Gender bias at work. Who is making the coffee in your office?

In every office I have worked in, it’s always a woman making the coffee. At every meeting, it’s been a woman keeping the notes, all the guys beg off (if they are even asked) because their handwriting is supposedly illegible. It’s also a woman who is watering the plants, refilling the printer paper and making sure there are donuts for the morning meeting. I have been a part of the problem as well; I’ve made thousands of pots of coffee and ordered cake for the retirement party for years. In an article by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg for the New York Times called Madam CEO, Get Me a Coffee, “This is the sad reality in workplaces around the world: Women help more but benefit less from it. In keeping with deeply held gender stereotypes, we expect men to be ambitious and results-oriented, and women to be nurturing and communal.” So while I’m making coffee and taking notes, some guy is getting the promotion. Yep! Gender bias at work.  Who is making the coffee in your office?

In an article by Dana Wise in HR Magazine called Bringing Bias into the Light, it turns out that some of this gender bias is unconscious. I might be the breadwinner in my family and my husband may be the one who makes the coffee but when I recently took the Implicit Association Test (IAT) on Gender – Career, I discover I have a moderate bias towards men being associated with the workplace and with women being associated with family and the home. Me! My mother was the only person who worked outside the home on my street in the mid-sixties and my father dutifully did the dishes every night but regardless, I subconsciously associate men with the workplace.

So here are some ideas on how to make work a more even playing field with opportunities for everyone to change:

1. Discover. Take the IAT and discover if you have a bias. Odds are that you have a least a slight bias because the overwhelming majority of assessment takers did. You can’t know that you have a bias unless you find out where you are on the continuum. I tested into the largest cohort (32%) with a moderate bias. Now that I am aware of it, I can look at more objective data like scoring applicants on years of experience, certificates held and level of education. You don’t know what you don’t know.

2. Equalize. Make sure tasks in your workplace are handled equally by both genders. In the Times article they suggest “Assigning communal tasks evenly rather than relying on volunteers can also ensure that support work is shared, noticed and valued.” So ask Joe to make the coffee on Tuesdays or have the minutes be taken on a rotating basis. I actually knew a Vice President who did this with his team and one of his managers was responsible for setting up the minutes and agenda on a rotating basis (two male managers and one female manager). Share the load.

3. Public. Make sure that the efforts are public. In the article, “studies demonstrate that men are more likely to contribute with visible behaviors — like showing up at optional meetings — while women engage more privately in time-consuming activities like assisting others and mentoring colleagues.” This can be especially difficult for women. We are much more comfortable going behind the scenes and making it look easy. So guys out there? Make sure your female co-worker is being acknowledged publicly for pulling that project off. Make it public.

4. First. Women need to put themselves first. I can remember reading in Sheryl Sanberg’s book “Lean In”, that women will advocate for everyone else but themselves. So become an advocate for yourself. Sometimes I think it’s a great idea to imagine that you advocating for yourself fresh out of college. It’s easier if you think about yourself in the third person. I can ask for a raise for my twenty year old self but not for my middle aged self. According to Grant, “numerous studies show that women (and men) achieve the highest performance and experience the lowest burnout when they prioritize their own needs along with the needs of others.” This means that the women out there need to put themselves first, if not equal to everyone else. So don’t wait to be the last to grab a cookie from the plate, grab it first.

I have to say that as I write this, I asked both of my children to take the IAT (it’s free by the way). I am curious to see how both my son and daughter measure up on the Gender – Career assessment. I really hope that I have been an example of a hard working career minded women and that, on some level, it has seeped into my children’s subconscious mind. I’m guessing that it’s difficult to move gender bias in just one generation.

Falling on the Sword

I was recently at a Peer-to-Peer Human Resource group at Elinvar in Raleigh, NC.  They had an interesting speaker, Santo Costa, Esq., who spoke to the group about workplace integrity.  The surprising observation he made was that integrity in an organization can be determined by how a manager handles mistakes.  He brought up the example of General McChrystal  stepping down after comments some of his staff made to a New York Times reporter and contrasted that with Janet Reno saying she was “taking full responsibility” for the Waco Siege but went back to her office and kept her job.  I think any political example can be fraught with misinformation (press versus one party versus another party) but it does illustrate that the person who takes the bullet for his staff can dictate the culture of the organization.

Fall on the Sword
Fall on the Sword

In most organizations that I have worked in, if the leader isn’t willing to take the heat for his direct reports mistakes, there is inevitably a lack of trust.  If the leader is constantly throwing their reports under the bus for every error and misstep, it will be a culture of CYA squared (covering your butt).  If you want to build a culture of trust and integrity in work or your life, you’ll need to fall on the sword whether it’s for a direct report or your child or your spouse.

Here are some ideas on how to boost your integrity:

1. Consistent. Show up in your relationships in a consistent manner.  The ability to control one’s emotions is a basic tenet of Emotion Intelligence.  Being a hot head or moody, can put people in your life on edge.  “Hmmm.  I wonder if Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde is showing up for this budget meeting?”  Working towards authenticity involves people’s expectations being met in that they can be confident that you won’t overreact or fall off the deep end.  They know what to expect when you interact with them. Consistency is important to building trust.

2.  Humility.  Being humble in front of the team is important.  No one likes working for the leader who is constantly tooting their own horn.  The leader who does so is much less approachable. The humble leader makes sure their entire team gets credit for the project and makes sure the organization knows it. The humble leader is not trying to build their resume.  They are building everyone else’s resume.

3. Rationale.  Sharing the rationale with the folks around you builds integrity.  If you are looking at new software to make the transaction process easier, make sure the folks that will be impacted by the new software, understand the rationale.  There won’t be any buy-in if you don’t communicate the rationale.  More likely, there will be dissent and mistrust and folks might try to thwart the process.  Share the rationale.

4. Punches.  Don’t pull punches.  If there is bad news, craft the message and deliver it.  Don’t drag your feet.  Having information in limbo causes everyone to be in limbo.  The gossip mill will certainly get a tidbit of information and turn it into catastrophic conclusions in the blink of an eye.  Grab the tiger by the tail before it gets loose.  Don’t pull punches.

5. Private.  When someone makes a mistake, talk to them in private.  Figure out what went wrong; maintain their self esteem and move on to some solutions.  Don’t call someone on the carpet in front of the team.  The best practice for a leader is to critique in private.

6. Public.  When someone or the team gets something right, celebrate in public.  It’s so important to identify milestones in a project or when you finally attain the millionth customer that you celebrate.  Let everyone bath in the glory.  They will seek more of it. Others will want to be on your team.  Make sure you celebrate success in public.

7. Monkeys.  Once you have delegated a monkey (a task or project), don’t take the monkey back.  If you have assigned a monkey and the person has gotten off to a rocky start; don’t take the monkey back.  You want to check in on the monkey (make sure it’s being fed and scratched), just don’t take it back.  If people are unsure if they will keep the monkey they are much more likely to fail.  Keep the monkeys where they belong.

Building trust and creating an authentic relationship is a long process.  This cannot be created overnight.  Take responsibility for those that work for and with you.  There are times when you will need to fall on the sword but your team will be there to support you and you will create a culture of integrity.