Category Archives: Diversity

I Am Heartbroken

black ribbon

This About Trayvon Martin

And this is about all of us.  I am a white woman.  To some that automatically disqualifies me to feel what I feel about the verdict in the trial about Trayvon Martin’s death.  I am angry.  I am heartbroken.  But I am also hopeful.

I Am Angry.

I am the mother of two African-American sons.  What happened to Trayvon Martin could have happened to them.  Yes, as their mother, I warned them.  Don’t run from police–it doesn’t matter what it is about–don’t run.  Be respectful of police–yes, even if they are not in the right.  Keep your hands empty and in sight. Don’t speed in certain neighborhoods.  Pay attention.  Be careful.  PLEASE.  Be careful.  I sent them out into the world and I worried.  And there were instances.  Both of them were accused of things that there was no way they did–they were just walking or driving by.  There are people who don’t believe that this happens.  White people.  It is true–if you are black, especially if you are male, you are guilty until proven innocent.  Trayvon was searched in association with his suspension from school and the policeman found a screwdriver .  The school investigator described this screwdriver as a burglary tool.  If your white child had a screwdriver do you really believe for a second that that would have been the automatic assumption?

This decision sends the message that it is ok to shoot a black child if you claim self-defense.  Even if you take actions that bring on the circumstances.  Even if you have a history of being abusive and racist.  As the mother of African-American sons, I find that intolerable.  As a citizen of this country I find this unconscionable. I am angry.

I Am Heartbroken.

I cannot imagine handling myself with the strength and grace that Trayvon Martin’s parents have.  I can’t imagine telling people to respect the jury’s decision.  I can’t imagine.  Their child walked to the store from a “safe” neighborhood and was confronted and KILLED on the way back home. On his way back home.  To safety.  He was suspected of being up to no good.  Because he was young.  Because he was black.  I think of their loss and I am heartbroken.

But I Am Also Hopeful.

The reactions that I have seen have been angry and enraged and heartbroken and desperately depressed.  I also see, however, a quiet powerful strength emerging.  I see a broad determination to speak out, to not tolerate this situation any longer.  I see people being introspective and outspoken and tough.  This isn’t about violence.  This is about making a change.  This morning I hear the most articulate discussions I’ve ever heard about implicit racism (the polite word is bias, but the real word is racism) that I’ve ever heard in public media.  We ALL have to understand how our thoughts guide our behavior, decisions and attitudes–and we aren’t even aware of those thoughts.   They happen in the flash of a second.  They happen at the speed of an electrical impulse.  EVERYONE has them.  People feel fear at the sight of a black man.  People feel fear at an interaction with a white person.  Yeah, go ahead and deny it.  Research–lots of it–says otherwise.

This has gotten better with each generation.  It is time, however, to fix it.  To stop it.  This is another Rosa Parks moment.  Our Trayvon Martin moment must be to take control of our own prejudices and wrestle them away.  We must protect the members of our African-American community, especially our boys.  We MUST.


Filed under Diversity, racism, Trayvon Martin

Fat People Aren’t Good Workers.

I don’t really believe that fat people aren’t good workers.  In fact, I am a fat people (or at least I used to be) and I happen to think that I am a good worker.  There are a lot of people who do believe this, though.  I believe that this is just fuzzy thinking.

fat people are discriminated against

A lecturer at NYU recently tweeted “Dear obese PhD applicants: If you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.”  More fuzzy thinking:

fuzzy thinking re obesity

What does will power re: food have to do with willpower over anything else?  Why don’t people who don’t have willpower re: other things–alcohol, sex, spending, gambling, exercise, hoarding–fall into this guys criticism.  This guy is an evolutionary psychologist–a scientist–who should have more discipline in his thinking.

He’s not the only one.  Recruiters (I once had a recruiter proudly tell me that he made overweight candidates walk up four flights of steps to interviews and if they couldn’t do it, they didn’t get to the next level.  Why?  Is walking up stairs a job requirement?  If he doesn’t do that for normal weight people, then how does he know that they can (if it is a requirement of getting to the next level?), hiring managers, supervisors, co-workers, sales people, customers all make decisions about people based on their weight.  Is it relevant?  Sometimes.  More often not.

