Saturday, July 14, 2012

News flash: men and women more alike than different

Well, like I always say: someone should do a study!

And they did. This week I heard a story on NPR about a recent study concerning communications differences between men and women. And how it adversely affects women in the workplace, specifically those pursuing science and math careers. 

The story, ably reported by NPR Science Correspondent Shankur Vedantum, reveals some truths about how we communicate. These discoveries, refreshingly, fly in the face of what I ironically refer to as conventional wisdom: "The sampling technique has revealed flaws in common stereotypes. Take the one about how women like to talk much more than men. When Mehl actually measured how many words men and women speak each day, he found there was practically no difference — both men and women speak around 17,000 words a day, give or take a few hundred."

That sound you heard around 5: 45 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday? That was me, cheering in Arlington, Virginia. The "stereotype threat" referred to in the story has long been one of the banes of my professional and personal existence. Yes, stereotypes often have a basis somewhere 'way back, but that does not mean they hold for every new encounter. And yet our brains like to organize and categorize, so stereotypes creep in insidiously, and before we know it, we are operating under false assumptions. And so are the people we are trying to work with and live with. Even when we know we do not fit the stereotype, the fact that we are aware of it affects our performance.

One of my biggest communications mantras is "banish the inner critic" whenever you speak/interact in the public sphere. Trust your preparation, silence that negative voice. It is hard, but neccesary if you want to succeed. You can't allow someone else's prejudices to trip you up!

Yes, this is extremely challenging when the stereotype is so pervasive and yet unrecognized. Harness your inner warrior and fight it! Because in your more circumspect moments, you know that ugly stereotype -- the one less mindful folk insist applies to you -- is setting a trap.

And now we have the science to prove it.

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