tools to cope with emotions at the same time?  These are the issues that the 21st century parent needs to tackle in order to help their children be their best selves as children and most successful as adults.

Recently the male allies network for one of our banking clients asked us to create a session geared towards  parents of young children covering this topic of unconscious gender bias and it was extremely well received.

View the course outline here