“Brilliance is neither a fashion or a style; a trend or an ambience! It’s an awakening of our luminous ingenuity.” – Jasmina Siderovski
I recently read an article in Science, published on January 16, 2015, describing research conducted by a psychologist at the University of Illinois (Andrei Cimpian) and a philosopher at Princeton University (Sarah-Jane Leslie) regarding the under-representation of women in academia. According to the study, this under-representation can be explained based on the stereotype that women lack “natural brilliance.”
Unclear as to exactly what constitutes “natural brilliance,” I turned to Google for help. The result of my searching was a multitude of results describing a variety of multi-step programs promising to alter my life from “feeling stuck” to “achieving success.” Not satisfied, I turned to the Merriam-Webster dictionary which defines “brilliance” as the “quality or state of being brilliant.” “Brilliant” is defined as “very bright,” “striking,” “distinctive” and “distinguished by unusual mental keenness or alertness.”
According to the Cimpian and Leslie study, 1,820 faculty, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students, men and women from 30 disciplines from nine high-profile public and private universities were surveyed nationwide. The researchers measured academics’ belief that success in their respective disciplines depended on “raw” brilliance. The researchers concluded that what they called “field-specific ability beliefs” ultimately put women at a disadvantage because of the stereotype that women lack innate intellectual talent or ability.
According to Ms. Leslie, this emphasis on brilliance existed almost as a “secret password” that obscured the value of other traits such as hard work, passion, dedication or diligence. The researchers also found that the more a discipline emphasized the importance of “raw” brilliance rather than hard work and dedication, the lower the number of women earning doctorates in that discipline. Women obtaining doctorates in molecular biology and physics was used as an example. In molecular biology, where hard work is viewed as an important component of success, women earned approximately 50 percent of all Ph.D.’s in 2011. Compare that with physics, where “raw” brilliance is viewed as a much more important component of success (than molecular biology), and women earned less than 20 percent of all Ph.D’s during the same time period. According to Ms. Leslie, “Statistically speaking, we found a highly significant correlation between ‘brilliance required’ outlooks and women’s representation across the totality of 30 disciplines.” Interestingly, the researchers did not find any relationship between gender representation and how hard it is to get into graduate school in the field. Specifically, Ms. Leslie noted that “the issue doesn’t lie with women’s aptitude, but rather with the ‘brilliance required’ attitude.”
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, said that the results of the Cimpian and Leslie study were a clear call to action. Specifically, she noted that the study addresses why mindsets are linked to representation: fields that emphasize brilliance rate women as less suitable for high-level work in their field, and they rate their fields as less welcoming to women.
So, do women lack “natural” or “raw” brilliance? Absolutely not. While the Cimpian and Leslie study highlights why it is important to emphasize the value of traits such as hard work, passion, dedication and diligence, we as women must do more. We must own our own brilliance, bring it to the world and strive to tear down the stereotype that we lack “natural” or “raw” brilliance. So, here are some suggestions for owning your own brilliance:
- Be confident, and don’t be afraid to let your confidence show. Believe in yourself, stand up and be a leader. Speak up, and share your voice.
- Dream the life you want, and build it. Make a pact with yourself to be your own supportive friend during your journey.
- Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks, and develop thick skin. Accept that there will be wins and losses, praise and pans. Work on letting go the need to be liked.
- Be humble, and be open for guidance. Gather feedback, and advice and use your wisdom to decide, which advice to accept and discard.
Accept and acknowledge your own brilliance. Stop waiting for others to tell you how great you are. Believe it for yourself and about yourself. – Iyanla Vanzant
This post was written by Lisa Mueller.