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Unveiling Well-Rounded Leadership: Beyond Gender Stereotypes

leadership transition Nov 29, 2023

- By Sophie Pinkoski

In an ideal world, everyone would be acknowledged for what they do best. Yet certain biases prevent us from seeing each other’s skills and talents for what they are.

As a leader, actively addressing and mitigating these biases within your team is a powerful opportunity to foster a more inclusive and productive work environment.

Gender bias often assumes that those within certain groups don’t have the skills needed to take on certain responsibilities, and thus, they are unintentionally overlooked for development opportunities or professional advancement. Traditional gender expectations that feed these gender biases may put men and women in boxes that presume they have opposing skills and personalities applicable to mutually exclusive roles.

Breaking free from these gender roles within our teams is entirely possible.

It takes work to unlearn gender biases that prevent individuals from being seen for the good work they do, but as a leader, you have the power to set the precedent for everyone else in your organization.

You can empower your team by celebrating each individual’s skills and talents, regardless of their gender or background.

In order to do so, however, it’s important to understand what informs any existing unconscious biases within your team that keeps them from acknowledging everyone’s talents equally. Once you can identify and confront these biases, you can utilize each individual’s abilities to achieve maximum efficiency.

To better understand gender bias in the workplace, it is essential to be familiar with certain terms:

Privilege–– This term refers to the unequal distribution of opportunities based on social status, creating power imbalances for those not afforded the same advantages. The amount of privilege someone has is determined by the intersectional variables that make up their background, for example, gender. Despite strides in diversifying key roles within the workplace to balance that privilege, some individuals still encounter workplace discrimination hindering their career progression.

Gender bias–– Discrimination makes assumptions about certain groups based on stereotypes. These stereotypes come from the way we categorize things to better make sense of the world through our unique, individual lens. Many stereotypes surrounding traditionally masculine or feminine traits come from gender roles that no longer apply to our modern world. These stereotypes, originating from outdated gender roles, may persist in our unconscious biases, influencing expectations around leadership roles.

We now understand that intellect, charisma, intuition, and many other ideal leadership traits know no gender.

Gender biases like these take time to unlearn through reflection and self-awareness training to build empathy toward others.

Impact of Language–– Despite strides toward gender equality, professional language can inadvertently reinforce traditional stereotypes. Job descriptions often use language associated with masculine traits for leadership roles (prioritizing logic and assertiveness), while positions perceived as supportive may use language associated with feminine traits (prioritizing empathy).

Amid a shift towards empathic leadership, it's crucial to recognize that both logic and empathy contribute to effective leadership, making them valuable assets regardless of gender.

“The problem with gender,” feminist author, Chimamande Ngozi Adichie points out in her TEDTalk, “is that it prescribes how we should be, rather than recognize how we are.” Inaccurate biases toward certain groups keeps them from achieving their full potential.

If you can identify these unconscious biases within your team, they can be broken down and unlearned.

From there, it’s possible to see people not for their gender, but for their skills and talents so that everyone can be treated for who they are and receive the tools they need to be their best selves in the workplace.


Further Reading:

We Should All Be Feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TEDTalk

Women in the Workplace 2023, McKinsey

What is Gender Bias in the Workplace? Built In

ACT/EMP Research Note: Breaking Barriers: Unconcsious Gender Bias in the Workplace, International Labour Organization

What’s Privilege? How to Navigate it, Inclusive Employers

Privilege and Power in the Workplace, Digital Frontiers Institute


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