5 Tips for Rocking Entrepreneurial Work-Life Balance

work life balance

Many of us wonder about work-life balance and how to achieve it. And, even imagine rocking entrepreneurial work-life balance. I did a study on work-life balance with women and men. Equally, they wanted more work-life balance, but the differences were striking: Men who had partners and families were more satisfied in their career. Women who had partners and families were less satisfied. Single men, less satisfied in their career, single women were more satisfied.

This data makes sense to me and is backed up by a statistic Sheryl Sandberg cited in a speech given recently at Salesforce: Women still do two times the amount of housework men do, and three times the amount of childcare. If women have families and a job, they are working much more. For men, it seems it’s almost the opposite.

So what happens when women want it all?

I was chatting informally with one of my favorite people, and superstar entrepreneurs, Courtney Klein, recently. Courtney is Co-Founder and CEO of SEED SPOT, an organization designed to educate, accelerate, and invest in entrepreneurs who are creating solutions to social problems.

SEED SPOT ranks as one of the “Top 20 Accelerators in the World” by Gust and one of the “Top 3 social impact incubators in the United States” by UBI Global and Cisco. SEED SPOT also holds an Emmy for their partnership with Univision serving Latino entrepreneurs.

Courtney is incredibly professionally successful; she has a growing family–and is well-known nationally. I thought you’d find her take on the question of balancing it all as an entrepreneur helpful.

Melissa: “Courtney, you’ve said that women ask you regularly about running a company and having a family at the same time. What’s your answer?”

Courtney: “When I was pregnant with my first child, a mentor said, ‘The best thing you can do for your daughter is to be the best version of yourself.’

And, as a small human was kicking inside of me, I realized that being the best version of myself meant uniting my identities as a mom–and CEO. After 200 flights with my daughter before she turned two, while still learning, I have learned a lot.

I often traveled with a relative and had nannies able to be on-call in seven cities. My daughter sat on stages with me at big conferences, played on my lap while I was on calls, and attended board meetings in her stroller with her favorite toy in hand. The benefit to the daily juggling act was that we never spent a day apart.

The gift of being an entrepreneur is that you get to make your own rules. The challenge is that you often have to create a new norm – really, a new normal. 

Walking into a donor meeting with unrecognizable baby gunk on my sleeve was a common occurrence, but if I didn’t react, neither did they. If folks were shocked that my morning coffee was transported by stroller, I didn’t let it bother me, and they soon forgot about it as well. If my daughter cried and I walked out to nurse her, I simply explained that her hunger was of higher priority than anything else in the room.

This was the way it was; this was the way it was going to be. People accepted it.

There is no one-size-fits-all model. There is no scoring system for how to be a good mom, or a good entrepreneur, or both. But the opportunity we have is to carve our own path for what our identities look like together, not separate.”

Tip: Unite your identities instead of separating them 

Melissa: “There is so much we could learn from you about social entrepreneurship, founding a company, growing a business, but is there something specific female founders need to consider?”

Courtney: “The startup culture is still super patriarchal – if one statistic alone tells the story it is that less than 3 percent of venture capital goes to women. It’s even less for founders of color.

If entrepreneurs play into a patriarchal startup culture system – it will never change. At SEED SPOT we have a huge focus on diversity and inclusion, 49% of our alumni are female founders.

We owe it to our children, the next generation of innovators, to set a new narrative for what an equitable startup culture looks like.

And the new narrative of equitable startup culture must be led by entrepreneurs who don’t take the passing sexual comment as casual, slam those who ask for integrity in exchange for capital, and demand equal pay for themselves and those on their team.”

Tip: Make the new rules for what an equitable startup culture looks like 

Melissa: “My research has shown that men want work-life balance just as much as women but they don’t discuss it as openly. What’s your take on why men don’t seem to worry about ‘balancing it all’?”

Courtney: “I think that’s the predominant cultural narrative in America, but I don’t think it’s actually true. The desire to balance it all has nothing to do with gender; it has everything to do with choice.

If bucking norms makes you uncomfortable, you are going to have an impossible time as an entrepreneur. And if you conform to norms and succeed, it only perpetuates the problem and digs a deeper trench for future generations to climb out of.”

Tip: Get comfortable bucking the norms, the next generation needs to witness a new model

Melissa: “What are some of the unspoken issues that women don’t talk about openly when it comes to balancing personal and business life?” 

Courtney: “It saddens me how many women that want to have a family don’t for fear they can’t do it or will lose their identity if they do. As entrepreneurs, we have the unique advantage of sculpting our own identities. And that can make a difference not only in our own lives but in the lives of women everywhere.

Tip: Social modeling matters – share your tips, tricks and lessons learned.

And, as Courtney pointed out in our conversation, “Sometimes it’s about rocking the compression socks at 30,000 feet, or discreetly muting a conference call button while nursing, or juggling a network of nannies in cities across the country. And, other times it’s about dealing with someone who isn’t quite there in terms of understanding your identity as a female entrepreneur, or an entrepreneur/mom. Sometimes it’s about sharing a resource, or a network, or a hug.”

Tip: Don’t let fear defeat you. Reach out to those doing it for support. 

A version of this post was first published on Inc.com.

Photo: Austin Neill on Unsplash.

An Open Letter to Men in the Workplace

image-of-men-by-jose-hernandez-CC-2.0

Men,

With the recent events in the media, I can imagine you’re a little confused. I feel for you. How can you authentically and naturally interact with women without concern you’ll offend? What words can you use? What actions can you take?

What does it mean when a woman asks you for “support”?

There is professional protocol in business, and most of us do our best to follow that. However, men and women interact very differently—and most of the time we’re totally unaware of that. What happens when we unintentionally slight someone, offend or hurt them? Especially in the workplace.

Here is a list of things I’d like you to consider. How often do you:

  • Thank women regularly for their contribution.
  • Praise women for their competence and a job well-done.
  • Ask open questions to understand a problem, before offering a solution.
  • Say you’ll jump in and help on something.
  • Ask if anyone needs coffee or water before a meeting starts.
  • Refer to a female colleague in a meeting as a “go-to expert.”
  • Give credit in a public forum, “Susan had a great idea when we talked last.”
  • Use names when you’re speaking about or to women.
  • Ask questions, like, “I’d like to offer specific support, what can I do?”
  • Follow through with what you say you’re going to do.

If you’re doing all of these things, women in your organization most likely respect you and enjoy working with you. If you’re doing some of these things, you will be seen as harmless. If you’re doing none of them, I can guarantee women have a problem with you.

Luckily, I’m offering you a complimentary webinar full of “how-to’s” to keep you from making these mistakes, and better yet, to help you turn into a superstar team player that all women will want to work with and for.

The session will explain the differences in men and women’s communications styles. The meaning behind words like “support.” You’ll learn the secrets to advocating for your female colleagues, how to work in mixed teams most effectively, how to read non-verbal signs, and what to do when women are upset.

I guarantee you’ll improve your relationships with women in all aspects of your life and work.

With respect,

Melissa

To sign up for this session click here.

A version of this post was first published on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Jose Hernandez CC 2.0

Work-Life Balance is an Outdated Concept, So What Now?

Beach chairs on the evening sea coast.

Work-life balance became a buzzword a couple of decades ago. Everywhere you turned there were presentations, articles and self-proclaimed “experts” all promising to help the overworked find a better balance.

The thing is, I’m not so sure work and life are really separate concepts anymore.

More and more, work and life are intertwined, especially when working remotely, or traveling for work. And to increase engagement, more companies are making workplaces feel like “home.” “Work-Life Integration” is probably a more accurate term today, and people work every day to try to do this well. It isn’t as much a balancing act as it is an act of acceptance that balance doesn’t exist. Something will always have to give; your time in the office, your kid’s soccer game, time with your partner, or travel abroad. If you want successful work-life integration, you will need to sacrifice something.

Sure, there are still the no-holds-barred leaders out there whose commitment to work eclipses everything else and there are those who think that’s the way it has to be if you want to be successful. Some of these people might even be happy with their life this way, who are we to judge? Many experts today still proclaim it is possible to have it all. However, what exactly does “all” mean?

As leaders, we need to become aware of what’s important to us and the individuals in our team, we need to set an example, be a role model, and help them create the right situation and strategy for themselves. In my opinion, work-life integration is about setting boundaries. If you clarify what you want, create a plan, set boundaries, and manage it well, fulfillment in one’s personal and professional lives can easily be a reality.

It’s all about boundaries.

