At a recent, high profile awards ceremony, an advocate for gender equity proudly told the crowd that this year’s award recipients included more women than ever before.
Immediately after she announced the winners of the awards, with 30% women amongst them, the male (very well-known and credible) chair of the program stood up to announce the nominations for next year’s awards. Only one of the nominees was a woman. He then sat down completely oblivious to the skewed result.
The gender advocate put her head in her hands at her table in despair.
Later that day she rang him and asked him how he could have failed to recognise the gender imbalance and insisted he look for more women nominees.
The next day a very senior and worthy recipient rang me to say she’d had a phone call asking if she would accept a nomination for one of these fellowships – and of course she accepted.
There are still so few women in senior and prestigious roles that it is considered, unconsciously at least, to be acceptable and ‘normal’.
Whether it be directors of boards, fellowships, CEOs or chairs, most people, men and women, are oblivious to there being any female candidates when they have only ever seen men in the roles.
Men are expected to be in these positions. The most worthy candidate means the most worthy man. Not because there is any particular malicious intent or deliberate desire to exclude women, but because women, even the most talented, are largely invisible to those who are only used to noticing men.
It is up to each and every one of us, men and women, to help each other notice our blind spots and bias – because it’s those blind spots that lead to inequity.
Women in particular must not stand back hoping that someone will notice their absence from these positions because it is this absence that renders them invisible.
We must not be apologetic for speaking up about imbalance and bias because unless we speak up, no one will notice!
Only when someone points out bias, inequity or a disparity does it become visible.
Only when someone sees something different and helps others to notice that difference, does it become recognisable.
Only when a gender advocate asked why there were so few women nominated did worthy women become visible.