Last week I watched the BBC’s 2-part documentary ‘No More Boys And Girls; Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?’ with a great deal of interest. The series is based around a classroom of seven-year old children for whom the goal is to remove or replace some of the already ingrained stereotypes, behaviors and biases and in turn create more positive outcomes for both sexes.
The first part saw them survey the children to see how these differences manifest themselves already. The evidence suggests that girls are underestimating how well they will do in tests of strength while the boys are over-estimating. This, despite the fact, that there are apparently no discernible differences physiologically in the muscles of the two groups.
With my negotiators head on I couldn’t help but wonder whether this carries on into our later business lives. In my experience women are much more likely to play down their strengths or moderate their demands. They tend to negotiate themselves down from a objective more readily. The idea of ‘imposter syndrome’ is that when the two sexes look at a job advert men will focus on what they can do with an attitude that says the rest will probably be alright. Women, on the other hand, focus on the gaps and where they might fall short.
A Hewlett Packard Internal Reports went as far as to suggest that a man will apply for a job if he believes he can do 60% of it, for a woman that figures rises to 100%!
Are the same forces in play?
James Damore of Google was fired recently for suggesting that there are biological reasons why women are not so well-suited to careers in technology. Let’s politely say that I find that hard to believe. Of course, I can’t say definitively that he is wrong as I am not a scientist.
However, I watched with interest as the experts on the same BBC program showed scans of the brains of children that show virtually no differences at that age.
Despite this fact there was a considerable gap in the abilities of the two sexes to solve ‘tangram’ puzzles. These require shapes to be turned and rotated to form a larger shape. The conclusion was that the difference could be attributed to essentially, practice. It stated that ‘the brain is a plastic organ, shaped and molded by experiences, in which childhood is key’.
Little boys are bought Lego sets and Meccano from a young age and girls are not. As a result, it is not that they can’t do it, they just haven’t been asked to, expected to or encouraged to. By the end of the six-week experiment the differences had been almost entirely evened out.
Surely the same logic might be applied to us as grown-ups. Male or female, the more we expose ourselves to opportunities to negotiate, to push ourselves, to learn new skills, the more comfortable and adept we become.
Join us at one of our Women In Negotiation workshops as we explore these issues and put you in control!