When Socialized Behavior Becomes "Self Sabotage"

Criticizing female behavior in the workplace without addressing the reasons for that behavior is unhelpful.

It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.  - Amy Poehler

Minda Zetlin, writing for Business Insider, interviewed Wendy Capland an Executive Coach and Author, who listed 12 ways women unknowingly sabotage their success.  

The top three: Using minimizing language, apologizing and asking permission.

We use "belittling" words like "just" to "minimize [our] impact," we apologize for no reason "[e]ven in our voice mail," and we ask questions, the answers to which we already know because "we don't want to be too overpowering." Also included on this list of self-sabotaging behavior: Focusing on cooperation rather than competition; questioning ourselves; and worrying too much about relationships. 

These behaviors are often cited as reasons women fail to reach the c-suite (what Capland and others refer to as "sticky-floor syndrome") and I don't disagree with any of them (I'm guilty of some of these). What I do disagree with is the seemingly endless focus on the need for women to modify their personalities and thought processes without an equally close inspection of the reasons women exhibit such behavior in the first place. Not to mention, the (mostly negative) reaction by society (read: coworkers) when they don't engage in this behavior.

The fact that these "self-sabotaging" behaviors are so common amongst women so as to merit a generalized "list of grievances" from consultants who've made it their life's work to eradicate the glass ceiling one female executive at a time, is indicative of a larger problem. One that should be addressed much earlier than in the middle of a woman's professional career. 

Could our use of minimizing language, our constant need to apologize and to ask permission, as well as our crippling habit of questioning ourselves have something to do with the fact that exhibiting such strong, and traditionally masculine, behavior has generally not served us well in the past? You've heard it before and you'll hear it again: Men are bosses, women are bossy. Aggressive men are ambitious go-getters, aggressive women are angry bitches

After years of schooling where boys are routinely rewarded for yelling out the correct answers during class, while girls are routinely scolded for doing so, would it come as a surprise that we've internalized the implicit belief that our voices, and therefore our ideas, are not as important as those of men? If it was true during childhood, why would we expect it to be any different now? You can't just flip a switch and think, "Okay, now my opinion matters." 

Also cited is our too-heavy focus on cooperation rather than competition:

Yes, there are a thousand business articles that tell us collaboration is the more effective approach. The problem with that? 'It's not the structure of Corporate America,' Capland says. 'Corporate America has a hierarchical structure. It's not set up for collaboration to be effective long-term - I don't care what people say.

This begs the question really, of what (or who) in corporate America really needs to change. But that is a conversation for another day. This goes back to the social and professional backlash women experience when they fail to live up to the traditional expectation of the helpful and cooperative female. These violations of traditional gender norms have consequences. We expect women to be group-oriented and group-focused, and when one of them decides that she's going to get her own, she's labeled as selfish and not a team player. 

Capland also expresses frustration with women who "feel like they need to be fully skilled" before taking on a new opportunity, as well as women who get "too hung up on details for too long, versus seeing the bigger picture." This inability to delegate, she argues, "prevents [women] from having the freedom to take on the next challenge." 

Why do we wait until we're experts before taking on a new role?  And why, oh, why do we spend so much time on those pesky details? Perhaps it's because women have to work twice as hard to achieve the same recognition and praise as men. Perhaps it's because women are primarily judged on their achievements, while men are hired and promoted on their potential. JoanWilliams calls this the "prove it again" pattern:

[w]omen have to provide more evidence of their competence to be considered as competent as their male colleagues...women's mistakes tend to be noticed more and remembered longer, but women's successes tend to be attributed to luck. Women literally need to prove themselves over and over again, where a similarly situated male colleague does not. 

Delegation, in other words, is a option many women don't feel they can afford. Because if someone on the team screws up, she will bear a disproportionate amount of criticism and blame than would a male colleague in the same situation. 

This pattern of women needing to meet a higher standard to achieve the same status of men starts as early as the college admissions process, where talented girls are routinely rejected from their choice universities in favor of less qualified boys. It goes even further back than that. Even though boys on average spend less time doing chores than girls, boys are paid more and make more money overall than girls. 

