Gender Judo

One of my favorite authors and researchers, Joan C. Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings, just published new research on the likability trap for women. She reports on both her own research and other new studies that show the ways successful women overcome the likability trap and offers practical strategies that many women will find useful.

What is the likability trap? Williams defines it as a double bind that women face when they move into positions of leadership and need to be assertive and direct. She explains that the problem is in today’s American society, women are expected to be helpful, modest, nice, and indirect while men are expected to be direct, assertive, competitive and ambitious. When women move into the traditional male domains of leadership, where demonstrating masculine qualities is necessary (which women can do quite well), they do not fit the feminine stereotype. Men and women both can become uncomfortable with them. They are deemed unlikable and can find it difficult to be effective. In her interviews with two hundred successful women, Williams found that “savvy women learn that they must often do a masculine thing (which establishes their competence) in a feminine way (to diffuse backlash),”or as Williams calls it, “gender judo.” Gender judo requires extra effort for women that men don’t have to expend, but successful women report that they have to do it.

What are some strategies that successful women use? Williams pulls from her own and others’ research to describe some strategies that work. She also warns that some may be hard for the reader to swallow, but they are, unfortunately, necessary and effective. Here are some strategies for leading in a feminine way:

  • Playing Office Mom—Some successful women adopt the strategy of Office Mom. One former chief executive explained, “I’m warm Ms. Mother 95 percent of the time, so that the 5 percent when I need to be tough, I can be.” She embraces the stereotype that women are naturally nurturing so she can be assertive when she needs to be, a form of judo when you can intentionally flip back and forth from one direction to another to maintain momentum and survive and thrive as a woman leader.
  • Using a social impact cover—Williams reports that social scientists Matthew Lee and Laura Huang found that female entrepreneurs are more likely to get venture capital funding if they pitch their companies as having social impact. This “cover” helps overcome the mismatch of the stereotype of a good, community-focused woman with a hard-driving entrepreneur.
  • Negotiating—Numerous studies have been reported in recent years about the double bind for women when negotiating. Williams summarizes this research as “women who negotiate as hard as men do tend to be disliked as overly demanding.” Women have to use “softeners,” such as asking questions for clarification of the salary rather than assertively making demands. Men can just be direct and make demands.
  • Using femininity as a toolkit—This strategy requires some experimentation. Being an authentic leader is important, so each woman may have to find what works for her to do something masculine in a feminine way. For example, some women try smiling more or being more relational and asking about people’s families—which can feel unnatural for many people. Williams does caution, though, about not using a submissive conversational style, like apologizing and hedging, which can undercut your leadership credibility. Some women try to find a good mix of authoritative mixed with warmth that works for them.
  • Displaying gender—This strategy might be harder for some than others, but Williams found that some women in her study reported that wearing feminine clothes or pink lipstick when they are the only woman in the boardroom or on the leadership team helped to soften their impact on the men.

In this report, as in her book What Works for Women at Work, Williams suggests some steps that organizations can take to create cultures where women do not face barriers to success because of gender or race:

  • Organizations need to be aware and vigilant about challenging the biases that force women to take these extra measures to succeed.
  • Reward systems need to stop rewarding behavior considered appropriate for white men while punishing women and people of color for not fitting neatly into the stereotypes for their groups.
  • Both women and men should be rewarded for displaying empathy and putting the common good above self-interest.

The fact that women have to perform gender judo is unfair. But the more we talk about this double bind, the closer we get to gender equality at work.

 

Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

The Issue of Busing in the Democratic Debates

I don’t know about you, but I have been confused about Kamala Harris’s accusation on the debate stage during the first Democratic debate in June that Joe Biden did not support busing during the 1970s and 1980s. I heard Harris accused in the media after the debate of distorting the facts to bolster her political campaign. I also heard Biden deny repeatedly that he had been cozy with Southern segregationists and had not supported busing. He proclaimed over and over again that he had supported civil rights during that period. But something didn’t seem to add up. I am always suspicious about attempts to discredit powerful women. I wondered if Harris was getting the “how dare a woman show ambition and strength” treatment. And, of course, I wondered how race was playing into this whole dynamic. How could it not? As a black woman, was Harris experiencing a double whammy of backlash based on both race and gender?

