WOMEN’S ADVANCEMENT??


“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.
Life’s a bitch.  You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” – Maya Angelou

Here’s the deal. I am getting more and more frustrated when it comes to talking about equity for women in the workplace.  The statistics are not improving, women are opting out more than ever before and I have to wonder if there is a real solution to the increasing challenges women face in terms in having equity in the workplace.

For years I have been studying this topic.  Back in the early 2000s when I worked at Working Mother Media, we looked at the topic from the lens of working mothers and struggled with the notion of workplace flexibility.  It’s disappointing and scary that nearly 10 years later we are having the very same conversations and nothing has improved.  I have to ask the question of why.

Yesterday, as I was partaking in my daily ritual of tweeting and catching up on all the current news I can absorb in 140 characters or less, I came across the youtube video of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2010 TED talk on why we have so few women leaders in the world.  Coincidentally, on this same day, I came across on Facebook, courtesy of my friends at Flexpaths, a story from CNN about Sandberg admitting that she leaves work at 5:30pm.  Why is this news?  In my opinion, if it was about a male Fortune 500 CEO confessing that he slips out of the office early to spend time with his kids or attend their soccer games, that would be groundbreaking and would set a different tone, certainly in his workplace.  In reality, however, Sandberg telling her story is the equivalent of preaching to the choir.  Despite the fact that she is a powerful and busy COO, she is still a woman and it is expected that she would figure out a way to try to balance work and family.

Sandberg had some very clear views about what is holding women back and cited some interesting facts in her talk:

  • Out of 190 heads of state in the world, only 9 are women
  • Of all the Parliament members in the world, only 13% are women
  • Women represent only 20% of the leaders of nonprofit organizations (bucking the theory that nonprofits are a place where women can excel into leadership roles)

I’ll add to this my own stats:  Less than 3% of the Fortune 500 CEO’s are women.  (Although, curiously, of the 100 most successful companies in the world, 6% are run by women which makes me wonder if they are more successful because of the greater presence of women leaders….).  Women represent only 16% of equity partners in law firms and 16% of the seats in Congress.  16% has long been this magical number for women.  We seem to hover right there in terms of significant representation.  When we look at Board seats, the answer is 16% representation by women.  Let’s face it, this is all terrible news.  In the 10 years since I started tracking this data at Working Mother, nothing has changed.  Nothing at all.  Well, nothing except that the problem is getting worse because we are not making any headway.

Sandberg suggests that there are several critical issues that need to be addressed in order to change the reality for women in leadership.  First of all, we need to keep women in the workforce to ensure that they ultimately gain access to the high income jobs.  We know that women are opting out of the traditional workforce at higher rates than ever before.  Whether it be to stay at home and raise a family or to start their own businesses, women are not willing to play the game.  This exodus from corporate jobs creates a void of potential women leaders.  Of course, we should celebrate the fact that women feel empowered to change their career paths, take risks and become entrepreneurs but this fact is hurting our economy because there is no doubt that women leaders yield strong business results.  Without a rich talent pool to draw from, businesses suffer and lose the opportunity to both increase gender equity in the senior ranks as well as benefit from the strengths that women uniquely bring to the table.

Another challenge Sandberg identified as an obstacle for women is that they underestimate their own abilities.  This is one I can certainly relate to on a personal level as I am sure many women can.  It is very hard for women to promote themselves in the same way that men do.  Sandberg cited research that suggested that while men will frequently take credit for their own successes, women often attribute it to other influences or the fact that they got lucky.  In addition, women are less likely to negotiate for themselves when it comes to compensation which directly results in the gender disparity in pay.  It has been reported that 57% of men negotiated their first salaries compared to only 7% of women.  (I shared this stat with a group of women this morning and, after shaking their heads they agreed that this is very accurate.)  Sandberg attributes a lot of this to social influences because, as a society, there is certainly more pressure and expectation put on mean to succeed.  Stay-at-home dads are not always celebrated and working moms are often criticized.

Women are challenged with the likability factor, which is a key obstacle as well.  Success and likability are positively correlated for men while it is negatively correlated for women.  In other words, the more successful a women, the less likable we perceive her to be.  Sandberg cited one study that illustrates this phenomenon perfectly. In it, Columbia Biz School prof Frank Flynn and colleague Cameron Anderson at NYU offered their students a case study of a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist named Heidi Roizen. But she was only called Heidi in the case study given to half their students; in the other, Heidi became Howard.

And guess what happened?

While the students rated Heidi and Howard equally competent, they liked Howard–but not Heidi. In fact, according to a synopsis of the study, students felt Heidi was significantly less likable and worthy of being hired than Howard. Why? Students saw Heidi as more “selfish” than Howard.

Is it any wonder we don’t want anyone calling us ambitious?

The final factor that Sandberg cited was that women often leave before they leave.  Ironically, the actions women take to try to stay in the workforce ultimately lead to them leaving.  For instance, if a woman is thinking about starting a family or is recently pregnant, she is likely to pass up opportunities for stretch assignments or promotions.  Recognizing that she will have to step aside for a period of time after the birth of the child, a woman tends to feel morally obligated to say no rather than take on the assignment or new role and deal with it when the baby is born.  As a result, between pregnancy, maternity leave and the ramp-up period after returning to work, women are often losing close to 2 years of opportunity for engagement and advancement in their careers as a result of building their families.  We are doing this to ourselves because we tend to lean back even when we are thinking about having a baby.  These rules need to change.

