This cartoon from xkcd is getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere and rightly so--
I almost hate to sully its purity with commentary, but hey, that's how I roll. This particular cartoon is titled, "How It Works." The strip is, I'm happy to say, written by a man--it's nice to feel that someone gets it!
Because this is how prejudice works. And women and minorities know it, too, which means that often we know we're representing not only our own abilities, but those of our entire group. That, my friends, is pressure. And it's why it can be so hard for us, in school or work, to take chances, to push ourselves beyond the comfort level of our abilities, to dare to make mistakes. And without risking failure from time to time, you can't learn.
If you're a teacher or a manager, try to set up an environment where everyone feels free to extend themselves, to risk failure without shame. (Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson has done some terrific work on creating psychologically safe workplaces; here's a link to some user-friendly interviews with and articles about her.) If you are a minority in your discipline or profession, be willing to fight back, explicitly, against the notion that your own mistakes represent systemic inabilities of your entire group--which may require you to do a little inner work to divest yourself of that notion, as well.
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