For all these reasons, I found it very helpful and clarifying to read an article by Nikole Hannah-Jones in the New York Times. Hannah-Jones explains that Harris was right and provides helpful history and perspective. For example, Hannah-Jones identifies and explores the following race-neutral myths that have become the story we tell to allow people to pretend that the opposition to school desegregation was about riding a bus. Here are some of these myths:

  • The Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education failed to desegregate schools.
  • Busing was a failed strategy.
  • Busing caused “white flight” in cities.
  • White opposition to busing was not about race but maintaining neighborhood schools.
  • Northern whites thought Brown v. Board of Education applied to only Southern states.

Here are the facts about what really happened, according to Hannah-Jones:

  • Busing became a race-neutral code word for court-ordered school desegregation. School busing has been around since 1920, but only when it became a tool for integration did it become reviled. White communities blamed the act of busing for their resistance to integration, which allowed them to deny the role of racism in their protests.
  • Biden worked with Southern senators to pass a bill to ban busing for integration as part of the systematic anti-integration campaign known as Massive Resistance, waged by the white South against the Supreme Court decision.
  • The federal government got involved in enforcement only when local and state governments openly rebelled against the Supreme Court and refused to take any steps toward desegregation.
  • Busing became a vehicle of integration because, due to residential policies resulting in segregation, black and white people did not live in the same neighborhoods.
  • Biden did originally support busing for integration in 1972 but then flipped his position in 1975 and teamed up with ardent segregationists.
  • Politicians and the media blamed white flight from cities on busing, but studies show that cities with large black populations suffered from white flight whether they instituted busing or not.
  • When Northern states realized that Brown v. Board of Education also applied to them, support for Brown’s integration mandate plummeted.

The truth about integration is not the story we usually hear:

  • Busing as a tool of desegregation was very successful in the South. The South went from the most segregated region of the country for black children to the most integrated—which is still true today.
  • School desegregation significantly reduced the test-score gap between black and white children.
  • Research by Rucker C. Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, found black children in integrated schools were more likely to graduate from high school, get out of poverty, earn more as adults, not go to jail, and actually live longer.
  • Data from the Education Department shows that still today, the whiter the school, the more resources it has.

In conclusion, busing did not fail and Harris was right. We need to clear away the myths and propaganda we have been fed to see the truth so that we can see the candidates clearly.

 

Photo courtesy of Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (CC BY 2.0)

Google Update: Gender Pay Gaps and Disparities

Google’s pay gaps and disparities have been in the news since employees took matters into their own hands. In 2015, employees informally began collecting their salary data, which was published in 2017. The survey revealed significant gender and race pay disparities. Bryce Covert of the New York Times writes that after denying for years that it had a gender pay gap and refusing to make its pay data public, Google was embarrassed by its employees into instituting an annual pay equity analysis. In March 2019, Google announced the results of this year’s analysis. Covert reports, “It gave most of the raises to adjust for unequal practices to men.” This was a surprise to many. In 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) found that Google had “systematic” disparities, which were described as “quite extreme.” Women at Google cried foul about the new pay analysis and protested that it left out important information:

  • The annual pay review compared only people within the same job categories.
  • Women are “hired into lower-tier and lower-paid positions while men start in higher-level jobs with higher pay brackets.”

