External influences on why we underestimate

Jerry Overton, a data scientist here at DXC Technology, reached out to me after my last blog to talk about when we women underestimate ourselves. He felt there were a lot of external factors that could result in our internal underestimation. So I caught up with Jerry, who provided another view of underestimation that can impact our confidence. This got me thinking about all the small things that could hurt our confidence — things we don’t even realise.

Keep your hand up

Jerry recalls a time in a computer science class when he was sitting behind a girl who had her hand up. Jerry too had a question so he raised his hand and got his question answered, but then the lecturer moved on and the girl put her hand down. This happened again, and in the end she didn’t have one question answered. This might seem like a little thing — “keep your hand up” or “just shout out” — but imagine that this girl faced this all the time. Perhaps not consciously, she may have noticed (perceived) that there was no point putting her hand up because the teacher would not acknowledge her question — which may have been perfectly valid reasoning. Why?

“Why” is very important. It defines our perception. Is this girl a victim of unconscious bias, or is the teacher purposely ignoring women? I’d like to think he genuinely had not realised; it’s very unlikely you’d get the “because she’s a woman” response because I don’t think there are many people who consciously think women are less capable.

This makes me think of a friend of mine who is a “nerd” by anyone’s standards. She’s an amazing and dedicated gamer who has a real understanding of gaming technology and the direction it’s heading. However, in college when she brought it up, she was “doing that to impress boys” and would be asked, “Is that so you can get a boyfriend?” (‘Cause you know, there’s no point to life as a female with no boyfriend/husband, right?) Sadly, no one was impressed by her knowledge. So from education, to the US (Jerry), to the UK (me), it is built into us that technology, computer science and games are not for the women.

So a vicious cycle begins: We’re put off, so there’s not many women, and the women who do make it see no other women.

But technology isn’t the only place this happens. The young son of Karen McLaughlin, a DXC global operations manager, asked if women can be doctors. Of course, doctors are usually men and nurses are women. So, from a young age, we are exposed to these unconscious biases of what women do and what men do. Of course, biologically, we are perhaps designed to be transformational, but this shouldn’t mean those women who are fact-based and technology buffs should be deemed any less capable than their male counterparts. These women got the job for a reason.

That’s my idea!

Speaking of earning your role, Jerry has observed that in a meeting, occasionally, if a woman comes up with a solution to an issue, the meeting leads will nod, listen and then dismiss it politely, but a little later a man will bring up the solution, slightly modified but similar, and it is immediately met with traction. Again, a woman has earned her place in management so how is she any less credible? I’d like to think we would speak out and point out that it was our idea and we’d be leading it, but in reality, we likely stay quiet — but we shouldn’t. We should ensure that our ideas are taken seriously, even if that carries a label of “bossy” or “moody.”

Another side line story: A reader who reached out caught herself in her own unconscious bias. She was considering not sending a certain woman on an assignment because of her home and family commitments. However, this thought never crossed her mind when sending a dad on assignment. But what’s wrong with leaving dad with the children for a week while you go and be an awesome business woman, if it’s fine vice versa?

I want to also highlight the animosity this causes in our work place. Women get frustrated, feel undervalued and start to dislike working with those who allow this to happen. This creates feelings of anger towards our male colleagues, who don’t know they’re doing this to us, and we label them … well, all sorts of colourful terms.

I want to thank Jerry for enlightening me on the external side of underestimation. My next blog will look at tackling these unconscious biases.

RELATED LINKS

Fixing the underestimation factor

Women (not) in leadership: The underestimation factor

Why women leaders matter to transformation efforts

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