Overall, the most concerning part of Sandberg’s talk, for me, was her realization that this generation will never see equity in the workplace.  The divide is still so great and we simply do not have the time or the numbers to make up the difference.  It is up to the young women – and men- who are just now entering the workforce to change the game.  And it is up to today’s leaders to be open to look at the problem differently.  Women are always going to have babies and, even though we know that only 1/3 of executive women have children compared to 2/3 of executive men, that is not going to change.  In fact, we know that millennials are even more interested in having families and want to do so at a younger age. They reject the idea that women need to establish themselves before they can start a family.  Perhaps the corporate culture will change their thinking about that but I hope the millennial women – a sizable force to be reckoned with – will buck the system and prove that career and family are not mutually exclusive for women or men.

And, most importantly, it is time for the guys to have a voice in this revolution.  The men are still in charge and have the power.  By becoming role models for how we look at work and making sure to support women as they climb the corporate ladder and navigate the challenging terrain of carrying on the human race while also helping to keep the economy afloat, men are perhaps the secret sauce.  We often keep them out of this conversation as if they are our mortal enemies but, perhaps, they are the allies we have forgotten to embrace.

I am going to keep pining over this issue and will keep getting on my soapbox about it and, hopefully before my voice gets too old, I will see some real movement in these numbers.  In the meantime, we will continue to develop programs to support women and the men that can change their fate.  Stay tuned for some cool new programs coming from Ingenium Strategies to help build our future women leaders!

FLIP THE SWITCH


I am fascinated by change.  In fact, I am actively engaged in a love/hate relationship with change.  Being a middle-aged creature of habit who likes predictability while also being someone who craves new experiences and new ways of thinking, change is a very loaded subject for me.

I recently participated in a workshop that got me thinking about change from a bit of a different perspective.  Having studied change from every angle, this was nothing earth shattering but the combination of messages struck me in such a way that it moved my thinking 3 degrees in another direction – just enough to have some new insights.  We looked at change from the perspective of shifting brand messaging by moving from focusing on selling characteristics and benefits to communicating beliefs and values.  This is not the first time I have explored this idea but, for some reason, at this workshop it all made sense in a different way.

I organically connected this discussion with the work I do with my clients to help them shift the culture in their organizations.  It is much more powerful when we talk about an organization’s credo or mission and vision than when we talk about the tactical and practical ways in which they do the work that they do.  Individuals need to believe in something.  We have a natural need to be emotionally connected.  And, despite the fact that business is meant to be impersonal, we know that employees become more invested in their work if they can find a personal connection to it.  The difference between standing in a factory creating whatever device is being manufactured and going into the marketplace and seeing the same device in action with the end user is extraordinary – and the engagement level of the employees in those respective jobs reflect that difference.

In the workshop, I was introduced to a book called Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath which discusses how individuals approach change.  I, of course, being impatient and glued to my technology (something I might want to consider changing), purchased the book on my iPad within ten seconds of it being talked about.  I dove in during some breaks in the conference and immediately was captivated by the stories that the authors used to talk about change.  One such example is of a scientific study done on people’s eating habits.  A group of adults unwittingly participated in a study at a movie theater that looked at their eating habits.  Different people were given different size buckets of very stale popcorn – it was about a week old and really inedible.  The researchers were trying to find out if the people with the larger buckets would eat more popcorn just by virtue of the fact that there was more popcorn available to them.  And, sure enough, the individuals with the largest buckets ate 53% more of the disgusting popcorn simply because it was there.  What the researchers were ultimately working towards was a strategy to encourage people to eat more mindfully and eat less.  What they finally acknowledged was that, perhaps the best strategy to encourage the people to eat less was to give them smaller portions.  Rather than taking the typical route of looking to change the individual, they concluded that a more effective strategy would be to change the situation or the environment.

I love this idea.  We spend so much time putting people into self-help programs to help them change the way they do things.  A lot of this is important and helpful but, absent of the other component of changing the environment, it is often ineffective.  If you are trying to lose weight, you certainly need to change your habits around eating but you also rid your cabinets of high calorie and unhealthy foods – you alter the situation.  An alcoholic goes to rehab to quit drinking where their situation and environment is altered in order for them to focus their attention on the aspects of their psyches that needs to be altered.  Change is not always simply about changing ourselves.

There are so many ways to apply this premise.  I immediately apply it to culture change.  Since I spend 75% of my time working with clients on shifting their corporate culture, I put a lot of thought into what motivates people to change and what situational elements need to be impacted to influence the change.  We talk about value propositions.  We talk about corporate environments.  We talk about how we work.  Nonetheless, we almost universally end up talking about culture change through the lens of the people.  If we can change the people, we can change the culture.  If we can get them to think differently, to increase engagement, to develop buy-in, our culture will be more successful.

