Five Friday Highlights: Gender, Candor, and Keeping Your Word

Gender Equity

This week, I am sharing recent posts which deal with executives who demonstrate progress in the right direction toward eliminating discrimination in the workplace and some who are quite the opposite. Whether it is parental leave issues, age discrimination, or other ways in which bias can play out, we have to talk about it in order to effect change. A few of today’s posts suggest how to do that.

Although it is exciting to see that Melissa Harris’s employer made arrangements for a consultant to cover her duties during her maternity leave so that she could be assured that the work would get handled and she would retain her job security, it is even more refreshing to read how he kept his word about the arrangement. Such a fundamental quality, yet one that is lacking in many corporate environments today. Read the full story in Executives on maternity leave: Help has arrived by Jane Hirt with Melissa Harris.

Sometimes the simple act of keeping your word is profound progress toward #genderparity. {TWEET THIS}

I don’t know if Melissa Harris’s boss had a women’s cultural coach like Bonnie Marcus discusses via Forbes in The Real Reason Male CEOs Commit to Diversity, but he clearly “gets it” on the topic of actively engaging with what a female in his workforce needs to continue making a professional contribution.

In contrast to Melissa Harris’s experience, Dan Lyons writes that his supervisor at HubSpot didn’t have any commitment to fairness in the workforce, at least where age is concerned. In When It Comes to Age Bias, Tech Companies Don’t Even Bother to Lie, Lyons shared the HubSpot CEO’s statement to the New York Times that “age imbalance was not something he wanted to remedy, but in fact something he had actively cultivated.”

Like Kimball Scott, in Thoughts on Gender and Radical Candor, I am positive change is not going to happen without significant shifts in how we communicate with one another in the workplace (and especially in the C-Suite). This lengthy read is worth your time. Scott explores why progress slows to a crawl or even reverts when people “fail to care personally and challenge directly.”

In my travels around the world, I have met thousands of people, each of whom has a personal success definition. Sallie Krawcheck’s My Metric for Success? It’s All About Impact posed the success question in a unique way. She has a dual goal of helping women advance in business and working to close the gender investing gap. It is her statement about why she had to try that most resonates with me, though, and I believe applies to all of us trying to make business more equitable for women:

And why me? Because shame on me if I don’t go after this. ~ Sally Krawchek

What difference can you make in gender parity? Have you personally faced an inequity at work? Was it resolved satisfactorily or in a way that prohibited your productivity? Email me by clicking here to let me know!

Image Credit: Fotolia christianchan

Getting Comfortable with Being Controversial

Handling Controversy

“This is the worst advice ever!”

“You could not be more correct.”

“As a woman in a dominantly male environment I very much agree.”

“This article is a joke.”

In case you didn’t catch it, responses to my last post on the qualities of successful female leaders were quite polarized. It was certainly more provocative than what I usually write about. Being an interculturalist, I’ve been trained as a relativist where it’s important to recognize multiple perspectives and understand that they can all be true and right—it depends on the culture, the context, or the country where someone is coming from. It’s true that communication style, attitude, or perception may be normal for one person, may not be for others. How one person views something could be viewed the opposite way by someone else.

For me, being a relativist also means keeping harmony. I often use language that’s sensitive to the fact that there are other perspectives out there. I’ll say “my observation has been that” or “some people look at it this way” or “other perspectives are…”

Therefore, when I wrote last week’s article, I knew it would be a lightning rod. Women in business and the path of female leadership has historical (and current) pain. I picked the scab and it bled a little. But through the rich discussion on LinkedIn, I found it enlightening that there were so many reactions. I also reflected on how the controversy made me feel and how I handled the discomfort that came with it. Not natural for me as an interculturalist and relativist.

I’m not sorry that I shared these observations. I think it’s important to have an open conversation and learn how to handle discomfort, particularly as it relates to hot button topics like diversity.

So, upon reflection over the past week, here’s my advice on handling controversial topics—and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.

  1. Share your observations more than your opinions. Describe what you see and experience. After all, your truth is as true as anyone else’s. If you talk about what you experienced or witness, rather than what you believe, it will hold more validity because it’s based on something that happened. It is your own experience.
  2. Be aware of your filters. But while it’s your own experience, you also have your own lens in which you experience that experience. We all have our own interpretations or filters. So know what yours are. For example, my last post was through the lens of a long-time successful female executive who has traveled to more than forty countries doing business with both female and male leaders all over the world. Other people may have different viewpoints, a different lens through which they look, and they’re just as valid as mine.
  3. Accept that you’re not going to make everyone comfortable all the time. If you’ve experienced something challenging that someone can learn from, share it widely—and be okay that other people may not be comfortable with it. In fact, embrace it and know that by getting people to think, challenge, and even criticize, you’re helping them form their own perspectives more strongly and thoughtfully. Critical thinking ensures that we’re optimizing solutions and having conversations that are more productive, both professionally and personally.

These three tips are how I approach discussing diversity related to race, culture, personality style, sexual orientation…the list goes on…I find that doing it this way instead of approaching hot button topics in a compliance or a “do’s and don’ts” way fosters more enriching conversations. We’re able to identify what we or our organizations need to do to be more open and tolerant, how a business can appeal to more markets or diverse customers and employees, or what a company needs to shift to be more inclusive. I believe having these open, honest, and compassionate conversations will get us to where we need to be to have further success operating in a global world.

Image Credit: Fotolia Feng Yu

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.