G(ender) E(quality 2017)

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It dominated the news channels at the beginning of this month, and as June draws to a close, we still can’t help but reflect on the General Election. We’re not going to get political, because we’re not here to ruffle feathers, but we thought we’d share a bird’s eye look at GE2017.

This election saw a record number of female MPs elected, with 208 now clocking in at the House of Commons – up from 191 in 2015.

We saw a TV debate with four women and two men (both of whom have now resigned), and you sure as hell don’t usually see that on the telly. Even progressive comedy show panels steer clear of booking more than one female for fear the whole format would topple over in a big gust of oestrogen.

We’ve seen the rise of the female leader; Theresa May, Ruth Davidson, Caroline Lucas, Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon and Arlene Foster all take their seats at the head of the table. Whether we agree with their politics or not, it’s positive to see so many women in leadership positions.

So let’s consider what happened during the election and led to the unexpected result. According to YouGov, JC’s approval rating went from -42 pre-election to 0 post-election,  whereas Mrs May went from a meaty +10 to an astonishing -34 post-election.

Despite ol’ Tessa’s admissions of historical wheat-bothering, she couldn’t quite connect in the end, whereas Corbyn booked himself a place at many a party with, what YouGov have deduced from public attitude as his “honest” and “genuine” demeanor.

If Obama connected to his public by slow jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon, we can’t wait to see Corbyn lip-syncing ‘Wonderwall’ on Graham Norton.

Of course, one person’s authentic can be another person’s fake, so read on as we look deeper into how we assess individuals, and leaders and judge them on two factors: competence and warmth.

Of course one person’s authentic can be another person’s fake and we all make our own judgements. Research done by Amy Cuddy, Peter Glick and Anna Beninger at Harvard looks at how we judge people on two traits, competence and warmth. Our judgement of someone’s competence is based on how capable they are, whilst we base our trust of someone according to their warmth, what we judge their intentions are towards us. We generally judge people as being high on one measure and lower on the other, rarely high on both. The result for politicians might be that they’re seen as highly competent yet untrustworthy or vice versa. Perhaps we could argue that in the case of May vs Corbyn.

Interestingly context affects our judgement, if we meet someone in a work situation we may assign more weight to someone’s competence, whereas in a social situation we’re looking for how much warmth someone exhibits. In general we make judgments on someone’s warmth much quicker, an inbuilt survival mechanism for judging if someone is friend or foe. If we judge someone as lacking warmth when we first meet them, it’s very difficult to change that view. There are of course, lots of non verbal behaviours that can contribute to someone’s perceived competence or trustworthiness (warmth)

Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn refused to take place in the televised debate. They were however both grilled by Jeremy Paxman. Body Language expert Richard Newman analysed their performance Overall based on audience response Jeremy Corbyn scored +9 positive vs negative responses and Theresa May -10. Corbyn came across as calm and warm whereas May appeared apologetic and cold. Research referenced in this article shows that communication style can cause dramatic swings in voting behaviour.

We should also consider whether we bring our own bias in judging male and female stereotypical leadership traits. Traditionally we associate women with being more collaborative and empathetic in how they lead, these are both qualities that the press have accused Theresa May of lacking. Skyline research looks at male a female leadership stereotypes and examines what happens when men adopt the more feminine version of a trait and vice versa. There are a number of more ‘masculine’ traits that when women adopt them make us judge them  more negatively. One of those is emotional control, when women hold in their emotions they’re seen as stoic and cold. We expect women to express a certain level of emotion and to acknowledge the feelings of others. So Mrs May may have won the election but it seems that in times of crisis and uncertainty we respond better to warmth, and authenticity.

So what can we conclude ? We should think about how we want to be perceived, who’s our audience and what’s important to them. We need to be aware of our natural style and how much information we communicate through our body language. Finally let’s challenge our own bias, do we judge female and male leaders the same way.

For now, let’s just say ‘hear, hear’ to more women in parliament.