Prejudice against fat people is an acceptable prejudice.  It is close to the last acceptable prejudice.  If you find yourself being prejudice against overweight people, challenge your thinking.  Examine what you believe about fat people, thought by thought by thought.  Do they really support one another?

fat lazy fuzzy thinkingDo you just not like fat people?  Do you just think that fat people should do better/be better/act better?  Is this a big enough deal that they should not get a job or a promotion?  Do you believe that being fat is an indicator of someone’s character?  There is a recent study that shows that children as young as four are prejudiced.

OK, So I Think This Discrimination Is Wrong

But it is not illegal.  It is hard to prove (and a lot of people think it is justified).  So . . . if you are overweight, this is something that you can actually do to affect your employability and promotability.  It might have as much of an impact (or more) as getting more education, or more experience, or even more networking.

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Filed under Diversity, Job Hunt, New Job, Personal Change

My Boss Is Young Enough To Be My Child!

Mental Model of Boss

Younger Bosses

It happens to all of us–no matter how successful we are–if you stay in the workforce long enough, you’re going to have a boss younger than you.  Why does this matter?  Why do you care?  Yeah, yeah, it shouldn’t, but to most of us it does.  I’ll go back to harping about mental models.  We have a mental model of what a boss is and that we need to look up to a boss and someone who is younger doesn’t deserve that.  So why does our mental model require that our boss be older than us?  Back in the day, when people entered the organization immediately after high school or college and then moved up the organization step by step, the bosses were 55-65 year old men who retired and made room for the next person  (Oh, by the way, back in those same days, women only had some non-boss roles –I very specifically remember when people (both men and women) had the same issues with women bosses–bosses were NOT supposed to be women!!).  I know there are lots of people who don’t remember those days.  Most of the people, though, who are struggling with younger bosses now do remember those days.  In fact they are mostly from those days.  Things are different now.  It’s time to change our mental models.

I certainly had the experience of working for bosses who were older than me who were not as smart, or knowledgeable or skilled at their job as me (I’m sure it was no one who reads this blog, though:-)).  Age didn’t have anything to do with this.  Neither did race or gender or even educational backgrounds.  You aren’t guaranteed good bosses.  Given that, though, good bosses come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and educational backgrounds.  There are people who are younger than you who have more knowledge than you about somethings.  There are people who have less education, less experience, or talent who can be good bosses for you.  Good bosses bring what the job and the team need AT THE TIME.  So change your mental model.  Start thinking about what you need in a boss and stop assuming that someone younger than you can’t bring it.  I know twenty-somethings who are better people managers than most of the middle managers that I know.  I know fifty-somethings who can explain technology better than tech professors.  One of the very best Executives I ever knew only had a high school education, but he sure knew how to gather information and make a quick and effective decision.  He had an instinct that I’ve never seen in anyone before or since.  I had a female boss, back in the days when that was rare, who focused so completely on the customer that she changed the culture (and the profits) of the organization.  She did it before it was “THE THING TO DO.”

Mental Model Actual Bosses

My point is that you’ve GOT to stop thinking about bosses as if they should be a certain gender, race, education or age.  Ask yourself what your boss brings to the table.  What does s/he bring that you don’t have?  How and what can you learn from him?  How can you improve the chemistry/relationship with her?  How can you earn his respect?  Unless you are knocking at retirement’s door, this is not the last boss you will have.  Bosses will come in more different versions as our world changes.  Get used to it.  Get good at it.  Especially if you want to be the boss.

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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Career Goals, Communication, Diversity, Inclusion

Reactions To My Discrimination Post

generations at work

Reactions to Reactions To My Discrimination Post

I had readers respond to my Are They Discriminating Against You?  Probably. blog post in a couple of different ways.  First, one reader challenged me about “accepting” discrimination.  He believed that I should advocate challenging the ‘discriminatory behaviors’ of others through complaining to the powers that be and/or Human Resources within the organization, or through the legal system.  I certainly don’t mean to suggest that those aren’t legitimate avenues.  It depends on your goals, though.  Do you want to help fix discrimination long term?  In your company? For everyone?  Then routing yourself around the problem and going to find some place and someone(s) who can judge you for what you are and what you bring and make decisions based on that (as suggested in my last blog) is NOT the solution.  Challenging the status quo is the right thing to do.  Go for it.  Those of us who wimp out on that will really appreciate you.  And support you.  And do whatever you need us to do.

If you need to get a job this month, then you need to find a place that doesn’t discriminate.  You need to find decision makers who are smarter, have better judgement and who are worthy of you.  Leave the others in the dirt–where they belong.

