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.]]>

Women Get Interrupted: Four Ways to Stop This Pattern

my clients and many women in my research talk about how difficult it is to get their ideas heard in meetings and about the double binds they find themselves in when they try. Kathy, a technology manager in her thirties, explained, “They say that men interrupt each other all the time and women don’t. If I’m in a meeting and I interrupt, I get in trouble, but I don’t see men get in trouble when they interrupt me. They say that women don’t do it, but when you do, it’s seen as very aggressive and inappropriate.” Alice, a technology manager in her fifties, said, “There were eight men on the team and I was the only woman. It was a constant battle [to get heard], and I almost had to be perceived as a bitch to get my point across—and then I was perceived as a bitch.” Eventually Alice left this team and took a lesser assignment. In both cases, Kathy and Alice worked in predominantly male environments and were seen as aggressive and inappropriate when they pushed to be heard. It’s not uncommon for women of all ages in these environments to feel they are in a no-win situation and to then become silent in team meetings, or to leave, to the detriment of the team. In a recent article in the New York Times, Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg wrote about the pervasiveness of women being interrupted or having their ideas shot down before they even finish speaking in meetings. They reported new studies showing the broad scope of the double binds for women in many workplace settings when they try to contribute their ideas. One study from Yale psychologist Victoria L. Brescoll found that “male senators with more power (as measured by tenure, leadership positions and track record of legislation passed) spoke more on the Senate floor than their junior colleagues. But for female senators, power was not linked to significantly more speaking time.” Another study by Professor Brescoll asked professional men and women to evaluate the competence of chief executives. She reported that “male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.” Grant and Sandberg report other studies showing that men who spoke up were rated as more helpful, while women who spoke up did not receive any increase in perceived helpfulness. We need to interrupt these patterns of double binds and punishments for women who try to speak up. These patterns not only harm and discourage women from participating, but also deprive organizations and teams of valuable ideas. Here are four tips to interrupt gender bias:

  1. Share ideas anonymously. Sandberg offered this method of soliciting suggestions and solutions to problems anonymously, to create a gender-blind environment for the evaluation the ideas. She compared this method to the discovery made by some orchestras that the only way they could achieve gender balance was to hold auditions behind screens so that the gender of the applicant was not known by the selection panel. It was also necessary for applicants to enter the audition on a carpet so that the sound of women’s high heels did not give them away as they entered. Magically, with the implementation of anonymity, these orchestras began to hire significantly more women.
  2. Encourage women to speak. Leaders need to notice when the women on their teams may have given up and stopped participating and then invite them to speak.
  3. Institute a “no interruptions” rule. Grant and Sandberg share this best practice used by a colleague that worked to make his whole team more effective.
  4. Increase the number of women in leadership. The presence of more women in leadership shifts these dynamics as people get used to women speaking and leading.
If you have been successful in creating mixed-gender environments where you or other women have been able to overcome these double binds, please share with us what you have learned.]]>

Women Are Better Leaders Than Men

New research conducted by the leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman and authored by Bob Sherwin shows women scored higher than men on twelve of sixteen leadership competencies at all levels of management, including the executive level. So why is it that, worldwide, only 3–4 percent of CEOs are women? Two key reasons why women continue to experience a glass ceiling at senior levels are

  • The persistence of negative stereotypes about deficiencies in women’s leadership capabilities despite more and more data showing the inaccuracy of these stereotypes.
  • Second-generation bias, defined by Debra Kolb and Jessica Porter in their new book, Negotiating at Work, as, “an organization’s policies and practices that appeared gender neutral [but] could have unintended but differential impacts on different groups of men and women.”
The good news is that data from recent research about the value that women bring to organizations is adding up, and we can use this data as a chisel to chip away at negative stereotypes and invisible structural barriers.  

About This Study

The sample for the Zenger Folkman study included the 360-degree feedback data for 16,000 leaders in a wide variety of industries. Two-thirds of the leaders in the study were male and one-third female. All participants had feedback from their managers, direct reports, and peers.  

