Mostly, your subconscious is an obliging, industrious little helper that has your best interests at heart. It really wants to be of assistance, busily helping with all of those pesky, mundane things that you cannot live without, such as breathing. However, sometimes it gets carried away, maybe even makes decisions on your behalf that are totally contrary to what you believe in consciously. Sometimes, your actions belie your beliefs and your inside voice becomes your outside voice. Consciously, you probably hold resolutely to the conviction that your daughter can match skills with, and is as capable as, any boy, yet subconsciously, you harbour messages that may cause you to act otherwise.
Your little helper cannot be blamed for your beliefs, however, because it is simply a sponge. It acquires and assimilates information, using it as the basis for making thousands of decisions each day, as efficiently and expediently as possible. It is your subconscious that triggers the urge to tidy up when you smell a cleaning agent or the thought that it is time to become competitive when a briefcase is set in front of you (both phenomena demonstrated in a Yale study).
Unfortunately, the stereotypes established as truths by your little helper’s ‘rule of thumb’ cataloguing can be discriminatory. From birth, it has stored information gleaned from media images that have consisted largely of men in powerful positions while women were either cast in supporting roles or invisible entirely. It should come as no surprise that your little helper arrived at the conclusion that men are more valuable than women and dismisses, dislikes and distrusts women who violate this premise.
The Heidi/Howard case conducted in 2003 at Harvard Business School is a perfect example of the biased opinions held by society in regards to strong successful women. Some classes were given a scenario where the protagonist presented and being considered for a position, a successful venture capitalist, was a woman (Heidi) and in others, a man (Howard). Students found both Heidi and Howard to be equally competent but stated that they would not want to work with Heidi, whom they described as unlikeable. Meanwhile, everyone felt that Howard was a great guy and wanted to work with him.
Skewed societal perceptions such as this are not unusual. Orchestras that hold blind auditions result in a much higher percentage of seats being held by female musicians and the acceptance rates for code deciphering when presented by women will only score higher than men’s when their gender is hidden. It is also interesting that when women enter a field in greater numbers salaries decline in direct relation. Paula England, of New York University, who co-authored a definitive pay gap study, states that due to gender bias once a woman moves into a position previously predominated by men it is generally felt that, “it doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill”.
Clearly, if we want to create a level playing field for our daughters in the future we need first acknowledge that we are not always consciously in control and that our conclusions may have been reached mindlessly. Often, the worst culprits proudly declare outwardly that without fail, they treat women and men as equals. I personally experienced backhanded gender bias with a boss who spent a great deal of time telling folks how important it was to have women in management. These words proved to be lip service, however, a free pass to follow up with discriminatory actions. His true intentions shone through when he chose to purchase a company golf membership at a Men Only Club and then promptly invited all of my clients to play. Of course, I was effectively excluded.
Awareness is the first step in overcoming our ingrained unconscious preconceptions. We must first make the conscious decision not to blindly follow the instructions of our little helper verbatim, nor succumb to our unconscious gender-based characterizations, many of which present in colloquial speech. We must avoid using dismissive words such as “moaning” to demean the communication style of women, as Bernie Sanders did recently when discussing Hillary Clinton or the equally damaging “whining” as Canadians used in response to Sophie Trudeau’s staffing issues.
We should also analyze our perspective of women in general. Do you view the words and demeanor of a woman as abrasive while assigning the less serious connotation of a “shortage of patience” to a man? Would aggressiveness, so objectionable in a woman be perceived as being a more acceptable (perhaps even favourable) “focus on the goal” exhibition if it were displayed by a man? As you begin to monitor your own behaviour it is, as always, good to seek and accept feedback from others to avoid falling into such insentient traps in the future.
The bottom line is that just as your little helper has shaped the views that you hold today, it is simply a fact gathering assistant and you are the one driving the bus. Your little helper can be opinionated and set in its ways and it will be challenging to change its beliefs, but make sure that you are not just putting the vehicle on autopilot. Many of the decisions made by your little helper will not take you where you want to go and that certainly will not help you or our daughters.