Wage Gaps and Work Gaps: Implications for Women’s Lives

Recently, during a women’s leadership program I was facilitating, a participant, Amy, had an insight. She had been complaining about being exhausted and stressed all the time while trying to juggle a full-time job and family life—she loved her demanding job and her family, but she had no time for herself and was tired all the time. What was her insight? She realized that her husband expected her to do almost all the work of maintaining their home and family and did not really do much to share this load. She had never seen so clearly that she was carrying an unfair share of the burden, and she had also taken it for granted that this was her role. She now began to question these assumptions. In a previous blog, I wrote about the costs to relationships and women’s careers when both partners do not share the responsibilities for family and home care equally. I also wrote about the ways that we, as women, collude in keeping this imbalance in place as Amy was doing as well as the ways we can reverse this imbalance. Tyler Cowen of the New York Times writes that in several ways, women are in fact working more while men are working less. He explains that the Great Recession had a major impact on labor supply numbers:

  • In 2014, about 12 percent of American men ages twenty-five to fifty-four neither had jobs nor were looking for them, compared to 8 percent in 1994.
  • Fewer than 20 percent of men over the age of sixty-five are in the workforce.
  • Fewer teenagers have jobs—35 percent, compared to 55 percent several decades ago.
Cowen points out that women’s increased participation in the workforce has supported American economic growth. The unfair part is that women continue to carry a bigger share of the household chores and childrearing while also working full-time. The distribution of stress is uneven, and Cowen notes that while barriers are falling for women in the workplace, the distribution of work in the home is uneven and results in another type of inequality. No wonder Amy is so tired! But while women are working more, the gender wage gap continues, and women are still paid less than men who do the same work. Suzanne Woolley of Bloomberg News reports on new studies showing that one of the implications of the wage gap for women is a sleep gap. The author explains that people tend to lose sleep over things they feel are not in their control. In a poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, the sleep gap for women has increased by 8 percentage points over the past year. The survey found that the biggest cause of sleep loss is fear of not having saved enough for retirement—56 percent of men reported losing sleep over money compared with 70 percent of women, for good reason:
  • Lower earnings from the gender wage gap mean less savings and social security for women.
  • In 2010, women received one-third less than a man’s average benefit for social security.
  • At age sixty-five and older, women are 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished.
Yes, the wage gap is important, but it is not the only gap that needs attending to. We also need to pay attention to the inequality of work itself. The implications for our health and our security in our later years are serious. If you and your partner have successfully addressed an imbalance in household responsibilities, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. Tell us what has worked for you!   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Public Domain Pictures. ]]>

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]]>

Gender-lens Investing: How Does It Work?

I was surprised to read about gender-lens investing recently in an article by Paul Sullivan in the New York Times. I just didn’t know it existed. It is defined as “investing strategically to help advance women’s causes while earning a return.” I have heard of socially responsible investing where investors look for companies that “do no harm” to the environment or the communities in which they are located. Gender-lens investing falls under the umbrella of socially responsible investing with the additional goals of impacting positive social change and producing a financial return for the investor. Specifically, Sullivan explains that investments are made to “promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through both debt and equity investments in the United States and emerging markets.” There are three options currently utilized for making gender-lens investments:

  1. Make money available to enterprises owned by women.
  2. Focus on employment for women.
  3. Invest in companies that provide products and services that help women. An example is a company that provides clean-burning cook stoves to women in Africa and Latin America or companies that get water-purification systems to rural areas.
I had heard of grant-making organizations, such as the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund (VGIF) where small grants are made globally to fund women-led grassroots projects in developing countries that advance the rights of women and girls. The grants are made from donated funds and are not expected to be repaid, although their impact is measured. I have also heard about microcredit, where microloans to women have been a successful tool for alleviating poverty in developing countries, although critics disagree with the claims of positive social impact. Gender-lens investing is a different approach to creating positive social change for women and girls, and we need multiple approaches. I am not a person of wealth, but I do have retirement savings that are invested. I’m intrigued by the idea of not only saving for my future but also helping women and girls at the same time. Do you have experience with gender-lens investing? If yes, what have you learned about it that might help others take a step in that direction? Let us hear from you.   Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Why All Leaders Need Emotional Intelligence

