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Once I Was Seven Years Old...

Published: Aug 31 , 2017
Author: Annabel Shorter

Last week I watched the BBC’s 2-part documentary ‘No More Boys And Girls; Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?’ with a great deal of interest. The series is based around a classroom of seven-year old children for whom the goal is to remove or replace some of the already engrained stereotypes, behaviours and biases and in turn create more positive outcomes for both sexes.

The first part saw them survey the children to see how these differences manifest themselves already. The evidence suggests that girls are underestimating how well they will do in tests of strength while the boys are over-estimating. This, despite the fact, that there are apparently no discernible differences physiologically in the muscles of the two groups.

With my negotiators head on I couldn’t help but wonder whether this carries on into our later business lives. In my experience women are much more likely to play down their strengths or moderate their demands. They tend to negotiate themselves down from a objective more readily. The idea of ‘imposter syndrome’ is that when the two sexes look at a job advert men will focus on what they can do with an attitude that says the rest will probably be alright. Women, on the other hand, focus on the gaps and where they might fall short.

A Hewlett Packard Internal Reports went as far as to suggest that a man will apply for a job if he believes he can do 60% of it, for a woman that figures rises to 100%!

Are the same forces in play?

James Damore of Google was fired recently for suggesting that there are biological reasons why women are not so well-suited to careers in technology. Let’s politely say that I find that hard to believe. Of course, I can’t say definitively that he is wrong as I am not a scientist.

However, I watched with interest as the experts on the same BBC programme showed scans of the brains of children that show virtually no differences at that age.

Despite this fact there was a considerable gap in the abilities of the two sexes to solve ‘tangram’ puzzles. These require shapes to be turned and rotated to form a larger shape. The conclusion was that the difference could be attributed to essentially, practice. It stated that ‘the brain is a plastic organ, shaped and moulded by experiences, in which childhood is key’.

Little boys are bought Lego sets and Meccano from a young age and girls are not. As a result, it is not that they can’t do it, they just haven’t been asked to, expected to or encouraged to. By the end of the six-week experiment the differences had been almost entirely evened out.

Surely the same logic might be applied to us as grown-ups. Male or female, the more we expose ourselves to opportunities to negotiate, to push ourselves, to learn new skills, the more comfortable and adept we become.

Annabel Shorter

Join us at one of our Women In Negotiation workshops as we explore these issues and put you in control!

 

 


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Annabel Shorter

About the author:

Annabel Shorter
A Politics and History graduate, I began in a Sales role for Castrol! I went on to become Trade Marketing Manager for Levi Strauss in the UK, exposing me to numerous and continuous negotiations with clients, staff and stakeholders. I went on Sales/Marketing roles in the telecoms industry, notably Cable and Wireless and Virgin Mobile.

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This blog is a tribute to Orri Vigfússon, founder and Chairman of North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF), who sadly passed away in July. A champion and defender of the ‘King of Fish’, Orri was a visionary and selfless hero who dedicated his life and considerable personal means to reverse the decline in wild Atlantic salmon populations. For readers not familiar with the Atlantic salmon’s plight, the game-changing discovery in the 1950s and ‘60s of the salmon feeding grounds off the coasts of Greenland and the Faroe Islands led to large numbers of drift net and long line operations being set up which, combined with all forms of estuarial netting, led to the near collapse of salmon populations by the 1980s*.

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