The numbers and graphs in the report by Lean In and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2015, support some beliefs, and challenge some myths, about why women remain underrepresented at the executive level of American business. What about gender bias? The report concludes that women are more likely than men to perceive gender bias. Of course they do! One of the recommendations of the study is training to “interrupt gender bias,” including to assure men can see and understand the challenges women encounter.
In many parts of the world, women’s voices are suppressed. In our western culture, in particular in the U.S. corporate world, women’s voices are not “suppressed.” But they are often not fully heard. Why not? Let me suggest four challenges, with the hope that awareness can help us better hear women’s voices right here in the USA. The feminine style of speech sounds less confident. Women assert themselves only when they really know. Women get “talked over.” And women who do speak up face the “double bind.”
What is standing in the way of reaching the goal of gender diversity in leadership? Women’s can’t get off the hook. I’m talking about how women treat and support each other. Have you seen women not be supportive of other women? Have you seen a woman undermine another woman?. Have you seen women who made it to the top and then “pulled up the ladder”? Have you seen “cattiness,” “back-biting,” or “sabotage”? What mind-sets underlie this negative behavior? Can awareness help us change them?
The fourth article by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant is titled “How Men Can Succeed in the Boardroom and the Bedroom.” About a third of the article is about how gender diversity at work is good for men (as well as women). They call it a “surprising truth” that “equality is good for men, too.” Research over at least a decade has confirmed the business value of gender diversity. So, to me, it is hardly “surprising.” The business case for gender diversity, however, can’t penetrate unconscious mind-sets. I want more spotlight on why women are not better represented at the top. I want the spotlight to be wider than on alleviating work-life pressures. We need to shine the light on, and uproot, the unconscious mind-sets that create obstacles for women in business.
Why do women not speak up (as much as men) in meetings? The real reason, say Sharyl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their NYT series, is the “double bind.” If women don’t speak up, hold the floor and speak with confidence, they are not heard or seen as leaders. If they do, they are seen as aggressive (called the “B-word”). They offer some suggestions. I add my own.
Joanne Lipman’s recent article in the WSJ provides a “guide” for men to women at work. She says that women get enough advice and provides some to men. Men should understand that women have a different way of speaking; they should not wait for women to raise their hands; they should not fear that a woman will cry and should give direct feedback. And they should recognize that women work hard for the credibility that comes automatically to them. Good advice!