The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Terie Norelli: Gender and Leadership in the Workplace

Terie Norelli

Terie Norelli, President and CEO of the NH Women’s Foundation, was a guest speaker at the RLF winter retreat.

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During the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows Winter Retreat, on January 8, 2016, fellows had the unique opportunity to explore the impact of gender and leadership in the workplace with President and CEO of the NH Women’s Foundation, Terie Norelli.

Norelli’s session at the retreat was a powerful reminder of the influence that subconscious bias has in our every day interactions, despite our best efforts to eradicate it from our behavior. Prior to the retreat, Norelli encouraged all of the fellows to take an implicit bias test designed by researchers at Harvard University. Many of us, including myself, were surprised to discover that we had subconscious associations of women with family and men with career. I found this particularly fascinating in our group, given our presumed desire for egalitarian ethics within our organizations.

The test sparked a sincere discussion of how we should respond to this subconscious bias and the many ways it can manifest itself in our perceptions. If I did not think that subconscious bias played an influence before, then I certainly did after following the presentation of two resumes, one from a man and one from a woman. Half of our group was given the male resume and the other half was given the female resume. When asked for our perceptions of the female resume, the conversation lingered more on her interpersonal skills and life choices, whereas when we discussed the male’s resume, the conversation focused more on his attributes as an effective worker and leader. We soon learned, though, that the two resumes were the same.

This experience stands as a stark warning against the idea that our organizations are purely meritocratic, even when we think they are. As leaders, I believe that we should actively be aware of how certain biases can deprive our organizations of those most deserving or those who might contribute most.

Norelli, who is currently serving as the Perkins Bass Distinguished Visitor for the 2015-2016 academic year, will return to campus in February to deliver the Perkins Bass public lecture. 

-Written by Anthony Lafontant '16, Rockefeller Leadership Fellow

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences