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changing stereotypesIn spring 2014, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy took three days of paternity leave when his first child was born.

Sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing for a new dad to do, yet many sports announcers and fans soundly criticized his decision. Why? Because it resulted in him not playing in two baseball games. 

Why would such a simple decision create such an uproar?

Because Daniel played against commonly-held gender stereotypes:  that it’s women, not men, who take time off for children and family.

Have you ever been “caught” in the stereotype box?

Stereotypes are generalized assumptions made about a person, thing, or group. Notions like old maids have lots of cats, all women are gossips, and fat people are lazy.

Unconscious bias happens when we apply those assumptions without thinking. This is something we all do even if we don’t want to admit it. We all have preferences and tendencies that shape how we think, act, and behave.

Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth:  we all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. ~Annie Murphy Paul, author

Some fascinating research shows the impact of unconscious bias:  raters were given resumes of job applicants to assess. Each resume was identical—everyone had the same work history, accomplishments, activities, etc.

The only difference was in the name (some masculine, others feminine), and marital and parental status of the applicant.

The result?

Men with children were rated as the most desirable candidates. They were seen as being most responsible. Married women with children were ranked least desirable because the evaluators believed they would be the most likely ones to sacrifice work for family. 

This research underscores the reality that unconscious bias is tricky stuff…because sometimes we’re not aware of what we’re doing.

So how do we become aware? It takes some conscious effort! 

Ready to learn more?


3 ways to start changing stereotypes


If you are a male leader who deals with workplace family time off issues, ask yourself:

  • Do I view men who take time off for family reasons as less committed and less masculine?
  • Do I see all men as breadwinners and all women as caretakers?
  • Do I push my employees (both men and women) to choose work over family?

If you are a female leader who deals with workplace family time off issues, ask yourself:

  • Am I reluctant to take family leave because I fear the negative consequences of lost prestige, promotion, and pay?
  • Am I equally supportive of both men and women who take family leave time?
  • Do I encourage my direct reports (both men and women) to choose work over family?

If you are an employer, ask:

  • Do our performance evaluations penalize men and women who take family time by rating them as non-team players who are not willing to do what it takes?
  • Are women with children less likely to be considered for promotions because of a fear that they will need time off?
  • How open are we to introducing a work-from-home option? 
  • Do we see childcare as a women’s issue?
  • Would our employees describe our culture as being one that’s supportive of employees spending time with their family?

“The best leaders challenge the status quo and seek out the visionary thinking and broad perspectives that foster opportunity and growth,” says Gordon Nixon, President and CEO, RBC. “We have a responsibility to tackle the complex challenges that create barriers, limit creativity, and blind us to the possibilities of our talent and our organizations.”

Ready to change some assumptions at your organization about taking time off for family? Where will you start?

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