To achieve life balance, you have to set these boundaries both in your personal life and your work life. You’ll want to make deliberate decisions about what’s going to be the priority. And it has to go both ways to work out. At work, we often have to respond instantly to crises and sudden situations. Then again, sometimes your personal life is more important—your preschooler is in a theater production, a parent is diagnosed with an illness, or your eldest is graduating from law school.

The fact is, when a situation with enough importance emerges (in business or life), we make time. And you know what? The world doesn’t end. This just shows that having boundaries and stepping away is possible. Planning is key and with proper boundaries in place, it becomes easier to give attention to all areas of your life. (Nigel Marsh has a wonderful TedTalk on boundaries.)

Here are five steps to creating excellent work-life integration for yourself and your team. Share these steps with those you manage and hold a conversation about their relevance:

Define “balance.” First, you have to know what you want out of life, then you can create a clear plan to achieve those goals. If working a lot right now is important for your career growth, then that’s ok. If spending more time with your partner is a priority for your relationship, then do that. Maybe your kids need more or less attention at this point in their lives.

Communicate proactively. In some ways, this goes hand-in-hand with the above point. Talk to your family and significant other about what’s coming up on the calendar at work and speak with your team about what types of personal situations may require your attention no matter what. This can help avoid partner, manager or team resentment when various life or work events arise.

Know your own resilience level. You may be the type who can sleep little and work a lot. Or you might require eight hours and need to let your brain rest in between productive spurts of work. Maybe you burn out without regular vacation time or maybe work gives you so much energy, you don’t need many holidays. Listen to what your body and mind need and honor that.

Walk the talk. Don’t preach work-life integration and then send emails in the middle of the night, regularly stay late at the office, and text your team members at off hours. Managers are often unaware how their own behavior unintentionally sets the standard for the team. People may feel they have to respond in the middle of the night, stay late until the boss leaves, etc.

Introduce your personal life into your work life. Back in the day, talking about your personal life at work was a big no-no, but now those walls are coming down. You see more and more amusing family anecdotes or personal stop-and-think moments being integrated into presentations and speeches. The more you make your workplace feel like home (as much as your company will allow), the more balanced you’ll feel at work.

Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage says, “When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive.” The idea of work-life integration isn’t just corporate lip service anymore, but it isn’t really about having perfect balance either. It’s about creating an ideal situation for yourself – accepted at home and at work – so that you can thrive both personally and professionally.

For a workshop, webinar, or speaking engagement on How to Set Boundaries and Be Happier in Life and Work, contact Melissa.

A version of this post was first published here.

 

How to be a Good Ally to Women at Work

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As the #MeToo movement grows in strength, it seems there just might be a silver lining to the Harvey Weinstein scandal. We have a chance to change workplace culture. And one of the places to start is for men to understand the need to be a good ally to women.

The list of women who say they were harassed by film studio exec Harvey Weinstein is astonishing long–and growing by the day.  And sadly, much-admired men, like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Russell Crowe, are being criticized for standing by and allowing–or even aiding in–Weinstein’s cover-up.

This has precipitated an important discussion on just how many women in the workplace (and life) suffer in silence. And, I believe this discussion of these atrocities has a silver lining.

Through awareness and speaking out, we–men and women–now have an opportunity to change society and workplace culture for the better radically. Men, specifically, can be allies to women.

Men? Here are seven ways you can help.

1. Listen. Listen. LISTEN.

Have you ever been in a conversation where it seems like the other person isn’t getting the message you’re sending? They are on their phone or going completely off topic. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

We all need to work on our active listening skills–that is, those skills that help you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words a person is saying but try to understand the complete message being sent.

Repeat what’s being said. Ask clarifying questions. And, be patient even if the person could get to the point faster.

2. Learn how the other sex communicates.

Yes, it’s true. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus–at least in how we communicate. The sexes do it quite differently. For example, men have been socialized to take risks quicker. Many women need to formulate a plan and talk through their decisions to feel reassured before they leap.

If a female colleague is feeling uncertain about a decision or task, hear her out and reassure her.

3. Tell them a job well done.

It always feels good to hear when you’ve done something well, but this is especially true when you may feel subpar as compared to your male colleagues.

Call out your female team members’ good qualities. Tell them when they made a good point in a meeting or aced a presentation.

But, stay away from commenting on appearance or dress. That can be taken the wrong way!

4. Don’t underestimate.

2015 study found that one in three women have been sexually harassed. Now with allegations coming to light from scandals like Bill Cosby or Roger Ailes, this statistic is becoming more believable.