The other people admitted that they themselves discriminate and were unhappy with doing so.  One person who reacted wrote that she found herself sometimes on the side of being a discriminator.  She finds herself feeling the way about young people that older people used to feel about her.  Yet another person who responded–same issue–being a discriminator–just can’t break her thinking of older people as ‘time to go-ers.’ The good news is that both of these readers don’t think that it is ‘right’ to think the way they do–they just feel justified.

So What Do You Do?

I guess my first advice is to acknowledge that there is a huge “humans are this way” element to this. We think of people who are different from us as, well, different.  Not as good.   And then my second advice is to do what I do–struggle with yourself every day to challenge this thinking.  Instead of seeing the instances when the young or old person, does something completely wrong, look for when they make sense.  Work really hard to see it from their perspective.  What do you know that they don’t know that would change their perspective.  What EXPERIENCE (not advice or ‘telling’) could you help them have that would help shift their thinking.  Don’t give them the experience and then take credit for it.  Give them experience and let it go.  Give them the experience and try to figure out the next one that will lead them to an understanding of your point of view.  Think of it as an experiment.  Keep trying things.  Try with one person.  Try with two people.  Compare.  What worked and why.  What didn’t work and why?

Now experiment  with yourself.  Listen to your language.  Are you “them” and “us” -ing?  Are you plopping damning stereotypes on a whole category of people?  Work to see each as an individual.  Note the ways in which the person is ‘different’ from the stereotype.  Another thing we humans do–we make fairer judgements about others who we see as ‘exceptions’ to the stereotype.  “Well, s/he is DIFFERENT.”  Of course s/he is–we are ALL different.  None of us completely fit the damning stereotype.  The sooner you can stop applying that stereotype, the sooner you can stop discriminating.

Go for it!

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Filed under Diversity, Inclusion, Personal Change

Are They Discriminating Against You? Probably.



Not only is it likely that someone (or several someones) are discriminating against you, it is also likely that you are discriminating against someone (or several someones).  It is human nature that we like/trust/believe in/select those who are like us more than those who are different from us.  So . . . Europeans choose Europeans, Americans choose Americans, young people choose young people.  Then there is the problem of stereotypes.  We believe them–without even being aware of them for the most part.  We believe that ‘old’ people aren’t as capable as people our age. We believe that young people aren’t ambitious (at least the latest generation).  Asian people are smart at math.  Women aren’t ambitious because they’re going to go have babies. White men are more ambitious than black men.  And on and on and on.  These stereotypes cause us to discriminate, sometimes without our even being aware of it.  Stereotypes are as  wrong as they are right.  In fact, those of us who are the subject of the stereotypes usually believe they are wrong–period.  I say all of this to acknowledge that discrimination is alive and well in all of our behaviors.   I’m not in any way defending it, just acknowledging it.

So what?

There are laws against discrimination.  There are rules against discrimination.  There are lots of reasons for all of us to struggle against discrimination by others and ourselves.  There are people whose whole existence is focused on the struggle against discrimination.

Can you wait?  Can you wait until everyone stops discriminating against you?  I can’t.  I think it’s time to take the battle on directly.  I think it’s time to work around/through/over and under discrimination.  Just because the decision makers at your organization think you are too old or too young, that doesn’t mean that that is the case at other organizations.  You have a responsibility to yourself to find a place to work that values you for who you are and what you bring to the table.  You need to find a way to make a living that values who and what  you are.

I talk to people who are absolutely sure that they are being discriminated against.  That makes them feel like there is nothing that they can do about it.  They are the age they are.  They are born black or Hispanic or Asian or female, and nothing can change that. True.  There are places, organizations, friends, decision makers, and opportunities where it doesn’t matter.  Go find them.  You are not sentenced to the status quo.  You choose it.

Do something different.

You are not stuck.  When you graduated from high school you didn’t think about this the way you do now (unless, of course, you just graduated from high school).  Life and your experiences have made you believe that people are discriminating against you.  Wipe all that experience off your radar and ASSUME that someone out there can and will believe in you and what you can do.  Go FIND them!  Where are they?  Make people prove that they don’t believe in you instead of assuming that they don’t.  To be clear, I’m not saying they AREN’T discriminating.  I’m saying, don’t let that rule your life.  Go work someplace else.  Go work for a different boss.  Find a way to make a living (including working for yourself) that doesn’t let those who discriminate against you prevent you from doing/being/having what you deserve.  I know that it might be hard.  I know that it would be a lot easier for all of us if discrimination wasn’t a factor.  Don’t let it prevent you from living your life, making a living, being successful.

