The surprising neuroscience of gender inequality | Janet Crawford | TEDxSanDiego

The surprising neuroscience of gender inequality | Janet Crawford | TEDxSanDiego

October 22, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


Translator: Noppakao “Angel” Leelasorn
Reviewer: Elisabeth Buffard Wow, look at you all! So I was waiting for my flight 2 days ago at San Francisco International Airport and sitting directly across from me was a young attractive woman. She wore heavy makeup
and she had long, lacquered nails and a skimpy top that was
riding up just enough to reveal a pretty, gaudy belly piercing. So I had a shock of surprise
when she stood up to board her flight and I thought the title of the book that
she had been engrossed in all this time: “Fundamentals of Angel Investing” So this was deliciously ironic for me
because my topic is “bias”. I graduated with a science degree
from UC Berkeley in 1984. And it was hard
studying science at Berkeley and it wasn’t just because of the content I was the target of frequent,
undeniable, in-my-face sexism. But this was also a time of celebration
and optimism for women We were the first generation in history where female college graduates
outnumbered males. We were flooding into the marketplace
at unprecedented numbers and into fields where before
we had little to no representation. And we naively thought
that our generation would be the one to make
gender inequity a thing of the past. But here we are, it’s 30 years later and the conversation
remains much the same Young female scientists tell me stories that are heartbreakingly similar
to those early experiences: we still have a substantial pay gap and shockingly few women at the top. Only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women
and 18% of congress. Oddly, we are 51% of the population, yet occupy only 15% of
lead roles in movies. And my world, Silicon Valley,
is one of the few places where you might encounter this scene, at a major conference
during the bathroom break. (Laughter) So, as a woman, I find it disheartening and angering, and really frankly boring
to still be on this conversation. And I imagine as a man, it gets old having a finger always
pointing back at you. The tolerance for this conversation
is wearing thin. And this is nowhere more evident
than in the insult-laden, often vulgar and sometimes violent comment streams
accompanying any online discussion of a gender-related issue. But these conversations leave out a powerful and invisible
actor in our story. All of us, male and female,
are unconsciously gender-biased. And these biases lead well-meaning
men and women to do things that perpetuate the status quo
without our ever knowing it. So in telling this society, we can get
our arms around this phenomenon, we are unwitting accomplices in the perpetuation
of inequity and discrimination. So let’s take a look
at the brain processes that drive by us, how it shows up, and most importantly whether there are
some things that we can do about it. Most people think that
they move through their day making their decisions with a conscious
and rational process of deliberation. And by this logic, it’s difficult
to do something that’s out of keeping with your values
without knowing that you’ve done so. But actually conscious
decision-making represents a tiny, tiny fraction of
what goes on in your brain. You couldn’t possibly take in
the oncoming barrage of information, moment to moment, process it and formulate a response to it with this part of the brain alone.
It needs help. And what it calls on is a vast reservoir of unconsciously stored associations. You see, as you move through your day, outside of your awareness, your brain is always scanning
for repeating patterns. And when it finds them, it stores them as the way things are or ought to be. But the problem with this process, which actually works well
most of the time, is that your brain is also not
differentiating around the utility or the fairness, or the accuracy
of what the environment is serving up. If it’s associated out there, it’s likely
to become associated in here. And it is these associations that we use
to make meaning of the world into formulate our response to it. Now, we can measure unconscious
associations quite easily with an elegant and simple instrument
called the Implicit Association Test. Quite simply, for gender, all it does
is ask you to associate certain words with the image of a man or a woman. And when those requested associations match your unconscious associations, you’re going to be able to do these tasks
more quickly and with fewer errors. So most people in the population,
as it turns out, male or female, regardless of political orientation, have an easier time
associating words like “leader”, “strong”, “protective”
toward men, and “nurturing”, “emotional”
and “fragile” toward women. 16 million people have taken
the Implicit Association Tests to date and the results are clear: if you grew up here in the US, or for
that matter, most parts of the world, you likely have a significant
