In this recent election cycle, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has popped up in dynamic debates and sensible yet poignant (and sometimes heated) speeches about a more “America for All” mentality. Her rhetoric features a signature mix of vision statements and policy specifics. No matter what political side you fall on, unconscious bias has been at the forefront of this election, especially about women having to be strong, yet sensitive. Women are too emotional. Forceful women are “hysterical” and get overwhelmed and are not likable. It has been a rollercoaster ride to see the reactions, commentaries, and articles about Elizabeth in the media. A Cosmo headline reads, “I *WANT* an Angry Woman as My President, Actually”.

Twitter went crazy, with comments from one person saying that,

Mean and angry Warren is not a good look

Comments were either about power & position:

You saw “mean & angry.” I saw raw power.

Raw power, especially in a woman, looks fantastic to me.

Some had great comments of a badass fighter with a Beyonce gif:

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“You’re wrong. I want someone like her fighting for me and my kids and my elderly mom and my neighbors and the folks down in the day shelter or stuck in the hospital or not able to make it into a hospital. She’s a badass fighter. Don’t join that narrative.

Yet others continued the unconscious gender bias rhetoric:

Raw power un-contained can come off shrill & angry

Nevertheless, she has persisted.

The role of strong women in society is a balancing act. As in the book, “First. Sandra Day O’Connor” by Evan Thomas, about the FIRST ever Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States appointed by President Ronal Reagan, after graduating top of her class at Stanford, Sandra was unemployable because most law firms were not hiring female lawyers. She persevered. Sandra’s effectiveness & directness sometimes came across as “aggressive” to some and “refreshing” to others.

Nevertheless, she was resilient.

It all stems from a dichotomy of beliefs from the implicit bias we all have. Everyone has beliefs that make their moral compass and certain connections that are relatively unconscious & automatic. Think of them as cognitive shortcuts that save us time and brainpower to make the millions of decisions & actions we make on a daily basis. At Ad Astra Ventures, we dive into it, we named & defined an implicit bias matrix of beliefs and non-beliefs, make women aware of them, impact their lives & businesses with ways to neutralize the bias and set up an action plan. The Ad Astra Ventures way is to:

build AWARENESS

discuss IMPACT

take ACTION

This role Ad Astra Ventures plays through the bootcamps, intensives, and investments, is all based on data and research from a myriad of sources and researchers, from Dana Kanze to David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny to The Diana Project authors (Candida G. Brush, Patricia G. Greene, Lakshmi Balachandra, and Amy E. Davis) to Suzanne Biegel. These researchers advocate based on data with these outcomes:

  • “Blind” orchestra auditions reduce sex-biased hiring and increase the number of female musicians. Orchestra Impartiality research. “A number of orchestras [have] adopted “blind” auditions whereby screens are used to conceal the identity and gender of the musician from the jury. In the years after these changes were instituted, the percent of female musicians in the five highest-ranked orchestras in the nation increased from 6 percent in 1970 to 21 percent in 1993.”
  • Role Congruity Theory. There is an existence of gender bias when evaluative leaders. “We examined participant sex-type finding that feminine individuals expect that leaders are more sensitive than masculine individuals, who expect that leaders are more masculine, strong, and tyrannical than feminine individuals.”
  • Women are viewed as powerful but not likable. The Heidi/Howard Roizen case by University of Columbia’s Business School demonstrated unconscious gender bias beautifully & clearly. Students were given “Howard” Roizen’s resume, revealing that he worked at Apple and later started his own tech startup. He was well liked by the student reviewers and he was a capable candidate who could get the job done. The same resume was then re-evaluated by the same group of students, but this time it was in the name of “Heidi” Roizen. The students thought Heidi was more selfish and aggressive even though she was viewed as equally competent. This research has demonstrated “a negative correlation for women between power and success. For men, the relationship is positive, i.e., successful men are perceived as more powerful and are revered. A fundamental challenge to women’s leadership arises from the mismatch between the qualities traditionally associated with leaders and those traditionally associated with women.”

So back to that balancing act of all female leaders. To assert power when IN POWER is delicate because of implicit bias of “women are nurturers”. These implicit gender biases are reinforced from a very young age. When someone remarks that my spirited fourteen-year-old is “bossy” or “she sure speaks her mind” they are assigning some specific behaviors to a girl, and they carry this bias that girls are supposed to be quiet, muted, and “nice”. As opposed to comments people made of my boys, like Consider if a boy was doing the same thing, as my boys always did, speaking up, being loud and boisterous. Their actions were excused as being “boys will be boys” or that “boys are so active” or that “he has such great leadership qualities.” Don’t get me wrong, I love BOTH my boys and my daughter, but how people see and react to their personalities and actions have been something of a research project over the years. When I was a little girl, I believed the way to get others to like me was to be nice. I shouldn’t be confrontational. I certainly should avoid hurting other people’s feelings and of course, stick up for the underserved. Additionally, it would be wrong to express anger, because that would make me look “crazy” or “wild.” The pressure from society starts young.

When a man asserts himself, society calls him a go-getter.

Women, on the other hand, are supposed to smile and be nice.

Women leaders are expected to be nice, friendly, yet effective, direct, but not so bossy, strong and forceful. Women leaders are to bend with what business throws at them (from hiring and firing to market fluctuations to investor meetings), not break, oh, but always do it with a bit of finesse. Female leaders to be perceived as effective they needed to demonstrate both sensitivity and strength. This implicit bias is hard to break, but by breaking down barriers of role assignments and lifting up as a community the excellent role models we have in communities and nations, we can start to unfold the implicit biases.

Nevertheless, she leads.

The disparity between the success of male and female leaders may result from the incongruity between the female sex role and the leadership role. This is called role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. This proposes that perceived incongruity between the female gender role and leadership roles leads to 2 forms of prejudice: (a) perceiving women less favorably than men as potential occupants of leadership roles and (b) evaluating behavior that fulfills the prescriptions of a leader role less favorably when it is enacted by a woman.

As we enter an election week, this exact implicit bias balancing act has come up over and over again. Again, let’s go back to Elizabeth Warren who is witty, demonstrable, confident, yet empathetic. She comes across with masculine characteristics like “strong”, “direct” and “mad”, but she also has feminine characteristics like “empathetic” towards the middle class and special needs advocacy. She does pinky promises with girls so they’ll remember that running for president is what girls do. This is not a political enforcement, simply insight into this paradox even from the political arena.

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If you are not into politics, think about Malala Yousafzai & Greta Thunberg meeting at Oxford and the comments and discussions that ensued. The Swedish 17-year-old climate activist said that the The a 22-year-old women’s education advocate was her role model and Malala said about Greta, that “she’s the only friend I’d skip school for.” The backlash and praise of both sides of influence and awe, surrounded these two powerful, strong young women making huge impact in global changemaking. Some comments on Twitter were for them, “The two of you bring hope to a desperate world.” but some expressed the implicit gender bias that is within our society, “LOL two attention seekers in one frame!” and “Legends of deception.” These are fierce female leaders who are changing the world by their actions.

Nevertheless, they are resilient.

So .. so the next time you see a “strong” woman, be AWARE that she is executing her power, make an IMPACT to ask her about her journey, and take ACTION on praising her & joining her so all of us can make a collective impact.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable. — Helen Keller