In other words, the analysis was not comparing whether women and men were hired in the appropriate job categories. It is a flawed and incomplete analysis. Covert notes that Google continues to refuse to release all of its pay data publicly or to the DOL for analysis, making it difficult to know the real situation with its pay gap. In 2016, President Barack Obama proposed a rule that would require all companies with one hundred or more employees to collect and report pay by race and gender. When President Donald Trump took over the White House, however, he stopped this rule from going into effect. In March 2019, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration had failed to prove its argument that the rule created an undue burden on companies. She ordered the government to move forward with implementing the rule and cleared the way for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to start requiring companies to collect and report their pay data. Google, along with all other employers with more than one hundred employees is now required to fully disclose pay data, and the public will get to see it. Transparency is important if the stubborn pay gap is ever going to be closed. American women who work full time make 20 percent less than men. Some experiences with pay transparency are instructive and encouraging:

  • A study in Denmark found that requiring pay transparency reduced the gender wage gap.
  • A review of British workplace surveys found that pay transparency raised the wages of all employees.
  • Studies in the United States found that pay gaps are smaller in public sector and unionized workplaces where pay scales are available to anyone.

On another front, in November 2018, after twenty thousand Google employees walked off the job to protest sexual harassment policies and practices, Google agreed to stop requiring forced arbitration in sexual harassment and assault cases. Daisuke Wakabayashi of the New York Times writes that in March 2019, Google did away with all forced arbitration agreements and is now dropping the requirement in employment contracts for all employees—including temporary and contract workers. This is a huge victory for the Google employees who banded together to organize the 2018 walkout. But, alas, Google still has a culture that protects high-ranking executives credibly accused of sexual harassment and rewards them with big payouts. Wakabayashi reports that most recently, a shareholder lawsuit revealed that the board of directors of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, agreed to pay as much as $45 million to a top Google executive accused of groping a subordinate. In October 2018, a $90 million payout to a different executive accused of sexual harassment sparked the 2018 walkout. Between federal court rulings requiring pay transparency, employee activism, and shareholder lawsuits, Google may yet be dragged kicking and screaming into becoming an equitable and ethical organization. Let’s not forget though that this is just the tip of the corporate iceberg. These are baby steps—but in the right direction.   Photo courtesy of https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/young-woman-programming-at-her-home-office-gm874016084-244060556]]>

Why Being an Older Woman Rocks!

It’s an exciting time to be an older woman. This wasn’t always so for me. I remember the pain of realizing, around the time I turned fifty, that people, especially men, were looking right through me as though I was invisible. I also became aware of career opportunities that were closing because of my gender and age while men were seen as viable leaders into their eighties. Don’t get me wrong—there is still plenty of ageism mixed with sexism and racism in our country—but something new is also happening for older women. There are currently some exhilarating role models of powerful older women who are refusing to be invisible. Consider these examples offered by Jessica Bennett of the New York Times:

  • Susan Zirinsky will become the head of CBS News in March at the age of sixty-six. She will be the first woman in this position and the oldest person to assume the role, replacing Les Moonves who was ousted for sexual harassment as a result of the #MeToo movement.
  • Nancy Pelosi, re-elected at the age of seventy-eight as the Speaker of the House, is the most powerful elected woman in US history.
  • Maxine Waters, at the age of seventy-nine, is the first woman and the first African American to lead the powerful Finance Committee in the House of Representatives.
  • Glenn Close beat out four younger women for the Golden Globe for Best Actress at the age of seventy-one.
  • Donna Shalala is the oldest member, at the age of seventy-eight, of the newly elected Democratic freshman class of the House of Representatives.
  • Christiane Amanpour, sixty-one, replaced Charlie Rose, also ousted for sexual harassment, on PBS last year.
  • And let’s not forget Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—the incredible RBG—who is eighty-five.
Bennett writes that there are now “more women over 50 in this country today than at any other point in history, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.” She cites Susan Douglas, a professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, as saying “a demographic revolution” is occurring. Nearly a third of women aged sixty-five to sixty-nine are still working, up from 15 percent in the late 1980s, according to a recent study by Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. Some 18 percent of women aged seventy to seventy-four work, up from 8 percent. Older women in general are also speaking out against the cultural stereotypes that they are bossy, useless, unhappy, and in the way. Mary Pipher of the New York Times notes that women are beginning to speak openly about the pleasures of being older, which resonates with me. There are, of course, health challenges that can occur as part of aging, but the risks that come with age are often outweighed by positive changes, such as the following:
  • Many older women describe themselves as vibrant, energetic, and happy.
  • We know ourselves and have developed emotional intelligence and empathy for others.
  • As Pipher notes, we find freedom from the male gaze. Once I realized I had become invisible to men as a woman over fifty, I felt a sense of relief to be free from catcalls on the street, sexual harassment, and other unwanted attention. I could just be.
  • While I still care about staying fit and enjoying clothes, I stay fit for myself and my health, and I buy and wear clothes to please myself instead of to impress others.
  • Many older women report feeling good about developing resilience after facing and surviving losses and disappointments. It’s a powerful feeling to know you can handle almost anything.
  • Being older can also mean saying “no” more easily to things we do not want to do, being less anxious in general, and having more clarity about our intentions.
  • Pipher also notes that “women are connected to a rich web of women friends” and long-term partners and have “emotional health insurance policies” that are priceless. This can be true at any age.
Let’s celebrate older women—and hear them roar!   Photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg courtesy of Supreme Court of the United States (PD-USGov) Photo of Donna Shalala courtesy of United States Congress (PD-USGov) Photo of Maxine Waters courtesy of House of Representatives (PD-USGov)]]>

When You Are the Only Woman: New Research

Not long ago a new client, Isabelle, came to me to discuss feeling confused and lost about how to be a woman leader. She had most recently worked for a Global Health NGO as the only woman on the senior management team and had taken a strong stand for promoting a woman in the organization to fill a senior-level vacancy. All her male peers wanted to hire a man from the outside. Isabelle argued that the woman was at least as qualified and that the organization needed more diversity in its leadership ranks. Finding no support among her male colleagues, she went over their heads to her boss’s boss and got his support for promoting the woman. Her own boss, who had disagreed with her, wrote a negative performance review for Isabelle’s permanent HR file, stating that she was biased and discriminated against men. He also wrote that she was too aggressive and not a team player. Isabelle felt that she had won the battle but lost the war. A short time later, she left the organization. When she came to me, she was filled with self-doubt about her leadership abilities and was unsure if she ever wanted to work in a male-dominated organization again. Many women find themselves in Isabelle’s position as the only woman on a team. Rebecca Greenfield of the Boston Globe reports on a new study from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. on a group of women called “Onlys,” defined as those who are often or always the only female in the room at work. In a survey of more than sixty-four thousand employees in 279 US companies, the research found that one in five women put themselves in the Only category. The number rises to 40 percent for women in senior or technical roles. Survey participants reported facing more challenges in organizations as Onlys than other women:

  • Half of the Onlys say they need to provide more evidence of their competence than others do.
  • Onlys are twice as likely to be mistaken for someone more junior.
  • They are almost twice as likely to be subjected to demeaning comments.
  • They are twice as likely to report being sexually harassed at some point in their careers.
The situation is worse for Onlys who are women of color, half of whom report that they are often the only person of their race in work settings and are subject to more scrutiny and exclusion than white women. The LeanIn-McKinsey survey results also disproved a myth often offered to explain why there are so few women in senior-level positions in organizations: women do not want to be senior leaders. The LeanIn-McKinsey survey found:
  • Almost half of the Onlys say they want the top job in their organizations.
  • Of the Onlys surveyed, 80 percent say they want promotions.
While ambition is not lacking for Onlys, the article also states that “being an Only ‘takes a physical and emotional toll.’” Like Isabelle, Onlys are less likely to stay in their organizations. Greenfield explains that the benefits of diversity for organizations do not kick in with tokenism, which is diluted diversity. Other studies have shown that the barriers and double binds that women face in organizations do not change unless women constitute a majority of leadership. Some research on barriers and double binds include the following:
  • Women are given more negative performance reviews with more negative personality criticisms.
  • Women get interrupted more and then are criticized for not talking enough in meetings.
  • Women must walk a tightrope between being effective versus likeable and too feminine versus not feminine enough.
It is important that we understand the stress and distress for women who are Onlys in organizations. Onlys can easily become exhausted both physically and emotionally and begin to doubt themselves—and they often leave organizations. Even when there are some supportive male colleagues and mentors in their lives, women who are Onlys seldom have the support of other women who are also Onlys—because they are isolated from other women by definition. It is critical that women become aware of the Only phenomenon and join together with other women who share their experience by seeking out professional networking groups or forming their own. A support group of women can become a place for grounding and strategizing—and staying focused on your goals. If you are an Only, what has worked for you?   Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine (CC BY-ND 2.0)  ]]>

