Editorial: The gender-bias is real

Last Updated on Friday, 22 October, 2021 at 12:32 pm by Andre Camilleri

Earlier this month, in commemoration of the International Day of the Girl, BPW (Valletta) Malta, together with HE Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca on On behalf of the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society #MFWS and World Political Leaders #WPL launched the #GIrl2Leader campaign 2021 / 2022.  The campaign is the collaboration between #BPW International, spearheaded by BPW (Valletta) Malta, the MFWS and WPL and strives to promote girls’ empowerment to reach their potential and become leaders in their everyday lives and in their careers.

One may ask if we continue to need such drives locally, and the answer would be most certainly yes. According to a recent Forbes study, the pandemic has been especially hard on women as many have had to opt out or reduce hours for the purposes of caregiving—caring for children, elders or friends. In addition, some women have lost their jobs because of the shifts in the market. But women have also found success in the workforce and have seen progress as well—from demonstrating effective leadership to positively influencing their organisations.

Data provides a clear window on the state of women in leadership—including both gains and losses. The insights are eye-opening but also enlightening. Our opportunity is to build resilience: By understanding reality and making sense of it, we can become more resilient, solve problems and innovate toward greater happiness, fulfilment and achievement.

Despite women’s strong leadership, bias still exists, and a very real one at that if we take a quick look at recent studies.

Regarding the topic of qualification and decision making, a study of 1,529 respondents by the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf in Germany identified that people report women are less qualified for leadership than their male counterparts on perceptions of how women think and process issues. In the ResumeLab study, 45% of respondents believe women are more likely to follow their emotions when making a decision. At the same time, men are more likely to use logical thinking when making decisions.

There’s also the likability bias. Studies published in The Economic Journal show there is a likeability bias when it comes to women. If women aren’t perceived as likeable, people will demonstrate less cooperation and less support for the women’s efforts. The same dynamic is not evident with men. Those who are not perceived as likeable do not pay the price in terms of the cooperation or support they receive.  However, it is not all doom and gloom when it comes to trust through a crisis. Women leaders tend to benefit from a trust advantage.

According to research at Lehigh University and Queen’s University Belfast, when people are in a crisis, they are more likely to trust women to take care of them and lead them to a safe outcome. While this may seem good news, it is still limiting for women because it speaks to a perceived qualification based on gender alone, not skills, competence or experience. Studies like this need to be conducted locally, and we need to extrapolate meaning to our context to build a better gender-balanced future- where men aren’t the only ones in the boardroom.

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