Feminist Fight Club

5 09 2017

An Office survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace) by Jessica Bennett

Feminist Fight ClubThis is one of those rare books that I couldn’t even wait until I finished it before I ordered not only my own personal copy but also copies for my friends.

It’s irreverent, hilarious, witty, sarcastic, and above all practical and helpful. It lays out the many self-sabotaging and self-defeating behaviors and thoughts of women that accentuate the age-old stereotypes and thereby result in the vicious circle of widening the chasm between the sexes in the workplace. It talks about all the implicit ways that both men and women indulge in that contribute to the problem. It provides sensible tips and advice on how to tackle these damaging tendencies.

It highlights the pervasiveness of gender discrimination at work and points out that today’s sexism is not overt but seemingly very subtle and imbibed in countless  “normal” behaviors. Nonetheless, it’s not less damaging. We still do have a wage gap, glass ceiling, and other ways of limiting the growth of women in their careers. Women are interrupted more than men when they are talking, more likely than men not to be given due credit for their ideas and work, judged harshly/negatively compared to men for same behaviors etc.

Even if we think of ourselves as very progressive, the deep rooted stereotypes and cultural notions are assimilated in many seemingly harmless and often times subconscious reactions and behaviors. Everyone needs to consciously work on their own implicit  (and otherwise) biases in order to be able to address this issue and bring out the change. Because gender parity benefits one and all. It frees everyone from the boundaries of the stereotypes, because that’s what stereotypes do – they confine us all – men and women. Men need not limit their actions in order to conform to the “macho-man” stereotype, which sometimes involves significant cost to one’s own conscience, morality, humanity, and others. They need not bear the burden of primary financial and career responsibility solely on their shoulders and instead share that with women. Rising above the stereotypes is a challenge but not insurmountable. They do have their purpose as shortcuts but it helps to evaluate them and make conscious choices instead of succumbing to them blindly. Knowledge and awareness is power.

Men can not only help by not engaging in detrimental actions but also by stopping other men from acting so and/or supporting women. Likewise, women can help themselves as well as each other through a network of support.

I found at times that the tone of the book is too brazen and bold, but that may just be my cultural conditioning restricting myself from accepting such a tone from a woman, as well as applied to women. 😛 Also, I felt that some tips sounded more like “how to be like a man”. And it seemed that the culture associates most successful tendencies to be “masculine” and the less successful or even detrimental behaviors as “feminine”, at least in the workplace. It’s a dismal realization. There is even a chapter in the book titled “What would Josh do?”, which encourages women to emulate the tendencies of a successful male in certain situations. This is not ill advice at all. But I hope for a day when distinctly feminine behaviors also connote success, strength and professionalism. Currently, in case of transgressions or slips from ideal work behaviors, women are judged more harshly and often those actions get ascribed to the entire gender (and how women are inferior/unsuitable/out of place) in contrast to men, in which case, they’re only mere transgressions or “he just being a man” (a good thing).

The book evoked in me lot of emotions. I found myself surprised by some insights and facts (from studies), nodding in agreement at many places with the arguments, cringing while recalling my own self-sabotaging behaviors, inspired by the support available and the ray of hope to change the status quo.

Anyone who cares about gender discrimination at workplace should definitely read this book. I think that any workplace that likes to combat sexism can start by

  • Recruiting more women
  • Offering women same pay as men (very important and I think very doable. No, please don’t blame it on negotiation skills)
  • Educating all employees on various contributing and exacerbating tendencies and how to avoid or work around them

Here’s to empowering one and all! 🙂

Forewarned is forearmed

23 09 2014

Why would we want to understand our everyday thinking in the first place?

Because, we would like to improve it.

But why would we like to improve it?

Because it affects our day-to-day decision-making and we want to make better decisions.

By trying to understand the science of everyday thinking, we attempt to understand the biases, influences, and attitudes that affect our thinking, how they affect, and how the awareness of them would enable us to be better thinkers.

But, ironically, the renowned psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, who has studied human judgment and decision-making and the inherent heuristics and biases at play for decades, confesses that his thinking has not improved much over the time. But he has a valuable advice for us: “Pick up an area and work on improving it, rather than focusing on improving overall thinking in general.”


Well, let’s just believe in the adage – “forewarned is forearmed”, and keep this not so encouraging confession aside for now.

It is startling, to say the least, to discover that we operate under the influence of a large number of psychological biases, heuristics, and cognitive errors on a daily basis. To start with, we are subjected to “Naïve Realism”, which implies that we believe the world to be as it seems. But actually it’s not – we see it through our “lens” (perception) and it’s different for everyone. People tend to underestimate the contribution of their beliefs and theories to observation and judgment and fail to realize how many other ways they could have been interpreted. This tendency is referred to as “Fundamental Cognitive Error”.

Do you know that everyone one of us like to see himself/herself as above average? This is called “the above-average effect”. Do you relate to the experience where you plan for the end exams or a paper submission and largely fall short of the time it really takes to accomplish them? Well, you are not alone. We all have this tendency called the “Planning Fallacy”, where we underestimate how long it will take for us to complete a task.

“Availability Heuristic” causes us to misinterpret ease of cognitive processing as being indicative of a larger category. So, over-hyped news items or tragic events that are stuck to memory make us believe that they are more prevalent. The classic example is airplane crashes vs road accidents. Even though more people die on the road compared to on a plane per day, the fact that the airplane crash is given more media coverage leads us to believe that flying is more dangerous than driving.

Of course, there is the “Confirmation Bias”, by which people look for and gather evidence that supports or confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. And by “Representativeness Heuristic”, we estimate the likelihood of an event by comparing it to an existing prototype that already exists in our minds.

The most interesting cognitive bias is the “Fundamental Attribution Error”. It describes the tendency by which we attribute others’ behavior in a given situation to their personality traits rather than external factors, especially negative behavior. For example, if a colleague is late to a meeting, we think that he/she is lazy or irresponsible.By contrast, we attribute our lapses in behavior almost always to external circumstances. Given the same situation,  when we are late to a meeting, we believe that it’s just a bad day.

The discussion of these hidden forces reminds me of an article on Harvard Business Review, which I’ve read so long ago. In fact it’s the first of its kind I’ve read and it was an enlightening revelation. The article is called “The Hidden Traps of Decision Making”. Some of the traps are:

  • Anchoring – giving disproportionate weightage to the first information received
  • Status Quo Bias – the tendency to maintain the status quo
  • Framing effect – the way a problem is framed affects the decision in a big way

You can read the full article here and enlighten yourself.

There are many other interesting things that underlie our thinking and shape our behavior. David Meyers’ Exploring Social Psychology is a wonderful book that explains several phenomena pertaining to our behavior with others. It’s a must read for anyone interested in understanding the inherent players of social behaviors. There’s an amazing course called “Social Pyschology” on Coursera, covering the same and more material. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take it both the times it was offered during the past two years. I compensated a little, by reading David Meyer’s book and I must say I’m immensely rewarded. I’ll cover the book in a separate blogpost.

Part 2 of Science of Everyday Thinking series.

Part 1