Girls Do More Chores and Get Paid Less: The Gender Gap Starts Early

Can it really be that a source of the stubborn gender wage gap in the workplace is how girls and boys are treated at home? Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports new research that supports this idea. What has the treatment of children in the home got to do with adults in the workplace? Researchers agree that one big reason for the gender pay gap is that because women often carry a bigger share of the responsibility for home maintenance and childcare, they may work fewer hours for some part of their career and fall behind men in pay and career advancement. Miller cites researchers as explaining that “achieving equality . . . will require not just preparing girls for paid work, but also teaching boys to do unpaid work.” The roles children play in the home growing up shape the roles they take as adults. Miller reports new studies that show “girls still spend more time on household chores. They are also paid less than boys for doing chores and have smaller allowances.” The gender pay gap, and the gaps in responsibility for housework start early. Here are some of the findings reported by Miller from these new research studies:

  • One study found that boys ages 15 to 19 do about half an hour of housework a day while girls do about forty-five minutes. Housework is defined as cooking, cleaning, pet care, yard care, and home and car maintenance.
  • Another study based on American Time Use Survey diaries between 2003 and 2014 of 6,358 high school students aged 15 to 19 found differences based on the education level of parents. College-educated parents expected daughters to spend slightly less time on chores than do parents with a high school education. Both sets of parents expect girls to spend more time than boys overall, and expectations for boys from both sets of parents have not changed.
  • Another study found that boys are paid more allowance for doing chores. This study analyzed 10,000 families using the chore app BusyKid and found that boys using the app earned twice what girls did for doing chores—$13.80 per week compared to $6.71 for girls.
  • This same study based on the BusyKid app also found that boys were more likely to be paid for personal hygiene like brushing their teeth or taking a shower while girls are paid for cleaning.
Scholars note that the gender gap for chores for children is worldwide. Miller cites Christia Spears Brown, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky, as explaining, “Chores are really practice for adult living, so the problem is it just gets generationally perpetuated.” We need to become aware of the lessons and training we are giving our children about gender-role expectations if we are ever going to see gender equality in work and pay in the future. How do you handle this challenge in your family? Please share with us what works to equalize gender roles in your family.   Photo courtesy of David D (CC BY 2.0)]]>

How Women Are Changing Mainstream Politics

Women are running for office in record numbers since the 2016 election. Michael Tackett of the New York Times writes that Clinton’s loss triggered not only a surge of female candidates but also a surge of young women managing campaigns and “reshap[ing] a profession long dominated by men.” Many women running for office want female campaign managers who will shape winning messages and plan bold platforms and strategies. Tackett reports that this year, 40 percent of campaign managers for Democratic congressional candidates are women—a dramatic increase from the negligible numbers counted in a 2010 study conducted by Rutger’s University Center for American Women and Politics. Many of the campaign messages produced so far this year by both Republican and Democratic women are changing the rules of politics. Stephanie Ebbert of the Boston Globe notes that “running like a man often doesn’t work” for women. Women candidates are throwing caution to the wind and, according to Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, are “running very boldly.” For example:

