When Amy Cuddy was teaching at the Harvard Business School, she noticed a disturbing pattern; her female students were continuously scoring lower grades than her male students. Being an acclaimed social psychologist, she suspected something other than objective cognitive or verbal abilities were causing this gender academic gap. The final grade in her class was determined by 2 factors: test score and participation. There was no difference in the average test scores between the male or female students, but the male students got a higher grade for participating in the classroom. The root cause for this difference stems from none other than body language. Male students sit and raise their hands in a more confident, noticeable way which is called a power position. A person demonstrates power when his body is expanded and stretched out. Now, think of the way powerful, dominant people sit, stand, and use hand gestures. The female students generally sit with crossed arms and legs and raise their fingers to participate in a smaller, almost shrinking gesture. Because of these tendencies, they are less noticeable, take a smaller part in discussions, and score lower grades.
Reading about this unbelievable example reminded me of a line from Madonna’s song “what it feels like for a girl”. The line says: “could you be a little less”, and these 6 words depict both the body language and the unfulfilled potential that women have to adopt many times.
The realization we must come to is that we all have a perceived status, a reputation that enters the room and opens its mouth long before we do. For some people, that status comes from the fact that they are senior managers, belong to a certain culture or any other title. For women, our gender comes with various biases and perceptions that people attribute to our performance, abilities etc. The danger is in the fact that we might believe and implement these perceptions and limit ourselves. Once we become aware of that bias, we can look it in the eye and untangle those ties – first by identifying our goals, and second by acting, speaking out and thinking without constraints.
Empowerment isn’t about doing everything men do; it’s about having the right to choose whatever you want and having an equal chance to get it. So let’s set our goals, as big or as little as we please, and let’s pay attention to our body language; to the way we manifest ourselves in a given space. Let’s stop shrinking, physically and metaphorically. We CAN be (a little) more. Hopefully, someone will write a song about that