Career Sabotage – Part 3

When I worked in the emergency department, I was in charge every night—and the people who worked with me enjoyed me being in charge, or at least that was what was said to me. I had beautiful reviews and had some great pals, many of whom were at my wedding. Fast-forward about five years, and I have now decided to leave my management position to go back to the emergency department. So I talked to the emergency department manager, who has been a friend of mine for twenty-five years. About three weeks into the process, when I hadn’t heard anything, I went back to my friend who was the manager of the emergency department and said, “So what’s going on?” She got this really awful look on her face and she twitched—and she was tripping all over herself and said, “You’d better talk to your boss.” So I sit down with my boss, who says to me, “There is a problem. They don’t want you there.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. She went on to say this one, this one, and this one—my friends, people who had been at my wedding—had gone to their bosses and said, “We don’t want her.” I was shocked. We would go out after work together; we would talk to each other on days off. Sometimes I would help them out with babysitting or they would help me. If I had any kind of a party or get-together, they were first on my list to invite. They were the people I laughed with at work; they were the people I cried with at work. They were there through my divorce, through a terribly tough time in my life. Why would my friends turn on me like that? That they would stab a friend in the back for no apparent reason for their own selfish gain? Well the bottom line was, they were afraid that I was going to usurp their perceived position. Keri’s story is an example of the impact of mixing friendship expectations with the hierarchical norms of masculine work environments, which can trigger horizontal violence. In such cases, acts of covert career aggression can leave the recipient feeling not only bewildered but shocked when it happens. Career aggression can also damage a woman’s self-confidence. Angella, a diplomatic services manager in Mexico, explained that “When someone is saying bad things about you, after a while you start to feel that maybe the bad things are true.”   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

Women Worry More than Men about Family Chores: Why This Matters

  • Is he lazy, or not really committed to equality?
  • Is she doing it all so well that he doesn’t feel a need to do more?
  • Are her standards so high that she doesn’t trust him to “do it right” regarding child care?
  • Is she really unwilling to let go of control?
  • What is clear to her is that she is becoming resentful and exhausted. Why is this important? There is the obvious potential damage to her relationship if her resentment continues to grow. There is also a potentially negative impact on her career. In an article in the New York Times, Judith Shulevitz noted that it takes “large reserves of emotional energy to stay on top of” all the details in the management of family life. Shulevitz cited research on heterosexual couples (she noted gay couples as being more egalitarian) from all strata of society that confirms that my friend’s experience is not unusual—women do the larger share of “worry work” about the details of family management. Tracking all these details can actually be a significant distraction for women at work and can scatter our focus, potentially disrupting our careers. Shulevitz speculated that these distractions “may be one of the least movable obstacles to women’s equality in the workplace.” Wow! Think about the possible significance of this statement. What, then, could be our part in keeping this inequality in place? Shulevitz related a story about young women in a recent undergraduate course on women and work who were making presentations at the end of the course. Many of them slipped in their language and talked about the importance of men “helping out” with household tasks and “babysitting” the children. Helping out and babysitting are not the same as sharing responsibility. These slips in language probably reflect traditional societal stereotypes that create pressure for women to be the right kind of mother. These pressures seem to be alive and well in our society, and even young women seem, to some extent, to be internalizing them. I think my friend may be asking the right questions. As women, have we internalized the traditional role expectations for us as women and mothers? If so, are we acting out these expectations by
    • Sending a mixed message to the men in our lives about whether we really want them to do an equal share?
    • Feeling we “should” do more of the household/child-care tasks to be the right kind of mother?
    • Keeping control of the lists because we really like being in control?
    • Being inflexible about our standards for doing family management?
    What is the truth of the matter for you on the questions above? What can you let go of? What has worked for you to equalize the load with your partner?]]>

    Career Sabotage – Part 2

    This group of three women who had been there a long time, who were all friends, began to really try to sabotage me. They’d give me hate mail in my in-box. This was before e-mail. They would steal my mail and throw it away. They would put a key to the side of my car on both sides. They would talk about me incessantly to other people and say I wasn’t really very good. They would gossip about me to anybody and they’d tell stories about me, like I was sleeping with the boss, which wasn’t true, and they would just try to sabotage me. Kendra reported that she did not even know who was doing these things to her until considerable time had elapsed. The hate mail and property damage were upsetting, but stealing and destroying her mail had a negative impact on her ability to perform her job when she did not receive information or documents that others thought she had. Her reputation and credibility were also impugned. Once again, Kendra did not know these women. The key to this dynamic is in Kendra’s statement that the women “had been there a long time.” She went on to explain that she eventually learned that they did not feel valued and had not been promoted and that she had been hired in above them, even though they were more experienced and had equivalent levels of education—another setup for horizontal violence to be triggered.   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