Not so.

Change is hard.  We all resist change no matter how much we might want it.  We can try to talk ourselves into change but it is a process that requires not just mental buy-in but a larger situational adjustment.  For large companies it requires a shift in not only the way people think but a shift in the way things are done.  It becomes a collaborative approach.  For individuals, change requires a balance between thinking differently and behaving differently.  Our change in behavior cannot just come from thinking differently and thinking differently will not be a natural offshoot of behaving differently.  We must consciously and deliberately do both.

When I walked away from the workshop, I found myself having a newfound appreciation for developing key values.  If we can align ourselves with a belief in some core values (and every organization and every human being MUST identify core values), we can much more easily begin to attempt the process of change.  Those values become our north star and every journey towards change will have something to align itself with.

WALKING THE TALK


I read everything I can about what companies are doing make progressive culture shifts in their workplaces.  I also talk to dozens and dozens of work/life and diversity practitioners to get a deeper understanding of the challenges they face to keep pace with the demands of their workforce and create work environments that will yield the greatest performance.  I was excited to have the opportunity last week to attend Working Mother Media’s Flexibility Leadership Summit.  The agenda was filled with practitioners, consultants, thought leaders, change agents and an array of talent all talking about how they were attempting to make the shift to a culture of flexibility.  The corporate leaders all talked about how much work they have done to gain support within their organizations for flexibility and all the associated programs they have created.  And, after spending over five years studying the practices at hundreds of major corporations while I ran the Working Mother Best Companies initiatives, I am acutely aware of the hard work they all put into these efforts.  However, I could not help but wonder how these programs are actually working in companies where employees, more often than not, are working 24/7 (thanks to our bittersweet love affair with technology – my iPhone is next to my bed every night, how about you?), there are more financial pressures than we have seen in decades and everyone is concerned about being the next one eliminated in a corporate layoff.  When I talked to people at the onset of the recession, I warned them about the enticement of backing off from their work/life programs (because everyone should be happy just to have a job) and that once the economy rebounds, those that maintained would win.  But despite the herculean efforts to maintain and even possibly improve the programs within their workplaces, the sheer force of reality, has had to have taken its toll on these programs.  So, I wonder if these companies are really able to walk the talk.  Even in the good old days before the recession, those of us that measured what companies were doing and tracked best practices wondered how aligned the policies were with the day-to-day realities of the workforce.

I applaud and support all the hard work these companies and their practitioners are doing to make the shift to Workplace 2.0 (or is it 3.0 now?).  The workplace of our fathers and grandfathers (note I did not say mothers and grandmothers) is beyond obsolete and the truth is that work and the workforce is changing so rapidly, it is hard to imagine that any company has the agility to be able to keep up.  Todd Sears from Credit Suisse, the host for the Flex Summit, showed us Did You Know? – a YouTube video that many have seen before but is worth sharing.  And, FlexPaths, one of the knowledge partners for the Summit, also talked about their great video Shift Happens.  Both of these are really powerful messages and reminders that the world is changing so fast and this little flex thing is part of a much bigger conversation.

And, of course, there is no one doing more to tackle this work than the Center for Work-Life Policy and the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, headed up by Sylvia Ann Hewlett.  Hewlett was the keynote speaker last week and, during her presentation, I found myself nodding in agreement and understanding while also further wondering how this culture shift is actually going to take place.  Hewlett spent most of her talk discussing research conducted for her new book Top Talent (a quick and great read – I highly recommend it).  She talked a lot about extreme jobs – those that demand a 60+ hour workweek along with other performance pressures.  The reality is that the individuals in these extreme jobs are actually working closer to 75+ hours a week and, in fact, nearly 45% of jobs in global corporations are extreme.  So, let’s do that math – nearly half of the workers in global companies are in extreme jobs and are working nearly twice the “normal” workweek.  So, if there are 120 hours in a workweek and these extreme workers are working during 75 of those hours and maybe sleeping 6 hours a night – at best – which represents another 30 hours, that leaves 15 hours each week free for things like family, exercise, meals, hygiene, commuting, etc.  That represents 3 hours per day.  Where’s the flexibility in that?

The truth is that today’s workers are stressed, disengaged and worried about keeping their jobs.  In a time when companies are creating programs and policies to allow their employees to work remotely and stagger or reduce their hours, workers are feeling more and more compelled to have face-time with their bosses in order to maintain a sense of relevance and hopefully avoid elimination.

This conundrum fascinates me and inspires me to do more to help both employers and employees find pathways to make it work.  There is still an enormous misalignment in many organizations because they are either too steeped in their culture or not agile enough to begin the paradigm shift that allows for performance-based management which completely changes the equation.  Plus, this nasty recession threw a monkey wrench into things just as we were starting to figure it out.

All this being said, I want to hear from you.  Please share with me what you, as an employee, are experiencing or what you are doing as a leader or work/life practitioner.  The more we can listen to and study both sides of the equation, the more equipped we will be to make the shift and prepare the workforce and the leadership for the workplace of the future.  Feel free to post here or send me an email at tammypalazzo@gmail.com.  Looking forward to hearing your comments!