Gender, Racial Prejudice Hinders Teen Leadership
by Claire W.
Team captain. Club president. Community advocate. As teens begin to explore and discover their interests, they may encounter a drive to lead. Importantly, as a hallmark of middle and high school academic careers, students strive to create change in the communities. Systemic and internalized prejudice, even at the middle and high school levels, however, present exasperating boundaries for female and minority teens aspiring to student leadership.
In “Leaning Out: Teen Girls and Leadership Biases”, a study published through The Harvard Making Caring Common Project, authors Richard Weissbourd and others shared various statistics to highlight both the progress made against gender leadership bias as a society thus far and the hurdles still left to leap. The examination, surveying over 19,000 students across middle and high schools, indicates teen and parent bias against female leaders based solely on gender. Consider that nearly 25% of teenage girls and 40% of teenage boys indicated a preference for male political leaders, and about 50% of both groups of respondents favored females in professions characterized by traditional gender roles, such as child care directors. Further, students and parents were 59% more likely to support councils headed by white boys as opposed to white girls. Meanwhile, racial bias remains prevalent in the study; Leaning Out points to awareness to explain responses to discrimination in different schools. White students who reported racial prejudice in their schools were more likely to support African-American and Latino student councils in the scenario.
Clearly, change is necessary to empower female and minority students and alter molds perpetuated by society. The project offers a few solutions:
- Be aware of internalized bias.
- Challenge perspective of traditional gender roles.
- Encourage programs and services (like MissHeard!) to empower young leaders.
Ultimately, combatting biases in the present will create a more open-minded future.
The original Harvard report can be viewed here.