Thought For The Day – International Women’s Day – 8th Mar 2018

It’s International Women’s Day today, and this year we’re also marking 100 years since the first women finally got the vote. Companies now report on gender splits and gender pay gaps, and books like Lean In are helping us all to proactively scramble up the career ladder.  We have female heads of state north and south of the border, and the first female bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church was consecrated only last week.

Have we finally won the battle for gender equality?

Maybe not.  Recent research reported in the Harvard Business Review is very sobering. To test the ‘Lean In’ hypothesis, that women are disadvantaged at work because they don’t do power the way that men do, researchers attached sensors to a sample of 100 individuals in a typical company. These socio-metric badges tracked workplace conversations; to measure movement, proximity to others, speech volume and tone of voice.

Over a four-month period, they linked the data from the badges with an analysis of emails and meeting schedules. And what did they find? That in fact women and men don’t behave so differently at work after all. Yet in this company – as in companies all round the world – the women were not advancing as their male colleagues were. The team concluded from their study that you can Lean In all you like, and it will make no difference.

And it’s both men and women discriminating against women. Unconscious bias studies show that women discriminate against women, too. Solicitors of both genders are more likely to instruct male counsel to fight cases in court, and studies show that even women think female doctors are less competent and less experienced than male doctors.

We’re used to blaming discrimination on everybody else, because of course we’re not biased. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously warned against hypocrisy, saying: “First, take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your friend’s.” It seems that we all have work to do to address gender bias, and if you take an Unconscious Bias test online you might well be shocked to learn what you do take for granted. So today, I wonder if there are any planks in your own eye, that you might start fashioning into spectacles instead?

Other Thoughts

I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.

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