Five Actions Against Stereotypes

Throughout any given day, others see you and automatically create a generalized belief about who you are. Researchers from NYU found that we have seven seconds to make a first impression.

The advantage is that we can react quickly based on our own past experience, however the downside is the rapid judgments we make. We automatically group people together based on their looks, body language, hair color and other factors. In doing so, we ignore the differences in others, the parts of their being that make them unique and we assume characteristics that may not be true.

Stereotypes are an element of culture that affects everyone. Regardless of your race, sexual orientation, religion or gender, you are in some way impacted by these generalizations.

In our daily interactions, we often allow stereotypes to affect much of how we perceive others, how we interact with our counterparts and how we speak about other people. Not only are we subject to stereotyping, each of us play a role in sustaining and aiding these stereotypes.

In this blog, we are going to look specifically at the gender stereotype and how women are perceived and treated – not just by men, but also by other women.  What motivated me to write this, relates to many reactions I’ve received when I tell them what I do. I’ll say, “I work for Integrating Woman Leaders, a small company in Indianapolis dedicated to helping women advance in leadership.” Maybe it is the keyword “woman” that turns people off, maybe it’s that I am not in a corporate role or maybe its that they expected something different from me.

How can we begin to create change?

Women’s Issues Are Men’s Issues

On a high level, there needs to be a shift in the idea that gender issues are “women’s issues” only. When people hear the term gender, they automatically think “women” and most men will automatically stop listening. Instead, men need to play an active role in this conversation. Men need to stand with women rather than against them. Men should have the courage to stand up and start talking about gender issues without using the terms “women’s rights” or “feminism” negatively. I recommend Jackson Katz’s fantastic TedTalk that focuses on these ideas.

Applying Labels to Our Leaders

It is important to recognize the differences between men and women, specifically in leadership roles. Data shows that male leaders are more task-oriented, competitive and focused on achievement and success. Female leaders are more collaborative, relationship-oriented and focused on recognition and respect.  Gender leadership styles are different. However, what we see in practice is that women are viewed in a different light as leaders. A man who is authoritative is the “boss” and a woman is “bossy.” The women works overtime and gets home to her children late is “selfish” while her male counterpart is “dedicated.” Pantene’s recent video captures these labels perfectly.

The Bystander Concept

How often do we hear others make a controversial joke – a racial comment or a sexist remark? In the peer culture it’s hard to challenge our friends and much easier just to let it slide as “just a joke.” Consider, however, that our silence is a form of consent – by standing by without a voice we are agreeing. We need to stand up to say, “that’s not funny” and maybe in time people will no longer be rewarded for those comments, but lose face instead.

So how can we (men and women) as individuals be more conscientious about stereotyping?

Here are FIVE actions you can take in your daily life.

1)    Engage the men around you. Challenge male leadership to think differently than they have in the past and take time to explore biases.

2)    Change your language. Be aware of the words you use to describe yourself and how you describe the women around you.

3)    Be the courageous bystander. Challenge your friends and speak up in conversations that are aiding these stereotypes. Don’t be afraid to break the silence.

4)    Watch your body language. So much of what we think is communicated through our nonverbal reactions. Be mindful of your physical presence.

5)    Seek the motion picture. Take the time to get to know someone before you pass judgment. Look for their motion picture not their snapshot.

It is difficult to approach such a pervasive issue across a culture, but it begins with the individual and it affects future generations. No one is born with biases; they are learned. And we can all take small measures to make a difference, as we all have a choice when it comes to our daily interactions. We can do better. As Sheryl Sandberg stated so well in the quote above, we can find better ways to set our expectations.

Contributed by: Maggie Anderson, Director of Marketing

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