A two-way conference call was scheduled between a team of male and female lawyers. When a senior female lawyer was making a point, the male lawyers on the other side placed her on mute and went on to complain about how she was so caught up with the details, that she was missing the larger picture. However, when one of the male lawyers went on to make the same point, no one had any contentions.
Gender stereotyping and prejudice impact women at all stages of their career, and even their career choices. For instance, women represent only 26% of workers in the US employed in computer and math jobs. A study shows that ‘occupational sorting’ or choosing a certain profession on the belief that it is meant for a certain gender, is partly responsible for this statistic. From a psychological standpoint, women tend to question their own abilities and hold themselves back when burdened by stereotyping. A recent study even shows that bearing the brunt of stereotyping can sometimes lead to health issues, as some people push themselves too hard to prove their mettle.
Here are some steps organizations can take to stem gender stereotyping:
- Diversify. This is imperative and can be applied at both micro and macro levels. From making sure that hiring committees are more diverse, to putting together teams of people who come from different walks of life, diversifying the workplace nudges it in the direction of more inclusion. Companies can also conduct short term diversity training courses to increase empathy amongst people. It is also well proven that diverse teams bring business benefits. For instance, in the U.S., for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity amongst leadership, earnings rose by 0.8 percent. Thus, increasing diversity doesn’t just help increase levels of empathy among people, which in turn reduces stereotyping. It also helps create a more productive work environment.
- Create awareness and encourage dialogue. Discussing the negative impact of stereotyping and encouraging people to voice their opinions, especially when instances of stereotyping occur, is an effective way to curb it. Organizations can hold monthly discussions, where people have open and meaningful conversations about conflicts that can surface while working as a team. Such conversations need a safe space or an environment of trust, where people can agree or disagree with each other in a civil way, without worrying about backlash. Like Phil Jackson said, “Good teams become great ones when members trust each other enough to surrender the me for the we.”
- Set ground rules. Create ground rules to give your employees a better understanding of acceptable and unacceptable practices at work, and also to clarify the organization’s stance on matters such as stereotyping. Set rules and also describe what applying them might look like – for instance, if discussing a potential hire’s resume, stick to facts instead of opinions to ensure gender biases don’t creep into the hiring practice. After all, whether the intention is to reduce instances of casual stereotyping that are sometimes brushed aside as a joke or to engage with the issue in more serious ways, the greater the clarity, the easier it is for everyone to navigate.
While women do face their share of stereotyping, men don’t escape it altogether. The recent example of a TV anchor making fun of Prince George’s love for ballet is proof enough, that gender stereotypes can rear their heads in the most unexpected situations. Organizations should aim to eliminate such stereotypes that box people into conventionally defined roles, and let both men and women employees achieve their true potential.