Last week in our Monday morning status meeting, we discussed how Kraft Heinz (one of the companies we follow as part of a consumer packaged goods-focused team) had just announced the promotion of a new 29-year-old CFO, David Knopf.
Our responses were surprise, laughter, dismay and some jealousy when comparing this young go-getter to our own career realities. But the more I thought about it, I started to get angry. I couldn’t picture any company the size of Kraft Heinz EVER giving a 29-year-old woman this type of responsibility and chance.
Why do we automatically assume Knopf must be some sort of prodigy or a financial genius, but if a woman was promoted to the same position, we’d be critical? The media would ask, “Is she a die-hard workhorse who put in long hours and has no life?” or worse, “Who did she sleep with to get to the top?”
The Genius Gender Gap
This friction can be described by a phenomenon called the “Genius Gender Gap.” As reported by Fast Company, 90 percent of respondents in a survey believed that geniuses tended to be male (including 87 percent of women surveyed). Women are less likely to even want to be geniuses, themselves.
The survey also showed people are most interested in being a genius in the areas of science, technology and math — fields that tend to idolize brilliance. According to a study done at the University of Illinois, people who work in “genius fields” that place emphasis on innate ability may doubt women actually have this ability.
Take Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series, for example, says a professor who worked on the study. “It’s very clear her intellectual accomplishments are grounded in long hours pouring over spell books rather than innate talent.”
Sounds familiar to me. I remember a male high school friend explaining he had “natural test-taking abilities” and I just “worked hard.” Whatever. I scored better on the SAT than him and got better grades.
What To Do
Hopefully Knopf is a “genius”, but it’s clear that this gap is an issue. Some ways to fix it:
- Applaud hard work and dedication for both men and women over perceived innate abilities.
- Encourage creative thinking in all areas, not just tangible results in STEM.
- Be aware of your unconscious bias towards women, especially in “genius fields.”