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Stereotypes and social norms feed gender gap

Tuesday, January 24, 2017  
Posted by: Rufino Cabang
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Stereotypes, social norms and unconscious bias are contributing to a widening gender gap at work, according to a new international study commissioned by Unilever.

Sixty percent of women and 49 percent of men who answered an online survey said stereotypes impacted their career, personal life or both, according to the study, based on responses from 9,000 adults in eight markets in 15 countries.

Men are increasingly engaged in the challenge of gender equality, but stereotypes still pose a major challenge, the study revealed. More than three-fourths (77 percent) of men and the majority (55 percent) of women believe a man is the best choice to lead a high-stakes project. What’s more, men and women overwhelmingly believe that men don’t want women in the C-suite.

There is a continuing struggle among men and women around speaking out against workplace discrimination and inappropriate behavior. A strong majority (67 percent) of women feel they are "pressured” to "‘get over” inappropriate behavior. Just over half (55 percent) of men and even more (64 percent) women believe men do not challenge each other when they witness gender-biased behavior.

"Empowering women and girls offers the single biggest opportunity for human development and economic growth,” according to Unilever’s Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman. "It goes without saying, it’s crucial for business.”

Citing the World Economic Forum’s latest Gender Gap Report, which reports economic equality among men and women may not be achieved for another 170 years, Polman said, "That’s just not good enough. We need to lead the change in tackling unhelpful stereotypes that hold women — and men — back.”

The research also revealed the significant role advertising plays in holding back progress. Nearly three out of four respondents (70 percent) believe the world would be a better place if today’s children were not exposed to gender stereotypes in media and marketing. Unilever launched #Unstereotype in 2016, announcing a global ambition for its more than 400 brands to advance advertising away from stereotypical portrayals of gender and to use its platforms to positively and progressively represent both genders.

"We are on a journey to achieve ‘unstereotyped’ mindsets inside and outside our company,” Polman said. "But we can’t do it alone. We are calling for a conscious effort from individuals, government and businesses — big and small — to step up, root out and challenge the stereotypes that feed inequality and halt progress.”

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