Don’t underestimate what women have gone through to get where they are. There’s a good chance they’ve been treated poorly just because of their sex.

Take them seriously and treat them as equals. And, understand that women may be suspicious of your behavior because of past treatment. Be aware of how you act and how it may be received.

5. Be inclusive.

Here’s a news flash. Not everyone likes to play golf.

Women might prefer to bond doing something else–a wine tasting or a 10k run, for instance. When planning an outing, think about if everyone will feel comfortable and included, but don’t assume. If you are going to play golf or any sport, be sure to invite your female counterparts, too.

6. Think before you ask.

There’s a salient point made in The Confidence Code about the difference in the way men and women ask for things–in that, many men see asking as being weak and instead make demands. But women view asking as a way to foster goodwill.

Men, bear this in mind. Use collaborative speak. Don’t forgo niceties. If you do, you’ll be seen as selfish and pompous–and far from being an ally.

7. Speak up.

Should you observe a woman being treated poorly, demeaned, or harassed in any way shape or form, support her. Encourage her to go to human resources.Offer to go with her and share what you’ve seen. Don’t be afraid to speak up and make your work environment one that is welcoming and inclusive. Be a good ally to women in your workplace.

If there is any positive to the atrocities that have come to light from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and all the others, it is that they are now in the open. We–men and women–are on the precipice to change what’s gone on for way too long.

If you need help with understanding how to be an ally for women, or if you are a woman who is interested in advancing her career, contact me.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Image: cafuego, CC 2.0 

Five Friday Highlights: Powerful Women and Leaning in Together

“Women are good for business” is the lead sentence in one of today’s highlighted articles. Of course they are! However, the path for powerful women (i.e., ALL women) to contribute their talents, energies, and intellect can still be rocky. This week, a look at the role of creativity in STEM education, and then a look at how creativity is being applied to open doors for women. To close things out, a post with thoughts on balance once the doors have been opened and the women are fully exerting their power in the workplace. What happens at home?

Much of my work is in technical industries, so I encounter women who utilize STEM skills routinely as part of their work. I agree with The Importance of Adding an “A” for Art + Design to the Famous Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Acronym in Sharp Heels. Young women (and men!) who are receiving a STEM-centric education still need to have their creativity nurtured and encouraged. As the article’s closing line states, “you can’t have science that truly means something to the mass of humanity if it lacks art, or art without some aspect of science.”

I was fascinated to read in Empowering Women Veteran Entrepreneurs from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) that the number of veteran women-owned businesses in the U.S. has increased by nearly 300% since 2007! The SBA’s efforts on behalf of women veteran entrepreneurs includes resources such as loan programs, technical assistance, and V-WISE (Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship), a three-phase program which “enables women veterans to find their passion and learn business-savvy skills to turn ideas or businesses into growth ventures.”

Why isn’t there more female participation in the workforce? asks Want Double-Digit Growth? Hire Women from Fortune Magazine. As the piece outlines, a report from Citi’s Global Perspectives and Solutions reveals two reasons: policies and the outcome of these restrictive policies. Take the time to read the report; its insights are thought-provoking.

“This new era of women’s leadership development is no longer about struggle but rather about focus and balance” claims Louise A. Korver for Talent Management in Best Practices for a Different Kind of Women’s Leadership. Of the seventeen suggested best practices, two that stand out to me are “focus on career development” and “get women on boards.” Which of the seventeen do you think would have the most impact? (Tweet me at @melissa_lamson1 to let me know!)

Even once we women put together the intelligence, strategy, and communication skills to contribute our substantial assets to the world, we still have “home.” After all that Leaning In, how do we create an equitable distribution of time and energy to those who matter most? As the people quoted in Mark Zuckerberg Posts Baby Picture to Encourage  Active, Loving Fathers from Mashable, perhaps the Lean In equation needs an addition: TOGETHER. Read the #LeanInTogether quotes from high-powered businesspeople and tell me what you think!

Once women are fully exerting their power at work, how can families #LeanInTogether at home? {TWEET THIS}

Image Credit: Fotolia Sergey Nivens

Five Friday Highlights: Gender Parity

Gender Parity

Were you involved in any International Women’s Day (IWD) observances earlier this month? This year’s observance included the #PledgeForParity campaign, which encouraged participants to put gender parity on the agenda on International Women’s Day and beyond. One of today’s featured articles was released specifically for IWD. The others weren’t targeted to the day of observance, but still address important issues of equity and parity.