And then focus on your own discriminatory behavior.

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Filed under Derailment, Diversity, Executive Development, Inclusion, Job Hunt, New Job

Reflections on Being a Mother, Working and “Leaning In”

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a great day to reflect on being a mother.  And on being a mother who works.  And on the controversy over Sharon Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  I come from a family of working mothers.  My mother worked.  Her mother worked.  It frankly never occurred to me not to work. It never occurred to me to hold back or not be ambitious (something that Ms. Sandburg says that some women do). I guess I was lucky–I had models of working mothers who managed both jobs and families. I had the luxury of having a husband who believed that I should work, who supported me in working and who carried close to a 50/50 load at home (he traveled more than me for many years, so it wasn’t 50/50 in those years).  My kids were adequately cared for–if not perfectly cared for; my house was never really clean, and my career worked well enough–until I got near the top of the organization.  Whatever the reason for my not becoming a C-suite-r, it wasn’t because I was a mother or because I cut corners because I had a family.  Or maybe it was.  Maybe the people above me made decisions about my career taking my family into consideration.  I don’t know.  I just know that a certain point I chose to leave the organization where I worked because I definitely wasn’t going up any more and there were interesting opportunities for me outside of working for that company.

The bottom line is that being a mother is very important. Working is very important(to some). Being at the top is very important (to some). You have to find your balance among them. You have to find your own happiness.  There are prices–guilt, being tired, dirty houses, missed soccer games. As long as you’re being driven by your own values and dreams you can make it work. I have two very successful daughters, in part because they had a model to follow.  My successful sons regularly do more than 50%.  I guess they had a model too.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Diversity

Recruiters Are Prejudiced


Recruiters Are People

I know lots of recruiters.  I like lots of recruiters. In fact, maybe I like all the recruiters I know.  Recruiters are regular people.  And like regular people (yes, that means you too), recruiters are prejudiced.  We are all prejudiced.  We don’t necessarily know that we’re prejudiced.  We don’t think or believe that we’re prejudiced, but all humans are.  If this were a geometry problem, I would have just proved that recruiters are prejudiced, because recruiters are people and people are prejudiced.

If recruiters are prejudiced, then why should you care?  You should care because if you’re looking for a job, it has an impact on you. If the recruiter believes negative or positive things about people ‘like’ you–young, old, fat, African-American, Asian, Southern, Republican, Catholic–then it can affect whether they pass you along for a job. Worse, recruiters are frequently under instructions from someone with a different set of prejudices–maybe about education, skills or particular schools.  So you’re up against (or supported by) layered prejudices.

What Can You Do About It?

First of all don’t waste your energy railing against it.  I’m not saying it isn’t wrong or unfair, but sitting around complaining about it is not going to do any good.  Recognize it as a problem that you have to figure out how to overcome.  Just the same as if you need a certification to get a particular job or  you need to know how to use Access.  You HAVE to address it or look for other jobs with other recruiters.  How do you address it?

  • Don’t get paranoid.  I know, I know.  I just told you that recruiters’ prejudices may be keeping you from getting passed along for a job.  But look at it as a matter to be dealt with.  Be strategic.  Don’t take it personally.
  • Understand what may be triggering the prejudice.  Is it your age?  Are you ‘too’ young?  ‘Too’ old.  How can the recruiter see this?  Does your resume tell it?  How can you make it less obvious?  Take the dates off your education.  Leave/put as much work experience on as is necessary for the job.  Show adequate depth of experience, but don’t go overboard.  Don’t put personal things that aren’t necessary and that might be a hook for prejudice (sewing, cooking, gaming, sports).
  • Use the words that the recruiter used in the job description in your resume.  Mirror the job description as much as you can.  A lot of time and effort went into creating that job description.  The words mean something to the person who wrote it.  Use the words to describe your qualifications.
  • Check out your image.  Minimize the prejudice triggers to the extent that you can–dress older or younger, remove the multiple piercings, cover the tattoos, dye your hair, lose weight, dress professionally, stylishly.  (I can hear you objecting through the electrons that separate us.  I am not telling you to not be who you are.  I’m telling you to do things that get you around the things that are in your way.  I’ll bet big bucks that you dress differently when you go to church or to school or to work or camping. Put the foot forward that will help clear roadblocks out of the way.)
  • Form a relationship with the recruiter. Keep working at the relationship.   Humans think in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us.’  Humans like ‘us’ better.  People who we know and like become ‘us,’ even when the new ‘us’ has traits we are prejudiced against.  In other words, if I’m prejudiced against people ‘like’ you, but I like you, I think you are different and I’m not prejudiced against YOU, just those others.  I KNOW that sounds crazy, but go read some psychology research–you’ll find that this craziness is supported by the research.
  • Don’t ever give in and believe these prejudices.  Just because you are young or old or less educated, doesn’t mean that you aren’t capable.

