Update #4 - Gender Bias
What's going on in Project W?
Recently I have thought a lot about what I perceive to be at the heart of this project – challenging how things are done based on what research tells us about gender inequality. And I have been triggered by a number of things that I see as reinforcing the status quo rather than challenging it. Let me share a couple of examples to illustrate my point.
I was reading the Harvard Business Review over lunch and came across an interesting article on research into how venture capitalists react to a pitch by a startup. What are they looking for and what can entrepreneurs learn from that? The researcher, Lakshmi Balachandra, has reached four broad conclusions: 1. passion is overrated; 2. trust beats competence; 3. coachability matters and 4. gender stereotypes play a role.
The conclusion under number four was that gender alone didn’t influence success, but people with a high degree of stereotypically female behaviour were less likely than others to succeed with their pitch. This directly from the article: “The study shows that VCs are biased against femininity,” Balachandra says. “They don’t want to see particular behaviours, so if you’re overly emotional or expressive, you should consider practicing to avoid those things.”
At an event for women in tech, a panel of highly competent, incredibly successful female entrepreneurs and business leaders were asked to give tips on how to navigate the male dominated workplace that is the tech startup. One such tip was how a female trainee can put a male senior executive at his ease about mentoring her. It is customary for senior executives to take trainees to lunch and mentor them, but in this persons’ experience this happened only to the male trainees. The tip was for the young female trainee to find a formal reason to approach the senior executive to show him that it is ok to talk business with her, she won’t take it the wrong way.
Another tip was to raise your voice if you want to be heard, and to continually call out your male colleagues’ behaviour when they succumb to what was referred to as “bro culture”.
In my opinion, there is one huge and obvious problem in the tech community and it is spelt GENDER BIAS. A number of signs point to it and to pretend the problem isn’t there will change nothing. It doesn’t mean we have to be angry, or judgemental, or on the barricades. But we need to stop pretending that unless women play ball they’re never getting in the door. In all the above scenarios I see one solution worth pursuing and that is to get more women into power. It won’t automatically end gender bias, because research shows that women can be as biased as their male counterparts. But it will dilute the pool of conventional supporters of the status quo.
As a woman I’m offended by the notion that my femininity alone puts me at risk of not landing investment from a VC, regardless of my pitch. It is high time that feminine traits were valued and encouraged instead of something we should consider practicing to avoid. I bring my warmth, sensitivity, expressiveness and emotionality to work with me every day; they make me who I am. Countless managers, colleagues and customers have benefited from these traits and what they bring to the table. So let’s stop pretending it’s ok to make me feel bad for having them.
Similarly, let’s call out discrimination when there is a clear case of it. Treating people different based on gender is discrimination and it is not up to the person being discriminated against to find strategies to get around it. And spending your days educating your male colleagues on the dangers of a “bro culture” is not good use of your time. If it’s a recurring problem it needs to be addressed properly and cannot be nagged away by the only woman in the room.
Project Manager Project W
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