How We All Lose When Women Are Devalued

A coaching client recently shared with me that while still a college student she was sexually assaulted by an important person at her school. When she told her guidance counselor about it, he advised her to say nothing to protect the reputation of the school. She said nothing. Now, many years later, and thanks to the #MeToo movement and some professional development work she’s engaged in, she has become aware that some of her physical and emotional problems are probably related to the buried trauma from her sexual assault. For the first time, she is starting to talk about what happened to her, which is so important for the healing process. Untreated trauma from sexual assault can cost victims their health, marriages, careers, and their lives if it is not addressed. As Sallie Krawcheck of the New York Times writes, it can seem like a seismic shift is taking place in our culture as the avalanche of sexual harassment and assault stories, previously unspoken, silenced, or disbelieved, come pouring out. While this outpouring is important, Krawcheck notes that sexual harassment is part of a larger problem in our culture: women are demeaned and devalued. The cost of demeaning and devaluing women is not only the high incidence of sexual harassment and a general culture of rape on our college campuses and elsewhere but a problem that’s costing all of us in other ways as well:

  • Women’s ideas are discounted and their talents ignored in all kinds of social, academic, and work settings. In a previous article, I wrote about Krawcheck’s direct experience with the ways that homogeneity on Wall Street resulted in the groupthink that crashed our economy in 2008 with the subprime lending debacle. Krawcheck was fired from a senior leadership position at Smith Barney for diverging from the groupthink of the financial industry and daring to be client focused. We all lost when the market crashed.
  • Krawcheck points out that, “despite research showing that companies with more diversity, and particularly with more women in leadership, offer higher returns on capital, lower risk and greater innovation than firms without such leadership, Wall Street has been, and is, predominantly male at the top,” as are most other sectors of our economy. Without diversity of perspectives and a broad range of skills, poor decisions get made that can have widespread impact on the lives of everyday people.
I agree with Krawcheck that the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are important, but that the current focus on sexual harassment is only one step on the change journey. Valuing girls and women means eliminating gender bias in our workplaces and institutions and creating safe, respectful and inclusive workplaces, schools, and social institutions.   Photo by Sam Valadi, CC BY 2.0.]]>

How Technology Companies Can Hire and Retain More Women

For some time now, technology companies have acknowledged that women are underrepresented in their companies in technology and leadership positions. Both large and small companies in Silicon Valley have publicly announced their intentions to increase the representation of women and minorities in their ranks, yet not much progress has been made. Katharine Zaleski, the cofounder of a company that helps clients diversify their workforces, writes in the New York Times that a big part of the solution could come from making changes in the interview process. She maintains that often well-intentioned, but clueless, men send clear messages to women during the interview process that they are not welcome or valued. But sometimes these interviewers are not well-intentioned. In one example, Zaleski set up an interview with a tech company for an African American woman software engineer. Zaleski recounts, “after meeting with the hiring panel, she [the applicant] withdrew her application, telling us she felt demeaned by the all-white male group that failed to ask her any questions about her coding skills.” In fact, one of the men told her that because she wasn’t a “cultural fit,” there was no need to proceed with technical questions. But what does it mean to be a “cultural fit?” Zaleski suggests that the template for “fit” is based on young white men. What can companies do to be successful in hiring diverse candidates? Zaleski offers these tips:

  • Include women in the hiring process by intentionally forming diverse interview panels.
  • Make current female employees available to speak to candidates about their experience in the company.
  • Make themselves appealing to female candidates by telling them not only about their ping pong tables and retreats but also about their parental leave policies, childcare programs, and breast-pumping rooms. Emphasizing these policies demonstrates that the company has a culture that values and includes women.
  • Hold webinars for potential candidates led by female employees who talk about how the organization is working to become more inclusive. There is a lot of negative press about tech companies that makes women skeptical about whether they will be valued, and companies need to address these concerns directly.
Let’s be clear: while these steps will help with hiring, retention is another matter. My niece recently returned to work in a technology company after giving birth to her first child, and her manager is unsupportive. The first thing her manager said to her upon returning to work was, “How many more are you planning to have and how soon?” He did not even welcome her back and he is unhappy that she needs breaks to pump. She no longer wants to work there and is actively looking for another job. Does your company make it clear that they value women? Please share with us what efforts your organization makes to be inclusive of women. Photo courtesy of MDGovpics (CC BY 2.0)    ]]>