Bias in the workplace
Being a working woman isn’t easy. As evidenced by the recent scandals at Uber and Fox News, sexual harassment is still rampant in many workplaces, revealing company cultures that treat women as entertainment accessories rather than equal players.
Although less invasive, gender biases and stereotypes are foundational to a sexist culture that makes such harassment possible – a culture that insists that women are less valuable and less intelligent than men.
Contributing to the ceiling
Deb Liu, vice president of platform and marketplace at Facebook, points out that gender stereotypes are more than just a nuisance – they actually limit what women can achieve in their careers.
Studies show that women who belong to a parent-teacher association are 79 percent less likely to be hired.
They will be offered a significantly smaller salary, because recruiters question their commitment to their career. While it may be legitimate to question a candidate’s work-home balance, male candidates with children are not penalized in the same way as women.
The golden question
Fortune.com asked Liu “How can women respond to gender stereotyping at work?” Liu encourages readers to call out gender stereotypes when you hear them, pointing out that “Each time we let stereotyping go by without calling it out we… tacitly agree that stereotyping is okay. These missed opportunities allow gender stereotyping to persist.”
But how do you call it out?
It’s especially difficult to call out gender stereotypes because you might just get stereotyped again. If you respond with hurt or offense, you may be told that you are being too emotional, oversensitive, or hysterical, or you might get a reputation as the one who always pulls the “gender card.”
While Liu recommends calling out gender stereotypes, her method may work for some better than her others.
The examples she gave were fairly straightforward. For example, when a male coworker described a female job candidate as “too bossy,” Liu responded, “Please don’t say that. You wouldn’t use that term to describe a male candidate.”
Liu’s response does two things.
First of all, it sets up a boundary of acceptable behavior. Setting a firm boundary can be particularly helpful if you don’t have the time or emotional energy to help someone unpack their bias. Simply saying “I don’t care for that type of language, please don’t use it around me,” may not cause the person to magically transform their bias, but it will give them something to think about, and will remove the offending behavior from your immediate vicinity.
Pointing out how a word or stereotype would be applied differently to a man is also helpful. The Family Circle First Lady Cookie Contest apparently seemed like a cute idea for many years, until Hilary Clinton ran for office. The idea that a “first husband” would bake cookies to help his wife’s campaign seemed embarrassing – which illuminated how absurd the entire concept was in the first place.
What worked well for Liu is these call-outs, because her coworkers were willing to examine their language and then clarify more specifically what they really meant. A coworker who described Liu’s meetings with the loaded term “gossipy” was forced to get specific and point out that the chatty, casual atmosphere of the meetings didn’t suit him.
Asking someone directly “what did you mean by that?” can be a powerful way to call out a stereotype.
If you simply label the person as sexist, they may go on the defensive. Asking what they meant gives the person the benefit of the doubt that they may not have meant to put down someone, while also subtly but directly challenging them to explain their meaning in a thoughtful way. If they are simply being biased, they’ll probably stutter and mumble and realize their embarrassing mistake. If they didn’t really mean to be sexist, they’ll be encouraged to find a way to say what they meant that doesn’t rely on a gender stereotype.
As Liu explains, “Making implicit gender stereotypes explicit and openly confronting them… pushes us to challenge those notions, which ultimately benefits us all.”
Taking this strategy one step further
Liu makes some great suggestions, and I’d like to add my own – and remind readers that these strategies work for gender biases (both men and women), but could also be applied to stereotypes about race, sexual orientation, or other identity factors.
One strategy is to recast the offensive comment in the light of the person’s more positive values or behavior.
For example, I might say, “Kristen, I’ve always noticed how respectfully you treat the men in the office. So I’m surprised to hear you use such a loaded term to describe Jason.” Once again, you reduce the likelihood that the person becomes defensive by assuming (or at least pretending to assume) that they didn’t mean to be sexist. This strategy helps close the cognitive gap in people who think of themselves as open-minded and fair, but still unconsciously exhibit bias.
If you can afford the emotional vulnerability, it can sometimes be helpful to respond by expressing your feelings.
