You probably saw the commercial during the Super Bowl. You know – the one that shows an interviewer asking both young women and men what it means to do something “like a girl.” The youngest children (under 10 years old) think little to nothing of this phrase. One girl states that “run like a girl” means “run as fast as you can.” But the older the age of the children and young adults responding – the more weight is carried by the statement to do something “like a girl.” The older children in the commercial describe “like a girl” as an insult. What changes during the progression of childhood? What are we teaching our children about girls and women? How are they learning to perceive “like a girl” as a way to insult someone?
These same perceptions are also in the workplace. We know that women are paid less than men who have comparable job titles and responsibilities. We view women in leadership roles critically (“she must be aggressive,” “she must not have a family”) and hold them to standards that are higher than those set for men. Why are we perpetuating this double standard? How can we shift perception so it’s more accurate and equal?
Jodi Detjen challenges us to start with ourselves. Recognizing our own perceptions and the assumptions we all carry with us. The first step “we can do as women is we can observe when one of these assumptions shows up.” In the extended version of the commercial online – the young women are confronted with their interpretations of running like a girl – they pause. And they realize they automatically thought to run like a girl was to be weak, ditzy and goofy. Their assumption was that anything “done like a girl” was a derogatory term. Girls aren’t fast. Girls aren’t strong. Girls are not able or capable. So now that the young women are aware of what they were doing and how they were presenting their gender – they are asked a second time to run like a girl. They run fast, and strong, and run like themselves. Helping these young women recognize their assumptions changes their behavior and perception.
So what can we do at work to make positive changes in our behavior and perception? Jodi Detjen encourages everyone in the workplace to reframe our assumptions. We don’t need to rely on existing biases. Managers, HR, employees, we can all make positive changes. “So if a woman says, oh, I’m not ready for that promotion, a manager can say, actually, I think you are ready for that promotion. You’re perfectly capable of it. I know you’re going to shine.” Within organizations we can start to use language that shows confidence, trust, and the strength of women’s abilities. Changing perceptions will require openness to see and understand things in new ways. Reframing our assumptions will get us closer to a workplace where running like a girl means “can you keep up”?
The ideas for this blog post came from a recorded webinar with Jodi Detjen. See how women can break the cycle and claim success at home and at work. Watch it now.
Lynn Gallin is senior product.marketing manager at Skillsoft.
 Conversations in Leadership Jodi Detjen for Skillsoft® 2015.