Pregnancy Discrimination and the Motherhood Pay Gap: We Need a #MomsToo Movement

We have heard a lot in recent months about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, thanks to the #MeToo movement. But one form of gender discrimination we don’t hear a lot about is the deeply ingrained antimotherhood bias that takes a heavy toll on women’s pay and careers. Antimotherhood bias includes bias and discrimination against pregnant women, as reported by Natalie Kitroeff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg of the New York Times, who share a range of painful stories of women being fired or demoted for being pregnant. It also includes bias and discrimination against women once they have children, which is often casual, open, and unapologetic, according to Katherine Goldstein of the New York Times, even though this discriminations is illegal. This systemic bias is found in large corporations, such as Merck and Walmart, government organizations, and small businesses. Claire Cain Miller writes that antimother bias may account for most of the stubborn gender pay gap. Miller, Goldstein, Kitroeff, and Silver-Greenberg note these recent findings:

  • Research regularly shows that mothers are routinely viewed as less competent and committed to their jobs, even by other women, despite evidence to the contrary. This bias can result in women being bypassed for promotions, high visibility assignments, and bonuses when they have a child.
  • A study published in the American Journal of Sociology found that in instances where job candidates were equal in every other way, being a mother reduced the chance that a candidate would be offered the job by 37 percentage points. The recommended salary for mothers who were offered the job was $11,000 less on average than for childless female candidates. This hiring bias does not affect fathers at all. In fact, fathers tend to make more money than their childless male counterparts.
  • Couples today tend to have similar incomes at the beginning of their careers until their first child is born. Immediately after the first birth, the pay gap between spouses doubles, entirely driven by a drop in the mother’s pay, while men’s wages keep rising.
  • When women have their first child between the ages of 25 and 35, their pay never recovers, relative to that of their husbands. This is less true if the first child is born before 25 or after 35 because the woman’s career either has not yet gotten started before 25 or is already established by the time she is in her late 30s.
  • Each child chops 4 percent off a woman’s hourly wage, according to a study conducted in 2014 by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the pay gap grows larger for each additional child born.
  • Even in families in which both parents work full time, women spend almost double the time on housework and childcare. This often means that women work fewer hours, are paid proportionately less, and become less likely to get promotions or raises.
Why don’t women speak out about being passed over for promotions, visible assignments, and raises because of motherhood? Goldstein suggests that women may feel they have more to lose by speaking out. Women who are trying to have both a career and a family are pushing against negative judgment from both employers and society. They may internalize this judgment and feel guilty—and they have families to support and cannot risk being laid off or further penalized. Many lawsuits are working their way through the courts, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has had more complaints filed in recent times than ever before about discrimination against working mothers, but we still don’t hear much about this issue. What will it take to bring about change? Miller points out that more women running for political office may mean that this issue gets addressed. For example, Senator Tammy Duckworth recently became the first United States senator to give birth while in office, and she subsequently fought for changes in accommodations and practices, such as availability of a lactation room, to support mothers in the Senate. Research has also shown some other policy changes that can help women who are mothers:
  • Programs to help women reenter the workforce
  • Flexibility in when and where work gets done
  • Subsidized childcare
  • Time off for men after children are born so they can spend more time on childcare
Women may need to share their stories in a #MomsToo movement. What are your stories?   Photo courtesy of Ran Allen (CC BY 2.0)]]>

A Road Map to Gender Equity: Women in the Workplace 2016 Report

A new study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey finds little progress in advancement for women in the largest companies. This study of 132 companies employing 4.6 million people includes a review of the pipeline data of the companies, a survey of HR practices, and surveys of 34,000 employees about attitudes on gender, job satisfaction, ambition, and work-life issues.

Key Findings: The Current State

First, let’s take a look at key findings from the study:
  • Women remain underrepresented at every level. For every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted. This disparity begins early and grows larger with only 20 percent of SVP roles held by women, which results in very few women in line to become CEO.
  • Women of color face many more challenges with access to opportunity, including sponsorship, than do white women.
  • Women negotiate for promotions and raises as often as men but receive more negative feedback than men when they do.
  • Women ask for feedback as often as men but are less likely to receive it and get less access to senior leaders and sponsorship.