On International Women’s Day, Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines published Equality is Not Just Women’s Business. Noting that “the World Economic Forum predicts that it will take until 2133 to achieve global gender parity,” Branson explained what his company is doing to make gender parity a reality. He wrote, “Business can and must do so much more to promote equality, respect and fairness. Removing barriers like discrimination and divisions is a necessity for business success. At Virgin, we have … created an environment where all people can thrive – because of who they are, not in spite of it.”

Every individual, female OR male, can make a difference for #GenderParity! ~ {TWEET THIS}

It was a bold statement for Shell United States to proclaim “a new era in supplier diversity openness and transparency has begun” when they introduced their new Shell Supplier Diversity website. Although supplier diversity is a different genre than gender or cultural diversity, by its nature it requires an organization to think differently and to set definitive goals for itself. Shell proclaims it will provide “a storehouse of information, both specific to the energy industry and more general and applicable to working with any multi-national.” It will be interesting to see what happens!

It’s important to note that the very definition of diversity varies depending on perspective. In Millennials Have a Different Definition of Diversity and Inclusion from Fast Company, Lydia Dishman analyzed the results of a study from Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative (BJKLI). Dishman summarized the authors’ advice to leaders: they should “remember that what brought diversity into their company isn’t the same as what it will take to support that talent.”

The Time-Consuming Activities That Stall Women’s Careers from the Harvard Business Review explained that women face a “triple whammy” when trying to find the right balance when managing their time commitments at home and work. The triple whammy includes housework, actual time at work, and the way they spend their time at the office. Most importantly, author Rebecca Shambaugh provided four steps women can take to allocate their time more effectively in order to advance professionally.

I was impressed with this article stating that a strategy will close the gender gap, not that it may close the gender gap! Kristy Wallace of Ellevate explained why senior management engagement is so critical. Creating an Employee Executive Board Will Close the Gender Gap in Business makes the case for a group different than a diversity “committee.” It recommends “an independent internal committee that convenes key stakeholders — the Corporate Board of Directors, senior leadership, clients and employees” — a board with sufficient executive authority to set corporate goals and dictate measures that can move organizations toward those goals.

Did you read something this week that gave you hope for gender parity? I would love to hear about it! Click here to email me with your recommendations!

Five Friday Highlights: Facing Inequity

While the world today is still unfair, especially for women, it is still possible to knock down walls and make progress. Today, five highlights about the specifics of facing inequity as well as strategies for supporting one another.

We will not be able to fully address gender inequality until we understand it. Take some time to delve into A CEO’s Guide to Gender Inequality from McKinsey & Company. I share the frustration of the authors, who ask “why is progress so slow?”.

In this analytically written yet personally candid post, Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks describes how Gender and Pay Inequality is Alive and Well in her professional world. Nothing quite helps illuminate inequity like details reinforced by facts and feelings.

One of the points Gini Dietrich made in her gender and pay inequality post, was ” there is nothing worse than another woman not supporting women.” In Career Restartup: Five Ways Women are Helping Each Other Get Back on Track, Betsey Guzior of BizWomen writes that “51 percent of working mothers — compared to 16 percent of working fathers — said they found it difficult to advance in their careers.” She proceeds to share five ways women who have taken extended leaves (such as parental leave) can re-enter the workforce successfully.

Although inequity still flourishes, we can help each other overcome it, one action at a time. {TWEET THIS}

Zooming out a bit from gender-based issues to general employee engagement concerns, I recommend The Role of Communication in Employee Experience and Employer Branding from Talent Culture. Nothing says it better than the second paragraph: “Clear workplace communication leads to team success.”

Lastly, this piece touches on my interests in communication, gender, and culture. If you have ever had to present to a multi-cultural audience, you may have discovered that what elicits hilarious laughter in the US may not have the same effect in Taipei! The suggestions in The Serious Business of Being Funny are excellent.

What have you read this week that made you think differently or laugh harder? Drop me a line at melissa@lamsonconsulting.com and let me know!

Image Credit: Fotolia Sergey Nivens

Three Ways Women Unintentionally Exclude Men

The other day I was in a meeting with a group of sales people. The conversation was energetic and lively with lots of great ideas bouncing around. I was watching this exchange and noticed something. Out of nearly a dozen people, there were only two men. And those men weren’t speaking much. Why? Because men and women communicate very differently.

