Why Gender Research Matters Now More Than Ever

Seeing through the surface. This is the driving force behind the cutting-edge gender research of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. In an age of information overload punctuated by “alternative facts” and “fake news,” we know that the solutions to our most pressing societal problems are not remedied by the single act of a shattered glass ceiling when so much lies beneath. Our expert researchers look through the glass with a gender lens to expose gaps in our knowledge, identify the root causes of barriers to women's advancement, and propose workable solutions.

Utilizing a gender lens enables our research teams to uncover meaningful new insights in the effort to advance gender equality. In one research project, engagement survey results showed that women were dissatisfied with the transparency of promotion decisions—and, meaningfully, men felt a similar dissatisfaction. The research project uncovered a lack of clarity in the criteria for advancement, and the company initiated a project to clarify criteria for leadership and promotion. Thus, a gender lens not only uncovered the ways implicit and explicit biases limit women’s advancement in organizations but also revealed ways to improve the organizational processes overall so that all employees are more apt to thrive. The first step in diagnosing the problem is seeing the problem. As Clayman Institute Director Shelley J. Correll explains, “We have to help people first see biases. . . because until they see how stereotypes work, they are not going to be aware of how biases can affect their judgement. These stereotypes affect all our judgements—women’s as well as men’s.” Making invisible systems of discrimination visible is the first step in addressing gender inequality. “Seeing, and then blocking, bias is key,” Correll added.

Since its founding in 1974, the Clayman Institute has examined many societal issues through a gender lens, from how life longevity affects women differently than men and can help reimagine women's work-life balance, to how the "motherhood penalty" hinders women's career success. Today, we continue to ask the most complex and critical questions affecting women’s lives in our research: How do we break the culture of sexual assault? How do we move beyond bias? How do we understand why misogyny persists? And how do we examine gender inequities through an intersectional framework that encompasses the lived realities of all women?

An intersectional gender lens shines the light on the voices and perspectives that have been historically overlooked and marginalized in discussions of gender. This particular lens fosters both more comprehensive research on gender discrimination and more inclusive pathways for evidence-based solutions. Expanding our gender lens beyond whiteness enables us to see the world more fully and to better account for diversity in race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability and economic status among women. This was the critical message imparted by legal and critical race scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who delivered our most recent Jing Lyman lecture in November. Only through intersectional frameworks of research and analysis will we be able to eradicate the cycle of exclusion and invisibility of women of color in order to offer innovative research that addresses the inequities faced by all women. 

Through a gender lens, the Clayman Institute helps people to see what they are looking at.

Some definitions to help you see:

Bias: An error in evaluating performance, skill or potential. In evaluating performance, bias leads to lower assessments for some and more lenient ones for others—despite the same qualifications and level of accomplishment (Steinpreis, Anders, Ritzke 1999).

Gender Lens: A conceptual aid that allows us to see the structural workings of gender, and helps to bring gender discrimination and oppression into focus in order to facilitate the creation of solutions to gender-based social inequalities.

Intersectionality: A black feminist framework of analysis, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, that exposes the interlocking systems of oppressions that often marginalize and erase women of color from singularly-focused discussions about gender or race, when, in fact, “race and gender are not mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis” (Crenshaw 1989).

Stereotypes: Generalized and widely-known beliefs about categories of people. In many male-dominated fields like technology and finance, or roles like leadership, stereotypes are male-advantaging. Men are more easily seen as a good fit and good performer in those areas, whereas women get more scrutiny of their qualifications and suitability (Steinpreis, Anders, Ritzke 1999).