Women (and men) should of course take all efforts to better themselves to accomplish their personal and professional goals. But this constant microscope under which we analyze women's behavior as if it occurs in a vacuum is unhelpful at best, and at worst, it risks perpetuating the very biases women are trying to combat.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/ways-women-...

Have Our Strides Toward Workplace Equality Made it Harder to Break the Glass Ceiling?

Excited to share my first post at Feminspire

The reality is that we’ve succeeded in creating a workforce in which all women can(and more often than not, must) participate. But we’ve yet to create one in which women are welcome and considered competent to participate at the highest levels.

Source: http://feminspire.com/strides-toward-workp...

Google and Diversity: You Cannot Fix What You Cannot See

Google Confirms What We Already Knew and Aims to do Better

Last week, Google released its diversity numbers for (I believe) the very first time. To the surprise of no one, it showed that Google's workforce is primarily male and largely white. While it would be easy to dismiss this action as neither impressive nor progressive on Google's part, in actuality, it is a very positive step in the right direction.

While it isn't news to anyone that women and minorities face a multitude of institutional barriers in the workplace, it is a big deal when one of the most successful and influential companies in the world issues what is essentially a public challenge to itself to fix a problem that has plagued the technology sector since its inception.

Because, if they don't, people will want to know why. And if they succeed, people will want to know how.  And now that they've aired their "dirty laundry" so to speak, people (and other companies) will be paying attention. 

After listening to various explanations of why there are not more women and minorities in Silicon Valley and elsewhere (Hello, Lean In), it's incredibly refreshing to see a company like Google publicly acknowledge that they have a serious institutional problem with diversity. And that they intend to tackle the problem head-on and in a very public way. 

We've always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues. Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.

It's not easy to admit when you're wrong. It's an uncomfortable experience for humans and businesses alike. The same can be said for admissions of failure. While Google cannot by any means be accused of poking its head in the sand on issues of diversity, "we're the first to admit that Google is miles from where we want to be - and that being totally clear about the extent of the problem is a really important part of the solution."

There it is. An express acknowledgement that, sometimes, the biggest barrier to change is the refusal to acknowledge that a problem exists in the first place.

If anyone can come up with innovative and thoughtful solutions to the persistent lack of diversity in tech, it's Google. And any large-scale successes will no doubt be replicated by others in the tech field and beyond. My hope is that Google and other companies who take the extra step of making their quest for greater diversity public, embolden and challenge other companies to do the same. 

Pay attention. This is what leadership looks like. 

Source: http://googleblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/g...

Here's How NOT To Argue For Equal Pay

Rampell: Don't hire women for their talent and productivity boost. Hire them because they're cheap. 

In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell argues that "an even better reason" to hire more women besides the "many feel-good, fairness-based reasons to hire and invest in women," in addition to "women's lib and girl power and something about Half the Sky," is that companies can pay them less

[P]erhaps the best argument for why hiring women will help your firm's bottom line: They still, amazingly, come a a discount. At least for now...Whatever the reason, the fact that women's pay is lower does mean they're a better deal for employers. Smart employers will recognize a bargain when they see it and scoop up the undervalued talent. 

Setting aside the crass disregard of the feminist and equal rights movements as merely "feel-good" rather than based on human dignity and self-determination, I have to disagree with the idea that the best argument for hiring women is because you can pay them less than a man for the same job. 

I understand what Rampell is trying to say (at least, I think I do). But arguing (days before Equal Pay Day) that instead of taking steps to eliminate pay inequality, companies should take advantage of it while they still can to increase their profit margins does a disservice to hardworking women everywhere and legitimizes the economic and social exploitation of half the population. Pay inequality is a social and economic ill to be solved, not a "bargain" to be exploited. Women are valuable employees who positively contribute to their respective organizations, they are not "deals" to be snagged before it's too late.

Ironically, Rampell proceeds to discuss the different occupations in which women are still underrepresented and undervalued. 

