When the odds are stacked against you

Most men find it hard to believe, but the evidence is overwhelming. Both men and women consistently judge traditionally masculine traits positively as a result of unconscious bias. Undeniably this has real-life consequences.

There is no correlation between height or gender with leadership ability.
Yet, on average, for every inch taller a man is, he earns an additional $500 per year.
And just 20 of Fortune 500 leaders are women.


Perhaps women should behave more like men. But all the research shows that this would be a very poor decision. Known as the ‘double bind’, the fact is that when women are assertive they are rated as less likeable.


Why do so many find this hard to believe, despite the research? It’s natural. If you have worked hard and flourished in the current system, it’s hard to hear that the odds have been stacked in your favour. You want to believe that you made it through your own talent and grit.

What is more, when someone believes that something is fair, they will resist changing it. That means that before changing policies and practices, you need to bring your people on-side. It is also essential to emphasise that the problem is with bias and unfair systems – the processes, not the individuals. And it is worth repeating that both men and women hold these unconscious biases.

If you are a woman – or a less-than-tall man – can you do anything to overcome the unconscious bias against you? Somewhat. Where possible, remove gender and personality from the equation. In meetings, for example, use post-it notes for ideas, do a SWOT analysis on a board, or draw up a list of pros and cons.

As more women become leaders, the more our experiences will shape our expectations. In the meantime, let’s consciously work to change the system to allow the most talented and hardworking to flourish, whatever their gender.


Professor Robert Wood and Jennifer Jones, internationally recognised researchers and thought leaders, were speaking at an event to celebrate BNZ’s Major Partnership with Global Women. This article is based on their presentation.