A Road Map to Gender Equity

The LeanIn.Org/McKinsey report offers a practical road map for how leaders can speed the rate of progress in achieving gender equity and inclusion:
  1. Communicate a compelling business case using data and stories about why gender diversity is good for the company. Senior leaders need to talk openly about the value of gender diversity and model their commitment to gender equity. Transparency through disclosure of gender metrics to employees will also demonstrate leadership’s seriousness about the issue.
  2. Ensure that hiring, promotions, and reviews are fair. This is challenging because of unconscious bias. Numerous studies show that women receive harsher and more personal judgments in reviews than men. Practices such as requiring diverse slates of candidates for internal and external hires, conducting blind resume reviews, applying clear and consistent criteria for performance reviews, and carrying out third party reviews of performance feedback to ensure fairness are all actions that can increase gender (and other) diversity.
  3. Invest in management and employee training in awareness of implicit bias for hiring and performance reviews. Managers also need training in recognizing and challenging inappropriate gender-based language and behavior and recognizing and offsetting the double-binds that women often face in the workplace—such as receiving negative feedback when asking for raises or promotions.
  4. Focus on accountability and results. I have often seen companies espouse a commitment to valuing gender diversity but refuse to hold senior leaders accountable for performance against gender metrics. Almost without fail, no change occurs when there is no accountability for senior leaders. It is also important to track salary differences by gender and to set targets so that progress can be measured.
Numerous studies show the benefits of gender diversity, but statistics from studies or one-time training sessions won’t bring about change unless the leaders of organizations invest in changing the cultures—including changes in attitudes, awareness of implicit bias, and changes in policies and procedures—of their organizations. The road map above shows the way forward for leaders. What successes have you seen and what worked? Please share your stories.   Photo Credit: Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net  ]]>

How Female Scientists Are Fighting to Be Heard

Not long ago, a prominent neuroscientist noticed an announcement for an upcoming neuroscience conference. Apoorva Mandavilli of the New York Times reports that this scientist, Dr. Yael Niv of Princeton University, also noticed that “none of the twenty-one speakers were women.” She was upset because she had been pushing for greater inclusion of women scientists as speakers at conferences for years. To top it off, the organizers of this conference were women. This event pushed Dr. Niv and about twenty of her women colleagues to take stronger action to create change. Why is it important for women to be included as speakers? Mandavilli cites Dr. Niv as explaining, “Being invited to speak on panels is more than a matter of prestige; it’s how your peers come to know who you are. When you are not known in science, your papers are less likely to be accepted. . . . [and] your grants are less likely to be funded.” In other words, it’s a matter of professional survival. I wrote in a previous article about this same challenge for female microbiologists and the importance of being invited to speak at major professional meetings for career advancement. Invitations to speak at major professional meetings are used by faculty promotion and tenure committees as evidence of external recognition and are critical to advancement decisions. The female microbiologists successfully utilized a strategy that may now work for their neuroscience sisters: they used data to bring pressure on conference organizers. In this same vein, Dr. Niv and about twenty other female neuroscientists conducted a study of more than sixty conferences in various areas of neuroscience and have posted the gender ratios of speakers to raise awareness of the problem. In the most-egregious-offender category, just eleven women compared with 213 men were speakers at thirteen of the conferences. Dr. Niv and her colleagues believe that the lack of opportunity for women to be conference speakers is the result of implicit bias. These women are brain scientists, after all, and they understand a lot about the ways people make decisions. We are often unaware of the ways that stereotypes and biases influence our decisions. For this reason, Dr. Niv and her colleagues started a website, BiasWatchNeuro, where they publish the numbers of female speakers at conferences. The website may go a long way toward helping conference organizers make more conscious decisions about who they are inviting as speakers. We all have bias. If you think you’re immune, click on this link and take some of the implicit bias tests from Harvard University. They may open your eyes. They opened mine! If you take any of the tests and are surprised by the results, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Fotoshop Tofs.]]>

The Big Picture: Most Nations Have Barriers for Working Women

A recent study by the World Bank of 173 countries, reported by Somini Sengupta of the New York Times found that “90 percent of the countries surveyed had at least one law that discriminated against women.” These restrictions on women were found in both rich and poor countries. In some cases, including in the United States, the absence of some laws creates barriers. Sengupta shared some examples:

  • The United States is one of only four advanced countries around the world with no national laws requiring paid parental leave for new mothers.
  • Russia bars women from a variety of jobs, including freight train conductor and mining rig operator.
  • Iran and Qatar are among eighteen countries that require a married woman to ask for her husband’s permission to go to work.
  • The most restrictive laws are in the Middle East, where some nations prohibit women from applying for passports or opening businesses without their husband’s permission.
  • The most restrictive economies include American allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq, along with Iran and Syria.
  • The gender wage gap is lower in countries with no restrictions but still exists almost everywhere.

