The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How can women respond to gender stereotyping at work?” is written by Erin Ganju, CEO and co-founder of Room to Read.
Like me, you have probably experienced gender stereotyping at some point in your career. I know I did during my early days in the male-dominated industries of investment banking and technology startups. I remember some situations that were more minor affronts: a boss asking me to get him a cup of coffee because I was the only woman in the room, even though other male colleagues present were more junior in title. Other situations I recall were more serious and harmful to my career aspirations, including male colleagues getting credit for my ideas because they were part of the “boys’ club” at work, which still largely dominates so many office cultures.
Despite the great strides women have made in the workplace, unfortunately, we know that inequality persists. Research has shown that women experience more stress, anxiety, and physiological distress than men in the workplace because of gender stereotyping. This results in reduced cognitive ability and impaired concentration, as women use up their mental resources trying to disprove the stereotype, rather than focusing on the task at hand.
Both of my experiences above are clear cases of gender stereotyping, and so many women continue to experience similar scenarios every day, regardless of age or tenure. What’s important is recognizing that this gender-based stereotyping matters. It can harm women on their career trajectories and, in fact, stereotyping of any kind makes embracing diversity in the workplace more challenging. The good news is that there are ways to address it to help society advance.
Here are five ways to change the dynamic:
Separate yourself from the stigma
Remember and remind yourself that your actual ability to perform a task has nothing to do with the stereotyping associated with being a woman.
Reframe your perspective to focus on your achievements and abilities. Instead of looking through a gender lens (“I am the only woman in this meeting”), base your professional worth on your skills (“I am the only person in this meeting with a linguistics and early childhood development background”).
Find humor in difficult situations
Maintaining a positive attitude and enjoying a silent chuckle to yourself from time to time or lightening the mood with humor amongst colleagues can help relieve stressful circumstances.
Call it as you see it
If a female colleague is interrupted by a male colleague during a meeting, point out that she was not finished speaking. Or, when you have the floor, offer her the opportunity to finish her previous thought. By bringing attention to the poor habits that are contributing to gender stereotyping, you may change behaviors.
Keep communication open and ongoing with colleagues and superiors
Share if you feel that gender biases are clouding people’s perspectives, and how that impacts your or other colleagues’ ability to engage and contribute in a group setting. Through honest dialogue, you can help others recognize the impact of gender biases and foster a more inclusive and collaborative company culture.
Build a culture of support and mentoring amongst the women in your workplace
Sharing your experiences and helping each other is one of the best ways to build a supportive network in the workplace for women to thrive in.
Like any stereotype, gender stereotypes are hard to break. That’s why it’s especially important to recognize it when it happens and address it effectively. That will ultimately help reduce our own stress, create a more inclusive and supportive environment, and help affect change for everyone in the workplace, regardless of gender.