This strategy works best with people who already respect you and care about how you feel. Point out how stereotypes about women, even when applied to someone else, make a hostile work environment for you. For example, at a past job, when we hired an older woman to join our team, I heard a man jokingly ask, “whose grandma is that?” I let him know that while his joke may have seemed innocent, it made me nervous to wonder if I would feel out of place or lose the respect of my coworkers as I aged. When he thought about me, someone he respected, being the butt of such a joke, he realized his error and apologized.
Besides learning the delicate art of calling out bias, we need to also train ourselves to receive such feedback well, in whatever form it comes.
Requiring women to not only process stereotypes, but to do so calmly, eloquently, and effectively, and then to deal with the backlash, is a lot to ask (especially after being told to be calm and sit down for so many generations).
Hearing a gender stereotype can be a truly demoralizing experience. Have compassion for the fact that a coworker may feel vulnerable, hurt, angered, or frightened, so their response may not always be graceful, be they male or female.
Practice makes habits. Make good habits
Whatever your strategy, don’t give up! Bias is everywhere, so you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice. It’s an unfortunate burden that women have to carry, but a necessary one.
Only by calling out stereotypes when we see them can we begin to challenge these unconscious biases and create a more equal workplace.
How to spot when it’s time to go full freelance
(ENTREPRENEUR) There may come a point when traditional work becomes burdensome. Know how to spot when it is time to go full freelance.
Freelancing is often thought of as a mythical concept, something that is almost too good to be true. While it isn’t all about hanging out at home in your pajamas all day, being a freelance is something that is completely possible to be successful – assuming you do your homework.
Recently, a friend of mine who is a licensed esthetician was no longer happy with her position at the salon and spa she worked for. The set hours were becoming a burden, as was having to divvy up appointments between another esthetician within the salon.
She noticed an increasing number of people asking her if she could perform services (eyebrow and lip waxing) from her home, as they preferred not to go into the hectic salon. My friend also found an increase in requests for her to travel to bridal parties for their makeup, rather than the parties coming into the salon.
It was around this time that my friend began to seriously consider becoming a freelance esthetician, rather than a salon employee. After about six months of research and consideration, she decided that this was the best route for her.
Below are the reasons she felt ready to pursue this option, and if they resonate with you, you may be ready for a full time freelance career.
1. She had a number of built-in clients and a list of people she could contact to announce her at-home services. Doing this at the start of one’s career would be very difficult without a contact list and word-of-mouth references, so it’s important to have…
2. …experience! My friend had worked for a number of salons over the years, and had the experience of working with all different types of clients. She also learned what she liked and didn’t like about each salon, which were pieces that factored into her own work-from-home space.
3. Since she had years of experience and had done all of the necessary aforementioned research, she knew what was expected of her and knew that getting a freelance career off the ground wouldn’t be a walk in the park. Operating a freelance career is completely on you, so you have to be 100 percent dedicated to making it work – it won’t just happen for you.
4. Once she began thinking about this idea nonstop and became more excited, she knew it was time to move forward. At first, the “what ifs” were daunting, but became more positive as time went on. If the idea of being a freelancer elicits more smiles than frowns, definitely take the time to consider this option.
5. In addition to the clients she already had, she also had an amazing support system who helped her develop her freelance brand and get her at-home business up and running. Having a solid group of people in your life that will help you is crucial, and any offer for help should be appreciated.
Other things to consider are: do you have enough money saved in case the freelance venture takes longer than planned to take off? If not, maybe stick with the day job until you feel more financially secure.
Jumping into something too quickly can cause you to become overwhelmed and drown in the stress. Make sure you’ve covered every single base before making this leap. Good luck, freelancers!
Hobby to profession: The new-age entrepreneurs
(ENTREPRENEURS) Turning your hobby into a career is harder said than done but a few knitters are putting on a clinic on how to do it.
I’ve often heard the advice that you should follow your passion, and eventually, someone will pay you to do it. But the truth is, turning your hobby into a career is easier said than done. The process by which a person turns a hobby into a business is poorly understood by experts – at least partially because it’s so difficult to collect data on this topic. In order to separate the lifelong hobbyists from the entrepreneurs, you’d have to trace the activities of many hobbyists over many years to understand how their paths diverged.
