Traditionally, parents expect boys to have a natural affinity for science and math, while girls are expected to possess a natural aptitude for English-related subjects. Research has established, time and time again, that this simply is not the case.
We look at the negative impact that gender stereotyping has on individuals and society as a whole, how parents can help their children to reach their potential regardless of gender, and why diversity is good for business.
What is gender stereotyping?
Gender stereotypes are widely accepted beliefs and generalizations about characteristics and behaviors in men and women. They dictate what roles are appropriate for men and women.
Gender stereotyping has no basis in science, and it can prove harmful. Gender stereotyping can disincentivize and demoralize young people, damaging their confidence and impeding their potential.
Common traditional gender stereotypes include the assumption that men are more rational, career-oriented, and driven than women. Stereotypical female traits include being emotional, empathetic, and vulnerable. While gender stereotyping comes in various forms, all types can limit potential.
What impact does gender stereotyping have?
Research indicates that childhood exposure to gender stereotypes can have a detrimental impact later in life. In 2019, the Fawcett Society published a paper on the lifelong effects of gender stereotyping throughout childhood. In the poll, 45% of the participants agreed that they were exposed to gender stereotyping as children in that they were expected to behave in a particular way due to their gender.
The lifelong impact can be far-reaching and wide-ranging, significantly affecting both men and women. Over 51% of the people who participated in the poll reported that gender stereotyping had inhibited their career choices, while 44% admitted that it had a detrimental effect on their personal relationships.
Approximately 53% of females agreed it had a negative impact in terms of deciding who the caregiver should be within their own family. Seventy percent of women between the ages of 18 and 34 years old reported that gender stereotypes restricted their career choices.
Of the male participants, 69% of the men under the age of 35 agreed that gender stereotyping of children damages their perception of what it means to be a woman or man. Men and women agreed equally that the gender stereotyping they experienced throughout childhood had a negative impact on their personal relationships.
Gender stereotypes are not only detrimental to individuals, but also to society. Boys who are discouraged from expressing their emotions often under-achieve in school and become aggressive, creating a culture of machismo and toxic masculinity that normalizes violence.
Girls with low self-esteem often have issues with negative body image. Experts report that as many as 1 in 5 girls today have practiced self-harming behavior. Although STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) sectors are searching for new talent, analysts report that only 8% of STEM apprentices are female. Gender stereotyping lies at the root of many of these issues.
How can we dispel gender stereotypes?
Children have an innate sense of acceptance, a natural vision of the world as boundless and without limitations. It is adults who impose barriers, rules, and restrictions. When an adult teaches a child that their behavior or activities must be curtailed to “fit” with their gender, that child’s world becomes increasingly smaller.
Every parent has the best of intentions for their children. They want them to excel and thrive. But it is easy to unwittingly promote gender stereotypes that fence our daughters in. There are many ways we can help our children to understand that they can be anything they want in life, starting with the toys that their parents give them.
Gender stereotyping starts with the toy kitchen and dolls. It starts with the building blocks, dinosaurs, and toy cars. It can be difficult to accept that these beloved toys of our childhood could have potentially harmful effects, but the toys we give to our children can and do enforce gender stereotypes.
Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, PhD, a developmental psychologist with the Girl Scouts, advocates for letting children play with whatever toys to which they gravitate toward. Left to their own devices, a girl may be naturally drawn to a toy truck, while a boy may prefer to play with a tea set. Unless a child is given options and is encouraged to try new things, how can they decide what they really like? If a boy prefers to play with toy cars instead of a doll, so be it. This is not something that should ever be forced to do, so long as the option is there.
In Scotland today, only 8% of primary school teachers are male, while girls account for just 3% of engineering apprentices. Gender stereotyping is deeply entrenched in many aspects of STEM, ranging from learning to recruitment and career progression. Nevertheless, many leading companies are waking up to the fact that inclusivity is good for business.
IBM is one of the world’s most inclusive tech companies and is developing flexible working arrangements, diversity policies, and staff networks to help female talent to thrive.
In 2012, Ginni Rometty became IBM’s first female CEO. She continues to implement policies that promote diversity and inclusivity, improving IBM’s reach and, ultimately, expanding the company’s growth.