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05Jul

The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Sieghart review – mocked, patronised and still paid less than men

Drawing on a wealth of research, Sieghart explores the unconscious bias that belittles and undermines half the population from infancy – and how it can be overcome

Some years ago, Mary Ann Sieghart found herself at a dinner seated next to a banker, who asked what she did. She listed her impressive portfolio career – political columnist, former associate editor of the Times, broadcaster, chair of a thinktank. “Wow, you’re a busy little girl!” he responded. She was 50.

This is one of numerous depressing examples related by successful women of what Seighart calls “the authority gap” – the way women are belittled, undermined, questioned, mocked, talked over and generally not taken seriously in public and professional life. The gender pay gap, obviously a related issue, is by now a well-documented and measurable phenomenon, so much so that it is marked by equal pay day, symbolising the point in the year when women effectively stop earning relative to men. The authority gap is more insidious and harder to calculate because, as Sieghart shows, so much of it is down to unconscious bias. Even more depressingly, women can be just as guilty of this bias in favour of male authority, because it is ingrained from what we see modelled to us in our own families and the prevailing culture from childhood.

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