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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Stephanie M. Moore
March 27, 2015
During the holiday season there was a lot of coverage about the importance of gender neutral toys for children. Why do toys have to be only for certain genders? Why can’t both girls and boys play with the same type of toy?
Putting limits on the types of toys children can play with only reduces children’s creativity and sense of wonder. Likewise, limiting the career options of women and men by assigning a specific gender to a job title or career field can result in stunted creativity. It also limits diversity of thought and can lead to a boring and stagnant world.
For far too long society has told women and men that they can only enter into gender specific career fields and do gender specific jobs. This bias is only now starting to crumble. It is now acceptable for men to be nurses and teachers and acceptable for women to be doctors. However, there is still a bias when women are construction workers or in public safety roles.
Women in public safety face an even greater and far less recognized challenge. Room for advancement in public safety is very limited and the career ladder is often times overcrowded with male candidates. In the police ranks, advancement is based on seniority. Leaving that agency generally means starting over, at the bottom, in the patrol car, regardless of previous ranking. Limited career advancement and the inherent challenge of shift work all add up to a high stress work environment not to mention the added task of caring for family.
In the non-public safety realm, moving within and around departments is common place. In fact, leaving an agency or even entering a new sector to garner more knowledge, expertise and a new perspective is encouraged. Due to the nature of the public safety culture, this type of job exploration is not encouraged and seen very rarely. The tide may be changing as job flexibility is becoming a top priority for all generations and genders in the workforce.
Washington, D.C. serves as an example of how women have made advances in leadership in public safety. There are now three women serving in high ranking positions. The Chief of Police, the Schools Chancellor and newly elected Mayor are all women.
As much as we would like to believe that gender bias is not a big issue, gender bias is still fully ingrained and intact in our society. Gender bias created the “boy’s club,” an exclusive member only club where networking takes place, alliances are forged, deals are penned and women are not allowed. It is no surprise why it is tougher for women to obtain, excel and sustain in career fields dominated by men and their male network culture. The bias and the club membership mentality reinforce the gender specific job titles. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review sheds more light on the subject. Surprisingly science may offer some help.
Science has proven that women and men are indeed hardwired much differently; this is not a deficit for either gender. We need to recognize how our hardwiring leads to our strengths and weaknesses and how to fully understand and expound upon them. Women are able to provide varied perspectives and offer diversity of thought and ideas. On the flip side, science has also proven that women tend to be far worse at perpetuating the self-limiting mindset. The self-limiting mindset is where women have a negative and diminishing conversation with themselves. This dialogue leads to women talking poorly to themselves and not taking on challenges or advancing themselves.
Not only do women limit themselves psychologically, but women perceive other women as less capable as male counterparts. It is theorized that our society is constructed to observe women with a much harsher lens and expect women to act or perform a certain way. So even if a highly capable and exceptionally competent woman is at the helm, her decision making and everyday interactions are still scrutinized and judged as less worthy by both genders. With this type of unspoken and often times unconscious prejudice, it is no wonder women have challenges entering, advancing and enduring in any field especially fields long dominated by men. Yale School of Management, assistant professor of organizational behavior, Victoria L. Brescoll has conducted research on this and related subjects.
This biased view of women is why trade associations and organizations that support women are vitally important. Women need to support themselves and other women to overcome their internal self-limiting and negative voice and address the negative stereotypes of society and the workplace. In recent years there have been more resources and research available for women, such as:
Taking advantage of these resources and future research is fundamental to navigating the journey, sharing knowledge, increasing and improving women’s confidence and silencing the limiting dialogue.
Breaking the gender bias, equalizing wages and allowing future generations to work in gender neutral careers is all possible. It can all start by following the lead of gender neutral toys.
Author: Stephanie M. Moore holds a master’s degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Urban Administration. Her undergraduate degree is from Rockhurst University, Cum Laude. She is a member of Women Leading Government and ASPA Greater Kansas City. She is a program supervisor in the Community Development Department at the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas. She can be reached at [email protected].