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Breaking Free From The Box – How Cultural Perceptions Of Gender Shape Our Workplaces

Written by: Liu Liu, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Liu Liu

Navigating the intricate cultural perceptions surrounding gender can be tricky, especially in today's diverse workplaces. These expectations, deeply rooted in family upbringing and societal norms, influence not only career choices but also our interactions with colleagues. Understanding these dynamics and their impact is crucial for fostering a truly inclusive and equitable environment.

Woman presenting at work.

The Power of Upbringing: Dr. Shawn Andrews' research, aptly captured in his book "The Power of Perception" highlights the pervasive influence of cultural background on gender beliefs and roles. Across various ethnicities and races, shared expectations regarding girls and boys, women and men, shape their lives both within families and in society at large.

Stereotypes at Play: Take a moment to reflect on your own cultural upbringing. What images come to mind when you hear "engineer," "firefighter," or "manager"? Chances are, you envision certain genders filling these roles. Conversely, "nurse," "secretary," or "teacher" might conjure up different associations. These ingrained stereotypes, though often unintentional, can create invisible barriers and limit opportunities.

Beyond the Binary: Remember the surprised reaction when we hear a female airplane captain's voice? This subtle bias demonstrates how deeply embedded these expectations can be. Even seemingly harmless actions like praising boys for taking charge but calling girls "bossy" reinforce traditional gender roles, limiting possibilities for both genders.

A Shifting Landscape: While stereotypes persist, positive change is afoot. A recent US study reveals a fascinating shift: 80% of children under 12 aspiring to become doctors are girls, despite the current male-dominated landscape of the profession. This suggests a gradual dismantling of societal norms and a promising future for gender equality in various fields. (Also see related article here.

A chart of 10 moat popular job for kids (all ages)

Understanding the "Why": Family dynamics play a central role in shaping career aspirations. The way parents and grandparents divide household responsibilities, the toys children receive, and the messages they hear throughout their upbringing subconsciously influence their choices later in life. Recognizing these influences helps us understand why certain stereotypes persist and how to break free from their limitations.

Moving Past Stereotypes: Aisha Kha, in her article "Professional Women And Stereotypes: Moving Past Themidentifies three common workplace biases against women: lack of skills, diminished career commitment, and primary childcare responsibility. These assumptions, often disguised as innocent observations, can hinder women's professional progress and perpetuate discriminatory practices.

Beyond Gender: Breaking Free for All: Gender stereotyping, however, doesn't just harm women. As the article “Gender Stereotyping and Bias in the Workplace – why it’s Harmful to EVERYONE and How we can address it points out, men are also victims of these expectations. The pressure to be strong, competitive, and career-driven often discourages men from taking on family responsibilities or expressing emotions freely. Ultimately, dismantling stereotypes benefits everyone by creating a more inclusive and diverse work environment.

Creating a Healthy Workplace: So, how do we foster an environment where both women and men can thrive? Open-mindedness, active listening, challenging biases, and ensuring fairness in workplace processes are key steps. By consciously reflecting on our own cultural biases and actively promoting inclusivity, we can pave the way for a truly equitable and fulfilling work experience for all.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Take a moment to identify your own cultural background and its influence on your gender perceptions.

  • Analyze your company and team composition. Are certain roles dominated by specific genders?

  • Do any biases shape your expectations of colleagues based on their gender and cultural background?

  • How can you consciously challenge these biases and create a more inclusive work environment?

By engaging in honest introspection and open dialogue, we can navigate the labyrinth of cultural expectations and build workplaces where everyone, regardless of gender or background, has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Also, check out this related Brainz article:

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Liu Liu Brainz Magazine

Liu Liu, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Liu Liu is a coach and manager with decades of experience, as a Cross-Cultural Intelligence Coach who specializes in helping international organizations and businesses to improve communications and cooperation among staff for better individual and team performance. He coaches managers and leaders working in a cross-cultural context to build trust, communicate effectively, and deliver results. He also coaches people on management, leadership, and career development. He is someone who helps you to imagine a greater possibility for yourself and supports you in achieving it.

As a senior manager in an international relief and development organization, he has worked with people in over 30 countries over his two-decades-long career. He uses a coaching approach to manage cross-country teams and complex programs to deliver results and impacts.

He is also an experienced trainer and facilitator who has delivered training on management-related and other subjects in over 30 countries.

With a cross-country marriage, developing a career in a second country, and working in an organization that has a reach of 50 countries, Liu Liu understands the importance and pitfalls of working cross-culturally and developing a career in an unfamiliar environment.

Liu Liu is an Associated Certified Coach(ACC), a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), and an Executive Contributor to Brainz Magazine.

He holds a BA(Hon) in International Studies and an MSc in Development Management.



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