Tag Archives: women in the workforce

I used to think that I had to be a ‘mean boss’ to be respected — but changing my approach got better results

This article was originally published by Business Insider, May 18, 2017.

Recently I was settling into my seat on a flight when a woman stomped onto the plane and barreled down the aisle while talking loudly on her ear piece. She was dressed in professional clothing as though she just got out of a meeting, and was visibly flustered trying to talk into her Blackberry while trying to find overhead space for her bag.

Her seat happened to be right across from mine so I couldn’t help but overhear her conversation. I could tell she was in talking to one of her employees because she was reviewing his (I heard the name ‘Jeff’) work and telling him what to change.

I cringed at her conversation and the tone she took with Jeff: condescending, impatient, and downright rude. She made disparaging remarks about his work, remarking she was surprised he graduated from an Ivy League school given the quality of his work. She offered suggestions to improve his work, but in a way that must have made poor Jeff feel like he was the most incompetent person on the planet. She may have been right to reprimand Jeff for poor performance, but her delivery was disrespectful.

As much as I disapprove of this woman’s behavior, I can also relate because I’ve been her before. I’ve been the no-nonsense, take-no-crap from anyone boss who doesn’t hesitate to yell at a subordinate or use a harsh tone in the hopes that a scolding will be the motivator he or she needs to do better next time.

But what I learned over time, and what my neighbor on that flight will likely learn too, is that being the mean boss won’t get you anywhere. That being condescending, sarcastic, disrespectful, or rude might feel good in the moment when you’re angry, but is a guaranteed way to lose the trust of your team.

My flight neighbor probably believes her team respects her for being so tough, but they don’t. You cannot respect someone who has no control over their own emotions, who doesn’t understand that moving forward and up is always better than laying down in the mud.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my flight neighbor was a woman, and her gender certainly colors the interaction she had with her colleague. Women in leadership positions often feel they need to overcompensate and defy the perception that women aren’t tough enough for the job. And to some extent, women do have to be assertive to be taken seriously, but crossing over into abusive behavior is something both women and men need to guard against.

These were hard lessons for me to learn. The first time I managed a team, I adopted a “hard ass” persona, quick to chastise or criticize the team working under me for anything I perceived as less than a perfect performance. One person I worked with at the time described me as “quite prickly” to work with, though I think that was actually a euphemism for being a total jerk to my teammates. I didn’t like being a mean boss, but I felt I had to assert my authority and show how hard and harsh I could be to command respect. But the thing is, yelling at my teammates didn’t improve their quality of work or inspire them to work harder. It made them resent me and broke down the essential ingredients of trust and mutual respect that a team needs to succeed. If anything, being a jerk at work only made my team’s work suffer.

As difficult as it is to recount these cringe-worthy experiences, I am ultimately a better leader and colleague because of them. I learned that being an effective leader is about uplifting your team, not stomping all over them. My approach to solving workplace issues became all about finding the solution, rather than reprimanding or punishing without a plan to move forward. This didn’t mean I let employees slack or let them off the hook, but it did mean that instead of getting angry and firing off rude, condescending e-mails, I approached problems at work in a new way. I started demonstrating more patience and respect and showed that my number one goal was always to move forward and up—to find solutions, implement them, and focus on producing the best possible work, together as a team. Now, when I talk to my colleagues about their performance issues and work with them to find solutions to the problem, they know I’m on their side and that I want them to succeed. Showing them I’m interested in communicating with them to solve the problem, not just demand they work to my standards, motivates my team to do better next time.

Interpersonal communication is a critical skill for any professional to have and will lead to more productive, inspired teams.

Hillary Clinton’s Survival of Sexism

This blog was originally published in The Huffington Post. The full article with citations can be found here.

At the end of the last presidential debate, Donald Trump was asked to name something about his opponent that he respects. He answered that Hillary “doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up…She’s a fighter.” This was a rare moment of truth coming from a candidate who literally lies a majority of the time. To me, Hillary is a hero for the valiant fight she’s shown in this race, but for withstanding nearly 40 years of the sexism, misogyny, and discrimination that befall women who seek power and challenge traditional notions of gender. Our country may finally see a woman president not because we as a people have evolved in our thinking about gender roles or because of progressive policy measures that allow women to combine work with caregiving, but rather because of the sheer tenacity of Hillary Clinton herself.