The women in the room were having an open dialogue and effective interaction but their style unintentionally left the men out, causing them to shut down. Most likely, these women—and most others in the workplace—–aren’t aware that their natural tendencies can affect the feelings and participation of men. But being cognizant of these behaviors can help you be more inclusive.

Here are three ways women unintentionally exclude men in the workplace:

  1. Our communication patterns. Women are considered very collaborative so we tend to finish each other’s sentences and add onto each other’s points. We use a lot of filler words, words that are rooted in emotion such as “I feel,” or cheerlead, “Absolutely, great point!” Research has shown that we want to create a good environment, a sense of community and maintain positive relationships with the people in the room. Men, on the other hand, are more pragmatic and direct in their communication-style. It’s not that they don’t want a good atmosphere, but it isn’t quite as necessary. Women should consider giving more space and time for men to contribute to a conversation. We should aim to streamline our messages by dialing back the emotion or relationship-focused words. We don’t need to eradicate our style of communication but be aware and scale it back so everyone feels comfortable to participate.
  2. Competing with each other. Women want harmony—until competition enters the picture and then that harmony can break down in a bad way. While competition for men is viewed as natural and positive; for women, it’s widely seen as a negative force that can wreak havoc on the work environment. In my gender cooperation training, men have told me that they feel very uncomfortable when there’s competition between two women. For men, they can compete with a colleague, compartmentalize, and head out for a beer. For women, it’s a different story. Competition often erodes the effectiveness of the team and can even brew a toxic environment. If you see that competition is having a negative impact on the team, try to quickly resolve any conflict and move on. This way it won’t confuse men—and women—on the team and everyone can get back to working towards the same goal.
  3. Big thinking. When most women wake up in the morning, they’re thinking about the entire day ahead of them—all the way to bedtime. Men, on the other hand, often think about just the first twenty minutes. Does this ring true for you and your partner? Research backs it up. Mark Gungor has found that men and women’s brains work differently. His research has shown that women’s brains are more connected so when we’re thinking, more areas of the brain are involved. When we are considering a project at work, we think about its impact on all the stakeholders involved including ourselves and our professional and personal lives. Men, on the other hand, think linearly. Only one area of the brain is involved during thinking. (It’s important to note that a Stanford University study contradicts these findings and asserts that socialization is responsible for brain signaling). We can’t retrain our brains, but women can aim to be more present in the moment. We can try to shrink our decision-making process so that it does not encompass a multitude of aspects and angles—overwhelming both ourselves and our male colleagues. If we want to show the bigger picture to them, we should do so in a way that’s explicit—linearizing our multi-thinking process.

Women don’t need to entirely change who they are and how they do things in the workplace, but being more self-aware of how our behavior may impact the feelings and participation of our male counterparts and adapting our styles when appropriate, will help our working relationships.

In case you missed it, check out my LinkedIn article on ways men may behave sexist and how to avoid it.

Image Credit: Fotolia iofoto

10 Tips for Men to Communicate Better with Female Coworkers

Gender Cooperation Workshops

It may surprise you – as it did me –that there are still times when men have difficulty finding common ground with their female colleagues. There’s always work to talk about, right? But many men feel they can’t connect with women like they can with other guys, by inviting them for an after-work beer or talking about last night’s football game.

Often they’re afraid of their approach being misconstrued or that other colleagues might look askance on them for mentoring emerging female leaders. As a result, some professional relationships suffer and the team doesn’t work quite as efficiently as it could. Men and women both miss out on opportunities to build advantageous new connections in their industries.

If that sounds familiar, here are ten tips to help men connect with female colleagues:

  1. Be authentic in every interaction. Nothing creates “awkward” like a coworker who thinks you’re trying to be something you’re not.
  2. Listen. Ask more questions in conversations, and comment to show you’re engaged and interested.
  3. Identify topics to talk about – like world news, culture and industry trends – rather than relying on typical small talk about work and sports.
  4. Family is always a safe area. Parents love to talk about their kids and this can provide you with common ground to bond over.
  5. Don’t view attractive female colleagues as something to be avoided. Think of them as sisters or girls you grew up with and treat them like anyone else.
  6. Don’t worry about how you’re being perceived by others. Focus on learning from your coworkers and collaborating to create the best possible results.
  7. Come up with networking goals before conferences and events. For instance, decide you’re going to meet three new professionals in your industry and learn three specific facts about their background and current position.
  8. Praise coworkers on their professional abilities or share a technique that’s brought you success. Remember tip 2 – listen more than talk.
  9. Don’t stick to your clique at work. Attend some of the social team-building events to meet new coworkers at all levels and build genuine connections.
  10. Don’t assume your new female contact is less accomplished or educated, or needs your assistance. What you might view as “help” might be perceived as condescension. Get to know her background and treat her as a peer, not a subordinate.