degree of gender bias. Okay, so where did those biases come from? I mean, where are all these
associations hanging out? Well, just do a search on the internet
for any profession and add the modifier
“male” or “female” in front of it and see what comes up. In this case, the search was on
female executive and as strange as the second image is,
(Laughter) the most troubling one for me personally
at my age is the last one because the subheading is
“Aged female executive” (Laughter) It comes from the things we were seeing
from social media, in this case, a recommendation of the top minds and
big ideas that I should be following. There are 22 images and only
two of them are female. It shows up in the notoriously
lopsided gender ratios at professional conferences. And even the backgrounds tell a story. It also shows up in headlines. In this case, Fortune magazine
felt it necessary to reassure us that Marissa Mayer is the real deal. Because as a blonde,
attractive, young woman, we might assume she wasn’t. So media is not benign, because it is this sort of imagery that our brains use unconsciously in our calculations of who belongs where and what competence looks like. A Yale University study looked at bias in the hiring for the traditionally
male role of police chief. And in this study, purportedly
gender-blind participants were asked to review two applications. Now, when no names were attached,
they overwhelmingly preferred the application that had more education. But when a male or female
name was attached, they overwhelmingly preferred
the application with a male name. This sort of result has been replicated
in numerous other academic studies. But these unconscious biases
don’t just cause discrimination, they also influence our life choices. A University of Washington study recently
looked at the effect of classroom decor on the choice of academic discipline. So researchers decorated two classrooms, one of them had kind of traditionally
nerdy, male paraphernalia in it, like Star Trek posters and
comic books and video games. And the other one had neutral objects, like coffee cups, plants and art posters. What they found was that female
college students who spent time in this traditionally nerdy classroom
exhibited a markedly lower preference for computer science as a field than the females who spent time
in the neutral room. But for males, it made
no difference whatsoever. When you really look, this kind of bias
shows up everywhere. It’s in what we choose to share with whom
and whose opinion we seek. It infects our assumption about
who should do domestic chores and who deserves the praise for doing so.
(Laughter) It shows up… yeah, (Laughs) it shows up, for that lone female
on a technology team when her recommendations are
disproportionately overlooked or second-guessed, but
she can’t say anything about this. And the phenomenon will likely remain
invisible to her male colleagues. Why? Because to do so is
potentially career limiting. It marks her out as “that woman”. You know, the one that
plays the gender card. So it shows up everywhere. It shows up in our
definitions of leadership, and when vulnerability,
and sharing credit are seen as weak, and when taking up space and personal
ambition are seen as strong. Gender equity is not a woman’s issue. We need women to fully participate
in the conversations that shape the future of the world. But it’s not just women who benefit,
men benefit too. Because when we associate
masculinity with money, muscles, domination and aggression,
we dishonor legions of good men who do not embody these characteristics. No piece of legislation or mandatory
sexual harassment training or quota will get rid of unconscious bias. These things are neccessary. But when we focus only on
overt sexism, we miss the point and worse yet, we allow
ourselves to point our finger at a hypothetical bad guy out there. But when we allow ourselves
to understand that we’re biased too, we’re able to transform this conversation from one of blame and shame
to one of committed action. Believing in gender equity is not enough. We are the creators and the consumers of the environments that drive by us. So what can we do about it? There’s actually a fairly simple solution, and that is to commit yourself to becoming a good observer of your environment. Make it a daily practice,
and if you need to remind yourself. In fact, you might even
notice something today as a result of the last 10 minutes
we’ve spent together. But if you do, don’t judge it,
because we all do it. Don’t judge it, engage with other people. Get curious, and use it
to fuel an exploration. When you see bias,
or the environments that drive it, say something, talk about it, and where you can, change it. And this is for the men in the audience. Women can’t and shouldn’t take
this one on by ourselves. We need you to pick up
the mantle alongside us. So let’s help each other. Let’s help each other change
these limiting narratives of what it means to be a man or a woman. Because nobody here
is to blame for this problem, but we are all, together,
responsible for a solution. Thank you.
(Applause) (Applause)