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Are the Millennials wrong? Bias against leadership for teen  girls…

Wednesday, August 12, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

rose colored glassesNominations are now being accepted for the ABA Blawg 100 list. If you value this blog, please nominate us at the ABA site: http://www.abajournal.com/blawgs/blawg100_submit/. The only catch is you have to do it fast! Nominations close at midnight THIS COMING SUNDAY (8/16/2015).

As we completed the research for our latest article in The Jury Expert, we commented on the Millennial perception that, with their generation, gender bias against women in leadership would be nonexistent. Here’s what we wrote about this ‘rose-colored glasses’ view of their futures:

“Finally, in a testament to changing times ahead (or perhaps their oft-touted optimism), only 8% of Millennials fear they will be held back at work due to their gender (and the younger the Millennial, the less sex-based discrimination is feared). “

Unfortunately, this optimistic perspective may be incorrect if today’s paper is accurate. The Harvard Graduate School of Education has published a report through their Making Caring Common Project (MCC). Here’s how Harvard describes the report in their press release:

“MCC’s new research report, Leaning Out: Teen Girls and Leadership Biases, suggests that teen girls face a powerful barrier to leadership: gender bias. Based primarily on a survey of nearly 20,000 students, our report suggests that many teen boys and teen girls—and some of their parents—have biases against teen girls as leaders.”

According to MCC, biases still exist in both teen boys and girls (and in some of their parents—perhaps ironically, the report only specifies their mothers) against teen girls as leaders. The program surveyed almost 20,000 students in 59 different middle schools and high schools. Here are some of the key findings:

23% of girls preferred male to female political leaders (69% had no preference and only 8% preferred female politicians). In comparison, 40% of boys preferred male political leaders (56% of boys had no preference and 4% preferred female politicians).

There were a number of findings on race and ethnicity with students least likely to support giving more power to a hypothetical student council led by white girls and most likely to support giving more power to that hypothetical student council if it was led by white boys. White girls were also biased against leaders who were white girls.

Some mothers also responded in a way that appears to be biased against girls as leaders. (The researchers comment they cannot speak to the potential bias of fathers since their sample of father’s was too small.) Mothers tended to support student councils led by boys more than they did councils led by girls.

And finally, one of our favorite trial strategies pops up here as well. We talk a lot about “raising the flag of bias awareness” and these researchers mention it as well. Awareness of bias (of any type) reduces bias of all types, according to voluminous research findings.

Overall, it isn’t a death knell to the Millennial vision of equity in leadership and gender. The researchers offer a number of strategies for parents and educators to help reduce gender stereotyping in children, adolescents and teens. They are good recommendations for all of us.

It’s a good and clearly written overview of the study with specific recommendations to reduce bias. In this case it’s all about gender biases in leadership. The recommendations however, will work to reduce bias of all types. So go read!

Weissbourd, R et al. 2015 Leaning out: Teen girls and leadership biases. Making Caring Common Project from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. http://sites.gse.harvard.edu//making-caring-common/leaningout

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