Remember, most of your coworkers want to minimize awkward moments, too. Authentic and positive work relationships benefit everyone – and if you reach out to women in your workplace and industry in a respectful way, that’s exactly what you’ll build.

Gender Cooperation in the Workplace: Let’s Stop Diversity Training and Do Something Productive Instead

Gender Cooperation Workshops

Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In re-ignited the conversation about women in the workplace when it was published last year. Lean In has spread global awareness and significantly progressed the dialogue about women in the workplace. By now, most of us have heard the statistics and we all know there’s a problem – women just aren’t getting to the top of organizations, worldwide.

This has to change – and I am not just saying this because I am a woman. MSCI AC World index found that companies with a gender-diverse board outperformed those with only men by 25% over six years. Women and diversity are important for the growth and success of organizations. Period.

Certainly, men need to work on creating a more equal and inclusive workplace environment, but it won’t work unless women also take an active role. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s book The Confidence Code, addresses the main tool women need to posses: confidence. Yes, the research says men’s and women’s brains work differently and yes, we have been socialized to behave in different ways, but ultimately women need to have confidence in themselves and their abilities. Andeven more importantly, as Kay and Shipman point out, we need to understand that men and women perceive confident behavior differently. In some cases, what we think shows confidence, men see as exhibiting weakness (and vice versa).

Given all of this, I think companies are mostly taking the wrong approach. Networking groups, diversity training, and company events are the standard programs. These are important to support an initiative, but in my experience, none of these actually facilitate needed change in an organization.

What we need is a revolution in our approach to gender relations in the workplace: something that stimulates change, and truly improves communication between men and women,

Here are my suggestions to take action:

1)   Admit it’s an issue. Google and LinkedIn recently came out and publically stated that they had a challenge with regards to Diversity in their workforce. This is an excellent example of companies willing to be vulnerable. Lack of women in leadership is an issue most companies face today (especially in high tech industries) and it’s okay to admit that you don’t have all the answers, yet. However, by making a public statement, Google and LinkedIn are making themselves accountable, an important step in ultimately finding a solution.

2)   Identify and suggest specific changes. Diversity training is not effective. We have tried it for years and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. If you want to see change, ask for it. Chances are, management is not going to magically change their unconscious bias. Go to the highest-ranking executives who will listen and offer specific and actionable changes you want to see made. Among other things, suggest they allocate money for a sponsorship program for women. (Contact us for more information on how sponsorship differs from mentorship.)

Ideally we want everyone to understand the issues, empathize, and then take action. However this is just isn’t practical. Social psychology has proven that by changing behavior – even if its mandatory — will eventually change mindset — one internalizes the attitude and then starts to believe in the new behavior.

3)   Consider hiring a true expert. This person shouldn’t just be a Diversity trainer, but a strategic consultant who understands gender relations and can take a hard look at your hiring policies, internal promotion, salary breakdown and team communication to give you the hard truth about the source of your challenges. In addition, consider hiring an executive coach to do some leadership development training with the women in your organization. A true expert will understand how a push and pull strategy in the organization will truly foster change, quickly.

4)   Look beyond the workplace. Sheryl Sandberg makes several points in her book, but one of the most important (in my opinion) that we often ignore is how we need to look at our relationship with our partner. If men were expected to do as much as women, we might not even be having this discussion. Women often feel guilty about not being the perfect wife and mother, and that ultimately affects our careers. It is important to leave the guilt behind and have an open dialog with your partner about how to share the other responsibilities in your life.

It may not be easy and it may not be comfortable, but at the end of the day women need to take a more active role and ask for what they want. At the same time, men need to recognize that they have unconscious biases and be open to being vulnerable and taking action. If we make actionable changes in our organizations, our minds will be soon to follow.