Once You Have The Job

Examine your own hiring prejudices.  You have them.  Challenge yourself, remembering your recent experiences, to act against those prejudices and to hire people based on their individual abilities, not on stereotypes (even if stereotypes  are faster, as George Clooney said in “Up In The Air”).

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Filed under Career Development, Communication, Diversity, Job Hunt, New Job, Recruiters

Why Doesn’t Your Team Work?

All of us get to spend time on teams.  Some of us spend all of our time on teams. There are terrible teams, good teams and great teams.  Most of us rarely get to spend much time on great teams.  For one thing, it takes time to build a great team–more than a few months, usually.  Few of us know how to build a good team, though, even with enough time.

Let’s talk about what makes a great team.

Unlike the common assumptions, great teams are not made up of friends, or people who are the same.  The best teams have lots of different kinds of people, with different temperments and skills.   Meredith Belbin, a British researcher who focuses on teams, started his research with the assumption that if he created a team of the smartest people–”A” players–then it would be a high performance team.  What he found was that intelligence itself was not enough.  A high performing team needs team members with a variety of skills and perspectives.  He identified the following roles necessary for a high performance team:

  • Plant:  Someone who is creative and who brings ideas to the table. (For my non-British readers:  think of this as someone who is embedded in the team who is a source of ideas.)  Someone who looks at things differently and is the team problem solver.
  • Resource Investigator: Someone who is the networker of the group.  Someone who is ‘connected’ in a way that helps the team find the resources and/or sources for whatever they need to be able to deliver team results.
  • Chairman (called the  Coordinator after 1988): Someone who ensures a balance among the members of the team–making sure that they all contribute to discussions and decisions. Someone who makes the goals clear, and ensures that the roles and responsibilities are clear.
  • Shaper:   Someone who challenges team members and who pushes them to overcome barriers.  Someone who pushes for agreement and decisions.
  •  Monitor-Evaluator:  Someone who is able to point out the challenges to other people’s solutions.  Someone who sees all the options, asks questions, points out the issues.
  • Team Worker: Someone who focuses on the interpersonal relationships within the team.  Someone who is sensitive to the nuances among the interactions of the team members.  Someone who helps ensure the long-term cohesion among team members.  Someone who helps deal with conflict, the group mediator.
  • Company Worker ( Implementor after 1988):  Someone who can figure out how to create the systems and processes that get the team the results they want.  Someone who is practical and pragmatic.
  • Completer Finisher:   Someone who is detail-oriented.  Someone who sees the defects before anyone else.  Someone who is clear on where the team is in relationship to its deadlines.  Someone who focuses on completing tasks, finding errors, making deadlines and staying on schedule.
  • Specialist: Someone who brings specialized knowledge to the team, like someone who is the Finance expert, or the Supply Chain expert or the Contract specialist.

Remember, these are ROLES, not people.  One person can potentially fill more than one role, but ideally not more than two.  We are more naturally comfortable in some of these roles than others.  The Plant (the idea person) is usually not good at being a Monitor–figuring out all the problems with the ideas.  Many of these role-fillers drive others crazy.  They balance each other out and reduce the risks of rushing to decisions or dragging to decisions or running people off or being too focused on deadlines or too focused on people or too focused on details.  Belbin has written several books on his research on teams.

When team members are presented with Belbin’s Team Role Assessments® it is amazing how they stop being irritated with each other and start appreciating the traits that had previously driven them all nuts.

Let’s Talk About the Work of Being a High Performance Team

The “who” of a team is only half the battle, though.  The other part of a high performance team is the work that teams have to go through to become great.  There are two models that help describe that work.  The first is the Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing stages of Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development.  Most of us have heard of this one.  It is useful to acknowledge that group behavior goes through stages and movement through these stages is necessary to develop the trust and authentic interactions necessary to be a good team.