    Good News for Working Mothers: Busting through Another Myth

    Journal of Applied Social Psychology, show that the more satisfied a woman is with her employment, or with having a career, the more harshly she is judged by society as a “bad mother.” The underlying assumption of this stereotype seems to be that children will be stunted in their development, or otherwise harmed, if their mother is not home when they are young. Many women report feeling guilty about working when they have children at home, even when they have no choice, because of this stereotype and the societal pressure it represents. A new study by Kathleen McGinn of Harvard busts a big hole in this myth of the good mother. McGinn polled 50,000 adults in 25 nations and found that “women with working mothers earned more and had more powerful jobs than adult daughters whose mothers stayed home when their children were young.” She found that in the United States, “women with working mothers earned 23 percent more than women whose mothers did not work” outside of the home. The good news, then, is that rather than harming their children, working mothers are providing a positive role model to their daughters. Working mothers can also be positive role models for sons, though in a different way. While McGinn’s research showed that having a working mother did not have an impact on men’s earnings, men in the United States who had working mothers “spent almost twice as much time on family and child-care tasks as those from more traditional families.” These men are providing positive role models to both sons and daughters about being equitable partners in the home. This is all good news!]]>

    Career Sabotage

    A new woman had started at the company, and I had been with the company for about two years. I had a very strong relationship with my boss and his boss, and we had been working together for a while. This new woman came in and felt threatened, I think, by the relationship that I had with my bosses and the team and probably with my peers as well. She falsely reported me to HR for having a romantic relationship with one of the bosses. I’d define that as sabotage. This story is an example of career sabotage, as opposed to simply indirect aggression, because the intention seemed to be to damage Tammy’s standing in the organization. Tammy described hearing at the “water cooler” that someone was circulating rumors about her. But she was surprised and very embarrassed to be called by the Human Resources Department (HR) and asked very probing questions about her personal life based on rumors started by a person as yet unidentified to Tammy. The tactics of the HR representatives indicated to Tammy that they believed the rumors and that her credibility had been damaged. While Tammy eventually found out who had circulated the rumors, she did not know the woman involved. In the absence of any type of relationship between Tammy and her saboteur, this story of career aggression represents a clear example of horizontal violence—oppressed group members taking their frustration out on other members of their group, in this case woman to woman. It couldn’t have been a personal vendetta when Tammy didn’t even know the other woman.   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

    Career Aggression

    Characteristics of indirect and career aggression Indirect aggression  Career Aggression  • Consists of purposefully hurtful behaviors that are denied when the aggressor is confronted • Includes verbal and nonverbal covert behaviors, including – Eye-rolling ––Subtle comments, such as “I see you didn’t take your smart pill today.” – Silence as a weapon – Spreading negative rumors • Includes indirect behaviors but moves beyond them to actions intended to damage or sabotage the career of another woman • May be perpetrated by a friend, an acquaintance, or a complete stranger in the workplace   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

    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.]]>

    What Men Gain When Women Are Successful

    new research, reported by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in the New York Times shows that gender equality is good for men, too. Consider some of these benefits for men in organizations:

    • Bringing on more women makes work teams more successful.
    • Women bring knowledge, skills, and new networks to the table.
    • Women take fewer unnecessary risks.
    • Women tend to collaborate in ways that strengthen teams and organizations.
    • Venture-backed start-ups with higher numbers of female executives are more successful.
    • Firms with more women in senior leadership generate more market value.
    When companies are successful, more rewards and promotions are available for both men and women. Men’s careers do better in the long run when companies grow, and leveraging diversity in the global marketplace helps companies grow. Men also have a lot to gain at home by sharing the housework with their partners. Sandberg and Grant report studies that show happier marriages and longer lives—and more sex—for couples who share chores. All good, right? But wait! There’s more. Fathers, mothers, and children all benefit when men become more involved in parenting. Men become more flexible, empathic, and patient, and they are more satisfied with their jobs and have lower blood pressure and rates of cardiovascular disease when they care for children. And the children are more successful in their lives, too, when they see fathers doing housework and mothers pursuing careers. Gender equality is not only good for men, good for organizations, and good for marriages and families—it is also good for society. Sandberg and Grant reported that “25 percent of United States gross domestic product growth since 1970 is attributed to the increase in women entering the paid work force. Today, economists estimate that raising women’s participation in the work force to the same level as men could raise GDP by another 5 percent in the United States.” Gender parity will be good for all of us.]]>

    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.]]>

    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.]]>