Some of the research on gender-bias in hiring proposes that if an occupation is traditionally associated with one sex, it becomes difficult for hiring managers to imagine “the competent incumbent” in the form of the other under-represented sex. As the gender gap gets closed in that occupation (and I seem to recall the inflection point is somewhere around 30% or more of incumbents being the “nontraditional” sex), it becomes easier for hiring managers to imagine the competent incumbent in the form of either sex…because they’ve seen it enough times already. The applicant gets compared against that broader more inclusive template, and gets hired or not, based on THAT comparison, rather than simply being the “wrong sex”.
I harbour a belief that a small portion of what got President Obama elected the first time out was Dennis Haysbert’s role on the first few seasons of 24. There had likely been other occasions when the POTUS was depicted as non-Caucasian, but these would have been brief one-offs, in films or single episodes of shows. Dennis Haysbert brought his own brand of dignity to the role, and the character was certainly drawn as one with integrity and competence. But more importantly, the fact that he was regularly seen in the role for several seasons, making a variety of decisions on important matters, again and again, made it seem all that much more “normal” for someone different to be in the position. I think he helped to make it much less jarring for people to anticipate that change, by being to imagine the “competent incumbent” in more diverse forms. Obviously, Pres. Obama and his campaign had to carry the ball the rest of the way downfield, but as long as I’m using sports metaphors, I think 24 lowered the hurdles by an inch or so.
And yes, in the pantheons of people you’d vote for in a heartbeat, “Get…off…my…plane!!” wins hands down every time. 🙂