Try this Rx for gender-bias 'paper cuts'
Monday, August 03, 2015
Posted by: Barbara Francella
By Anne Perschel
The term "micro-inequities"
was coined by economist and MIT professor Mary Rowe to describe ways in which
individuals are singled out, overlooked, ignored or otherwise discounted based
on an unchangeable characteristic, such as gender or race.
I call them "gender bias paper
cuts" when they pertain to women.
Related: Stop saying "women can't have it all"
Back in 1973, Rowe was asked by
MIT's president and chancellor to find areas the university could improve its
workplace with respect to minorities. Rowe discovered some big issues. But to
her surprise, she also discovered the seemingly "little issues" that
over time corroded professional confidence and sense of belonging.
small acts were: expecting the woman in the room to serve the coffee, "Please
bring your wife" posted on holiday party announcements and not being introduced
at chance encounters among colleagues.
Times have changed and these types
of specific micro-inequities occur less frequently. But gender bias paper cuts
still happen. When they do, many of us aren’t prepared to respond. We should
Take the case of Sarah C. (not her
real name), one of three physicians in her field to perform a groundbreaking, complex
procedure. She suffered more of a "knife wound" than a paper cut this
year when she spoke at an international conference of her peers. A respected elder
physician introduced her like this: "I haven’t read Dr. C's bio, so I can’t tell you about her background,
but I think you’ll find she's quite pleasant to look at."
Imagine walking to the podium
following that introduction! Horrified and shocked, Sarah couldn’t come up with
a response, especially given the setting, the audience and the "stature" of the
physician who introduced her. Complicating matters, Sarah had her sight on
becoming a department chair, and the elder physician would be on the review
committee. She was further humiliated and deeply disappointed that none of her
peers spoke up for her. Later, when she recovered from the shock, many
responses came to mind, but she worried about being labeled a "bitch" if she
had used them.
Most gender bias paper cuts are
less severe. Here's a typical example: Following a daylong retreat, the male
attendees pile into a limo and head for the local cigar bar. The two women
attending are literally left standing in the cold.
Or, another: a manager announces at
the end of a daylong retreat that a meeting will "continue in the sauna." The
lone female executive in the group is aware there are separate saunas for men
and women. The men hadn't noticed. She's on her own to raise the issue. She is
inadvertently left out and singled out, with a potentially negative and
embarrassing spotlight overhead.
Finally, consider this common
scenario: Sandra and Bob, her manager, are meeting with a new vendor. Sandra is
in charge of the project, but the vendor never makes eye contact with her. He
speaks only and directly to Bob.
To start healing gender bias paper
cuts, I offer four Band-Aids:
- Find supporters, raise awareness and ask for
help before the cuts occur.
- Read the context.
- Determine the outcomes you want to achieve.
- Take the high road, but don't get on a high
Dr. Anne Perschel is a leadership psychologist
with Germane Consulting and
co-founder and chief inspiration officer at 3Plus
International, a career lab for high achieving and high
Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those
of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of
Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.
More Learning & Leadership