It turns out that gender stereotyping starts early.
By gender stereotyping I’m specifically referring to our ideas about men and women, and the standards they should be measured against. Whether we are conscious of them or not, people apply one set of standards to men and another set to women.
How early do these different standards begin? A recent analysis suggests they’re in place by the time people attend university. Northeastern University Professor Benjamin Schmidt analyzed the reviews left by students on the website RateMyProfessor.com. What he found was that the following words were commonly used to describe male professors:
“smart”, “idiot”, “interesting”, “boring”, “cool”, “creepy”
The words that were commonly used to describe female professors were:
“sweet”, “shrill”, “warm”, “cold”, “beautiful”, “evil”
In other words, intelligence is something students noted with respect to their male teachers (e.g. they are either “smart” or an “idiot”) whereas for female teachers, personality characteristics mattered more (e.g. they are either “warm” or “cold”).
We’ve previously written about similar findings regarding different female and male standards in written job performance reviews. What this means is that our gender stereotypes are engrained early and continue on into the workplace. In other words, we take our gender baggage with us to the office.
Admirable as it may be that some companies have decided to try to train their workforce on gender bias, its not realistic to think most companies will ever do this for their employees. And bias training may not effectively counteract years of any individual’s engrained habits. So what is a woman to do? Every individual must be aware of the standards and lens through which they are judged. If you believe you are suffering from bias, you can try to talk to your manager or HR department. But if this fails — or more likely doesn’t seem socially acceptable or possible in the first place — you might have to face the hard decision of choosing with your feet. You may have to consider looking for a different position or for a role in a company where you think that you will be judged more fairly. This isn’t an easy decision, but if you think you will not be fairly compensated or promoted where you currently are, you might not have much of a choice.