Archives for category: Neurosexism

On Tuesday 28th June, we hosted our first ever conference – HeANDShe – with a diverse panel of speakers from the worlds of neuroscience, mental health campaigning, media and advertising.

Our intention was to discuss how to bring men along to the gender conversation, along with starting a debate about how men are also harmed by gender stereotypes.

The evening brought thought-provoking conversation about how and why the panel would tackle harmful gender stereotypes.

For those of you that couldn’t be there, here are some insights.

Dr Jack Lewis, neuroscientist, kicked off by stating that female and male brains are much more similar that dissimilar, and that nurture plays a huge role in shaping the brain differences between men and women. What this means is how we treat our girls and boys, which research tells us is different even before they are born if we know their gender, is what largely shapes the consequent differences in our brains. He suggested that the brain is more likely to remember narratives and stories, rather than facts. This may be why the idea that ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ has gained so much traction, when in fact the similarities are much more pronounced than the differences.

Natasha Devon MBE, the Government’s former Mental Health ambassador for Schools and co-founder of the Self-Esteem Team,  explained the devastating impact that gender stereotypes can have on young men and boys, which is shown by the alarming high suicide rates and rise in mental health and self-esteem issues that young people suffer today. She suggested that having one emotion – whether that be happiness or anger – isn’t enough for any human being, and that men especially need to be able to have the space and opportunity to be able to open up and share how they’re feeling.

Harriet Minter, Women in Leadership editor for The Guardian, put forward the case that women need to do less and men need to do more, expect more and ask for more.  She shone a light on how hard it can be for men to choose a career that they are passionate about over providing for their family, how challenging it can be for men to have the space to care for their children, and how it might actually be tougher for men to ask for flexible working and extended parental leave than it is for women. Harriet argued that gender equality is still just a “nice to have” in our industry and we need to continue having this conversation if we are ever to affect real change within our organisations.

Paul Frampton, Group CEO of Havas Media Group UK & Ireland, went last and did a great job at landing these insights in the world of advertising and media.  He discussed leadership styles and how “leadership is changing… and emotions are the secret weapon of great leaders”.  This, in his view, provides a strong case for more gender diversity at a senior level and the emergence of a feminine leadership styleHe said, “We’re starting to see a world where vulnerability is valued in the workplace, especially for millennials” which is something that The Hobbs Consultancy has been championing for a long time.

Paul argued that “knock on change in the ad industry will have a knock on effect in wider culture”, and it is because of this that I think we all have a collective responsibility to affect change in our industry.

If you are interested in us bringing the HeANDShe conversation to your organization please get in touch.

Speak soon

Emily
(Marketing and Operations for The Hobbs Consultancy)

 

Delusions of GenderThose of you reading popular science books or media articles about gender will have most probably formed an opinion that male and female brains are wired differently in utero and that these different brains create different minds.

In a fantastic read, Cordelia Fine’s work ‘Delusions of Gender’ seeks to unravel these assumptions and show just how unproven they actually are.

With chapter titles such as ‘sex and premature speculation’ (which the immature part of my own brain found highly amusing), she shows just how hastily conclusions are being made about the brain’s potential – perhaps just as the Victorians attributed intelligence to measures such as skull volume and brain weight.

For a start, brains are inextricably linked to the social context in which they develop and function.  How can we be sure that the differences seen in brain imaging aren’t a result of a lifetime of living in a society with very clear gender expectations?  What if sex differences in the brain were preventing sex differences in behaviour by compensating for the physiological differences?  What if smaller numbers of neurons are compensated by greater transmission capabilities of the neurons?

Attempting to summarise the thorough research analysis in to a few key points feels reductive and clumsy; and yet most won’t have the time or inclination to sift the research yourselves.  And this is what makes some of the current claims so scary – they quickly become part of the culture in which our brains and minds develop.  The results seem intuitive, gender expectations continue to be learned quickly and are then primed by the social context.

I’ve seen this borne out in the research I’m doing in the corporate world.  Talk to anyone about why there should be more women on the board, and they say that women are better at developing people and they are more empathetic.  I get it, I really do.  It’s easier to convince senior leaders of a business case in which women are going to bring something different to the boardroom table.  I’ve been guilty of sneaking in a ‘research suggests that women make empathetic leaders’ type comment just to get in the door.

Unfortunately there’s also a lot of research that shows that women don’t actually make more empathetic leaders.  It’s pretty hard to measure empathy.  Women are certainly more likely to say they are empathetic – but is this because of the gender expectations on them right from the start of their lives?  Is that because the popular media is constantly telling us that women are more empathetic?

The problem is that these scientific explanations (based on flimsy science according to Fine) make their way in to our culture and then impact the decisions that women make – thus continuing to fuel the so called differences between the sexes.  Women are more likely to choose careers requiring caring for people and empathy that, incidentally, seem to be the lowest status ones.  Those not displaying empathy are harshly criticised (perhaps as ‘ball breakers’).  In many instances a limitation on capabilities is implied – if you are empathetic then it is implied that you can’t make the hard choices when they’re needed, that you won’t be able to make unpopular decisions.

The reporting of the science in the popular press continues to place an expectation of how to behave and what choices to make dependent upon gender.

I certainly think a greater amount of empathy in the boardroom would be a wonderful thing.  But… I don’t think it’s solely the role of women to bring that empathy in.  And I think women can bring so much more to the board room table besides.