The other model is less well-known, but is the one that I’ve taught to my graduate management classes.  It is the Drexler-Sibbett Team Performance ™ Model.  The Drexler-Sibbett Model acknowledges that team development is dynamic.  Teams have set backs, add people, change goals, get new managers, have failures, traumas, successes and constantly need to back up and ‘re-do’  some stage in the team’s development.  It is this focus on dynamic/interactive progress and re-setting that seems to me to be extremely realistic.  The Drexler-Sibbett stages are:

  • Orientation:  Why am I here? (Note–it isn’t why are we here–if you don’t answer for each and every person why s/he is there, they won’t even begin to engage.)
  • Trust Building: Who are you? and you? and you?  (Most ‘team building’ activities are focused on this stage.
  • Goal Clarification: What are we doing here? Few teams get very clear on goals.  They rarely get past the goals of all the individuals to the team goal.  The person from finance is there to protect finance’s interests, the person from IT is there to protect IT’s interest.  It is only when the individual goals are replaced by the team goal that the team begins to move to high performance.
  • Commitment:  How are we going to do it?  This gets into the messy part of resources, who, when, how.  This is when the theory and planning turn into reality and the trouble really starts.
  • Implementation:   Who does what, when, where and how.  The real stuff.  Things start to be hard.  Things start to get delivered.  Things don’t work and have to get fixed.  Misunderstandings and mistakes are uncovered and dealt with.  The struggle and the payoff happen in this stage.
  • High Performance: This is where things really hum.  People cooperate and trust and do and finish things.
  • Renewal:  This is where it all starts again.

The important concept of this model is that teams move forward and backward as the situation warrants.  New people come in, the Orientation and Trust Building stages may need to be done again (sometimes in an abbreviated way).  If Implementation isn’t working, then Commitment may need a refresh.

A Powerful Career Tool

Getting teams to high performance is hard work.   It can’t be done through a team building exercise, or through the boss announcing what the goals are.  Learning to build great teams, however, can be enormously helpful in getting you to the next level of your career.  People who know the mechanics of building great teams can do it over and over and over.  They can do it in different organizations and they can  deliver different kinds of goals.  They can do it at all levels of the organization and in all sizes of organizations.  Well worth learning!

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Filed under Books, Career Development, Career Goals, Diversity, Executive Development, Teams, Trust

Diversity Makes Work Work.

Work Has Gotten More Diverse.  No Duh!

Have you noticed how diverse our work lives have gotten lately?  Not so much at the top of organizations–we still have a long way to go there–but in terms of getting actual work done, most of us are dealing with quite a bit of diversity.  Have you worked on a ‘virtual team’ with people in other countries?  Does your company have global customers?  Do you have to deal with other generations in your office?  Is your company part of a global conglomerate?

Age, gender, religion, country, neighborhood, state, region, race.  All of it contributes to the work of work.  We are most comfortable with people like us.  Even those of us who think of ourselves as diversity-gurus are more comfortable with people like us.  Back in the caveman days when we all lived in the same cave for all of our lives, that was OK.  Now it is absolutely necessary that we come out of our comfort zone and learn to work together, learn together, and yes, even enjoy each other.

self within culture

Even when we don’t venture outside of our own groups, there are enough issues that cause problems.  The things that we believe about ‘the way it should be’ come from our own thinking patterns, our values, our family input, the norms within our community, and the regional influences.  When we stay within our own community, we have conflict among each other (think your extended family Thanksgiving or the last family wedding your attended).  We disagree about what is right and how to decide that.  We disagree about what is important, how to raise children, politics, food, neatness.  You name it, we can disagree about it.

family within culture

As you add more individuals, more families, more communities, it gets more and more complex.  The things we care about are the same, but the ways in which we think about them are different.  Different cultures have fundamentally different ways at thinking about:

  • Time
  • Communication (directness v. indirectness)
  • Power
  • Status
  • Individualism v. communitarianism
  • Money
  • Emotional display
  • Ageculture at work

When you throw those complexities into the workplace, we’re all out of our comfort zone.  That’s not going to change.  So, we need to work to get to know each other.  We need to really learn to understand these differences and appreciate them.  We need to come out of the “I’m right and you’re wrong” automatic response that our brains do without our even thinking about it and adopt a more reasoned approach to appreciating the complexity of human interaction.

A Great Book That Will Help

One of the best books to help understand the differences across cultures (and oh, by the way, why you think the way you do) is Riding the Waves of Culture by Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner.

