Shari Graydon, Informed Opinions Founder Shares Knowledge on Gender Intelligent Communications

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Shari GGive this a try: Type “woman and computers” in Google Images. Included among the first images to appear are a distraught woman with a dismantled computer; one taking a hammer to her laptop; and another showing more than a little cleavage.

“That search is representative of the challenges in your industry,” Shari Graydon told the High Performance Computing Symposium (HPCS), Women HPC partner Compute Canada’s annual conference. Graydon is the catalyst behind Informed Opinions, a Canadian non-profit initiative that’s working to bridge the gender gap in public discourse by amplifying women’s voices and building their leadership capacity.

Her June 20 Gender Intelligent Communications Workshop at HPSC, and presentation later that same day—both firsts for HPCS—raised issues on the mostly unintentional biases women face in the IT sector, and how these biases discourage women from choosing or staying with a career in IT. The former newspaper columnist and TV producer also offered practical steps companies and organizations can take to create a more inclusive and dynamic workforce.

Why we need more women in IT and HPC

Research shows that gender intelligent organizations that invest in inclusion increase the three E’s: engagement, empowerment and efficiency. Graydon stressed that having more women involved helps to stabilize financial markets, bolster innovation, increase corporate profits, improve customer relations and produce better scientific research.

“To be competitive, we need to draw on the largest talent pool possible. That includes looking at what we’re doing wrong in not being able to attract women, and what we can do to make the women we do attract feel more comfortable and stay longer,” she told delegates.

Acknowledge your biases

A critical first step for any organization, said Graydon, is to openly acknowledge gender communication biases, “to make the unconscious biases conscious”. She asked workshop attendees to put their political correctness on the back burner and write down their common perceptions about women and men. Many of the answers were not unexpected. Women were described as more emotional, perceptive and nurturing and less aggressive and technical. In comparison, men were viewed as logical, competent, independent, technical, analytical, assertive and good at math.

How would your workplace rank? Graydon encourages companies and organizations to have their employees take the Harvard Implicit Association Test, a science-based online evaluation designed to measure attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report.

“It’s very sobering. For somebody who has been doing work in the area of woman and media for 25 years, I was stunned by how strong my own gender bias was, despite my high level of awareness.”

Am I the best person for the job?

This gender bias often results in too many women underestimating their experience and capabilities. During her second presentation that day, Graydon said her research found that too often, women underestimate their experience and capabilities.

For example, she said women often decline invitations to speak at a conference or participate in media interviews, believing there is someone better qualified to do this. To counter this, her workshops encourage women to replace the phrase, I am not the best person with I’m happy to try and help.

“It doesn’t claim you are the best person, but it opens the door to a conversation in which your important opinion may be able to add value.”

Graydon pointed out that women constitute 61% of university graduates but their voices account for less than a third of those featured as expert sources in the news media.

“That’s a problem. When women are chronically under-represented in the corridors of power, and the public discourse, their perspectives and priorities are less likely to exert influence.”

To help improve this balance, Informed Opinions is building an experts database of Canadian women able to comment on a wide diversity of disciplines, from energy and engineering to international development. Those efforts have helped nudge the voice of women in the media from 22% in 2010 to 29% today.

“When you have a public voice in any arena, when you have more profile, it’s easier to get people to return your phone calls, donate money to your cause or fund your research. I don’t know anyone who is engaged in what they feel is meaningful work who would not like to exercise more influence.”

For more information on how your workplace can become more gender diverse, or how to amplify women’s voices, visit: www.informedopinions.org.

 

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