Women leaders? Men supporters?

Earlier this year, the AAUW published a piece entitled, “Are you Biased against Women Leaders?” I hope that you’ll click the link, mostly because I also hope that you’ll take the 10 (or less) minutes to complete their implicit association test regarding women in leadership roles.  You might discover that you are not, in fact, biased against women leaders (or perhaps even favor them a bit). You might also discover that you do have a bias against women leaders, and while I won’t judge you for that, I will ask you to check your bias and be aware of it when dealing with women leaders.

Plenty of research, including the preliminary results of the AAUW’s IAT above, show that we tend to be harder on women leaders who make mistakes, particularly those women who are in traditionally male dominated fields. I suspect that some of the time that pressure comes from the women who are already in leadership roles, and who adhere to a mindset of the next generation needing to overcome the same adversity that they did. However, sometimes it’s also peer-induced “Tall Poppy” phenomenon, because as women we’re not supposed to want to be distinguished for our work, so when we see someone who is…boom. We want to cut them down because we’re certain that their success means there isn’t room for our own.  And again, this is something we likely do unconsciously, yet it is decidedly a form of bias.

I hope you’ll join me tomorrow evening (May 24) at 8 PM Eastern on Twitter for an AWS- hosted Tweetchat on Implicit Bias (#AWSchat). My hope is to educate people about this phenomenon and for us to have a meaningful discussion about how we can manage implicit bias. It’s real, it impacts our careers and our interactions with patients, and this is an important discussion for all of us in academic medicine and academic surgery.