Tag Archives: gender gap

Confirmation bias

Do you challenge your unconscious bias?

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a fervent believer in equality. Whether it’s gender, race or anything else you can think of I don’t believe anyone should have their opportunities limited. Or should I say…..

that’s what my conscious mind thinks. My unconscious mind, however, has been shaped by decades in a society where people’s opportunities have been limited because of their race, gender or social standing. In a telephone conversation with my daughter recently, who is obviously well aware of my feelings on gender equality, she mentioned a consultant & before I knew it the words “is that because he…” were out of my mouth. Both of us realised what I’d said immediately & the phone literally went silent before my daughter came back with “oh mam!!!” So I got to wondering just how bad things were in my unconscious brain.

Harvard University are doing some research and as part of that any one of us can take a test to see what our unconscious mind thinks about things like gender and careers, race, religion etc. As I’m probably most vocal about gender bias in the workplace I decided to take the test that shows your unconscious bias for male/female career/family.

I anticipated I would have a slight bias towards male & career, female & family in my unconscious mind, let’s be honest in the times I’ve grown up in it would be surprising if I didn’t. Imagine my anger at my unconscious mind when I discovered it was harbouring a STRONG bias toward male & career, female & family.

This really doesn’t fit in with my image of myself as a strong career woman who supports younger women to make the most of their opportunities.

So what good does it do to know this? Well now I’m aware that my unconscious mind is being such a pain I can be aware of it & challenge it when it influences my actions. I can also encourage others to do the same (kind of the point of this blog I guess!)

Here’s a great TED talk (you all know how much I love TED talks!) about gender equality & unconscious bias which I watched this week, it’s worth 15 minutes of your time I promise:


You can test your own unconscious bias, if you do I’d love to hear about the results, whether they surprise you or they’re what you expected. Let me know in the comments below.

Screenshot 2015-02-22 11.14.31

Let’s try to STEM the gender gap.

As I was reading my Sunday paper this morning I was transported back to the mid eighties when I was studying for my A-levels. I was sitting in a classroom with about 10 pupils in it & I was the only girl. I had chosen to study double maths & it hadn’t even occurred to me that I might be the only girl making that choice. This is a testament to the way my parents brought me up, to them my gender wasn’t a consideration in the choices I made & it was only when I reached that point that I came across the influence of another way of thinking.

I can even distinctly remember the teacher saying “I wouldn’t be surprised if Dianne decides not to continue as she’s the only girl in the class”  Giving up on the class hadn’t even occurred to me until that point. Don’t get me wrong as a teenage girl sitting in a class full of teenage boys I felt awkward but to me I’d made my choice & I would have persevered. Following those words I gave up maths completely. I’d be offered an “out” and I took it. Now I don’t blame the teacher for that, I made the decision & I’ve never been one for looking back & thinking “what if?” I wonder though if the teacher would have said those words if he’d realised the effect it was going to have?

The reason this memory came to mind was an article in the Sunday Times about an OECD report due out next week. The report shows that the UK isn’t doing very well when it comes to making the most of our available talent in STEM subjects. In measuring the performance of 15 year old girls v boys in science across 67 countries the UK has one of the largest gender gaps. We are in the bottom five of the sample & that really isn’t good. The same OECD report last year showed that gender gaps in maths generally across the world had not improved in the previous 11 years. How sad is that? We’re talking & talking about this & yet we still haven’t found the solution. The report suggests that part of the problem is that girls don’t feel as confident of their abilities when it comes to maths & I find myself wondering where that comes from? Somewhere between the age of 9 and 15 their belief in their own abilities changes. Are we as a society still giving out the same message that teacher gave me in the mid-eighties?

Teenage years are difficult ones at the best of times (for parents as well as teenagers!) & sometimes it can be a fleeting comment or a thoughtless phrase that may give someone that “out” I was given , that may suggest to them that they’re not quite up to it or won’t quite fit in. At a time when people are trying to figure who they are & who they want to be these comments can mean a lot more than they’re meant to. So we need to think about what we’re saying, what messages we are giving.

As Professor Brian Cox said in an interview in the Telegraph last year when asked about women in science:  “There should be 50 per cent. It’s not just a sense of moral obligation about equal opportunities. It’s about the talent pool. It’s about how do you fill this massive gap in skills that we have in the economy.” Now I can’t offer the perfect solution to this problem but I do feel we can all contribute in our own way. Changing this will take effort from all of us, male & female.

So let’s encourage all our children, regardless of gender, to be everything they can & want to be.