Why Countries Should Care

In addition to the issue of basic fairness for girls and women regarding equal access to education and economic opportunity, countries are actually limiting their own growth and prosperity when they limit opportunities for women. Kaushik Basu, chief economist at the World Bank, noted, “Removing these [barriers] can unleash energy and growth.” It’s important for all of us to have the big picture about global gender discrimination. I think this awareness can energize us to act locally against gender discrimination when we think globally. What could acting locally look like for you?  What actions could you take?     “A Young Woman at Work” by worldbank is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.]]>

Bias and the Brain: What We Can Learn from Neuroscience about Undoing Bias

Earlier in my career I worked in an organization for a senior leader who was a white male. The CFO of the organization, also a white male, reported to my boss, and the second-in-command to the CFO was an African American woman named Allison. My peers and I could see that the CFO was a slacker. He never got back to people or produced the deliverables he promised, and he was rarely in the office. Allison did his work and her own, and everyone knew to go to Allison if they wanted results. And her work was impeccable. I was relieved when, after about five years, the CFO resigned. I was shocked, though, to discover that my boss was not even considering Allison as the CFO’s replacement. When I asked why not, he explained that he did not feel Allison had enough experience to handle the CFO role. He could not see that Allison had been operating as the de facto CFO for years. This story is an example of the impact that bias can have. A recent article by Heidi Grant Halvorson and David Rock defines biases, which we all have, as nonconscious drivers that influence how people see the world. The authors explain that biases “exert their influence outside of conscious awareness.” My boss could not see Allison’s talents and contributions, even though they were as plain as day to my peers and me. Let’s take a look at what types of biases may have been operating to make it difficult for the boss to really see Allison and what neuroscience can tell us about how to overcome biases in organizations. Scientists have identified five common biases:

  1. Similarity Biases—The two most prevalent forms of similarity bias are ingroup and outgroup preferences. In other words, “people like me are better than others.” This bias results in being more likely to hire and promote people we perceive as similar. Allison’s boss may not have been able to “see her” because she was different from him in at least two visible ways—race and gender—making it doubly hard for her to be visible to him.
  2. Expedience Biases—This form of bias results in making decisions based on what information is immediately available in the brain and what “feels right,” rather than taking the time to research or check out other perceptions.
  3. Experience Biases—People with this form of bias tend to assume that what they see is all there is to see. It is possible that Allison’s boss had never known or seen a CFO who was an African American woman and couldn’t imagine that this was a possibility.
  4. Distance Biases—This form of bias often manifests as a tendency toward short-term thinking.
  5. Safety Biases—Our brains have learned to avoid loss. Consequently, we reflexively choose what feels safe. She probably did not feel like a safe choice to him.

How to Mitigate and Manage Bias

The authors, Halverson and Rock, note that “there is very little evidence that educating people about biases does anything to reduce their influence.” They note that US companies spend $200 million to $300 million a year on diversity and sensitivity training programs. Because “human biases occur outside of conscious awareness,” training programs do not change individual ability to be aware of bias. What does work? For individuals, when you notice feeling distant or uncomfortable with people who seem different than you, look for commonalities with them. Discover the goals, values, experiences, and preferences that you share. The authors explain, “this causes the brain to recategorize these individuals” and recognize them as being affiliated with you. For organizations, the authors suggest that it is important “to cultivate an organization-wide culture in which people continually remind one another that the brain’s default setting” may be stuck in a belief that requires reflection and examination to see what else could be true. Allison’s boss was challenged by a large number of people in the organization about his belief that Allison was not experienced enough to be the CFO. It took a lot of pressure from a lot of people, but he finally relented and promoted her. He was very surprised to discover how capable she was—but he had been blinded by his biases. And we all are blinded by biases. We all need help from friends and colleagues who will challenge us to ask, “what else could be true?”   Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Women in Technology: Outsiders Within

I often hear two commonly held myths from my audiences when I make presentations on gender in the workplace: Myth #1: Things must be different for the younger generation of women and men in the workplace—gender dynamics, in general, must have changed for them. Myth #2: Technology firms like Google, as young companies that reflect youth culture, must have postsexist cultures. My audiences reason that surely young women do not have the same challenges that older women face in more mature organizations. Sorry, but wrong on all counts. In a recent article in the Boston Globe, author Callum Borchers notes that even though high-tech companies create “hip” workspaces to promote creativity and attract young workers, they still have “shades of man cave everywhere.” Borchers explains that the combination of beer kegs, ping-pong tables, Xboxes, and networking events after hours during family time can leave female workers feeling like outsiders. In addition, some women describe hypercompetitive, clubby, and aggressive work styles in these companies that reflect an adult frat-house culture where they receive subtle messages that they do not belong. And the messages are not always subtle. Two different women in the gaming industry in Boston recently received, at different times, online rape and death threats telling them to get out of the gaming world. Not all women in technology feel this way, of course, or have these negative experiences, but the low numbers of women in technology probably reflect a number of factors, which include subtle messages, pervasive stereotypes about women not being capable in math and science, few role models, and pervasive unconscious discrimination. Here are some statistics:

  • 15–17 percent of technology employees in most Silicon Valley companies, which includes Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google, are women.
  • 26 percent of computer science professionals nationwide are female, while 8 percent are black and 6 percent are Hispanic.
  • 3 percent of venture-backed technology start-ups nationwide have a female chief executive.
Technology organizations can attract and retain women if they make an effort. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Invite women to pitch ideas inside the company to overcome a tendency for women to hesitate until they feel their idea is perfectly developed.
  2. Form gender-balanced panels to interview applicants for open positions or to consider promotions to overcome unconscious bias that results in women not being hired or promoted at the same rate as men.
  3. Establish a private room for breast pumping to help attract the best young female talent, and develop family-friendly policies. Women pay attention to these details when deciding where they want to work.
  4. Establish mentoring, sponsorship, and support programs for women within the company.
  5. Fund scholarships for women to study math and science, and sponsor competitions that include lots of women.
  6. Create networking events during work hours or that families can attend (instead of golf outings or after-hours drinking and cigar parties—yes, these still occur).
  7. Encourage men to be allies and redirect attention to women’s ideas when women are ignored in meetings.
  8. Raise awareness of the double binds that women face in the workplace and how women and men can work together to overcome them.
These are just some ideas for how technology companies can increase the diversity of their workforces. Kudos to a number of the big companies, such as Intel, Google, and Facebook, that now admit they have a problem and are starting many of the efforts described above to correct the imbalances they have created. It’s not too late! Women are good at math and science and will pursue those interests if they get the message that they belong in technology professions.]]>

When Gossip Is Positive: Introducing Transknitting

Dr. Peggy Drexel reports in the Huffington Post that a research team from the University of Amsterdam found that 90 percent of total office conversation qualifies as gossip. But while gossip, or talking about other people, is generally assumed to be negative, mean, or destructive, the positive side is often overlooked. Here are some examples of the positive results of sharing information about others:

  • Gossip is a currency for building friendships.
  • It builds social bonds.
  • It builds business networks.
  • It builds teams.
The challenge is to separate the negative and positive types of gossip—to stop the negative, which damages trust and relationships, but keep the positive. The participants in my research on women’s relationships in the workplace for my new book New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together explained that sharing information about others is a friendship rule or expectation. They were confused about when it was alright to share gossip and when not to. To make the difference clear, I thought it would be helpful to have some new language to distinguish between positive and negative talk. For this reason, I coined a new term, “transknitting,” to describe the positive type of information sharing—the transfer of information about other people with the intention of building community or teams or of supporting another person. It’s the intention that distinguishes negative gossip from positive transknitting. The problem is that talking about others is so common that we often don’t stop to think about whether what we are about to share is gossip or transknitting. When I first made the distinction between the two and started talking about the difference with my friends, our interactions started to change immediately. We would say to each other, “Oh, wait a minute. I was just about to tell you something, but let me think—is it gossip or transknitting?” We began to be able to make conscious choices about what we were doing. We could choose not to participate in negative or hurtful types of talk about other people. What You Can Do When Others Try to Pull You in to Gossip Gossip is common—and I mean the negative kind—and the pressure from others to join in can be strong. Here is something you can say if others try to involve you in negative talk about someone else: “I may have missed something about Susan, but I think she means well.” In this way you haven’t offended the gossipers, but you have also kept your relationship clean with the person being talked about, and you have shown yourself to be trustworthy to everyone involved. What advice do you have about how to handle situations where others are gossiping? What do you say or do to keep from being pulled in? What is your stance about gossip, in general? This is a complicated topic that we can all benefit from reflecting on together.]]>

How and When to Tell the Boss That You’re Starting a Family

Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times explains that while having children is a routine part of life for working women, the attitudes in American culture about gender and work have not caught up with the fact that women have shown they can be both mothers and productive employees. By the same token, assumptions that men should be breadwinners and not caregivers have also not changed. The results are discriminatory for both women and men in different ways:

  • Mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work, or to be paid as much as male colleagues with the same qualifications. They are seen as less stable than women with no children or men.
  • Because men with children are seen as more stable, they are more likely to be hired than childless men and are paid more. But men with children who want to take family leave or use flexible work arrangements to be caregivers receive worse job evaluations and lower hourly raises and are at greater risk of being laid off.
  • There is no legal protection for pregnant workers. A bill called the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act, requiring employers to make “reasonable accommodation” for workers who become pregnant, does not have enough support in the US Congress to pass.
Five Tips for Preparing to Go on Maternity Leave Even with these difficulties, it is possible to balance motherhood and a career. Here are five tips to help you make the transition to maternity leave smoother for yourself and your employer:
  1. Tell your boss as soon after the first trimester as possible to allow time for planning.
  2. Know your legal rights, company policy, and the insurance benefits available to you for maternity/family leave.
  3. Think about your work calendar and begin planning early for big events or deliverables that will occur during your absence. Develop a detailed draft work plan for coverage of your responsibilities, and review this with your supervisor.
  4. Talk with your boss, or HR, about the available facilities for breast pumping so that you know whether breast-feeding is an option when you return.
  5. Determine the amount and type of contact you do or don’t want during your leave, and discuss this with your boss. Develop a communication plan for letting your colleagues and clients know who to communicate with while you are on leave.
How have you handled family planning and maternity leave in your career? Please share any ways you’ve found to overcome cultural perceptions about working mothers.]]>

Four Reasons We Need More Women in the Newsroom

  • Women make up less than a quarter of the top management positions and less than a third of governance positions worldwide in the news media, according to the International Women’s Media Foundation’s “Global Report.”
  • In the United States, only 10 percent of supervisory or upper management positions in newsrooms are occupied by women.
  • A report by the Women’s Media Center found that at the New York Times, only 31 percent of reporting bylines belong to women.
  • Here are four reasons why having more women in the newsroom can make a difference:
    1. When a significant proportion of the news media’s customers are women, and media companies everywhere are struggling to survive, including women in leadership roles will help ensure that programming and reporting will attract a broad audience.
    2. Women leaders tend to create more gender equity in their companies. In the case of Jill Abramson—the first woman to be hired as senior editor of the New York Times in its 160-year history (before she was fired)—she developed and promoted several senior female editors and achieved 50 percent female representation among the newspaper’s top editors for the first time.
    3. Diverse teams are more effective teams. Differences in perspective and life experience bring better solutions to problems.
    4. More representation for women can help keep the spotlight on issues of equity and fairness that will benefit us all.
    All of the points made here about the value that gender representation can add could also be made for all dimensions of diversity. What other benefits do you see for increasing diversity in the newsroom?]]>

    When Is It Okay to Be Selfish at Work?

  • “I am being undermined by a male peer at work. If I go to my boss and tell him what this guy is saying about me is not true, will my boss see me as selfish and self-serving?”
  • “My boss is encouraging me to apply for a position that would be a significant promotion for me. Why me? I have peers that would be good in this role, too. Will my peers see me as selfish if I apply for it?”
  • “I am burning out in my job because I am a supervisor, but I feel guilty and selfish delegating to my staff, so I do a lot myself instead of asking them.”
  • “I applied for a job, but I haven’t heard back from the woman who interviewed me. I am reluctant to call or e-mail her to follow up—I don’t want to be seen as pushy or self-serving.”
  • “I have been invited to give a TED Talk, but doing so does not relate directly to the work I am doing. The opportunity could provide me with a credential in the future if I ever change jobs, but taking the time away from my work projects to prepare this presentation feels selfish.”
  • Joyce Fletcher, in her book Disappearing Acts, addresses the need to replace the stereotype of women as “selfless” with a concrete understanding of the effectiveness of a relational leadership style. Adam Grant, in his new book Give and Take, reports on research showing that givers are more successful than takers—as long as they don’t “sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” In other words, the best strategy is a “both/and” approach—you can be focused on the needs of others and on your own interests. Here are some tips that helped my clients take care of their own interests:
    1. Stand up for yourself. If a peer, male or female, is undermining you by saying negative things about your work, letting your boss know your side of the story—and confronting your peer—is important. Let the person know you are not going to let him or her damage your credibility.
    2. Put yourself forward for promotions. Research shows that many women hesitate to apply for promotions. In an ideal world, both you and your peers would openly encourage one another, if interested, to apply for promotions and then commit to fully supporting whoever is promoted. Even in the absence of the ideal, you can, and should, apply.
    3. Avoid burnout. Check in regularly with your staff about their workload and help them prioritize their work. If the load is too heavy for them and for you, go to your boss and ask her or him to prioritize your workload or to take some things off your plate.
    Taking care of yourself and your future is not being selfish; rather, taking care of yourself will make you a better employee, boss, and colleague.]]>