Tonight will decide the winner of this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year. You might think that with a 27-strong jury, the list would be a fair reflection of Britain's greatest sporting talent. However, the absence of any women on the list has already raised eyebrows and findings from research I have just conducted points a finger at the culprit. Men's obsession with men.
The shortlist was compiled by 27 all-male sports editors from magazines and daily and Sunday newspapers and there is no mention here of the likes of World 800m swimming champion Rebecca Adlington, Jessica Ennis or Sarah Stevenson. The research I have just conducted with Dr Gabor Horvath, Senior Lecturer in International Business and Marketing of the University of Glamorgan Business School, shows how little women feature in men's minds and, in this sense, how unlikely any alternative result will be.
Our research? We asked 481 men and women in the UK, Germany, France, Hungary and China to draw a person and then looked at the genders of the person drawn. There is a massive tendency for men to draw other men with this tendency greatly exceeding women's tendency to draw women. Since the act of drawing has been interpreted as an act of self-projection, or focus on an area of priority, the results show the extent to which men are obsessed with themselves or other men. This focus is particularly pronounced in Germany and China where 79% and 82%, respectively, of men drew men with only 3% of men's drawings in Germany being of women and no men in China depicting women. In the UK, 73% of the men drew other men and just 6% of their drawings depicted women. If the figures for France are removed - for some reason a much lower proportion of men here draw men than elsewhere - then across the UK, Germany, Hungary and China, 75% of men's drawings show men with a tiny 4% of their drawings showing women.
What of women's reactions? Although they favour drawings of women, only 52% of women's drawings show women, with 19% of their drawings depicting men. So, women are considerably less obsessed with their own gender than men are with theirs.
The lessons for competitions like this are clear. People should understand that, with an all-male panel, this outcome was always likely. Similar problems occur in many organisations, where tendency to recruit others in your own image often leads to a perpetuation of the male domination of organisations. This produces the glass ceiling - the invisible barrier to progress - that large proportions of women battle in organisations.
The solution? This lies in gaining a balance of men and women decision-makers. This is not always easy however since some sectors - professional service firms for example (accountancy, the law and management consultancy) are dominated by men with small proportions of women. Where competitions like the BBC Sports Personality of the Year are concerned, finding equal proportions of male and female sports editors could also be difficult. Perhaps the panel should be reminded in future that they are expected to nominate women too, rather than being left to their own devices. A more radical solution would be to impose a quota to counterbalance men's natural tendency to follow their bias in favour of men.
The lessons from this research? Had the decision been left to women, they are much more likely to have come up with a mixed gender shortlist, so perhaps the moral is to have a combined jury with equal proportions of men and women, or slightly more women than men."
Dr Gloria Moss, Reader in Human Resources at Buckinghamshire New University, is the author of seventy refereed journal articles and conference papers, and three books, examining the effects of unconscious bias on leadership decisions as well as decisions in the areas of design and marketing. Her books 'Gender, Design and Marketing', 'Profiting from Diversity' and 'Lessons on Profiting from Diversity' are recommended for those seeking more information.
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