  • One Republican congresswoman running for the Senate told her party in a campaign ad to “grow a pair of ovaries.”
  • Two Democratic candidates for governor have created ads to pitch their candidacies while breast-feeding on camera.
  • A Democratic woman asked in her campaign ad, “Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting?”
  • The Vote Me Too PAC is running ads that say, “51 percent of our population has vaginas. 81 percent of members of Congress don’t have vaginas. [This] leads to a culture where sexual discrimination and sexual violence are tolerated.”
Ebbert quotes Kelley Ditmas, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University, who says that women are touting “their gender as a value-added, as a credential, as one among many merits that they bring to office-holding.” Susan Chira of the New York Times writes that women running for office are using motherhood not just as a credential but also as a weapon in some of the following ways:
  • They tell their own wrenching stories of sick children and their fears for them as they watch their government attack healthcare.
  • They tout their experiences with motherhood helping them to hone the skill of multitasking, which will help them cut through the gridlock in Congress.
  • They tell stories of their fears of gun violence in their children’s neighborhoods and schools as they support gun control measures.
  • In one campaign ad where the candidate was breast-feeding on camera, she linked her work as a state legislator to a bill she helped pass to ban BPA from baby bottles.
As part of the record-breaking surge of women running for office, Julie Turkewitz of the New York Times notes that a historic number of Native American women are running for elective office. No Native American woman has ever served in the U.S. Congress. Four are running for Congress and many more are running for seats in state government. This surge is partly the result of liberal energy unleashed by the 2016 election, the #MeToo movement, and a broader move of Native Americans into mainstream politics in recent years. Turkewitz shares the story of Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, a Native American woman running for office. Haaland argues that many of the issues affecting native communities, such as low wage jobs, violence against women, and access to safe and affordable healthcare, affect everyone. In several states, the Native American population is large enough to sway elections. Having more women in elected office can create great change as issues concerning women gain more support. These are exciting times to support women candidates. Let’s encourage everyone to vote in primaries and the November elections.   Photo courtesy of Chris Tse (CC BY-ND 2.0)]]>

Could the Ban on Asking about Past Salaries Backfire for Women?

Recent changes in laws in New York, California and Delaware that were designed to end the gender pay gap by forbidding employers from asking about previous salary when interviewing candidates during the hiring process may have unintended negative consequences. Noam Scheiber of the New York Times writes that conscious and unconscious bias can still be at play and might even make the gender pay gap worse:

  • When employers cannot ask about salary, they might assume that a woman will accept less than a man and offer a particularly low salary.
  • Some employers offer a very low salary when they cannot ask about salary history and assume that applicants will speak up if they previously made significantly more. This can leave women worse off because they tend to be more reluctant to bargain than men.
It will take some time before we have enough data from these changes in the law to know their impact for sure. What does not bode well, though, are some recent studies reported by Scheiber on the impact of laws in some cities and states prohibiting employers from asking about criminal records during the job application process. These studies found that employers appeared to assume that young black and Hispanic men were more likely to have criminal records—and they hired fewer of them once the new policies were in place. It is too early to have any long-term results of these new salary laws, but we must keep trying ways to close this stubborn gender gap. Transparency or required reporting from companies on salary gaps determined by race and gender (at least) may still be the best avenue to pursue in terms of public accountability to close the pay gaps. Let’s keep the pressure on.   Photo courtesy of mohamed_hassan (CC0 1.0)]]>

