Gender Equity – Myth or Possibility?

The best definition I have ever found regarding the concept of gender equity is “the same opportunities and constraints (for both genders) in full participation of both the economic and domestic realms.”  I will never forget when I first started living on my own and compared my salary to that of certain men in my life. At that time, I never understood why, based on what I made, that I did not get a comparable discount in my expenses. After all if I am making only 66 cents on the dollars (luckily today its moved up to 80 cents on the dollar), then shouldn’t my rent be only two thirds of what a man pays or shouldn’t my grocery bill be only two thirds of what a man pays. Unfortunately that is not the case. So, what’s a girl to do?

To quote a recent article in the Huffington Post written by Heide Grant Halvorseon, PhD., The Trouble With Bright Girls Article “(women) are routinely underestimated, underutilized and even underpaid. Studies show that women need to perform at extraordinarily high levels, just to appear moderately competent compared to male coworkers.”

Ok, ok. I know what you’re thinking. Here is my bra-burning, women’s lib side rearing up its ugly head again. Not really. I have changed my beliefs regarding women’s issues and gender equity from my “we shall overcome” mode to a more “what can each individual woman do to affect the types of changes necessary” mode in my perennial quest to create a more universal environment of gender equity.

The article goes on to suggest a simple change strategy that I feel is important to share. The author surmises that the toughest hurdle we have as women lies within. How we, as women, tend to judge our own abilities more harshly and differently than our male counterparts. Bright young women who identify their self worth and abilities by their intelligence tend to give up more quickly than men when faced with a difficult challenge. They are quicker to self doubt, lose confidence and ergo become less effective learners and problem solvers over time. They start to view difficult challenges as lack of competence (after all, if I am truly smart I should “get this”) versus an energizing prospect.

Don’t we socialize young women to behave and be good little girls and praise them for being smart while we provide young boys, who tend not to sit still and play nice in the sandbox, with feedback to pay attention and try harder.  We tend to create in young women the belief that being smart is something you either are or are not. The article goes on to say that most often, bright girls come to believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice. So “when a problem seemed hard to learn, bright girls were much quicker to doubt their ability… and become less effective learners as a result”.

When was the last time you had a female friend who told you they were not going to apply for a job or promotion because they just weren’t ready – they needed more time to develop the skills needed or more time to gain the knowledge necessary to do the job effectively. I doubt that you would ever hear that comment from a man. Men tend to possess confidence both in what they know and don’t know. They don’t get bogged down in where their “flat spots” are, they simply have the confidence to deal with them when the time comes.

I think this is a great lesson for all women. First, lets create more of that “pay attention and try harder ” mentality in young women. Maybe it is not always in their best interest to be the nice, quiet little girl. After all, the world they will grow up in is certainly not nice and quiet. Second, encourage your female friends to take risks and not doubt their skills and abilities. When they say they are not ready, tell them to try anyway and see how far it takes them. With no risk there is no reward.

In my mind, it is simple strategies such as this that, over time, can help achieve greater gender equity. Whether gender equity can ever be totally achieved, well that is another blog for another time.

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