Hillary’s ability and willingness to remain in spaces that are uncomfortable, even hostile toward women, is admirable, though rare to witness (and I mean this both literally—like when Trump loomed over her at the most recent debate—and symbolically, when talking about the space of politics in general). No women has made it to the space Hillary Clinton occupies today, and there are various reasons for women’s lack of ascendancy to the top—in both politics and in the workplace generally. The effects of child-rearing responsibilities have been well-documented as serious barriers to female advancement to the top ranks in companies and in politics. But there may also be more subtle, yet more insidious reasons for women’s under-representation in top positions that have to do with the everyday sexism we experience in the workplace.

Few of us have endured the level of misogyny Hillary Clinton has, but many of us have experienced the micro-aggressions, the small instances of bias, the tiny pinches, scratches, and sometimes cuts that can eventually lead to the deaths of so many promising careers.

This happens everyday at work—when you get cut off or interrupted in a meeting. When your junior male colleague takes credit for your idea. When you look in the conference room and realize every participant sitting at the table is a white man. When your boss expects you to get cupcakes for your co-worker’s birthday. When you find out the man who held the exact position before you made a higher salary. When a client, colleague, or co-worker makes lewd comments that make your skin crawl but you can’t do a damn thing about it—not because laws don’t exist on the books but because sometimes that’s all they are—words on paper that fail to take into account the enormous, oftentimes impossible risks women take in speaking up about sexual harassment.

When women (who are privileged enough to have the choice) leave their jobs—either to opt out of the workforce altogether or to take another position elsewhere—sexism is rarely cited as the reason for the switch. More commonly, women will leave a job to find a company that’s a “better fit,” and some will start their own businesses so they “don’t have to work for anyone.” Some will attempt to find a job that can better accommodate their lives and responsibilities of caregiving. Oftentimes, these career switches are out of male-dominated fields. And then there are some women who leave the workforce altogether to work full-time inside the home. When these career changes are made, the reasons publicly stated may vary, but I would bet a lot that privately, many women are simply exhausted from enduring those little pricks of sexism and misogyny on a daily basis. It may not be a primary reason for leaving (or even a conscious one), but it may certainly contribute to driving women out of certain fields and careers.

And so, the status quo remains: the glass ceiling remains in tact, and patriarchy stays alive and well (though maybe it has the sniffles as of late). And our country and our economy suffer as well, as companies, industries, and fields lose a huge pool of talent.

I have been heartened to see so many men challenge Donald Trump’s sexism in this campaign, especially his blatant defense of rape culture. But this challenging needs to happen more widely—in every office, laboratory, Assembly floor, and school. Trump’s repeated attempt to excuse his support of sexual assault as “locker room talk” speaks volumes about his—and many men’s—absolute refusal to admit their own sexism. To be clear—he is not an aberration but rather a manifestation of the white male privilege that infects our society and drives women away and out of male-dominated spaces.

One way to really make some men angry is to call out their sexism. I have seen many men go to great lengths to justify their actions, defend each other, and deny responsibility. Just a small example—I recently sat next to a man on a plane who “man-spreaded” his legs right into my seat, essentially taking over half my space. I discreetly captured a picture of the man-spreading which I posted on social media with the hashtag #everydaysexism. I couldn’t believe the vitriol I got in response—men I hadn’t spoken to or even thought about in years came out of the woodwork to tell me (or more accurately, mansplain to me) that the man sitting next to me simply had long legs (actually, he was pretty short) and that what he was doing was not sexism. Others questioned why I didn’t just ask him to move, an ask which is symbolic of a broader problem of placing the burden of stopping sexism on women rather than the people who perpetrate it.

There’s nothing ostensibly damaging inherent to the practice of man-spreading, but it is an example of one of those tiny pricks that have devastating cumulative effects on women. Calling out these instances of sexist behavior is exhausting, because the response is often one of defensive, even hostile posturing. Yet staying silent feels pretty bad too. And often times, when you do speak up, you’re the only one doing so, and that can get lonely.

I can only imagine just how lonely and exhausting being Hillary Clinton is. When she accepted the Democratic nomination back in July, I balled my eyes out when she took the stage. My husband asked me if my tears were tears of joy for the first woman presidential nominee. I told him no, that my tears were for Hillary Clinton herself, tears of solidarity, of relief that she was able to survive the years of tiny and not so tiny cuts to get to where she is today. She truly is extraordinary in her ability to persevere.

