Test behaviour expectations with gender role reversal

Apply a gender role reversal test to manage assumptions around gender behaviour expectations


If we imagine men and women in interchangeable roles – we can see how ridiculous our dual standards are around behaviour for both sexes

I was on the Tube in London a few weeks ago travelling from one smart part of the city to another. A man got on the train somewhat the worse for wear. He had been to Ascot and had won on Out Do (25-1) in the Wokingham Stakes. His pink, silk expensive looking tie was askew and he had some dodgy looking stains on his branded shirt, which was hanging out over his bum. How do I know about his win and diary details? Because (and I quote) he had just had “the best f!§ing day ever and was smashed out of his f$!§ing brains.” No kidding. He talked loudly and incoherently into his mobile phone until he fell off the train dropping his wallet in the process. A woman picked it up and returned it to him with an indulgent smile, the type reserved for small and wayward children. We then walked past a man peeing against a station wall. I couldn’t help but think what would happen if we had a gender role reversal and it was women behaving this badly?

Tracey Ullman captures this brilliantly in the clip “What were you wearing?” in her own take of gender role reversal.

Flip it to test it

Kristin Pressner also recommends the same process with the “flip it to test it” nudge to get us to examine our deeply ingrained biases. Take time to watch her TedX talk.

Gender role reversal on behaviour

Gender role reversal is the same process as “flip it to test it”,  but extended by one step and applied to behaviour. If we follow through and role reverse the protagonists, what does the situation look like? If something looks inappropriate when a man experiences certain treatment, why should it be any different for a woman? When 3Plus polled men about illegal interview questions, they to a man said they would refuse to answer.  If women behaving badly produces a negative reaction why should it be acceptable and indulged when men act in the same way?

McKinsey have produced a video that also acts out gender role reversal,  so that we see the reactions of men to what are daily experiences for women. It looks really odd.

Read: Time to address unconscious  bias in HR

Calling it for what it is

The founder of Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist firm 500 Startups resigned following sexual harassment claims by several women. Dave McClure announced his resignation in a blog entitled: “I’m a creep. I’m sorry.”

He’s actually not a creep. He’s a predatory sexual harasser.

If a woman behaved in this way she would be called all manner of impolite things.

Read: Subtle sexism. Not so subtle any more. 

We talk about creating a gender balanced working culture as protecting the “human rights” of women. Can you imagine this gender role reversal if we told men that even if they have the same experience as women they will earn 20% less, be promoted less frequently and then only to a certain level and 90% of them will subject to sexism in the workplace. What do you think their reaction would be?


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3Plus, 3Plus online e-Gazine for professional women, Gender Balance
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Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.

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