Friday, August 5, 2016


But, based on our experience coaching and mentoring thousands of women over the years, we believe women experience more workplace stress than men primarily because they must contend with stereotype threat — a phenomenon that is virtually unknown to men.

Stereotype threat occurs when a woman is aware of a stereotype that women perform poorly compared to men at a given task — test, negotiation, presentation, competition — as a result of which she fails to perform up to her ability.
Why Women Feel More Stress at Work
Stereotype threat is not a gendered construct. One doesn't have to be a woman to experience it. The article itself points out that even high-status men can have their performance on a task degraded by being informed that another group routinely outperforms them. But then it goes back to discussing the phenomenon in terms of women, and suggesting remedies that women can use to combat it - even there is nothing gendered about the remedies, either.

For many people, this is part of a phenomenon known as erasure, typically thought of as a sort of denial by omission. If one doesn't mention something, eventually, it fades from the public consciousness, just as if it never happened. And avoiding mentioning something becomes complicity in, or even a desire for, that fading. It's part of a desire to be "seen," and, on top of that, to have one's trials and travails recognized by others.

But there is another way to look at it, and that's simply as being directed to a limited audience. In this case, the audience is women - the fact that men might experience the same phenomenon is, temporarily at least beside the point. I can assume good intent, and decide that there is no effort underway to conceal the history of stereotypes based on race or class. Rather than reading "women" to mean "only women" I can chose to read it as meaning "women and others."

That's the choice before me. And it is my choice. Mainly because the consequences of making it fall on me. If I'm offended by the idea that, as  a Black person in America, that the Harvard Business Review is intentionally slighting the experiences that I've had with combating stereotypes, no one at HBR is likely to notice - it's my peace of mind that's at stake, not theirs. If I decide that the use of humor to deal with the issue is something that only women can use, I'm the one who loses out on what may be a useful tool. In this case, as in so many others, the assumption of good intent is not a mercy for them - it's a mercy for me. And if I already believe that the rest of the world is out to get me, I may as well be on my own team.

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