by Gemma Williams
International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women and highlight gender inequality.

For me, it is a month of reflection and networking with likeminded people.

I reflect on things like – “Why, in 2021, are we still raising the issue of gender inequality? Do we need to?” – “What does gender inequality look like in 2021? Have we as a community made any progress?” – “Have I done enough to make a difference within my community?”

I find the value of networking with likeminded people at this time of year invaluable, as it opens the door to conversations which help in answering these kinds of questions, and in some way finding a collective solution.

I recently attended an event hosted by the Newcastle Writer’s Festival where Julia Gillard was interviewed on her new book, Women and Leadership, co-written by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. While there were many takeaways from the conversation with Julia, the one that got my mind turning the most was the concept of gender bias being woven into the fabric of our community and at times being so subtle it is hard to distinguish if it is there at all.

An Example: Assigning Gender to Language

Julia spoke of an experiment where two actors, one male and one female, presented the same political campaign speech to two different audiences, and each audience had to decide if they would vote for their candidate. The speech used language that was assertive, and the candidates spoke of being a person who would ‘take action’ and ‘get things done’. Interestingly, most of the male candidate’s audience voted for him, while most of the female candidate’s audience did not vote for her. Remember I said the speech was the same.

The outcome of the experiment showed that as a society we expect men and women to behave differently, and when people do not fit these societal norms, we are not always accepting. For example, it is more expected for men to be assertive than women.

The thought that language can be bias is what troubled me the most in this example. It is ingrained in our society and no matter how much work we consciously do to fight for gender equality, our unconscious bias is fighting against us. This got me wondering if over time I have changed some of my behaviour and language to be more appeasing to societal norms, or worse still, do I judge people on the same standards? Although I cannot recall any specific examples, my gut feel is I have.

What is the Takeaway? Choose to Challenge

How do we do this? Question everything.

The next time I am making a decision which requires me to choose a candidate, I am going to question myself and take it back to the raw facts. The next time I may be a little too quick to judge someone because “they’re not my type”, I am going to ask myself why.

The fight against gender equality that we are fighting now is covert. It is woven into the fabric of our society and our community and it is time to change tactics. This year, I pledge to remove the gender issue from my decision-making, and I challenge you to do the same.

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