A noted executive notices a trend
Former Google and Apple executive, investor, and entrepreneur, Ellen Petry Leanse noticed something simple in emails she was receiving from female friends and coworkers, but not males, and asserts that the very word can inadvertently undermine one’s credibility.
“It didn’t take long to sense something I hadn’t noticed before: women used “just” a lot more often than men,” Leanse notes, adding that it’s a permission word that puts one in a position of subordinance, and is one used frequently by women. Could this be undermining women’s credibility in the workforce or in other relationships?
Rather than dissect Leanse’s position, we’ll feature it below and invite you to weigh in with your comments – have you noticed yourself doing this very same thing?
“Just” Say No
By Ellen Petry Leanse, originally published on Women2.com:
A few months into the three-plus years I spent at Eastwick, a Silicon Valley tech strategic communications agency, I noticed something: the frequency with which the word “just” appeared in email and conversation.
Everyone at Eastwick was whip-smart and wired for success. The culture elicited high standards, impact, and accountability. “Type A” set the tone, led by Type A-in-Chief Barbara Bates, a proven entrepreneur and hard-driving, don’t-mince-words business leader. So the frequent appearance of “just” somehow ruffled my feathers. It seemed inconsistent with clarity I experienced at Eastwick, and it made me curious.
I wondered if the high ratio of female to male employees had something to do with it.
I arrived at Eastwick directly from Google, which had a more traditional gender mix, and where I didn’t seem to hear “just” nearly as much. “It’s your imagination,” I told myself. Yet after a while I knew it was real: that “just” just kept showing up in too many emails, meetings, and conversations.
“I just wanted to check in on…”
“Just seeing if you’d decided between….”
“If you can just give me an answer, then…”
“I’m just following up on…”
I started paying attention, at work and beyond. It didn’t take long to sense something I hadn’t noticed before: women used “just” a lot more often than men. It was a hunch – I had no data. Yet even if it was selective listening, it seemed I was hearing “just” three to four times more frequently from women than from men.
It hit me that there was something about the word I didn’t like. It was a “permission” word, in a way – a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking “Can I get something I need from you?”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a “child” word, to riff Transactional Analysis. As such it put the conversation partner into the “parent” position, granting them more authority and control. And that “just” didn’t make sense.
I am all about respectful communication. Yet I began to notice that “just” wasn’t about being polite: it was a subtle message of subordination3, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.
And as I began to pay attention, I was shocked – believe me – at how often I used the word.
At Eastwick, people weren’t shy about coaching each other: we all worked hard to better our skills. So I let a memo fly about the “J” word and suggested a moratorium on using it. We talked about what it seemed to imply (everyone agreed) and how different that message was from the way we saw ourselves: trusted advisors, true partners, win-win champions of our clients’ success.
As a team, we started noticing when and how we used “just” and outing each other when we slipped. Over time, frequency diminished. And as it did we felt a change in our communication – even our confidence. We didn’t dilute our messages with a word that weakened them.
It was subtle, but small changes can spark big differences. I believe it helped strengthen our conviction, better reflecting the decisiveness, preparedness, and impact that reflected our brand.
Yet “just” still bugged me. Sure, I’d had my little experiment with friends. But I’d acted on a hunch, maybe right, maybe wrong.
So I ran a test in the real world.
In a room full of young entrepreneurs, a nice even mix of men and women, I asked two people – a guy and a girl – to each spend three minutes speaking about their startups. I asked them to leave the room to prepare, and while they were gone I asked the audience to secretly tally the number of times they each said the word “Just.”
Sarah went first. Pens moved pretty briskly in the audience’s hands. Some tallied five, some six. When Paul spoke, the pen moved…once. Even the speakers were blown away when we revealed that count.
Now, that’s not research: it’s a mere MVP of a test that likely merits more inquiry, but we all have other work to do.
Plus, maybe now that you’ve read this, you’ll heighten your awareness of that word and find clearer, more confident ways of making your ideas known. In other words, help take the “J Count” down. Take the word out of your sentences and see if you note a difference in your clarity – and even the beliefs that fuel the things you say.
It’s actually easy, once you start paying attention. Like it?
If so, then, to riff Nike: well….”Do it.”
Unify your remote team with these important conversations
(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.
Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.
According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.
Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.
Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.
With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.
The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.
Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.
This story was first published in November 2020.
How to apply to be on a Board of Directors
(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.
We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.
Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:
1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.
As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.”
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).
The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.
Age discrimination lawsuits are coming due to the pandemic – don’t add to the mess
(BUSINESS NEWS) Age discrimination is spreading despite intentions to help, and employers need to know how to proceed in this unprecedented era.
A 2015 survey found that 75% of older workers found age an obstacle in job hunting. COVID-19 made the situation much worse.
Not only do older workers deal with discrimination, but they are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from the virus. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, older workers were hit the hardest by job loss during the pandemic, which is unusual during a recession. As offices reopen, employers need to be careful to avoid age discrimination in rehiring.
Lawyers expect age discrimination lawsuits to increase.
Last September, Harris Meyer published an article in the ABA Journal that predicted a “flood of age discrimination lawsuits” from the pandemic. Employers who have good intentions by keeping older employees out of the workplace to protect their health are still guilty of age discrimination.
What can employers do to avoid age discrimination?
It may be fine line between making sure you don’t discriminate based on age while offering ADA accommodations. The first thing employers should do is to know what laws apply based on their location. Some states exempt employees over 65 from returning to the workplace out of safety fears, meaning that those employees can still get unemployment. Other states are cutting benefits if employees don’t return to work, regardless of age.
There are some jurisdictions that have passed legislation about which workers have the right to be recalled. Next, review your own policies and agreements with laid off and terminated employees. You may want to consult legal counsel to make sure you’re covering your bases.
As you rehire, whether you’re bringing back former employees or hiring new team members, do not make hiring decisions based on age. Keep good documentation about your decisions to terminate certain employees. If you are citing poor performance, make sure to have a record of that. Don’t terminate older employees who have bigger salaries just because of lower sales. Monitor your words (and that of your hiring team) to avoid bias in hiring and firing.
Provide accommodations or not?
According to the SHRM, “Workers age 40 and older are protected from bias by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; however, that law doesn’t require employers to make accommodations for safety concerns.”
Still, employers can provide flexibility for workers, but it largely depends on the type of job. Reaching an accommodation for an office worker will be much easier than accommodating a sanitation worker.
Employers should assume that workers aged 40 and older can return to work. When the need for help is raised by the employee, enter negotiations for accommodations. Don’t initiate the conversation, and absolutely avoid any references to age.
Know that the environment may change as the pandemic continues to affect workers.
Be thoughtful about your hiring practices moving forward to avoid costly litigation from age discrimination.
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