Recently, I was at my local grocery store. I needed to pick up a few things and my kids had each written me a list of their lunchbox requests. At the checkout, I was assisted by the person I see most days when I go in to do my shopping. She knows me and my kids well. I said to her that I thought I’d managed to get everything on their lists but there was a fourth item on my son’s list that I couldn’t quite make out.
‘Oh, that would be right. Boys’ handwriting is never as neat as girls’,’ she replied.
I responded immediately that I didn’t believe handwriting is gendered, but this gender bias of hers held strong. ‘Boys don’t take as much care with what they’re doing as girls do,’ she said. I started to explain that that’s a gendered expectation we place on children, but realised the conversation was becoming too deep for my routine milk collection and it was time to leave.
The conversation I’ve described with the checkout assistant also reminded me of an exchange I had with my son’s teacher a few years ago. They’d told me he was doing well in all of his subjects, but that his handwriting could do with improvement. They added it was ‘good for a boy’s’ so there was no need to worry. I challenged the teacher. I wondered out loud if there was a different assessment criteria for boys and girls when it came to handwriting and he sheepishly said no there wasn’t.
These conversations and many others have made visible to me the different expectations we place on our kids because of their assumed gender. This isn’t a radical idea, but I don’t think many people understand the ways that our expectations will likely inform a child’s behaviour, how they achieve and present in society. Boys don’t innately take less care than girls – this is something we’ve taught them. We’re all way too familiar with the phrase ‘boys will be boys’.
We are conditioned by gendered expectations from a very young age. This conditioning comes from many places – family, friends and teachers, among others. We need to question the messages we are sending to our children. And unless we work against gendered expectations, not only will we not achieve gender equality but we will continue to see a high prevalence of gendered violence.
Recognise your own gender biases in the workplace.
Often, we have a certain idea about what a workplace leader looks like. Most likely they’re male, white, able-bodied, straight and they wear a business suit. This bias influences the way we recruit leaders but also how we assess a leader’s performance. Our best example in Australia is Julia Gillard who received significant backlash as our first woman prime minister, and mostly regarding her hair and fashion. We all have biases, but it’s important to recognise them and then take steps towards mitigating them in the workplace, in our homes and communities. For an introduction into how you can do this, sign up to Bree Gorman’s Diversity and Inclusion Online Course.
Whether you’re in a leadership position or you’d like to support your colleagues, here are some tips for shifting gendered expectations at work:
At Bree Gorman, we’re committed to challenging gendered expectations in organisations. We offer services and training to support your business as it works towards workforce diversity. Or, if you’d simply like to to hear more, join our mailing list for regular updates and resources.
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