Creating a Level Playing Field


One of my pictures of San Francisco – the city of alternative lifestyles

Last weekend, I travelled to San Francisco. You might think: “Well that’s cool for you, but why are you writing a blog post about that?” I wasn’t only there to visit this amazing city, but for a meeting of my scholarship whose program was based around the topic “Diversity as a chance”. Not only this theme in general, but also the workshops and lectures that I attended reminded me of the concepts covered in our political science course – gender discrimination, how to deal with minorities and how we can deal with diversity in a political and social context. I chose the workshop “Lean out – women, leadership and institutional change” that coped with women in the professional environment, whereas LaVaque-Manty addresses the issue of diversity and gender in his book in the fields of sports. Which parallels can we detect and which strategies could we incorporate in our daily life to deal with diversity and possible bias?

What connects the issue of women and minorities in sports and in the professional or social context is that those groups are constantly confronted with stereotypes. During the weekend, we firstly addressed the definition of stereotypes which helped us to develop a deeper understanding of the reasons why we use them. My workshop was led by two women who are closely connected to the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. It proposes the following definition of stereotypes: “Stereotypes are widely held, generalized beliefs about people and act as cognitive shortcuts when processing information and can lead to bias, or errors in decision-making.” Shortly, stereotypes serve as a mechanism that our brains use in order to facilitate the incredible inflow of information. Thus our brain avoids that we “have” to think deeper about several circumstances. An example might be that we could consider women in general to be too weak to carry heavy things instead of checking for every woman individually whether she might be able to fulfill that task or not.

Female soldier have to prove their abilities on a daily basis.

As a result, those stereotypes might create harsher standards for women or minorities as they have to overcome them by proving that they are able to cope with the requirements of a special task which society considers they are not suitable for. This is exactly the issue that was addressed by our guest lecturer Suzie who works for the U.S. Army and talked about her experiences in this male dominated field. Suzie also experiences that constant pressure on her to work harder as her male colleagues in order to daily convince everybody that she can cope (as a woman) with the demanding requirements of her job. Another example would be the talk at our the University of Michigan by Andrea Joyce who was one of the first female sports reporter in the U.S. She started as a weather reporter which was the typical field for females in that professional environment. As she started to report about sports, a lot of people were surprised to see a woman to successfully fulfill that task which violated their stereotypical perception. Andrea also told us that some men were screaming and protesting against her on the hotline of her TV channel which points out the difficulties to overcome deeply established prejudices.


The talk of the Sisters

But what can we incorporate in our lives in order to deal with bias? The Institute for Gender Research at Stanford provides excellent guidelines and I’d like to point out the most striking ones. First of all, we have to be aware of how stereotypes work (this blog post might already help you) and when we use them in order to make them conscious to us. This could help us to reduce the reliance on them. The gay movement in San Francisco for example tries to confront the society with its stereotypes and prejudices by intendedly violating our conventional perception of several issues during parades. An interesting of group among them, which also talked to us during my workshop, are the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence”. The sisters dress up as nuns and snub a lot of people in this way in order to increase awareness that we should overthink our conventions and perception of the world.

Another important issue in the context of discrimination is that we establish clear criteria before we choose a suitable applicants for a special task, e.g. we select the person with the highest education for a job. Thus, we avoid that other criteria, as gender or sexual orientation, which unconsciously influence our decision-making. This method is universally applicable to every field of our society and I think that it is a very useful guideline which also makes us rethink our daily lives. If you want to have more information about the other guidelines that are proposed by the Institute for Gender Research, you can watch the video below or visit their homepage. I found it incredibly useful as it provides concrete ideas to deal with the issue of discrimination of minorities and gender in our daily lives and to “create a level playing field” for everybody – a title which stresses again the connection between sports and political issues.