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Gender equality: The unfinished business of our time

Insight

08 March 2018

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Gender equality: The unfinished business of our time

As a psychologist, I know how similar men and women are.  So, on International Women’s Day in 2018, I can’t help but feel both dismayed and grateful that the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, speaks so passionately about gender inequality stating that, “achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world."

Logic tells me we should have equality. The American Psychological Society, the body representing the scientific and professional aspects of psychology in the USA, says that men and women are not as different as you think[1]. They base their opinion, amongst other sources, on a review of dozens of studies by Janet Shibley Hyde. Hyde found that men and women are basically alike when it comes to personality, thinking ability and leadership. The differences that do exist may reflect social expectations, not biology.

So, here’s the paradox – in 2018 we continue to need to press for gender equality. Yet we know that, underneath everything, it is not because women and men are materially different, at least in the areas of personality, thinking ability and leadership, the areas that concern us most in business.

Given this paradox, I’d like to suggest we walk into our workplaces today and, instead of seeing men or women, see human beings with their unique experiences, skills, abilities and personalities. Replace your dualistic thinking of either man or woman, with thinking which appreciates the rich uniqueness that is the very essence of being human.

Let’s think about how we filter our interactions and conversations with everyone we meet on March 8th

  • Do we look through a gender lens (or any other label of difference such as age, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and so on)? For example, we may unconsciously attach a gender label when we interact with an engineer or nurse, when we comment on someone’s dress, when we consider to who in our team we can allocate a strenuous task, when we notice the other person is being assertive. By labelling the other person, we label ourselves, and decide then if we are similar or different. So, press the pause button when you find yourself making comparisons and check if gender is irrelevant in this situation.
  • Is our perception of a person we meet filtered first by the category we have put them into e.g. a woman, before we start our conversation, choose our action, or respond to their words and behaviours? Does this lead us to jump to conclusions about them? Could we instead just see them as a unique individual? Recently, a colleague told me that, because she couldn’t make a meeting after business hours (she did not say why) that a prospective customer suggested that she needed a nanny. I seriously doubt they would ever have said that to a man.
  • If we do find we are different to the other person, do we check if that difference is relevant to the situation? Does it hinder our relationship or could it be used to bring diverse ways of working and thinking? In your team, for example, whether they conform to male or female stereotypes, you will have people who bring rational thinking or consider people’s feelings, who work through relationships or act independently, who bring the skills of deep listening or who speak out.

Try this today. Then, we will value the array of skills, abilities and perspectives in our business. A good mantra might reflect M. Scott Peck’s quote to “Share our similarities and celebrate our differences” and that way take another step towards tackling the unfinished business of our time.

[1] http://www.apa.org/topics/women-men/index.aspx

 

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