Research Findings

Women scored higher than men on twelve of sixteen leadership competencies measured by the 360-degree feedback assessment, and ten of these differences were statistically significant. One surprise in the findings was that while most people polled by the researchers assumed that women would excel in the nurturing competencies (developing others, inspiring and motivating others, relationship building, collaboration, and teamwork), in fact, these were not the strongest scores for the women. The largest positive differences for women were in taking initiative, displaying integrity and honesty, and driving for results. Women also outperformed men in the nurturing competencies, but their strongest scores were in getting tasks done and delivering results—counter to some negative stereotypes about women leaders. These results held up across functions usually considered traditionally male, such as sales, legal, engineering, IT, and R and D. The study’s author notes, “Only in facilities management and maintenance do [women] not do well.” Also, the higher the women rose to the executive level, the more positively they were perceived. I think it is significant that this last finding is based on feedback from people who actually knew and worked with the leaders. In contrast, the “likeability” literature, reviewed in my previous blogs, seems to show conflicting results when women advance, but that research is based on hypothetical leaders described in case studies and may not be as meaningful as the findings reported here.  

How to Chip Away at Negative Stereotypes

  1. Be informed. Keep a file of articles with research showing positive findings about women in organizations. In addition to the information reported here about women being better leaders, I have written in previous blogs about other positive research findings, including
    1. Men are more confident, but women are more competent.
    2. When women lead, performance improves.
    3. Start-ups led by women are more likely to succeed.
    4. Innovative firms with more women in top management are more profitable.
    5. Companies with more gender balance have more revenue.
  2. Inform others. Circulate articles reporting positive data on women that challenge existing stereotypes and help make the case for promoting women. Make sure to include your boss on the list you send information to, and bring it up with her or him from time to time. This can help your boss justify fighting for an opportunity for you behind closed doors.
  3. Join with others. Join with other women and men who want to identify the second-generation bias in the policies and practices in your organization and raise them up for scrutiny and change. Second-generation bias, as described by Kolb and Porter, is unintentional and invisible, but can create significant barriers for women and other nondominant groups. You can work with others to make biases visible and open a pathway to change.
Negative gender-based stereotypes and second-generation bias are deeply entrenched, but we can chip away at the barriers they create if we are persistent and informed.]]>

When Gossip Is Positive: Introducing Transknitting

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

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

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

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

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

Four Reasons We Need More Women in the Newsroom

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

    When Is It Okay to Be Selfish at Work?

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

    Have Relationships Changed for Younger Women?

                My passion is helping women be successful, and I believe that having strong relationships with other women at work is a key to our success. When I speak about my new book New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, I am often asked, “Haven’t things changed for younger women?” I always answer honestly that I have not studied the dynamics of younger women’s relationships, which is why I was so interested in a recent article in the Huffington Post by writer and college student Lexi Herrick. Herrick does not claim to be reporting research findings, but many of the relationship problems she sees with women her age sound very familiar. Here are some examples from her list of 18 things women need to stop doing to each other:

    • “Slut-shaming.” Herrick encourages her readers to let other women make their own decisions and to resist the urge to express disapproval of other women’s sexual choices. She suggests this motto to live by: “Not your vagina, not your business.”
    • “Seriously, just saying ‘oh my gosh you’re so skinny’ is just as demeaning as commenting on the weight that a girl has gained. Just don’t.” Herrick says to avoid making any comments about other women’s bodies.
    • “Avoiding actual conversation with a woman you’re in a conflict with.” Though telling others about a conflict may be easier than dealing directly with the person we’re upset with, Herrick advocates for going straight to the source and working it out like adults.
    • “Being fake to each other.” If you’re having trouble with another woman, Herrick says, “Simply don’t associate with her.” Don’t pretend to be her friend, but make negative comments about her when she isn’t around.
    • “Sub-tweeting about each other or crafting any kind of indirect social media post.” Such passive-aggressive behavior may have been acceptable in junior high, but now, Herrick argues, “We are way too old for this sh*t.”
    Please read Herrick’s full list (linked above). Her suggestions are relevant for women of all ages. Herrick closes by saying, “Love and be loved by other women, because when we work together we are a force to be reckoned with.” Yes! What would you say that women need to stop doing to each other to build trust and support?]]>

    Differences Make a Difference: The Intersection of Race and Gender

    Dr. Carlotta Berry recently wrote in the New York Times about her experiences as a black female engineering professor and the challenge of being seen as qualified by both colleagues and students. In their new book, What Works for Women at Work, scholars Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey revisit the hypothesis put forward by Francis Beale in the 1960s, as well as by other scholars, that black women, and other women of color, experience “double jeopardy,” or are doubly disadvantaged by the intersection of race and gender. One implication of double jeopardy is that women of color have to expend more energy than white women to be respected and successful. They are flying against a headwind in their careers that is stronger than the headwind faced by white women. Williams and Dempsey acknowledge that lumping women of color together—even into three groups as black women, Latinas, and Asian American women—loses important nuances of difference within each group. Nonetheless, the differences for women of color found in their research are worth noting:

