It takes more than [just] a seat at the table
It isn’t that I spend time searching for examples of how it’s hard to be a woman. It’s just that examples persistently plant themselves in front of me. So I am driven to share them. This time it was CNN with an opinion piece on why we are biased against women in science. In this post, the author summarizes research on how we tend to rate women professionals lower than males with identical credentials. She says:
“Perhaps the biggest worry is that people who swear they are objective are the most likely to make biased judgments. In several classic experiments, subjects were asked which criteria are most important for a particular job and then shown two résumés: one of the “wrong” gender who had all those qualifications and one of the “right” gender who lacked them. Yet the subjects rated the person with the “right” gender higher, i.e., they ignored the criteria they had earlier said were most important. And this tendency was greatest among those claiming objectivity.”
In other words, it’s automatic. We just do it. We all participate. Sometimes we participate by simply maintaining silence and deferring to men. There’s an interesting new study out in the August issue of the American Political Science Review on gender and deliberating groups. The researchers find that when women are in groups where they are outnumbered–they speak less. The same pattern does not happen with men. The pattern is different however, when the group is told to make their decision by unanimous vote rather than the majority rules. In that model of decision-making–women’s voices are heard. It’s a good sign for deliberating jurors although we often see women deferring to male jurors in our pretrial research groups. And we often see men who choose to dominate the discussion groups. It will take a long time and lots of behaving against stereotype and gender-expectations for all of us to figure out it’s okay to talk and that we don’t have to trample others to be heard.
So it’s better to fight back or speak up, right? Well. Not exactly. Another recent study, examined judges’ sentencing decisions in 26 different domestic homicide and abuse cases in Canada. The author found that when women fought back in domestic violence situations, they were more likely to be stereotyped with themes of substance abuse and “ongoing mutual violence”. And their sentences were then harsher.
A few months back we wrote about a study that said men were punished more severely for mistakes as leaders in male congruent workplaces (i.e., construction). It was intriguing to us since earlier research (in the same workplace environments) had shown women were punished more. In the new research, the researchers conclude that observers expect both men and women leaders to be competent across gender congruent and gender incongruent domains. We hope they are right. It would be nice for things to be becoming evenly assessed between genders.
Karpowitz, CF, Mendelberg, T., & Shaker, L. (2012). Gender inequality in deliberative participation. American Political Science Review, 106 (3) DOI: 10.1017/S0003055412000329