A friend and colleague, whom we will call Martha, recently voluntarily resigned from her new job because she felt disrespected and disliked by her new woman boss, who hired her. Martha is a senior human resources (HR) professional who, after a long and successful career in large multinational businesses, decided to move her career within a sector more aligned with her values. She was excited to be hired as the number two leader in the HR department of a respected academic community, but one year later she chose to leave. She explained that she simply could not continue to work for a leader who did not seem able to connect with her, acknowledge her work, show any warmth or caring toward her as a person, or give her performance feedback of any kind, and who discouraged teamwork as well. In short, Martha’s new boss lacked emotional intelligence (EQ). Teressa Moore Griffin writes about leadership effectiveness in general, and EQ in particular. She has described the groundbreaking research by Daniel Goleman, who looked at 188 large corporations and found that “leaders with high EQ were 20 percent more productive and profitable than their counterparts.” In a later publication, Goleman identified four fundamental capabilities required for EQ:

  1. Self-Awareness—understanding your emotions and their impact on others
  2. Self-Management—the ability to keep disruptive emotions under control and demonstrate honesty, integrity, adaptability, and a readiness to take initiative
  3. Social Awareness—the ability to show empathy and take an active interest in the experiences and concerns of others
  4. Social Skill—the ability to develop others through feedback and guidance and to listen, form relationships, and promote cooperation and build teams
Clearly, Martha’s boss lacked at least three out of the four basic competencies for EQ, which resulted in her organization’s unnecessary loss of a highly skilled professional. Martha explained that she loved her work responsibilities and her staff and had great relationships with her constituents within and outside of the institution. But when she realized that she had a knot in her stomach all the time (a first in her career) and was starting to dread going to work on days when her boss would be in the office, she knew she could not continue feeling that way. She made one last attempt in a face-to-face meeting to explain to her boss that they were not connecting, and that she did not feel listened to or acknowledged. She got no meaningful response and resigned. I have written in a previous article about why women and men in leadership need to be more relational with female staff. When I asked Martha whether she thought her expectations of relationship and subsequent disappointment with this recent boss might have been higher because this boss is a woman, she thoughtfully explained that she has worked for many male HR leaders, and male bosses can be dumb about relationships, but they usually know it and will ask for help. They are more likely to ask a woman for help than to ask another man, but they will ask because they understand the importance of having motivated and productive employees and teams. They also tend to give performance feedback because they understand that developing people is part of leadership. Is your EQ where you need it to be for maximum effectiveness in all aspects of your life? Take this quiz to test your emotional intelligence. There is always room to grow to become a better leader, parent, family member, community leader—you get the picture!   Photo credit: Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Working Women in China: A Sticky Floor and a Glass Ceiling

New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, and found they faced some very familiar challenges, as well as some unique ones created by their cultural context. They face similar challenges both in their relationships with one another in the workplace and in systemic problems, such as a very wide gender pay gap and very low representation in both middle and senior leadership roles. The Chinese women in my research reported negative dynamics in their relationships with other women in the workplace that were similar to those described by the rest of my research participants. For example, they reported feeling unsupported by senior women, who were often harder on junior women than on men and did not try to mentor or help younger women advance. As I explain in my book, these dynamics reflect internalized negative stereotypes about women and demonstrate the structural impact of women being less valued than men in societal and organizational cultures. Evidence that Chinese culture still places higher value on men can be found in a recent New York Times article in which the authors, Didi Kirsten Tatlow and Michael Forsythe, described the resurgence of long-repressed traditional values in China. The authors noted, “More and more men and women say a woman’s place is in the home, wealthy men take mistresses in a contemporary reprise of the concubine system, and pressure for women to marry young is intense.” And we’ve all read about the preference for male children that, in the context of the one-child policy, has resulted in female babies being killed or abandoned. These are the signs of a patriarchal society. Tatlow and Forsythe, along with Yang Yao of China Daily, offer these statistics showing the impact of this resurgence of traditional values on women in the Chinese work force:

  • Chinese women are losing ground in the work force compared with men and make up just 25.1 percent of people with positions of “responsibility.” This describes senior management roles, as well as supervisory and middle management positions. Women in China refer to this lack of opportunity at lower levels as the “sticky floor.”
  • Fewer than one in ten board members of China’s top three hundred publicly traded (CSI 300) companies are women.
  • Thirty of the thirty-one state-owned companies listed on the CSI 300 have no women in senior leadership. The Chinese government could mandate that women be represented in senior management in these state-owned companies, but they do not.
  • No woman has ever served in the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest level of Chinese government.
  • The gender pay gap has grown significantly in the last two decades: in 1990 it was 77.5 percent, and in 2010 it was 67.3 percent for working women in urban areas. It was 56 percent for rural women in 2010.
While there is clearly a glass ceiling in China, the women I interviewed complained that they must first get past the sticky floor before a glass ceiling is even a problem to tackle. Attitudes about women belonging in the home mean that they have difficulty being considered for most positions or promotions, and men are clearly preferred. The labor laws are vague and unenforceable and do not define gender discrimination. Companies are even free to state “no women need apply” when advertising open positions. The Chinese women in my research also described intense pressure, even from other women colleagues, to marry young and have a child quickly because of the one-child policy, a dynamic unique to China. These women described a fear of being shunned by their women colleagues if they did not have a child. On a positive note, Yao reported that, inspired by Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, groups of women in Beijing are starting to meet to organize networking events and seminars to help women advance and grow.  Women in China are finding a collective voice, which is how change will begin in the right direction.]]>

