Are you assigning work to the right person for the right reason? Here are three scenarios that illustrate a less-than-ideal pattern of gender bias.
I was part of a business development group, a brain trust of sorts. We were a group of business owners, equal numbers men and women and all investing a not small sum of money for our monthly meetings.
During one of the first meetings of the group, a problem-solving brainstorm was under way and a scribe was needed. The facilitator of the group asked me if I would be the scribe. I’m a team player so readily agreed. The ideas came fast and furious, so constant writing was required. It turned out to be a role that precluded any other kind of involvement in the brainstorm.
Fast forward to the meeting the next month with another problem-solving brainstorm about to get started. The facilitator motioned to me asking me to again be the scribe. I declined.
I’m part of a three-person subcommittee. The other two members are men. The chair of the main committee is a woman. In the first several months of this structure, every time a task was required of the sub-committee the primary chair gave the task to me. Whether it was to be the point person for anyone who needed information from our subcommittee, updating a Google spreadsheet, or developing a process to encourage participation from the larger group. The other two men in the group were not given specific tasks to manage or complete.
This was another brainstorm situation but this time ideas were being generated by a group of about 55 people. Group demographics about 50/50 men and women. The facilitator of this brainstorm, a man, asked if I would take the notes during the brainstorm so the person who would be implementing the ideas would be able to focus on listening rather than furiously scribbling. Again, I agreed to take on the responsibility.
The next time another one of these large room idea generation exercises took place, I was asked again to take the notes. This time I declined, citing that I’d stepped up to the plate and it was someone else’s turn to do the same. The facilitator then asked another woman who, interestingly, had also stepped up to take the notes in the past. She complied.
What’s going on here?
When administrative tasks need to be handled, they are doled out to women. These experiences aren’t unique to me. I’ve heard similar stories from many female colleagues. Any time there’s a group made up of men and women, women are far and away more likely to be asked to take on the administrative tasks. Why?
My penmanship can hardly be described as neat, particularly when I’m writing quickly. So, legibility wasn’t a factor. In every case the people in the room were at the same “level” in business. Meaning owners of their own business or self-directed mid to senior level employees of corporations. All were smart, capable, responsible people. So why was a woman singled out for the job each time?
Subconscious gender bias, perhaps?
Is note-taking women’s work? Is it assumed that men would be far too busy running their businesses to take on specific committee tasks? Are women generally so agreeable that it’s simply easier to ask a woman to step up?
In scenario #2, I farmed out to the other two men some tasks “assigned” to me so we would have equal amounts of responsibility on our subcommittee. They were happy to handle what I asked them to do. In my experience it’s not that men refuse the tasks, they just may not have been asked.
I’m almost certain that the people asking me to do the tasks didn’t consider and decide against asking a man, it simply never occurred to them. And I don’t ascribe any negative intentions to the fact that they asked me instead of a man. Yet it does need to change.
Awareness is key. As you lead a committee, team, organization or business, recognize when gender bias may be creeping in and shift your thinking. Asking women to do tasks is OK. Ask men, too. Spread the work evenly not based on gender but on what matters – which could be skill, workload, experience, etc.
Women, if this happens to you kindly and professionally stand up for yourself. You can do your part when asked and also decline requests when it’s someone else’s turn. People may be taken aback at first, but you’re just helping to educate and keep a fair and equal environment. Not a thing wrong with that.
If you want a clearer understanding of your leadership ability, you should know your EQ – or level of Emotional Intelligence. Check this out.