This past weekend, during a routine, mindless period spent clicking through internet links, I ran across Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant's series of essays entitled "Women at Work." While I'm always up for a thoughtful New York Times piece (who isn't?), this series in particular piqued my interest because I find the topic of implicit biases in human interaction fascinating, particularly (and somewhat selfishly) when those biases affect women.
The pair have released three of four planned essays so far: one covering the dangers of educating about biases, the next about the problems women encounter when speaking up at work, and the third about the gendered double-standard when it comes to "communal" work.
I thought the first essay did a deft job laying the groundwork for the rest of the pieces: in it, the authors discuss how studies show that simply discussing the existence of a stereotype does nothing to eradicate it. Rather, education about biases must be coupled with directives to no longer allow that bias to seep into your interactions in order to result in progress. The rest of the essays do exactly that: discuss a bias, and then suggest actionable ways to diminish it.
While at first I was somewhat inclined to read each of these essays and dwell on all the insidious ways that gender biases were affecting my life and work, I've come to the rather obvious conclusion that there is not much I can do to change the interactions I've had in the past or control the behavior of the people I encounter in the future. The thing I CAN change is whether or not I allow these biases to dictate my reaction to others. As has been widely documented, gender biases against women don't solely result from men actively discriminating against women. Instead, they result from the collective actions of the entire population, men and women, chipping away at the confidence and control of women one tiny interaction at a time. I (and you, too!) can stem the stereotypical tide by making sure I am not judging the women around me harshly when they exhibit traditionally male behaviors like speaking up at work or making direct critiques. Maybe it's naive, but I believe that limiting subtle, negative behaviors (such as taking a defensive tone with women who have direct managerial styles) can slowly improve the gender bias situation for us all.
Speaking of women at work, I am freshly back from a business trip to Dallas! A lot of time and energy went into preparing for our meeting there, but everything went very well and I'm pleased to be able to count those 36 hours among my experiences.
I'm even happier now that I'm back in my own home in my own bed, with at least two weeks of down time before I have to head to the airport again.
I hope you all are having a similarly productive but enjoyable week. Back tomorrow to take us into the weekend.