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How to call out and correct gender bias at work

(ENTREPRENEUR) Gender bias is one of the many bias that are still too common in the workplace. Make work a productive place with these tips.

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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.

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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.

#DownWithBias

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Paula Kramer

    May 13, 2017 at 7:57 am

    I’m calling out inequality between women.

    Everyone seems to be ignoring the two most basic issues in feminism. First, feminist leaders are creating inequality between women. Second, feminist followers are choosing to live with inequality between women.

    The National Organization for Women (NOW) is going full steam ahead in creating inequality for its own members. NOW is denying voting rights to its own members. This is an election year for NOW’s president and vice-president. Members can vote only if they attend the national conference in July. NOW leaders chose Orlando, Florida in the middle of the Florida peninsula for this election conference. Orlando is about as far away from the rest of the country as is possible to get. No absentee voting. No voting through chapters. No voting for members who do not have the money, transportation, time, or substitute care for children, parents, and/or spouses to attend the conference.

    What’s even more frightening is that NOW members choose inequality for themselves by making choices similar to the choices Trump supporters make. They keep choosing to let elitist leaders create inequality for them and between them.

    Why are NOW members making choices that are similar to the choices Trump supporters make? Trump supporters chose a president who plans to take basic necessities away from them. NOW members chose an organization that takes voting rights away from them. Why? Self-sacrifice for the greater good? Their self-sacrifice benefits elitist leaders, but neither Trump supporters nor NOW members see that. If Trump supporters are unintelligent, what does that make NOW members?

    Elitist leaders work for their own interests, no matter what they promise to do or whom they make promises to. How many other feminists are making choices that support elitist leaders?

  2. Pingback: Kutcher's plans to discuss equality backfires in giant proportions - The American Genius

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Startups love pondering inclusion, yet half have no women in leadership

(STARTUPS) Tech startups are a huge part of discussing diversity and inclusion, but something as simple as hiring women in management somehow remains elusive.

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According to the Silicon Valley Bank’s annual report, over half of startups have no women on their leadership team. None.

As hard as this fact is to believe, it is also hardly breaking news. Organizations who have surveyed startups and technology companies for the past several years have seen that long-standing trends that disadvantage women and other genders in the tech space are still at play.

Like many other gendered debates about the treatment of women and other minority workers, this problem is seemingly a Catch 22 or a chicken and egg situation. Critics will continue to argue that the reason ladies aren’t in leadership roles is because they don’t have innate leadership qualities or that once their non-male employees have proven themselves, then they will start getting the resources and promotions that they say that they desire.

Like many other myths about women in the workforce, these beliefs only serve to reinforce the status quo by transferring the responsibility for these frustrating conditions onto the marginalized party.

These beliefs are busted not only because they’re tired gender clichés, but because we have hard data that proves the financial and cultural benefit in long-term effects of women leadership in tech.

However, for all the discussion of diversity initiatives, the likelihood of traditional funding going to women-led startups is still small.

For now, startups with women in leadership roles were more likely to get their funding from investing teams that were also led by females. Wouldn’t it be great if other investors began to not only understand that in 2019 it’s imperative that a company’s leadership reflect the diversity of the employees that comprise it? That workers will be more motivated, feel more understood, and have greater buy-in when they identify with their management?

Empowering women is how more get involved in tech. Diversity of leadership helps organizations thrive. And if something as simple as binary gender diversity is such a tremendous challenge, all other diversity issues are still (unfortunately) a large mountain to climb.

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C. J. Walker: America’s first self-made millionaire was a black orphan

(ENTREPRENEUR) When you think of our nation’s first self-made millionaire, C. J. Walker is probably not the picture that may come to mind, but this generous genius made it to the top, breaking every glass ceiling possible.

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These days, it seems like Oprah gets all the bragging rights. I don’t think it’s quite fair that some car-gifting mogul gets to bask in the glory of a path that was paved a century ago. **No offense, O Great Winfrey. You’re cool, too. Please don’t take my Altima back.**

It’s time to pay our respects to the first female self-made millionaire in America. My friends, I’d like to introduce you to your new idol, Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C. J. Walker.