This campaign has exposed some of the worst social diseases that linger in our country. Sexism is one of those diseases, and while women have always known it’s existed because we live it everyday, seeing Hillary endure it is like pulling off a bandaid and being forced to actually look at the injury. To me, it feels like a very old wound that women have collectively borne is wide open and exposed, but the question is how we do we heal it properly? Hillary Clinton is our hero of survival, but we cannot rely on lone women to single-handedly dismantle the patriarchy. Healing this wound involves a collective effort from all Americans, as well as progressive policy measures that value women, their work, and the realities of their lives.

4 Ways For Women To Get Ahead In The Business World

This article was originally posted on Changeboard, 6/1/16.

The advice I give in this article is not meant to replace or ignore the largescale institutional and cultural changes that need to be made for more women to advance in the business world. As I have written elsewhere, policy changes that would ensure equal pay for women, provide paid family leave, and allow parents to work and take of their children at the same time are all essential to women’s advancement in the workforce. Culturally, we need to eradicate the unfair standards and expectations we hold women to but not men.

But those of us already in the workforce need practical strategies to navigate business environments that are often unfavorable to women and hold them back from moving to the top. Until the large-scale work of reforming institutions and cultures is done, here are 4 things women can do to break down barriers and get ahead in their careers:

1. Negotiate your salary

All else equal, on average employers pay women less than men. Over the course of a woman’s life, unequal pay costs her around $400,000. Until our laws are able to remedy this gross inequality, women need to negotiate their pay with their employers.

I remember being very intimidated the first time I negotiated my salary. But I had done my research and knew what I was being offered was lower than market standards and under-valued my worth as an employee. I wrote out “bullet points” for what I was going to say during the negotiating process and even practiced them beforehand.

Striking a balance between appearing confident and grateful is the key to a successful negotiation, and also points to why negotiating is so hard for women in the first place. Many women are taught—and expected by others—to be people pleasers who don’t rock the boat and accept what they are given. Asking for more money defies these expectations, which is why it’s difficult to do.

Begin the discussion by telling your employer how pleased and excited you are about the opportunity to work for the company. Then show them that you did your research about market pay and other tidbits that you can find on Google or by asking others in the industry. Finally, ask for a number that is slightly higher than what you really want—while some employers will give you what you ask for, others will continue the negotiating process and offer you less than what you ask for. Raising the number you ask for helps offset that possibility.

2. Ask for a raise
Unless you work for an organisation or company that regularly provides raises to its employees, you are probably going to have to ask for a raise. Too many women (and some men) believe that if they work hard, their good performance will get recognised with more money. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

A recent study found that a majority of men have asked for a raise while less than half of women have. If you’ve been producing excellent work and believe you deserve a raise, go ahead and ask for it — research shows that you will probably get it.

I’ve done this a lot throughout my career, and as with salary negotiations, it helps to prepare ahead of time and record your accomplishments and reasons for asking for a raise. The time you’ve spent in a certain position or role often matters less than what you have done for the company during that period, so play up your achievements as well as the additional responsibilities you want to take on in the future.

3. Take credit for your work
One great thing about having more women in the workplace is that they tend to be collaborators and team players. Unfortunately, this work style can work against you when men are more likely to be competitive and take credit for the work that you’ve done. Studies have shown that on team or group projects, women tend to give more credit to their male colleagues and take less for themselves. This hurts women if their overall contribution to their company or organisation is not recognised.

I see this dynamic play out with my male colleagues all the time. In staff meetings, I always say “we” when I’m talking about a project I’m working on with other people, even if I’m the lead on it: “We are working on the presentation,” “We believe we should move in this direction,” etc. In contrast, many of the men I’ve worked with will talk in the first-person about projects: “I am working on the presentation,” “I believe we should move in this direction,” and this is true even when they are not the project leads. So while women downplay their contributions, men play theirs up.

Women should not assume that their boss knows who “really” does the work—he or she doesn’t. Talking casually but directly with your boss or supervisor about your recent role or contribution to a project helps make your case. I will often say something to my boss that emphasises my leadership on a project and compliments my colleagues—because they deserve credit too. Something like “I really loved taking the lead on this project and introducing this new framework in our reports, and I think Jill and John really grew a lot from this engagement as well,” tends to work well.

