Gender Bias and Stereotypes

Stereotypes provide structure; they are basically helpful in finding one’s way in the world by reducing uncertainties and providing orientation. They are unconscious, simplifying ideas that determine a person’s perceptions and thus help to make a quick assessment of a specific situation. As important as they are in a complex world, stereotypes harbor the danger of attributing certain characteristics to persons and groups, which are associated with dominant social evaluations and thus represent and at the same time solidify hierarchies and power relations.

The gender stereotypes “Men are interested in technology, not very communicative, not very empathic, mathematically gifted, determined, decisive, …” stand in difference to “Women are not interested in technology, communicative, empathic, mathematically not gifted, team-oriented, social …”. Completely disregarded in these discussions are people who, in their diversity, do not at all fit into such dichotomies. Although current research presents and contradicts explanations, these “naturally given” simplifications with all their individual professional, social and economic consequences are very persistent and widespread.

This brings us to the gender bias, which causes systematic bias effects in action by taking up these gender stereotypes. It is about an unconscious influencing of perception and decisions by such dichotomous, positive or negative evaluations of a person. In the professional context, for example, this is about how resumes are evaluated, how decisions are made about acceptance into a company, how decisions are made about career development, or how salary increases are argued. The gender pay gap in Austria in 2020 is 18.9% (calculated on the basis of gross earnings of men and women), which is far from the average of 13% in the EU countries. The adjusted gender pay gap (taking into account part-time work, industry, level of education or work experience) is still 12.7% in Austria, as shown by Statistics Austria data from 2020.

Learn more in our workshops

Intersectionality on the way

If in the 1970s and 1980s it was the theories of equality and the theories of difference, later the (de)construction has prevailed, which in turn is a basis for the currently strongly spreading theories of intersectionality .

Intersectionality is a concept that emerged in the late 1980s in the United States, the name Kimberlé Crenshaw is inseparable from its genesis. It was Black feminists who criticized their white counterparts for presuming to speak for them, because their contexts are markedly different from those of white women. They are affected not only by gender discrimination, but also by the ethnic discrimination that can be pinned on skin color: sexism meets racism. Intersectionality theories assume that structuring categories such as gender or ethnicity cannot be viewed in isolation from each other, but must be analyzed in their interconnectedness.

Stereotypical notions of men* and women* regarding their attitudes, behaviors, interests, or competencies, and the associated hierarchizations and social power aspects, thus interact with equally largely unquestioned notions about other diversity factors. Sexism and racism thus also meet social status, religion, education, sexual orientation, disability, or age. Kimberlé Crenshaw offers the metaphor of an “intersection” for this, in the middle of which marginalized groups can be thought of as encountering discriminations (accidents) from multiple or all directions of the roads simultaneously. Forms of discrimination of gender and age paired with religion, for example, cannot be thought of separately in this context, but influence each other, potentiate each other, and this also means that new forms of discrimination can thus emerge.

This all seems very logical, but at the same time difficult to grasp. When and where do such forms of discrimination associated with power differentials and hierarchies occur? What do these multiple discriminations mean for those affected? How can they be dealt with? In any case, these questions represent a broad field of action for intersectionality-oriented research.


An inclusive education model

The goal was to enable students, through a self-directed process that includes an (online) dialogue, research and analysis and presentation phase, to select, freely explore and research topics in the context of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN Agenda 2030 and finally present their findings to the public and stakeholders. The CEPNET project developed a model for elementary schools that connects the levels of on-site and digital education in an innovative way.

In the evaluation of the project, CEPNET was shown to offer the opportunity to rethink school – to put students first in their diversity and to focus on their interests. Students were empowered, increased their cognitive and emotional skills, and broadened their attitudes. The children worked on a wide variety of UN SDGs, but it could have been any other topic, such as a focus on children’s rights, entrepreneurship, citizen science, or digitization. The topics are not in the foreground – the focus is on the structural anchoring of the model to empower children in school. For the educators, this model means that they take a back seat and change their classic function of imparting knowledge in favor of a role as coach for the children.

This requires trust in the children and has proven successful in CEPNET: The students have enjoyed conducting their research and the high number of educators who will integrate the model into their regular teaching practice demonstrates its didactic benefits. In this way, CEPNET is spreading its circles into families, as evidenced by one parent’s high regard for the students’ research findings: “An amaing day where you could clearly see the hard work and efforts of both the adults and the children.z” Moreover, CEPNET did not stop at the school or family level, but extends to communities and also to the government level.