This gal had just about every card in the deck working against her. Both of her parents and all of her siblings before her were born into slavery. Her mother died when she was five, and her father passed the following year. Orphaned, she lived with her older sister until she married at age 14.

As if that wasn’t enough, a mere two years after her first child was born, Sarah’s husband died. I mean, she just couldn’t catch a break. Unfortunate event after unfortunate event. She then moved to St. Louis to live with her brothers, working as a washer woman for a mere dollar a day. Classic rags-to-riches stuff.

Her brothers worked at a local barber shop, and she wound up learning a thing or two about hair care while sharing a home with them. This planted the seed that would lead to her working with Annie Turnbo Malone, selling African American hair care products. As she learned more about hair, she must have realized she had a knack for it, because she decided to roll up her sleeves and put some indie elbow grease in.

After moving to Denver to work on her own products, she married Charles Walker, who provided the advertising know-how that would help her venture succeed. She adopted the name C. J. Walker and began traveling and training women in the fields of beauty and sales.

Eleven years later, in 1917, she called her first convention of so-called “beauty culturists” in Philadelphia. Here, she rewarded her top agents as well as those who were the most philanthropic towards local charities.

What I love about C. J. is that as her business grew, so did her awareness of the social climate around her. She never forgot where she came from, never hesitated to give back, and never gave up. She lectured on topics such as women’s independence, helping educate other black women in the ways of business.

Upon her death, it was determined that she was the wealthiest African-American woman in the country. In true C. J. style, she left two-thirds of her future profits to charity.

If I ever get mega-famous, I’m doing it the C. J. Walker way: Keep a level head, educate and help others, and put your community first.

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Business Entrepreneur

7 books every entrepreneur should read

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You’ve heard it said, “do as I say and not as I do.” Read these books from authors who have figured out what works and what doesn’t when starting a business.

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The power of books

If you’re thinking about leading a startup, but not sure where to go, the internet is often the first place we look. Surely, you can find dozens of blogs, articles, stories, and opinionated editorials that can help give you something to think about.

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However, there are tons and tons of great books that can help you think about what you need to get started, how you need to change your mindset, or challenges you may confront as you begin your startup journey. Take a look at the following 7 you may want to add to your bookshelf.

1. The Startup Checklist: 25 Steps to a Scalable, High-Growth Business
This text not only boasts a 5 start rating on Amazon, but offers what few books do – practical, tangible, down to earth advice. Where lots of books try to tell you a story, talk strategy, and share wins, author David Rose instead focuses on advice that assumes no prior experience – and breaks it down from the fundamentals.

2. Nail It then Scale It: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation
Nathan Furr and Paul Ahlstrom focus on creating a lean startup by offering a step-by-step process that focuses on nailing the product, saving time, and saving money. The first step is about testing assumptions about your business, and then adjusting to growing it (hence: Nail It and Scale It). Strong aspects of this book include a great theoretical foundation, and an easy to follow framework.

3. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls that Can Sink a Startup
Wasserman’s strength here is that he focuses not only on the financial challenges, but identifies the human cost of bad relationships – ultimately how bad decisions at the inception of a start-up set the stage for its downfall. This book is a great tool to proactively avoid future legal challenges down the row, and also discusses the importance of getting it right from the start.

4. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
Horowitz writes about his experiences, taken from his blog, in a way that even inexperienced managers can touch and learn. The advice here really focuses on leading a start-up, and what lessons his experience has given him. Presented in a humorous, honest, and poignantly profane way.

5. The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company
Blank and Dorf here standout due the sheer mass of this text. A comprehensive volume at 573 pages, my favorite piece for new investors is a focus on valued metrics – leveraging data to fuel growth.

6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
A personal favorite of mine, this book is recommended for entrepreneurs not because it’s focus on business, but as a reminder that those of you wanting to start up are people. You have limited resources to manage as a person, and will need to adjust your perspective on what you care about. This book is about changing your mindset to pick your battles and be more focused.

7. Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup
Bill Aulet starts with an approach that entrepreneurs can be taught, and breaks down the process into 24 steps, highlighting the role of focus, the challenges you may encounter, and the use of innovation. This text wins due to its practicality for new start-ups, and a specific method for creating new ventures. It also features a workbook as an additional, optional resource. Check it out on Amazon

GET READING!

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