If you see people treat women differently for illogical or mysterious reasons, you’re probably looking at subconscious gender bias. It affects all women, and it means we get less respect and less money, so let’s talk about the types of gender bias.
1. The Women’s US Soccer Team
The U.S. Women’s national soccer team has won three World Cups, and the men’s team zero, but the men get paid more. On average – a lot more. And everyone is outraged! It defies logic! The team made an official complaint to the governing body of the U.S. soccer league and one of the women’s team’s star players, Hope Solo said:
“We are the best in the world… the [men’s team] get paid more just to show up than we get paid to win major championships.”
In the world of sport, it is particularly difficult to combat subconscious gender bias. There are issues of coverage and sponsorship statistics, combined with social and cultural norms, and the final deadly blow is the innate difference in men’s and women’s bodies. At least in the office, women can argue that their capacity for work is matched to that of a man, but I think people subconsciously discredit women’s sports because they think women will never be as fast, as strong, or as tough as men.
So how can we fight it?
Follow the money. The more people who watch the women’s soccer team, the more they get in sponsorship opportunities and the more their matches will be screened on TV. Take your brothers and your sons to a game! Also – the more you pay attention to these women and their fight against the wage gap, sharing and commenting on their articles, the faster we can get affirmative action!
2. Your resume is worth less
As late as 1970, the top five orchestras in the U.S. had fewer than 5% women. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, orchestras began using “blind auditions”. Candidates sat behind a screen to play for the selection panel that cannot see them. Researchers have determined that this step alone makes it 50% more likely that a woman will advance to the final rounds of auditions.
A researcher at Stanford University, sent out two resumes – one for a “John” and one for a “Jennifer” – that were otherwise identical. Feedback was that Jennifer was “significantly less competent” and they also recommended paying her a lower salary.
Jennifer was offered, on average, $4,000 per year (13%) less than John.
So how can we fight it?
Well, you can’t live your whole life behind a screen and you can’t actually change your name on your resume, so what now?
Quotas are controversial, but I think they can have a fantastic effect on combating subconscious gender bias. You might have heard about quotas for boards of directors to encourage women in leadership positions. Quotas for interviews with women would be a fantastic start. It means our resumes wouldn’t be tossed aside before we had the chance to shake hands and show our future employees what we might be capable of.
If you’re not (yet) in a position to hire other people, and you’re sending your resume out without success, consider building your network with older and more experienced women. Never underestimate how much asking for help can benefit you.
3. Your voice is less authoritative
This is a tough one. I’m stealing some information here from a fantastic new book by Tara Moss called “Speaking Out”. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the amazing podcast, This American Life. Well, the producers started getting a lot of complaints from listeners about the female readers and speakers on the podcast having “vocal fry”. Vocal fry is when the voice drops into lower registers and gets that gravelly tone to it.
Listeners were saying that the women’s voices were so annoying that they couldn’t even listen to the content any more.
The weirdest thing is Ira Glass, the man who runs This American Life, speaks the most and has the most pronounced vocal fry of all, but nobody complains against him. Moss’s book explains how we rarely hear two women talking together on the radio, and how often a show will be two men with one woman sandwiched for an appearance of equality. People complain about the “sound of women’s voices” all the time, to the point that we are deemed less authoritative or worthy of listening to.
So how can we fight it?
Remind everyone that content trumps delivery. Let’s all stop gossiping about annoying accents or people who speak too loud or too soft or too high or too low. If you hear someone complaining about a woman’s voice instead of engaging with what she’s saying – call them out! It’s just a different way of using something irrelevant (like her appearance or age) to discredit and ignore her.
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