top of page

Do you see the little woman? (Unconscious Bias)

I am married to a little woman, but not the little woman. My question to you is who do you see?

Scientists believe that stereotypes in general serve a purpose because clustering people into groups with expected traits help us navigate the world without being overwhelmed by information. The downside is that the potential for prejudice is hard-wired into human cognition.
Unconscious Bias the little woman
Zoe loves heels

The Guardian Newspaper, Bias in Britain Series

Zoe is 34 and is 5'0, 5'6 when in heels which she tends to wear a lot. At home, when not wearing shoes, she walks on tiptoes to gain more height. I am older than Zoe, and we have an eight-year-old daughter. 

Much to her frustration, Zoe gets asked for ID whenever she goes to purchase alcohol at the supermarket, even when she is with our daughter and me (in the UK the legal age to purchase alcohol is 18). Even from my perspective, there's something almost insulting about seeing your wife getting asked for ID. My logic goes something like this: the legal age is 18, she doesn't look 18; our daughter is calling her "mum" and is quite obviously in the 7-9 age bracket; that means the person asking for ID must think she is under 18, which means she gave birth to our daughter at 11; which makes me what? [a selfish male perspective, I know, but I can't help it] 

It gets worse. People meet us and assume that I am the breadwinner. I am the bigshot PhD consultant, and Zoe is, literally, the little woman who stays at home looking after our daughter. The number of people who want to know everything about me, but don't even bother to engage with Zoe, assuming she is a homemaker, is nothing short of astounding. What they don't know is that in our house, Zoe is a Pharma Rock Star.

Unconscious bias little woman
Do you see the little woman?

Zoe is a Senior Project Manager, responsible for global clinical trials. She holds a Masters in Public Health (Merit) from the University of Edinburgh Medical School. Since the turn of the year, Zoe has been leading bid defence teams leading on multi-million dollar projects receiving outstanding feedback along the way. Today, she found out she was a critical element in winning a significant bid with a US client.

I work hard, as hard as Zoe and with as much passion. But we are not equal, Zoe is more than me and pushes me to do better every day.

For example, on Monday, Zoe had to go away for two days. Our daughter had a school trip on Tuesday and needed a packed lunch. The day before she left, I was talking about going shopping the next day and putting together meals for the time she was away - I happen to enjoy cooking. The morning Zoe left, she had set dinner for the first night in the slow cooker, and our daughter's packed lunch was in the fridge ready to go. I don't ask for these things, nor do I expect or demand them. Zoe has an energy and passion for her career and family that can leave me feeling inadequate.

Unconscious bias heightism
Zoe: this is a better picture of my heels :-)

Unconscious bias is a wicked thing that lies deep in the mind of even the most self-aware. What labels do you give to people, and what burden do you place on them in having to shed that label? 

Exploring the research around unconscious bias and heightism, it becomes apparent that there is a lot of discussion around the trials and tribulations of short men, but little (pun intended) on the impact on women. Is this a bias in itself?

According to weak but notable correlations found in scientific studies, shorter people – men and women – are likely on average to be less intelligent than taller people. One explanation for this is that height can be an indicator of genetic health – so people who are healthier grow taller and become more intelligent. However, as one academic in the field writes in an article for Psychology Today, "the real answer is we don't know for sure."

The Telegraph Newspaper, The Short Straw

Looking at the excerpt from the Telegraph article, above, Zoe is anything but average. However, being a scientist, Zoe has promptly rubbished the notion of 'notable correlations' juxtaposed against "we don't know for sure".

Zoe is a wife, mother and career woman. She is little, but she is no little woman. However, she is a Pharma Rock Star and, trust me, she has the shoes to prove it :-)


Like, Share & Subscribe

You can support the Good Life + Work Project by liking this post, subscribing to our blog and following us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

bottom of page