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Men are seen as experts more often than their women counterparts — and it’s time to break those gender biases.

April 7, 2024
Diversity & Inclusion

I once sat next to a senior executive at a lunch during a conference and chatted with him about the subject of the research I do as a communication professor. He immediately began quoting a piece about the topic that he had just read in The New York Times – which I had written myself. The possibility that I was the author didn’t seem to have occurred to this man when I had told him my area of expertise was this exact topic.

The problem, of course, is that when people in our society picture experts, they often think of (white) men.

I heard this complaint endlessly when I interviewed women across the country about their experiences using social media for my new book, Over the Influence: Why Social Media is Toxic for Women and Girls – And How We Can Take It Back. These women often told me something I have experienced myself: When they posted about topics related to their professional expertise on social media, their posts got little engagement; yet when men in their fields posted about the very same thing, they seemed to get a lot of reposts.

Research backs my findings up: When women use social networks to advance their professional careers, they often end up with fewer followers, reposts and resulting opportunities than the men in their fields. Why? In Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, Cornell philosopher Kate Manne writes that often men are considered to be the ones in possession of knowledge in our society. Too often, women simply aren’t seen as experts.

This can help explain why, when people are looking for a professional — whether they need to hire someone, want to follow people on social media to learn more about a topic or are making an appointment to see a doctor — they so often turn to men. To overcome this implicit bias, women’s knowledge needs to be given greater visibility in our society. If people were constantly reminded of women’s wisdom and accomplishments, eventually, they would come to see women as experts, and would therefore turn to women for their expertise more.

All of us can help make this happen. Women who are experts in our fields should recognize that the more we can share our knowledge publicly — whether it’s giving a talk at the local library or writing an op-ed about important work we are doing — the more we can help reshape these perceptions. Serving as a guest speaker in schools, from elementary schools to graduate classes, is another great way of making our knowledge visible. We should also post regularly about our work on social media and emphasize its value to society, so people can see the important contributions we are making.

We can all also help by following more women on social media and sharing the posts of women more. To help us get started, I’ve posted a list of “feminists to follow” on my website. They are a diverse group of women doing amazing things in many different fields. The database SheSource, created by the Women’s Media Center, is also a good resource for finding women experts in many different areas.

What’s more, we should try to boost other women in our professions, such as by nominating them for awards or writing Wikipedia bios about them, so their knowledge becomes visible to others outside our fields. One woman I profiled in my book, Jess Wade, has created Wikipedia pages for over 1,800 women and minorities working in science and engineering. She told me that simply having a Wikipedia page can be “transformative” to women’s careers, because it allows people to find them when they’re looking for nominees for things like awards and fellowships.

Employers also have an important role to play. Companies should book women staffers for media interviews and speaking engagements and share their expertise on their official social media channels. They should feature the work women are doing on their websites and ask women to handle public-facing activities like earnings calls with investors and congressional testimony.

Employers should also make it easier for women to attain leadership roles, such as by ensuring that people at all levels of their organizations can achieve work-life balance. As I’ve warned before, the expectation for executives to overwork is one of the major factors that holds women back in our careers, because so many of us need to balance our jobs with major caregiving responsibilities. They can do this by not expecting executives to be available 24/7 (economist Claudia Goldin’s work demonstrates the value of having professionals like lawyers and accountants take turns being “on call” for client emergencies). Chief executives should also model the expectation for staffers to take time off for things like family vacations and children’s sick days by doing so themselves.

Our society’s tendency to look to men for expertise is one of the things that holds women back in our careers. But we can all help give women’s knowledge and accomplishments greater visibility, which will cause people of all genders to view women as experts and turn to women for expertise more.

By Kara Alaimo


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