    • Women of color frequently described their interactions at work as demeaning or disrespectful, words that didn’t come up in the interviews with white women.
    • Black women are rated more harshly when something goes wrong at work than are black men or white women.
    • Black women have more leeway to behave in “masculine” ways than do white women, Latinas, or Asian American women.
    • Black women are allowed to be more assertive than white women or black men, as long as they use their assertive style in the service of the group and not for self-promotion.
    • Black women are allowed to be assertive, as long as they are not perceived as “angry black women.”
    • Latinas have to fight very hard to be seen as competent.
    • Latinas have to worry about being seen as “too passionate” or “fiery.”
    • Latinas are often seen as “too feminine” in their style of dress and as lacking executive presence.
    • Asian American women have to overcome being seen as “too feminine” and passive and, therefore, not leaders.
    • Asian Americans are seen as the “model minority”—too competent, too ambitious, too hardworking and, simultaneously, not sociable and not leadership material.
    • When Asian American women are assertive, they are seen as “dragon ladies.”
    Why is it important to be aware of these differences? We need to support one another as women in the workplace, especially when challenges come up. We can be allies to each other only if we understand both the differences and commonalities in our experiences. We can all accomplish so much more, both individually and collectively, if we can count on other women having our backs. Here’s to women supporting women!]]>

    Do You Need a Thicker Skin at Work? Three Tips for Surviving Criticism

    study reported by Tara Mohr in the New York Times shows that women have more need to be prepared to handle negative feedback. The study, conducted by Kieran Snyder for Fortune.com found that female employees were given more negative performance reviews than their male counterparts by both male and female managers. The nail in the coffin, though, is that this study also found that “76 percent of the negative feedback given to women included some kind of personality criticism, such as comments that the woman was ‘abrasive,’ or ‘judgmental,’ or ‘strident.’ Only 2 percent of men’s critical reviews included negative personality comments.” These numbers speak to the double bind that women find themselves in when they have to be competent—which includes making tough decisions and getting their ideas heard—while coming across as nice to everyone. Other studies suggest that for women to be perceived as both competent and likeable is probably impossible. Women don’t need a thicker skin at work because we’re somehow weak or fragile—an enduring stereotype used to justify why women are not promoted into leadership in greater numbers. Not only is performance feedback to women more negative, but we Western women also carry in our cellular memory the legacy of a not-so-distant past when our survival depended on being acceptable to power-wielding men. Not so long ago, Western women could not count on protection from the law, could not own property, and could not have bank accounts. Many women around the globe today still have no rights and are dependent on those with power to protect them. When others who are powerful at work are disapproving of us, we can feel like their criticism is the worst possible outcome—because, for a long time, disapproval was life threatening for us. Of course, we want to realize our potential at work and be seen as competent. What this means, though, is that we must, as competent women, learn to expect criticism and learn to manage it on our own terms, grow from it, and not let it undermine our confidence or damage our self-esteem. Here are some tips for how to deal with criticism at work:

    1. Be aware of the big picture. Read about recent research documenting the special challenges that women face in the workplace. Form a book group with colleagues at work, both women and men, to read and discuss several recent books about challenges women face in the workplace. Form a Lean In Circle. These are all good ways to get helpful context for understanding that negative feedback is part of the territory for competent women. Understanding the big picture will help you keep some perspective and sort out what is useful feedback from what may not be about you at all.
    2. Increase your awareness of your strengths. Being grounded in your sense of your own strengths is important. I often encourage the clients I coach to request feedback from coworkers, supervisors, family members, and friends about their strengths—not their weaknesses. We often don’t see ourselves as others see us, and we seldom get feedback on what we do well. Being grounded in your strengths will help you reflect on critical feedback. Feedback should always be considered for what might be useful, but being able to compare the feedback to what you know to be true about yourself and discard what doesn’t fit is crucial. Being self-aware is important, but, at the same time, remember that feedback is often more about the giver of the feedback: some people might be critical just because you are a competent woman.
    3. Build support, especially with other women. Create a “safe space” where you can share experiences and best practices for how to make sense of and cope with negative feedback. While our experiences are not all the same, of course, finding other women who have shared a particular experience in the workplace is helpful. Sharing best practices and hearing that you are not alone can help you stay focused on your career and your goals. Without this type of support, many women lose their confidence and their voice and then give up on their goals.
    What has worked for you when you have gotten a negative performance review? Please post your comments, and let’s share best practices.]]>