It’s confirmed. You don’t look like a good leader. Yes, it seems you, me and the entire female gender has a leadership problem. People don’t think we look like leaders. Both men and women seem to have the same troubling opinion. When conjuring up a mental picture of a leader, people picture men, they don’t picture women. Just ugh!
Confirmation of What You Already Knew
A study to be published in The Academy of Management Journal — the place brainiac academics publish their newest research findings — makes that point exceedingly clear.
In an experiment, men and women were asked to draw a picture of a leader. The picture didn’t even have to be of a good leader, just your everyday, person-you-might-know leader. Yep, you guessed it. Almost everyone drew a man. The view in their minds’ eye was of a male face, not a female’s face, and that’s what they drew nearly 100% of the time.
These researchers found what we’ve known all along… getting noticed as a good leader in the workplace is more difficult for women than for men. The research leads us to the finding that both men and women overwhelmingly think man when they think leader. And that’s a leadership problem. Double ugh!
Humans Being Human
How has this happened? It’s complex as you would have guessed. A well-known psychological short cut called Confirmation Bias is right in the middle of it.
Humans depend upon the mental shortcuts evolution has delivered to us. These shortcuts are ways to instantly recognize things we’ve seen before and things we haven’t. Examples: which of these green leaves is not like the other… which red berry is poisonous, and which is tasty…which person is part of our tribe and who is the outsider…which person is the leader and who is not… all decisions made in a blink of an eye using a mental short cut we don’t even know is there. And that short cut is called a “confirmation bias.”
What to Do
- Let’s confirm a new reality. Women lead in their work, churches, schools, charities and families. Women leaders are not unusual. What is unusual is the unambiguous, full throated recognition of women as leaders in all the spheres of their lives. It’s time to acknowledge that women’s leadership is woven into the fabric of our lives. Women leaders are everywhere. Let’s tell people that.
- Confirm a Woman Leader. Use the word leader as often as you can to describe the women leaders in your own life. Introduce a woman and say she is a leader. It’s not enough to use her title; talk about her being in charge, being the Leader.
- Confirm your own leadership. Own what you know. Construct your own personal brand message. You know when and what you lead. If you lead an initiative, team or line of stray cats, label it as an act of leadership. Let’s all use the verb lead to tell others what we do. When you lead something, tell people. They can’t know unless you tell them.
And that’s the way we upend the Confirmation Bias that men look like leaders and women do not.
For more information on personal messaging and developing your own brand message, click here.
References for this article come from a New York times article, “Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman?“ by Heather Murphy.