Gillian Hyde’s article, Gender Stereotyping: is there something in it?, features in the spring edition of Women in Trade UK Magazine.


International Women’s Day falls on 8th March this year and there will be intense focus on the subject of gender equality – in the boardroom and beyond. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) paper Building on Progresshas shown that, with current figures at 21.6%, the UK is on track to reach the target of 25% female directors on FTSE 100 boards by 2015, a target set by Lord Davies’ review three years ago. But this will only happen if business and government take further action.

Looking at the statistics and setting targets is a great way to focus the minds of business leaders and senior politicians, whether on arguing the business case for gender diversity, breaking the glass ceiling or seeking to close the wage gap. The issue is that somewhere in all this measuring and target setting we forget about the individuals, each with their own strengths and capabilities.

Are we trying too hard to force men and women into a single mould? In the battle for equality, are we forgetting there are inherent personality and competency differences between the sexes? What if there are some roles and jobs that women are more aligned to than men? It feels like heresy to make such a statement. The cries of ‘stereotyping’ can be heard loud and clear.

In a new research study, Made to Measure, Psychological Consultancy Ltd analysed the data from over 4,200 men and women collected through the psychometric test Profile:Match2TM. Our research looked at the personality profiles of individuals and, crucially, the skills and competencies that are naturally inherent in men and women. We found there are distinct differences and that these differences in competency profiles support, to some extent, our stereotypical views of men and women.


The competency differences between men and women

For men, the research showed significantly higher scores for analytic, decision-making and resilience competencies. Some examples of jobs that specifically utilise these competencies would be engineering, computer programming, aviation piloting and policing, roles which are stereotypically dominated by men. The pattern for women, on the other hand, showed significantly higher scores for attention to detail, planning and organising, and interpersonal skills. This is in line with other research showing that women have higher levels of conscientiousness than men, and a natural caring tendency. It is no accident that some women are naturally drawn to roles where interpersonal sensitivity is considered important for effective performance, such as nursing and social care.


Gender diffs 3

Figure 1. Differentiating competencies between males and females

Are you a good match?

This research poses certain challenges. If your job utilises your strengths to the full, you will perform better. Just as a made-to-measure suit feels ‘just right’, we can expect high performance from people whose natural talents are a comfortable fit with their roles, as opposed to those struggling with demands and expectations they are unsuited for.

Equally, if your skills are not best deployed in your current role, you are likely to experience frustration and disengagement, and will constantly try to reshape either yourself or your role to create a better match for your skills and personality. Some organisations can be flexible and try to make the most of your particular talents, but others might take the view that you’re not doing the job you were employed to do.

“And what happens if you don’t fit the stereotype? If your skills are different from other women’s?”

If you’re cool under pressure, analytic and a decisive decision- maker, you will be exhibiting trends that are often attributed to men. You’ll need to educate people around you about your strengths, capabilities and conduct. You’ll need to be clear on what you expect of yourself and others.

This research by no means suggests that women or men are precluded from particular roles, or that jobs demanding analytic or decision-making skills are beyond the reach of women. It does show that if a woman has particular strengths in analytic and decision-making competencies, she is bucking the trend and should manage herself appropriately and educate those around her not to expect the female stereotype. Her competencies will help determine the kind of job that best suits her. The key here is to be aware of your own competency profile and how unusual, or not, it may be.


The ‘you that you think you are’

Do you, as an individual, know and understand your own strengths and competencies? Few people can identify these accurately for themselves. A recent film, The Science of Personality, interviewed psychologists from around the world. One of the key themes is that the ‘you that you think you are’ is just a story you make up. This is your reputation and is based on your past behaviour, from which a number of judgements and assessments are made.

It’s important to have some insight into your strengths and weaknesses to better understand how you appear in the workplace and to others around you.


The role of organisations

So how can organisations support individuals and ensure they are recruiting the right people with the right competencies and profile to thrive and succeed in their roles?

Many organisations use personality profiling because the data it yields can support decision- making. Also, the assessment can remove some of the emotion from the recruitment or promotion process. However, this only works if HR departments and business leaders are really clear about the competencies required for each specific role. If you don’t know what you are looking for, you are unlikely to find it.

Without a tailored assessment and in-depth knowledge of what skills and personality characteristics are required, recruitment decisions can be highly risky. The danger is that decisions can revert to personal preference, which might restrict the opportunity to secure diversity among staff.

Personality and competency assessment presents the opportunity to support individuals, managers and organisations in breaking down stereotypes and instead focusing on the best match between an individual and a specific role, regardless of gender. Only by appreciating and valuing the difference between individuals will we get real equality in the workplace and challenge the gender stereotyping that can occur.