Women, leadership, & the curious case of Dr Grey

SurgeonWhen I ran a leadership training program for women in the UK, I used to tell this story. I was living in Bristol at the time, close to the M4 Motorway.

One day, there was a terrible single vehicle rollover. There were two occupants of the vehicle, a father and son. Tragically, the father died at the scene. The son had life-threatening injuries and needed immediate surgery. He was rushed by ambulance to hospital, and the local surgeon, Dr Grey, was called.

When the ambulance arrived at the hospital Dr Grey said “I can’t operate on that man. That man is my son”.

Given that the man’s father was killed in the accident, how can this be?

 

Think about this for a minute, or scroll down for the answer.

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The answer, of course, is that the surgeon was his mother.

This exercise demonstrates the importance of language and stereotypes. Even when I delivered this story to a room full of women, all of whom were intelligent, educated, and interested in gender equity it was rare that even one of them would get the answer straight away.

If we want to help our staff reach their full potential, we first need to create an organisational culture that permits them to see their full potential.

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