An MIT Ph.D. candidate has hit upon a novel way to research the transition from hobby to entrepreneurship by following Ravelry.com, a social media and pattern-sharing platform for knitters and crocheters, often known as the “Facebook of knitting.” The site encourages crafters to keep track of and share their projects, tools, techniques, and patterns.
The Washington Post reports that by analyzing over 400,000 profiles on Ravelry.com and interviewing 100 knitters, found through an additional newsletter and three blogs, Ph.D. candidate Hyejun Kim was able to draw some interesting conclusions about what can “cause someone to flip the switch from ‘fun’ to ‘profit.’” Only 1.5 percent of Ravelry users become entrepreneurs who sell their own patterns, knitted items, or yarns. What sets this small number of knitters apart?
Although the internet provided the crucial data Kim needed for the study, it was, in fact, real-world connections and encouragement that turned out to be the tipping point into entrepreneurship for most knitters-turned-business-owners. When asked why they decided to start their own businesses, most reported that they were encouraged by their friends and spouses.
Most of the crafters who became entrepreneurs were already very skilled knitters, to begin with. Kim was able to isolate a number of knitters who joined in-person knitting groups like Stich ‘n’ Bitch. Those who joined a group were 25 percent more likely to become entrepreneurs than those who didn’t. That’s because their crocheting comrades would compliment their creations, boosting their confidence and inspiring them to take it to the next level.
It shouldn’t be overlooked that 96 percent of Ravelry users are women. The forces of sexism in the world of startups and the undervaluation and domestication of women’s handicrafts likely combine to give women the impression that their skills and talents are just for fun and shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to make money. Kim’s research shows that when it comes to entrepreneurship, sometimes talented women just need a nudge in the right direction.
Teach kids music and they’ll learn entrepreneurship
(ENTREPRENEUR) Sowing the seed of music education and appreciation in your child when they’re young is a great way to produce the fruit of entrepreneurship when they’re older.
With all the focus sports gets as the petri dish for producing driven adults, I’d like to offer up a different extracurricular activity for your consideration: music. Supporting your child as they learn how to harmonize with others will help set them up for success later in life, as music cultivates many of the characteristics that entrepreneurs rely on every day.
Anybody who’s played an instrument or been a part of a choir can tell you that the number one thing you’ll learn in a musical group is that you won’t make it unless you practice, practice, practice. Although in the moment it’s not that great to hear little Timmy or Ginny run through their C-scale a hundred times, a few years down the line when all those hours of iterating result in the lilt of Beethoven through your household, you can be sure that your kid has learned that repeating the little steps helps them achieve large goals.
A large part of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing your markets, or your audience, and able to keep their attention so that they come back to you when they need your business. Being a part of an ensemble not only teaches children to be comfortable in the spotlight but to crave putting on a show.
When young musicians come together to play in a band or raise their voices in a choir, they’re learning a lot about how to collaborate with others in order to achieve a goal. When a young alto sings alone, her notes may sound strange without the soprano tones filling out the melody. The duet that comes from them learning to work together and complement each other builds a strong foundation for any team venture your child will encounter later in their careers.
Although music provides a solid foundation in harmony, it also contains just as much grit and competition as the football field. Music groups compete in regional and national championships just as athletes do, and solos offer opportunities to self-select and advocate. Hell hath no fire like a second seat musician who dreams of being first chair.
Unlike sports, music is accessible to those who might struggle with finding confidence. There are no “best” requirements to play—regardless of height, weight, and other characteristics that nobody has any control over—nearly anyone can pick up an instrument or find their voice. This perhaps may be the greatest gift that you can give your child, the confidence that no matter what they look like they can excel.
As your child begins to consider the different activities that will help them build toward their future, don’t discourage them from pursuing a musical path. When they have to stand in front of an audience of their peers and deliver a presentation with an unwavering voice, they’ll thank you for the years they spent getting comfortable in the spotlight. Especially if they pursue entrepreneurship!
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