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Stephania Varalli

Stephania Varalli

Co-CEO, Women of Influence

If you’re asked to think of a leader, the first person that comes to mind is most likely a man. It’s not a surprise, given that men dominate the upper ranks in everything from business to politics — but this default setting is a bigger problem than most of us realize.

The decisions we make and the actions we take are all informed by our subconscious beliefs, so if the narrative in our head is that men are leaders and women aren’t, we’ll be more likely to hire men, sponsor them, and promote them up the ladder. Studies show that we even evaluate the same behaviours differently depending on gender, from showing ambition to delivering critical feedback. We react negatively when women don’t “act like women” — and we have a very narrow idea of what that means.

It’s often referred to as unconscious bias, and despite the wide availability of training to correct it, most research shows you can’t change a person’s limiting beliefs by pointing them out. The most promising solution is to combat these biases in the same way they’re formed: by using stories to redefine what women are capable of. 

Yes, there are fewer women leaders, but the number isn’t zero. There are plenty of women superstars in every field — their stories just aren’t shared as often. And when they are, many are being told in a way that is reinforcing gender stereotypes, rather than breaking them down. Imagine how the landscape would change if we started to change the narrative.  

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