How To Be Helpful without Burning Out at Work

recent article in the New York Times, Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg talk about how selflessness and helping behavior are expected from women in the workplace, both as supervisors and as colleagues. Scholar Joyce Fletcher explains that many women place a high value on helping others and being a team player. Others also expect us to be helpful, nurturing, and generous with our time and talents. Yet Grant and Sandberg cite several studies showing that when women help others by being informal mentors, volunteering to organize office parties or charity events, and offering to support colleagues, they benefit less from it than men do. And “if a woman declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is ‘busy’; a woman is ‘selfish.’” These different expectations set up another double bind for women—we are expected to do extra helpful things that men are not expected to do, which may cause us to miss career opportunities. And if we don’t help, we are disliked and receive lower performance ratings. Grant and Sandberg also report that an analysis of 183 studies, spanning 15 countries and dozens of industries, shows that women are significantly more likely to feel emotionally exhausted. They note that “in their quest to care for others, women often sacrifice themselves. For every 1,000 people at work, 80 more women than men burn out.” Here are three ways women and men can prevent burnout for women:

  1. Track and reward helping behavior. Most organizations track and reward individual accomplishments but do not require or reward communal helping behavior. Expecting both women and men to be helpful to the team by assigning communal tasks rather than relying on volunteers and rewarding or valuing helping behavior from both women and men will help to correct the imbalance that often exists.
  2. Prioritize our own needs as women. Remember Tammy? She forgot to make her own needs as important as the needs of her staff. She will actually be more helpful to them if she takes care of herself and does not burn out. In his recent book, Give and Take, Grant explains that to achieve high performance with low burnout, people need to prioritize their own needs along with the needs of others.
  3. Men can speak up more to support women and share the load. In a previous article, I shared research showing that men tend to dominate meetings and interrupt women. Instead, men can speak up to draw attention to women’s contributions and can do their share of the team support work and mentoring.
Let’s be clear. Organizations and teams need helping behavior to be successful, but that work needs to be equitably shared by both women and men to be done effectively. Please share ways you have found to help at work without burning out.]]>

What Makes Teams Smart? (Hint: Women)

New research reported in the New York Times shows that one of the most important characteristics of effective, or smart, teams is that they include a lot of women—not just equal numbers, but actually more women than men as team members. This is more proof that organizations need more women at all levels and in all functions because most decisions of consequence, in every type of organization, are made by teams or groups. The authors of this new study, Anita Woolley, Thomas W. Malone, and Christopher Chabris, report being surprised to find that the smartest teams had three characteristics in common:

  1. The members contributed equally and were not dominated by one or two members.
  2. The members individually scored high on a test that showed skill at reading complex emotional states in the eyes of others. Even in virtual teams, where people could not see each other’s faces, the researchers reported that smart team members scored high in theory of mind, or “the ability to consider and keep track of what other people feel, know, and believe.”
  3. The teams with more women outperformed teams with more men.
These findings make sense in the context of previous research showing that differences in gender socialization result in different patterns of strength in women and men. Early feminist scholar Carol Gilligan found that women more often develop and utilize an ethic of care, or concern for others, when making decisions, while men more often develop an ethic of justice, or concern about fairness. Another early scholar, Jean Baker Miller, wrote about the centrality of relationship, or self-in-relation theory, in the identity development of girls. Her work evolved into relational cultural theory, summarized by Judith Jordan, which celebrated women’s relational skills and also looked at the intersections of gender with race, sexual orientation, class, and other dimensions of difference and power. All of this is to say that it makes sense that having more women on a team will give the team greater capacity to tune into each other—to listen, empathize, and collaborate to draw out the wisdom of a group to make the best decisions. Unfortunately, recent studies also show, as I have previously reported, that women have a hard time getting their ideas heard in many teams, especially when women are in the minority. If you are collecting information to build a case for hiring and promoting more women in your organization, be sure to add this new study to your file, and share it with your boss and coworkers. Changing the gender balance on teams by adding more women can produce better results for the organization. This new study, along with several others that I have written about previously, can help us chip away at persistent negative stereotypes and unconscious gender biases that create barriers for us. Have you seen the benefits of having many women on a team—or the consequences of not having enough women? Please share your experiences.]]>

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.]]>