4. Connect with other women
I’ve seen women get very competitive and sometimes try to undermine each other in the race to the top. Don’t do that—women need to support each other and lift each other up in the workplace. While some level of competition is healthy, putting others down to get ahead yourself is not a viable strategy, and I’ve often seen this backfire on both women and men.

What does work is forming professional relationships with other women—with those above and below you. Seek out a more senior woman at your company or in your industry as a source of support and advice in your career. It’s also important to give back and mentor younger or less experienced women to help them navigate the business world as women. This is how you build a network which will come in handy throughout your career—for leads on new business, job prospects, or just for having the support and encouragement from people who get it.

Women Are Working More Than Ever – Inside The Home And Out

More than 73 million women participate in the U.S. workforce, making up more than half of the country’s working population. Women are increasingly their family’s breadwinner—more than 40% of working mothers are the sole or primary income earner in their household, a number that reflects both the rise in single motherhood as well as the fact that some women are out-earning their partners, despite the pay gap.

And gone are the days when control of the family’s finances fell primarily to men. As more women enter the workforce and bring home the family’s income, they are also taking on more responsibilities related to financial management—responsibilities that historically were considered in the “male” realm. Data from a national survey of American adults* conducted by my firm, Whitman Insight Strategies, indicates that women are just as likely as men to be responsible for a variety of financial responsibilities, including:

• Making monthly payments for utilities, phone, etc. (78% of men, 83% of women)
• Paying credit card bills (74% of men, 81% of women)
• General financial planning/budgeting (68% of men, 65% of women)
• Making mortgage or rent payments (59% of men, 59% of women)

The sample in this study included only women and men in “partnered” households, meaning people who are married, in a domestic partnership, or living with a significant other. We might infer from this data that men and women have achieved some sort of equality in their relationships, in that they are equally responsible for financial management in their households.

But while women and men may have achieved parity when it comes to financial obligations, with other household tasks, women shoulder much more responsibility than men. Women are much more likely than men to be responsible for buying groceries, cooking and preparing meals, household cleaning, and planning social activities:

• Buying groceries: (65% of men, 90% of women)
• Cooking/preparing meals: (48% of men, 85% of women)
• Household cleaning (48% of men, 88% of women)
• Planning social activities (26% of men, 57% of women)

Women are also performing more of the caregiving work—55% of partnered women say they are responsible for caring for loved ones, including children and elderly relatives, while only 39% of partnered men say the same.

But perhaps younger generations are creating more egalitarian households where women and men share in domestic labor? Wrong. Gender roles are remarkably similar across generations. The data from this survey shows that women of every generation—from Millennials to Baby Boomers—are much more likely than men to be responsible for the cooking, cleaning, social calendar keeping, and caregiving.

Responsibilities chart

To be sure, with some domestic tasks, younger men are doing more work than men of older generations do—62% of Millennial men say they’re responsible for household cleaning compared to 48% of Generation X and Baby Boomer men. But unfortunately, men taking on more responsibility does not help women very much—85% of Millennial women, 89% of Generation X women, and 90% of Baby Boomer women say they’re responsible for cleaning the house as well.

On other domestic tasks, including cooking, grocery shopping, and keeping the social calendar, there is virtually no difference across generations—women are about 30-40 points more likely to take on these responsibilities compared to men. It is among Generation X (ages 35-54) where we see the starkest gender differences in caring for loved ones—65% of women claim this responsibility, compared to just under half of Generation X men. Members of Generation X do more caregiving overall, perhaps not only for their own children, but to elderly parents or relatives as well.

So while women are taking on more responsibilities in the paid workforce, greater financial power does not translate to greater power or equality in the domestic sphere. And even though women are playing a bigger role in the management of their family’s money, these additional responsibilities are on top of the other household tasks for which women are also responsible. Rather than sharing household responsibilities with their partners, women are simply shouldering more obligations.

We cannot assume that these disparities will disappear in time, once younger, more egalitarian generations replace older Americans who are more rigid in their gender ideologies. The data from this survey give credence to the idea that gender roles are durable, and it will take more than time to change deeply held beliefs about what men and women should do with their time.

* Whitman Insight Strategies conducted an online survey among 1,347 American adults who indicated they were married, in a domestic partnership, or living together with a significant other. The survey fielded in March 2016. Please contact bstalsburg@whitmanstrategies.com for more information about the study. You can see other work here.