Do you fall into the self-exclusion trap?

by | Dec 8, 2017

The limitations that come from self-exclusion

It is often difficult to put yourself forward, but self-exclusion is a damaging habit that goes far deeper than we might expect.

These days education and job opportunities may seem equal, regardless of gender, in most of the developed world. But there is another informal influence that impacts our decisions and goals and might be limiting us in our careers.


Self-exclusion occurs subconsciously. It stems from ingrained notions of the status quo based on gender, social standing, ethnicity or other biases and exepctations around behaviour. There are certain spheres that we inherently think of as more suited to a specific demographic. If we don’t fit that demographic then it’s probable that we won’t even consider ourselves for that vocation. But mostly these thoughts are societal rather than intrinsic. Women don’t necessarily naturally prefer administrative roles for example, but the sphere ends up being female dominated. It is very open to women, it’s offered to women and they therefore feel comfortable there, where men may not. Similarly, men aren’t necessarily the best leaders. However, they have grown up seeing other men take the lead in companies and politics, and so follow the same pattern. These kind of trends perpetuate a gendered status quo, slowing change and gender diversification.

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This is something that begins in childhood with gender coded expectations. Girls are often given colouring pencils and dolls, where boys are given K'nex and Lego. When it comes to choosing subjects at school or university, you can see why more girls tend to gravitate towards arts and humanities subjects and more boys towards sciences or engineering.

Self-exclusion at leadership level

Politics is another good example. In her book Honourable Friends, UK Green Party MP Caroline Lucas discusses how women tend to exclude themselves from pursuing careers in politics. They look at MPs on the television, all middle aged men in suits, and they imagine they wouldn’t fit into that sphere or enjoy being there. She discusses how her male political peers have argued along the lines of 'but women don’t want these roles, they don’t apply for them'. On the surface this may be true, but ultimately this relates back to both self-exclusion and not feeling included. As soon as you start to diversify the sphere, such as having significant numbers of female MPs appearing in debates, women can begin imagining themselves in those roles and are more likely to put themselves forward.

This shows that one of the most effective ways to kick-start gender diversification is for people in power to start including others. The UK having a female Prime Minister is obviously a great step forwards on gender diversification in politics. But now Theresa May is in power she needs to push women’s issues and try to pave the way for including other women too. In the UK , only 22% of board members in companies are female. It is important that the females that are in these positions include and reach out to other women too who might be excluding themselves without realising.

We should all aim to push for diversity. This could be putting yourself forward for a role you might not have considered, or including someone who may feel excluded by hiring them or suggesting them for a new sphere.

Don't let this unconscious bias and sexism slide in your company.

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Hanna Greeman Contributor
Hanna is a languages and logistics specialist. She is currently living in Australia working as a freelance writer.

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