Last week, we discussed the sexual harassment stories in the news recently. Today I wanted to discuss something much more subtle that I think all of us (both men and women) engage in: Our unconscious bias regarding the role of women in our society.
For instance, at an airport, have you ever mistaken a female pilot for a stewardess? And haven’t we all assumed the male nurse who walked into the hospital room was the doctor? Or at a TV press conference, don’t we assume the guy in the suit is the mayor, not the actual lady mayor next to him? Let’s be honest. When we see images of people in power (like a G20 Summit), it’s mostly men.
So it’s no surprise that -lacking other information in most contexts- our usual assumption when we see a woman is that she is in a lesser position. She is less than. This doesn’t mean we hate women or that we believe they are lesser. We just assume they are. This might be a lizard-brain thing, or it may be a social thing. But it’s a thing.
This assumption (again unconscious in my opinion) carries over to how women are treated in conversation. So I was not surprised to come across research in linguistics and psychology that shows women are routinely interrupted by men, be it in one-on-one conversations or in groups, at work or in social situations.
Why? Perhaps because interruptions are attempts at dominance and women are perceived as weaker. Does that mean that powerful women don’t get interrupted? It should. But apparently, even when a woman is visibly and unmistakably powerful, they still get interrupted plenty.
Female supreme court justices are interrupted three times more
A study in the Harvard Business Review found that “even though Supreme Court justices are some of the most powerful individuals in the country, female justices find themselves consistently interrupted not only by their male colleagues but also by their subordinates: the male advocates who are attempting to persuade them.” Astonishing.
So what can we do to guard ourselves from our own biases affecting what we say and assume?
First, we need to be “conscious” of our biases and how they affect us. Second, we need to be humble enough to know we are not immune from it.
©Copyright Eva Del Rio