Sunday, May 4, 2014

Our evaluation mechanisms of our fellow human beings are gender hard coded. The infamous Heidi/Howard study remains a good example specifically of our leadership gender mindset. Heidi Roizen is a successful venture capitalist and a former entrepreneur. Her extensive business achievements were presented to study groups with her actual name and under the name Howard.

People responded far more favorable to Howard. Howard was perceived as amiable and driven, Heidi as somewhat selfish and unpleasant and yet everything but the name was identical.  As Sheryl Sandberg concluded in “Lean In” successful men are likable, successful women less so.  

Here is a commercial for Pantene that in my opinion visually captures the same gender mindset nicely:

This type of labeling is deeply rooted in our traditional gender identities. Most leadership characteristics map to conventional masculinity and therefore stand in sharp contrast to conventional femininity. So as a society, and as individuals in that society, we have some work to do evolving these gender identities. First step is for us all to be cognizant of own evaluation mechanisms and then work to advance them.

Also what is very important to note here is that perception and reality are not always identical and there is now great emerging data concluding that people actually thrive under female leadership. See my post on The Diversity Dividend for some thoughts on why that might be.

Are you ready to oil your evaluation mechanism?

“Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.”
― Martina Navratilova