Harness the Emotion and Leverage the Data
by Katherine Mendonca
I recently had the opportunity to attend a talk by Professor Bernie Roth from the Stanford d.School. As part of his presentation he conducted an exercise with the audience to partake in some of the practices outlined in his new book The Achievement Habit. During this exercise he asked a woman in the audience what her specific challenge was that she would like to change. She responded “I would like other people to stop telling me that I am aggressive and too direct” to which I immediately turned my head to get a better view of this conversation. When I looked in the direction of the exchange I saw a woman in her mid to late 20’s being very forthcoming about a situation that she was clearly struggling with. The Professor bantered back and forth with her to play out the process he outlines in his book to help her find a resolution to the way in which she was seeing the situation. I, on the other hand, clearly felt her frustration and angst.
When the presentation was over the woman walked past me and I was compelled to tell her that she was not alone and that many women experience what she had recently encountered for the first time (as she shared to me). I expressed an opportunity to eliminate the emotion and take advantage of the ever growing body of data that identifies gender bias language and provides a mechanism to engage in a conversation that isn’t solely personal to her but is prevalent in the zeitgeist and is impacting a large population of women and girls globally.
Her concern immediately landed on how this perception by her manager would impact her performance review (as it was her manager that had made the initial comment). I took this opportunity to share highlights of the research conducted by Kieran Snyder outlined in her Fortune article, The Abrasiveness Trap: High achieving Men and Women are described differently in reviews. Snyder describes the results of her research in which both male and female managers provide harsher critique to female employees. “Men are given constructive suggestions. Women are given constructive suggestions – and told to pipe down.” Additionally, I recommend that she review the large body of work by The Clayman Institute for Gender Research. After a short conversation the young woman and I parted ways and she looked as if she was empowered to gather her own body of research that would help her and hopefully other women she crossed paths with.
This example is just one of many focused on the behavior of gender bias, unconscious or not. Information / data is powerful as it can help in several ways. First, it allows an individual to understand that they are not alone and that this behavior is pervasive. Second, once you become aware of the bias and its destructive consequences your senses are heightened making the behavior apparent. Lastly, now that you are armed with the research data, you can begin to have conversations that will unveil the unconscious action and make them conscious.
My hope is that the more we discuss gender bias and leverage the body of work on the subject to bring this topic to the surface for all to see then it will no longer have a place in society. Emotions can move us to action but the data creates the framework for awareness and change.
Katherine Mendonca is an expert in next generation mobile computing and an advocate for fair and unbiased work environments. She is leader in The CLUB Silicon Valley and was selected for the CLUB Incubator leadership program in 2015. Learn more about Katherine in the Member Spotlight and on her website.