Indeed, law firms, Wall Street banks, tech companies and other big male-dominated businesses have all sorts of outreach programs to identify and nurture female talent (especially, it seems, when the stuff is about to hit the fan: witness the unfortunate timing of Mary Barra's coronation at General Motors). And yet, female representation across these industries and occupations - especially in management positions - is alarmingly low. 

Wait for it.

That's because lip service isn't enough. Corporate policy matters, too. As long as firms are resistant to changes that will help attract and retain female talent - like more flexible work arrangements, which can actually boost worker productivity - they will be limiting their own potential as well as that of female workers. 

First, what helps attract and retain female talent? Equal pay for equal work. Second, what boosts worker productivity? Equal pay for equal work. And third, what limits a company's potential as well as the potential of its female employees? Not being compensated as well as their male colleagues for the same work. 

Yes, it is amazing that women still make less than their male colleagues for the same work. And Rampell is correct, lip service isn't enough. Corporate policies do matter. But encouraging employers to hire more women because they are cheaper in an attempt to remedy workplace and pay inequality is misguided at best, and exploitative at worst. 

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/cat...

Fathers Matter: Standing Up For Paternal Rights In The Workplace

Josh Levs filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission when they denied his request for paternity leave. More fathers should follow suit. 

Time Warner Cable is to be commended for having a family-friendly workplace policy of providing up to ten weeks of paid time off to care for a newborn child. There are too many companies that don't even offer paid maternity leave, let alone paternity leave. However, for some reason, this policy applies to everyone but biological fathers. Why adoptive fathers of newborns can utilize this policy but not biological fathers is a question that has yet to be answered by Time Warner. 

When Josh Levs asked for ten paid weeks off so he could stay home with his wife and their newborn daughter, his request was denied (11 days after the baby's birth), leaving him with limited options. 

Under Time Warner rules, I have only two choices: stay out for 10 weeks without pay, or return to work and hire someone to come to our home each day.  Neither is financially tenable, and the fact that only biological dads face this choice at this point in a newborn’s life is ludicrous.

Levs followed all of the proper internal procedures when making his request, and he initially thought that the failure to apply the policy to biological fathers was simply an oversight, because it just doesn't make any sense

To understand how misguided this policy is, think of the following scenarios.

Here’s one an attorney gave me: If I were a woman, but other elements of my situation were the same — I was still with the same woman (so that would be a same-sex relationship), and she gave birth to our child, legally I would have to adopt in order to be co-parent.  I would then have the option of 10 weeks off, paid.

Or how about this: If I gave my child up for adoption, and some other guy at Time Warner adopted her, he would get 10 weeks off, paid, to take care of her.  I, however, her biological father, can’t.

When Time Warner finally informed Levs that they were "unable" to grant his request, without any rational explanation for the gross disparity in treatment, "this issue stopped being a possible oversight that the company could have resolved quietly. it became an active, deliberate decision to discriminate." 

Fathers should take note of this complaint and feel emboldened to exercise their rights as fathers and employees. Paternal involvement in family life has been steadily increasing and fathers are now more than ever involved in the everyday raising of their children. This is a good thing. 

Employers should institute policies that help support mothers and fathers. Fathers who believe they are being denied the benefits that are afforded to others, should do exactly what Levs is doing and ask (or fight) for them.  Call out employers who claim to be "family friendly" but do not provide comparable leave for mothers and fathers. Call out employers who publicly spout about "family values," but whose internal policies reflect the exact opposite. 

Fathers matter. The more we normalize the reality of paternal involvement and familial responsibilities in the workplace, the closer we will get to equality in other important areas of life. 

Source: http://joshlevs.tumblr.com/post/6556744249...

On The Praise Of Maternal Martyrdom

Why Do We Praise Maternal Sacrifice Instead of Trying to Fix The Conditions That Make It Necessary? 

We've all heard many a successful person thank their mother for the sacrifices she made to raise them. This praise usually follows the story line of mom completely giving up any career or educational aspirations she had in order to raise her children full time, and is usually followed by an approving round of applause from the audience. I can't help but think at moments like this: "But what if mom didn't want to make that sacrifice? What if mom, while obscenely in love with and proud of her children, also secretly resents the fact that she was forced to give up everything to raise them?"