Women Are Calmer under Pressure: New Research

New research by Alex Krumer of the University of St. Gallen, as reported in the Harvard Business Review, finds that women respond better to pressure in competitive sports than men do. Krumer and his colleagues analyzed more than 8,200 games from high-stakes Grand Slam tennis matches. They chose to include only the first matches of Grand Slams to control for the fatigue factor. They also chose Grand Slam tennis matches because performance was easy to measure, the monetary incentives and ranking points were the largest out of all the tournaments, and men and women received the same prize money. Krumer and his colleagues found that the men’s performance in unbroken serves deteriorated more than the women’s when the game was at a critical juncture, such as a 4-4 tie. Krumer said, “Among women, we saw barely any difference between pre- and post-tie performance.” While the researchers acknowledge that applying this information to the labor market is difficult, they also speculate that biological differences between men and women identified by other researchers are consistent with their results. These are just two examples:

  • The literature on cortisol, the stress hormone, shows that levels of it increase more rapidly in men than in women, which can hurt performance.
  • Testosterone, a proven performance enhancer, increases after a victory and decreases after a defeat in men but not in women. Spikes in testosterone can lead to overconfidence and higher risk taking.
In previous articles, I reported on studies that show similarities and differences in factors affecting decision making between women and men. The differences in risk-taking behavior show that overconfidence is a major obstacle in making smart decisions. The tennis researchers note that while they cannot demonstrate a direct relationship between performance in Grand Slam tennis matches and competence in the business world, other research shows significant differences, probably at least partially biologically based, in how women and men handle pressure. The researchers suggest that we consider the variety of roles in which we want leaders who can stay calm under pressure, such as CEOs and political leaders with control of nuclear weapons. Krumer suggests that “if you’re talking about mental toughness, maybe in certain circumstances it’s women who have the edge,” yet we have a dearth of women in CEO (4 percent of Fortune 500 chief executives) and political leadership roles. Clearly, that needs to change. What steps are you taking to make a difference?   Image courtesy of businessforward (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Why Gender- and Race-Blind Hiring Does Not Work to Combat Bias

Two years ago, my niece, an engineer in her twenties with solid work experience, started a new job about which she was very excited. She was one of very few women in this engineering company, which was not unusual. When she returned from maternity leave about six months ago, after having her first child, she was treated so badly by her male manager that she eventually resigned. After her return from maternity leave, her manager took away her meaningful projects and gave her boring work that no one in the company cared about. He denied her requests for flex time, for permission to occasionally work remotely, and for permission to leave early on days when she had medical appointments. He made disparaging remarks about her needing breaks to pump and made comments that implied she was useless to him because she would probably have more babies. She complained to HR who said nothing could be done. She could not thrive there. With every day that passed, she felt worse about the company and began to doubt herself. She left. Organizations think they can solve the problems of underrepresentation of white women and women and men of color in their workforce by using gender- and race-blind résumé screening to eliminate bias in the hiring process. Katharine Zaleski of the New York Times describes “blind hiring” as a dangerous trend. In this process, the names of candidates are removed from résumés and voices are altered during phone interviews to “mask” the gender and race of candidates in an attempt to eliminate bias. Zaleski cites studies showing that blind hiring does not work because

  • The résumés of white women and women and men of color still get screened out when gaps in a résumé signal the applicant is probably a woman who took time out for caregiving, or when the names of colleges, college majors, or volunteer activities indicate the applicant may be a person of color.
  • Even if the blind résumé gets a candidate through an initial round of screening, the biases of hiring managers kick in later during the traditional in-person interview.
  • Using blind-hiring processes does nothing to create organizational cultures where white women and women and men of color can thrive. Once hired, they will not stay if the organization has not worked to create an inclusive culture where diversity is valued.
Zaleski notes that blind hiring “is a misguided distraction from the hard work of evaluating and fixing the ways in which their cultures drive out” white women and women and men of color. My niece now works for a different company. Her new boss is a woman with young children who is relaxed and confident about parents being good workers. The organization has solid family-friendly policies and practices. My niece says her goal is to work hard, do her best work, and advance as a professional in her new company. In other words, she feels she can thrive there. Her old company pushed her out and lost a valuable employee because of gender biases. That didn’t have to happen.   Photo by Amtec Staffing, CC BY-SA 2.0.  ]]>