Friday, 10 January 2014

Mirror Mirror, on the wall: Gender based Perceptions

Being social animals all of us conduct ourselves in accordance with how we would like to be perceived by those around us and more often than not how we are actually perceived is a function of a lot of factors over and above just our own selves. The Harvard Business School once ran a study popularly known as the Heidi v/s Howard Syndrome that exhibited a live case of gender based perception by people. Briefly, when some information on a person called ‘Howard’ and his career was shared with a group of students, he came to be described as a catalyst, captain of industry and successful because of being likeable. When the group later reviewed details about ‘Heidi’ with a similar career path, she was perceived equally effective but less likeable and described as selfish. Interestingly, in reality Howard didn’t exist, it actually was Ms. Heidi Roizen- a real life entrepreneur from Silicon Valley. [Credit: Publicly available materials regarding the case study by Harvard Business School]

Most of us at some point in our lives have either experienced or witnessed perception of people based on gender. Some food for thought- Does impact of gender based perceptions restricts to the corporate corridors and while making career choices or is there more than what meets the eye?

While the sophisticated society’s perceptions generally limits itself to gender based opinions on competency or efficiency, it is a trajectory of gender based perceptions of some sections of the society that have led to social acceptance of practices like discouraging education for girls, early or forced marriages, female circumcision etc....these rampant missions for survival of course are only for those girl children who don’t fall prey to feticide in the first place.

It seems like a classic Chicken and Hen story: crimes against women are more probable in sections of the society where gender based perception is strong and when there is a high rate of crimes against women, they further loose opportunities to rise above the perception.

Thankfully perceptions are just rigid, not permanent and can be dealt with at both micro and macro levels towards which we need to make constant efforts, for instance:

Individually one can lead by example by firstly freeing our own selves of believing in gender based stereotypes and by making efforts to minimize gender based inequality around us.

In the work place a lot of organizations these days aim to be equal opportunity employers, building zero-tolerance policies against discrimination and creating awareness amongst employees. 

Also society at large now lays focus on stringent laws to address crimes against women, encouraging education for girls by subsidizing the cost of education and encouraging participation of women in industries traditionally considered male dominated.

Media platforms also play a huge part in creating awareness, here are a few thought provoking examples:

1.         Very effective portrayal of the Heidi vs Howard syndrome: 
[Credit: Labels against women - ad campaign by Pantene Philippines]

2.         A compilation on gender based perception:
[Credit: How the Media failed women in 2013 by the Representation Project]

3.         The 'Women should.....' campaign by UN Women based on real Google searches: Pictures and
[Credit :Memac Ogilvy & Mather, Dubai]

Every instance of discrimination addressed takes us a step closer to being better balanced society.

Written by Jotika C

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