I need to start off by apologising.
I’m not immune to bias, just like everyone else. This week I had a very interesting conversation with my fiancee about her experiences and challenges to be taken seriously at work as a woman.
Especially as an attractive woman in a creative profession.
I was talking to her about a particularly attractive connection I had on Linkedin, also in the field of innovation, whose videos I hadn’t watched in case it made me seem like I was “only watching her videos because she was hot“. This was partially I see a lot of posts on Linkedin by women who have been harassed or contacted as if it was almost a dating platform. I was self-censoring myself, but in doing that I had inadvertently also shown a bias against this person as I didn’t know about the quality of her insights on innovation.
My fiancee told me about her own experiences, where colleagues talked about how she only got a job because of how she looked, and not because of the fact that she was the hardest worker and produced the best creative output.
Not only men, but also other women, judge women more on their looks than on their output and ideas.
I then did some research and found out some shocking statistics of how women really are judged differently than men.
Research shows there is a bias against women’s creativity
Previous research studies have shown that men (and masculine traits) are judged as more creative than women.
But a landmark 2015 study led by Devon Proudfoot et al, found that even with the exact same creative output, the producer of the output was judged to be more creative if someone thought they were a man than a woman.
Through analysing 5 experiments, with participants being both men and women, the researchers found the following results:
- Creativity is seen to be related to stereotypically “masculine traits” like self-reliance than “feminine traits” like supportiveness
- When shown 3 images of pieces of work by a fictional architect, participants rated them as more creative when they were told the architect was a man, and less creative when told the architect was a woman. [Interestingly, there was a negligible difference with a similar study assessing the output of a fictional fashion designer.]
- Female executives are stereotyped as less innovative than their male counterparts when evaluated by their supervisors
- Stereotypically masculine behavior enhances a man’s perceived creativity, whereas identical behavior does not enhance a woman’s perceived creativity.
- Participants even rated the men as more deserving of a promotion or bonus for their creative thinking, even when women acted the exact same way
This research shows that there truly is a bias against women and their ideas, with the same idea and behaviour being judged as less creative if a woman does it than if a man does it.
As Proudfoot notes in an interview with HBR:
The pattern of results we found is more consistent with supervisors’ tendency to underestimate women’s creativity, not to overestimate men’s. That’s what accounts for the gender difference in these evaluations.
Our studies suggest that the reason men are seen as more creative is a belief that it takes autonomy, independence, and thinking that diverges from the status quo. These are “masculine” traits.
Research shows that both men and women stereotype on the basis of gender.
So what can we do about it?
As with every type of psychological bias, it is hard to tell people to not judge a book by its cover.
Or in this case, a woman by her gender and her appearance.
But a great place to start is to make people aware of their biases, and ask them to stop and pause before making judgements about competency and outcomes.
In some situations, you can anonymise details of who produced a creative and innovative idea, to prevent gender bias from happening in the first place.
But a potentially better way is by increasing exposure to other people’s ideas, especially to women and other people different from yourself.
Many large companies are trying to achieve this by goals of getting more women into leadership positions. This is a good start, but probably not the final answer.
You can also help people overcome impostor syndrome through training programmes, which appear to affect women more strongly than men.
But more than anything, assess the merits of an idea or innovation based on the idea itself, rather than who produced it.
Judge the idea based on its own merit.
It doesn’t matter if it was was produced by a man, woman or someone who identifies another way.
That is true equality.
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