While we've come a long way since the days when women were immediately fired upon informing their boss of their pregnancy, we still have a long way to go when it comes to providing the type of support that is necessary for the modern family. 

If the roles were reversed, and it was in fact dad who had to give up all of his hopes and dreams in order to raise his children, would we still applaud? Or would we bemoan the fact that a father had to make such a hard decision when he should have been able to have both children and a career? Would we ask what we as a society can do to ensure that fathers don't have to make such a harsh sacrifice? We often see fathers having to stay home to take care of their children as a social and economic fluke to be remedied because of a stale economy or some other social phenomenon, but we don't blink an eye when mothers are the ones who make the sacrifice. In fact, mothers are universally praised for doing so regardless of whether it was truly their choice or not. 

Here's a question: If we were told that a mother cried herself to sleep every night for the life she knew she would never have, would we still applaud? While that may sound harsh, the reality is that more often than not, fathers are not faced with having to accept the type of personal and professional sacrifices that society expects of mothers.

When I talk about sacrifice, I'm not talking about a mother who decides to stay at home with her children permanently or for the first couple of years because that's what she wants to do. Because that is a choice, and a legitimate one at that. I will never disparage any parent who decides that staying home with their child is the best thing for their family.  That is their choice to make. Period. 

What I'm talking about when I talk about sacrifice are the mothers who have no choice but to forgo continuing their education because they have no reliable and safe daycare. I'm talking about the mothers who have no choice but to stop working because private daycare is too expensive. I'm talking about the mothers who are forced out of jobs (and ultimately, careers) they love by people and policies that offer no support to someone responsible for a family. And, let's face it, society still puts the overriding burden of familial responsibility on women.

Let me be clear, I'm not saying that being a parent should not entail making sacrifices. Quite the contrary. The definition of parenting is sacrifice. Of time, of sleep, of energy, of opportunity, etc. Anyone who thinks otherwise is living under a rock. And I'm not saying that fathers are immune to sacrifice when they have children. 

What bothers me is that we continue to expect and to praise women who give up things that are important to their identities to raise their children, but we do not place this expectation or this burden on men. This public martyrdom of mothers contributes to the sexist notion that a woman's only true calling in life is to have and raise children. And it implies that women who don't make that choice (when they have one) are somehow lacking. 

I'm not trying to minimize the importance of parenthood by any means, but a human being can be (and is) more than just a parent. It's possible to be a parent and a painter; a parent and an architect; a parent and a nurse, etc.. But, as a society, we aren't interested in policies that help women maintain their identities outside of motherhood. In fact, our policies (or lack thereof) seem to do everything possible to pigeonhole women into only that role. Think lack of paid maternity and paternity leave, sick leave, and flex time. Think lack of subsidized child care. Think wage gaps and mommy tracks. All of these primarily affect mothers and their ability to care for their families.

Lack of paid maternity leave means that women who need to stay home to care for newborns and to heal risk losing their jobs and financial security. Lack of paid paternity leave sends the clear message that, from the moment a child is born, it is the mother and not the father who should be the primary caregiver, regardless of whether that is the desired family dynamic. The ongoing wage gap between men and women almost always leads to the woman having to stay home when family finances determine that is necessary. Working mothers who, prior to having children, were rising stars in their chosen profession, are often placed on the "mommy track," where they see their already-lower wages fall and chances of promotion disappear. And because the onus of familial responsibilities is still largely placed on women, the fact that they have to leave early to pick up children, or take them to doctor's appointments, are convenient excuses for employers to lower pay or fire employees. 

The result? Women are often pushed out of the workplace because they no longer feel welcome and/or they are too exhausted from trying to be everything to all people.

Instead of constantly praising mothers who are forced to make this sacrifice (the reasons for which are legion), why don't we work on changing laws and instituting policies that will truly support families so that women are not constantly faced with having to choose between abdicating entire parts of their identity and having children? 

