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subliminal messages

Where Have All the Women Gone? The Unwitting Sexism that Surrounds Us (Part 2)

Posted by: Nicky Garcea, as part of Capp’s Female Leaders Month (June 2012)

 

Yesterday I started to explore the ubiquity and impact of subliminal messaging in relation to gender roles. In today’s blog, I look specifically at some of the environmental subliminal messages that influence women’s views of themselves and how they perceive their capacity to be successful.

 

  • Women are often under-represented in the media: There continues to be an absence of women, and particularly older women, in the media. I yearn for the day when there are more women than men – or even the same number! – on TV judging panels. The Apprentice, The Voice, Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, and myriad others all provide examples. I have recently been watching the Great British Menu, and across the entire series, the only female judging chef I noted was Angela Hartnett. Yes, there are fewer professional female chefs, but there are definitely more than just one – see, for example, Clare Smyth, Frances Atkins and Rachel Humphrey.

 

  • Women are not remembered as much in history: There are fewer serious female role models written about and celebrated. I always appreciate the Guardian’s Inspirational Women List that is generated as part of International Women’s Day on the 8th March each year, but it is a shame that we have to wait for this annual event to be reminded of ‘Great Women’. When Alex wrote The Strengths Book, he worked tirelessly to ensure that there was an equal split between the male and female role models who were included.

 

  • Women are not as often used as the source of notable quotes: The lack of quotes from women used in diaries, books, newspapers and social media is astonishing. Occasionally, we might find something noted by Emily Dickinson or Virginia Woolf, but there are far more notable words from wise women that we can draw from than just these two. Try Maya Angelou and Aung San Suu Kyi, as just two of hundreds of possible examples.

 

 

  • Despite progress, there are continued gender pay differences: Research from the Institute of Chartered Management in 2011 found that the difference between what men and women are paid for doing the same job ranged from £500 to £10,546 in different professions. Yes, this is a complex issue, but at some point in a woman’s career, she is likely to experience receiving less pay than her male colleagues for doing the same work. This simply cannot be right.

 

  • Even the streets on which we walk are named after men: As we look around us, even the names of our streets demonstrate unwitting sexism! In April 2012, the BBC noted the work of Italian researcher Maria Pia Ercolini, who painstakingly went through every one of Rome’s 16,550 streets to determine the gender balance of street names. Ercolini and her team found that 7,575 (45.7%) of the city’s streets were named after men, and just 580 (3.5%) were named after women. Similar findings can be seen in most other European cities, including London. Some might say, ‘What’s in a street name?’ but this is just another unconscious cue in our environment that suggests to us that women are invisible in our history.

 

In every one of these cases, it most likely isn’t a deliberate choice to discriminate against women, but this cannot excuse the reality of the subliminal messaging that these choices create. On Friday, Alex and I will look at what can be done to challenge and change the messages we give about gender in our modern world.

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Where Have All the Women Gone? The Unwitting Sexism that Surrounds Us (Part 1)

Posted by: Nicky Garcea and Alex Linley, as part of Capp’s Female Leaders Month (June 2012)

 

Alex and I are fascinated by the way our environmental surroundings, social norms and expectations create powerful but unwitting subliminal messages that impact the way we behave. Of particular interest to us is the question of how unspoken cues, images and the typical absence of women’s representation in our built environment shape the subliminal messages that permeate society. From this, we are interested in how these subliminal messages combine to influence young women’s career choices and subsequently their desire to become female leaders in organisations.

 

These are issues that we will explore throughout this week, with this being Part 1 of a 4-part blog series for Capp’s Female Leaders Month.

 

Growing up, I never personally questioned or considered that my career choices should be limited by gender. My parents brought me up in the same way that they brought up my elder brother. I come from a family of working women – my Great Grandmother, Grandma and Mum all worked. Until I was 18, I had only ever known a female Prime Minister, and of course, to me as I grew up, that was nothing unusual.

 

It wasn’t until I landed my first consulting role that I heard the phrase, “No woman has ever returned to work after having a child and made it as a consultant.” Somewhat surprisingly, the limit of my gender and youth was first bought home to me by a woman. I was 26 and a guest speaker at a Women in Leadership Network event. When I arrived to deliver my presentation, dressed in a white shirt and black suit, having gone to introduce myself to the organiser, I was greeted with the words, “Not now, darling, can you clear the plates please, we are waiting for our speaker to arrive.”

 

From those days onwards, it has become a hobby for us to note what cues exist in the world around us, that are small ‘tells’ to women that this is not a place for them, as women, to be successful and to lead. My favourite example recently was the market researcher who, after establishing the occupation of the main breadwinner in the house (i.e., myself, a company director), went on to ask, “And how many staff does Mr Garcea have working for him?”

 

My second favourite is the car salesman who once tried to sell me a car by demonstrating all the places where I could store my make-up bag. He had failed to establish the fact I drove 20,000 miles a year, so storing my make-up was not a priority for me, whereas fuel economy and a comfortable driving position were!

 

With these subliminal messages all around us, we turn our attention tomorrow to some of the wider social and environmental cues that also send the message to women that ‘this isn’t for you’ – despite the fact that – we suspect – this was never for a moment the intention of the people making the decisions!

 

Such, for better or worse, is the power of subliminal messaging.

 

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