At the bottom of a box filled with old toys I found a doll that made me stop and think. This slim plastic gal with perfectly straight blond hair was over twenty five years old and looking good. You all know her, it is that ever popular Barbie.

This one was programmed to say, "Math class is tough."

At first I wanted to give this Barbie to my ten year old granddaughter who, interestingly, is not a fan of math class.

Then I hesitated.

Would I just be supporting her predisposition and give her an out? After all, if Barbie hated math, well then it was OK for her, right? Or would it just be a fun toy of yesteryear to smile at?

Back into today, I heard the ping of my smart phone. There was a text message about a new study from Harvard Graduate School of Education released on July 28, 2015 stating that many teen girls, teen boys and their parents have biases against girls as leaders.

How much has really changed?

The study based on a survey of almost 20,000 students suggests we have a long way to go. There is still a preference for boy leaders and only 8% of the girls preferred a female in charge. The study also talks about the competition girls feel with each other. Remember the film Mean Girls? And while women are breaking barriers (a shout out to Dr. Jen Welter who is the first assistant NFL coach for the Arizona Cardinals) other barriers are still to be overcome.

In an interview about the survey on Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos asked the important question about how to break these gender stereotype patterns.

What do we do now?

It is time to deepen the discussion. Time to get parents talking. Time to get leaders at work talking. Time to dig down into that dark realm where our unconscious biases reside and bring them into the light of day and transform them.

From the day you were born, actually even before conception, there are beliefs and stereotypes attached to your gender. For eons boy babies have been prized over their girl counterparts. Boys' strength was more needed for the manual work of the world and for a very long time the basic idea was that biology is destiny.

How has the world changed? Is there really a more even playing field?

It starts with YOU.

Think about how you were welcomed into the world and what expectations were already handed to you before your first cry for attention. Thinking about your own biases is a major key to helping close the gender gap.

It will take all of us to look at the outdated behavior patterns of the past and bring new ideas and ways of relating into the present. When I did research for my book GUTSY: How Women Leaders Make Change I was amazed at how many opportunities now exist for gender equity and yet the attitudes have not kept pace.

As Madame Marie Curie stated, "You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals."

Action tips for today:

  • Words matter. Consider how the role(s) you played in your family impacted your gender development. Examples: smart one, social one, strong one, funny one, compliant one, adventurous one, rebellious one.
  • Thoughts matter. How do you praise a child? Is it physical looks or skills? Do girls get more appreciation about being pretty and boys about how they play the game?
  • Actions matter: Stop into a toy store and browse for just a few minutes and notice what your inclination is to buy for a boy or a girl. Then watch this video of little Riley.

When you transform your attitude and your language you level the field. Then there are so many more positive options. Think of it this way: When females are encouraged to be more daring it gives males the room to be more caring. Daring plus caring equals sharing–the best formula for gender equality.

Published on: Jul 31, 2015
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