Part of the process of fostering better equality for women is celebrating diversity and embracing difference. And within that space actively creating a more inclusive world that’s free from bias and stereotypes. Imagine a world where differences are valued and celebrated. One where opportunities are equally accessible and not dependent on underlying assumptions or irrational presumptions. A world like this not only advantages women and girls but can positively impact the lives of boys and men too.
Understanding Bias, Stereotypes and Inclusivity
Bias, stereotypes and exclusion (the opposite of inclusivity) can be overt and therefore oblivious. But some of the most insidious perpetuations unfold in subtle, understated ways and therefore in a manner that we’re unaware of. In many settings the latter version causes the most inequality and undermines inclusivity more than the obvious does. So, how do these terms practically relate to fostering equality for women and girls?
Bias is disproportionately favouring something. It can be an idea or person. Even when seen to be a norm, bias plays out in a manner that is prejudicial, unfair and closed minded.
One of the ways bias creeps into our lives is around accepted behaviour. For example, the way in which expressing emotion is tolerated or framed. If a man gets angry and raises his voice or embarks on a tirade, people around often write it off as “Just being a guy”. Alternatively, his behaviour is justified as “Letting off steam” or “He’s under pressure”. However, if a woman behaves in a similar way, it’s quite likely that she could be deemed as “over emotional”. She may also be labelled as “acting like a banshee” or even asked if it’s “that time of the month”.
The bias and double standard of behavioural expectations starts when we are children. There are valid reasons for giving children within the same household different leeway. For example, there’s a need to take age, illness, medication and trauma into account. With the growing recognition that we can teach behaviour and appropriate emotional reactions, there has been a shift in approach across many households. However, the underlying double standard of expected emotional expression by boys and girls continues to remain within many contexts.
A stereotype is a fixed idea relating to a person or thing. It’s widely accepted, and while there may be elements of truth, it’s not entirely true or a rational starting point. Rather, it’s a perpetuation of a prejudicial attitude, a criticism or oversimplification of something or someone. All too often it can, for example, result in a situation being inherently unfair or continuing the inequality of opportunities.
Stereotypes are often kept alive by old fashioned approaches or nonsensical ideas. For example, school systems can perpetuate gender stereotypes through its approach to unplanned pregnancies. In some countries, like South Africa, a girl-pupil no longer has to leave school when it emerges that she’s pregnant. However, the social pressure and shame-blame from teachers, fellow students and their parents may still result in her leaving school. In many other countries, there are mandates in place that girls are to leave school when there’s confirmation that she’s pregnant. Sometimes she is allowed to come back when the child is born. Other times not. Instead of being encouraged to continue her education, she may be ostracised as a potentially bad influence on other pupils. Alternatively, she might be deemed to be untrustworthy or needing continued punishment due to her past sexual activities.
Thus, the focus of the shame-blame and onus are often more on the girl than the boy who helped get her pregnant. As a result, the consequences for her of disclosing a pregnancy are big – socially, as well as educationally. But she didn’t get pregnant by herself. So, what are the consequences and repercussions for the father-to-be of her child? Why is he allowed to remain in school, when she has to leave? Often, he isn’t shame-blamed or ostracised for his actions – why not?
True inclusivity means that everyone is actively able to be and is included within all areas of society. Bias and stereotyping frequently results in us seeing irrational differences between each other that cause challenges rather than enable cohesion. Having an inclusive approach to life, also means we are each more likely to see others as a person rather than an obstacle or liability.
Within the #BreaktheBias context, inclusivity specifically means not picking a boy over a girl or favouring a man over a woman, simply because of their gender. Broader definitions of inclusivity include disabilities, socio-economic differences, culture, race and religion.
Advantages of Inclusivity at Work
Within a work setting, inclusivity can result in greater productivity, allow for better ideas and a higher retention of staff. This is because inclusivity is the practice of providing everyone with an equal opportunity to access resources and opportunities. Because they aren’t basing decisions on bias or stereotypes, an inclusive company is better able to leverage the individual strengths of staff members. Which, in the longer run, is likely to translate into better chances of a company’s sustainability as well as possible profits.
Inclusivity at Home
Inclusivity starts at home. Children that understand that a bias or stereotype is wrong, are better equipped to identify and speak out against them. Thereby, assisting in stopping the perpetuation of stereotypes and biases within their school context. As well as within their own relationships and social settings. Later this will positively extend into their work environment and approach to others in adulthood. It has been shown that children who are taught to be inclusive are advantaged across various areas of their lives. For example: good friendship and communication skills and having the ability to exercise appropriate empathy and respect for others. Additionally, being inclusive can result in better problem solving and improved self-esteem.
How can You Diminish Bias and Stereotypes and Favour Inclusivity?
Since you can learn to be better at being inclusive, where do you start? One way to begin to do it is by pausing before you draw a conclusion or make a decision. During this pause, ask yourself questions like the 5 below. You may be pleasantly surprised by your answers. Or have to rethink your approach and address previously unknown, underlying assumptions. Remember that being inclusive extends to how you think of yourself as well as those around you.
5 Questions to ask:
- Would you say this to someone of the different gender?
- Would you expect this of someone else or someone of a different gender?
- Why are you choosing to do something?
- Why are you deciding not to do something?
- Is there an assumption underlying your conclusion or decision?
Being different isn’t a problem. Differences can be celebrated and should be enjoyed. However, bias and stereotypes are largely or completely based on problematic foundations. They almost always result in some level of harm for both women and men. While it’s easy to point out the obvious, subtle versions are often more easily overlooked and thereby continually perpetuated. Pausing to ask questions actively breaks our own and other’s internalised bias and stereotypes. And seeking to be more inclusive, helps foster better equality for women and girls.
Do you have an interest in leading changes like those needed to improve equality for women and girls? The South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) has a Management and Leadership faculty with a range of relevant programmes. Contact a student advisor or enrol online.
1. How can inclusivity promote equality for women and girls?
Being more inclusive helps one see others as a person rather than a stereotype or with bias. Bias and stereotypes are two common ways that actively prevent equality for women and girls.
2. What is a stereotype?
Stereotypes relate to a fixed idea of a person or thing. They are usually mostly or entirely unfounded and tend to cause a prejudicial attitude. Additionally, stereotyping leads to a critical view or oversimplification of someone or something. The consequence is that they perpetuate unfairness, inequality and can prevent just access to resources or opportunities.
3. What does it mean to be biased?
When you show bias, you disproportionately favour something, an idea or a person. The result is that within certain situations you are more likely to be prejudicial, unfair and closed minded.