We still view 'brilliance' or 'genius' as a male trait - and it's hurting women

Caroline Allen
·Contributor
·3 min read
This might be holding back gender equality. (Getty Images)
This might be holding back gender equality. (Getty Images)

Men are more likely to be seen as “brilliant” than women, a factor that could be holding back gender equality, a new study has found.

The stereotype, which is impacting men and women globally, is thought to be a deep-rooted in children as young as nine-years-old.

The study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology also found that the the stereotype was present in 78 countries around the world.

The strength of the bias even rivalled more commonly identified reasons for gender inequality, like the roles women play within the family.

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When quizzed by researchers on the results of the findings, participants were quick to describe women as “brilliant”, which suggested people are either unwilling or unable to express when confronted directly.

This is known as implicit bias, where people unconsciously stereotype others. It has led the team involved in the research to be worried about the worldwide implications this could have for gender equality.

“Stereotypes that portray brilliance as a male trait are likely to hold women back across a wide range of prestigious careers,” Study leader Dr Daniel Storage, of Denver University, explained.

His co-researcher Dr Andrei Cimpian, at New York University, added: “Understanding the prevalence and magnitude of this gender-brilliance stereotype can inform future efforts to increase gender equity in career outcomes.”

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Dr Cimpian has conducted gender equality research before, where he found that women are under-represented in jobs where a high-level of intellect and “brilliance” is at the forefront - this usually falls into science and technology-based vocations.

There are a number of reasons this might be the case.

One theory is that women are put off by careers that call for genius or brilliant people because of the unconscious bias in society that men are more brilliant than women.

Another looks at how certain work environments are less welcoming to women than others.

People don’t often admit to their stereotypical views, so the researchers had to come up with a clever way of finding out a person’s real thoughts. They did this using something called the Implicit Association Test (IAT).

The IAT is a speeded sorting task which aims to look at the automatic assumptions people make before their logic has a chance to kick in - it’s all done on instinct.

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The testing found a multitude of evidence that this stereotype was present in a lot of people’s minds. It was also much more prevalent than other commonly held stereotypical beliefs about men and women.

Study author Tessa Charlesworth, a doctoral student at Harvard University added: “A particularly exciting finding from this work is that, if anything, people explicitly say that they associate women with brilliance.

“Yet implicit measures reveal a different story about the more automatic gender stereotypes that come to mind when thinking about brilliance.”

It’s this attitude that may need to be undone in the fight for gender equality.