I'm Tired of Employers Getting a Free Pass

Leaning In Will Not Solve Pay Equity Because Leaning Out Is Not The Problem

For fear that this post could be misinterpreted as accusatory or malicious (not my intention at all), I want to preface it by saying that in no way do I think the intentions of all involved are anything but genuine and true. Nor do I question the validity or integrity of the panel in question. I have personal relationships with the women involved and I witness their fierce dedication to issues affecting women and girls on quite literally a daily basis (they are exceptional, really). This invite simply served as a catalyst for discussion of a broader issue.

I received an email this afternoon from The Women's Fund of Central Ohio, in collaboration with The Columbus Young Professionals Club, inviting me to a panel discussion on April 8th, 2014, Equal Pay Day, entitled Equal Pay: Leaning into your full potential.  

Here is the full text of the email introduction:

I read the email a few times trying to determine what it was about the invite that was bothering me. Then it hit me. The basic premise of this panel as outlined in the introduction rests on an implicit assumption that there is a legitimate reason why women are not being paid as much as their male counterparts for the same work, and that reason is the women themselves

The battle over pay equity revolves around the fact that women are not paid the same amount as men for equal work. If women aren't being paid as much as men because they aren't "leaning in to their full potential," or because they don't "feel confident and capable in the workplace," then there isn't really a valid argument for equal pay is there? In fact, these are precisely the excuses that many employers offer when they are confronted about this issue. The false assumption that women are somehow less committed to their jobs than men is one that continues to be internalized by employers and employees alike, which results in male workers being paid more than their female colleagues for the exact same job. Just ask Lilly Ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. For most of those years, she worked as an area manager, a position largely occupied by men. Initially, Ledbetter’s salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark: Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 per month, the highest paid, $5,236.

I can't help but feel that hosting a panel discussion about leaning in on Equal Pay Day sends the wrong message. It tells women that it isn't your employer who needs to change, it's you. Institutional sexism is not the reason you are being paid less, you're being paid less because you aren't "leaning into your full potential," and because you don't "feel like your true value is being seen and appreciated." I will acknowledge that there are situations where these reasons do, in fact, play a part in pay disparities, but I don't necessarily think that Equal Pay Day is the appropriate time to address them. 

Pay equity and leaning in are two distinct problems that don't always overlap. There are millions of women who can "lean in" until they are blue in the face (many lean in to multiple jobs), but that will not increase their pay. There are millions of women who can take any and all steps to "feel confident and capable in the workplace," but that will not increase their pay. Women make up the majority of workers in minimum wage jobs in which they have practically zero power and influence in relation to their bosses. Plus, the reality is that the many women do not have the luxury of being able to stroll confidently into their boss's office to ask for a raise. 

I think the reason we spend so much time talking about what we as women can do is because we feel like it is the only thing over which we have any power. We can change ourselves but we can't change other people (or organizations). If we lean in just a bit more and work just a little harder perhaps it will make a difference. 

But it isn't enough. 

What about the employers?

At what point do we ask what they can (and should) be doing? We discuss "leaning in" and other empowering mantras every other day of the year, but talking among ourselves about what we as women can do, means absolutely nothing if employers aren't on board. As long as employers can get away with paying some employees less than others, they will continue to do so. Quite frankly, providing a space for female employees to talk about what they can be doing better to merit better (or even equal) pay, instead of demanding it from the employer is pretty convenient for the employer

The panel invite is right. We, as women, do have the power to change the pay disparities between men and women. But not just through modification of ourselves. Through social advocacy and awareness and changes in public policy. Just ask Lilly Ledbetter.

What can we do? 

Instead of discussing more actions that women can take to address pay equity, what if we use this one day to host a panel of candidates for public office, elected officials, CEO's, and other community leaders who are proactively working with businesses and employers on policies that will help further the cause?

What if we use this one day to highlight businesses and employers that are taking (and have taken) steps to create a more equal workplace and the positive changes those steps have brought about? 

What if we invite employers to a panel discussion that asks if they are leaning in to their full potential? Are they recognizing the "true value" of their female employees?