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Filed under Career Development, Communication, Diversity, Executive Development

Moms At Work

Happy Mother’s Day

On this Mother’s Day, I thought would I write about women at work. I grew up not only with a mother who worked outside the home, but with a grandmother who always had as well (starting when she was thirteen).  It never occurred to me not to work.  And while I knew I would work, it didn’t occur to me to take what was considered a “woman’s” job at the time–nurse, teacher, secretary.  My best friend, who wanted to be an art or music historian became a teacher (and a good one) because her parents would only support her going to college if she went into a career that was “suitable for a woman.” When I started working in a corporation, I could look all the way to the top and see women only one level above me.

What’s Holding You Back?

Twenty years after I started (10 years ago–so this is old data), a Harvard Business Review article, What’s Holding Women Back, by Sheila Wellington, Marcia, Brumit Kropf, and Paulette R. Gerkovich published a discussion of a survey citing reasons for women’s slowness to reach top positions:

Female executives believed it was caused by:

  • Lack of line management experience (79%)
  • Exclusion from informal networks (77%)
  • Stereotypes about women (72%)
  • Failure of top leaders to assume responsibility for women’s advancement (68%)
  • Lack of role model (68%)
  • Commitment to personal or family responsibilities (67%)
  • Lack of mentoring (63%)
  • Lack of awareness of organization politics (57%)
  • Different behavior style from organization’s norm (51%)
  • Lack of opportunity for visibility (51%)
  • Inhospitable corporate culture (50%)

CEOs believed it was caused by:

  • Lack of line management experience (90%)
  • Failure of top leaders to assume responsibility for women’s advancement (58%)
  • Stereotypes about women (51%)
  • Lack of role model (49%)
  • Lack of mentoring (49%)

Obviously looking through different lenses!  Before I talk about the relevance/importance of these findings, let me tell you why I think that data this old is still relevant.  Look at the numbers for women in leadership roles in 2002 (when the above survey was done):

Statistics on women in leadership 2002

Similar statistics from 2009-2011:

Statistics for women in leadership 2009-2011

Not quite an apples to apples comparison, but close.  The big news here is that the numbers haven’t moved very much, especially when you factor in that women represent 53% of entry-level workers.  The question is why?  Really, the question is WHY!!!?!!!?!!!?!!!?!!!?


I don’t believe that it is because women aren’t every bit as capable as running corporations (or governments) as men.  Obviously, though, there are things in the way.  A recent Wall Street Journal article, The XX Factor: What’s Holding Women Back? by Sue Shellenbarger, lists pretty much the same reasons (from the CEOs perspective) that appeared in the 2002 survey (above).  From an organizational perspective it is tremendously wasteful–look at all the talent that is left on the table until they take themselves away!

From my perspective, the ways leaders of organizations and the ways women think about women in the work place, in particular– in other words, the mental mind sets and stereotypes they have about women, are the biggest barriers to women reaching the top positions in organizations.

How much does motherhood have to do with this?  Lots.  Eighty three percent of the successful senior leaders documented in the Wall Street Journal article above are mothers–so it can be done.  On the other hand, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg in a Ted Ideas Worth on Spreading video Why Few Women at Top discusses the phenomenon of women dialing back on their career intensity even when they start thinking about having children.  There are two sides of that:  CEOs say–“see, they aren’t committed.”  Women say–“it isn’t fair to get more involved and then leave the organization high and dry.”  You can see how both mind sets are in the way of women breaking the glass ceiling barriers that are just as real today as when I started.  The reality is that mothers work, whether by choice or not, and are good, talented, capable employees.  That is true whether they are entry-level or CEOs.  Perceptions about the impact of being a mother on a women’s ability to be a successful senior leader have a huge impact on women’s promotability.  Perceptions.  Mental models.  Not reality.  It isn’t reasonable to blame this continuing glass ceiling on that fact that women become mothers.  It is much more complicated than that.  Single, childless mothers aren’t finding it any easier to get to the top, or else all the ones identified as successful would be childless.  That isn’t the case.

There is a new, HUGE difference, though, with the young women entering the workforce now.  These women have very different expectations.  The women joining the workforce today fully expect to be treated as an equal.  Their development experiences include a whole lot more time of being treated as an equal.  They played sports.  They got into grueling college programs.  They don’t see any reason that they shouldn’t be treated equally–as entry-level employees and as directors and as CEOs.  They are waiting to have children until their career is on track.  They have not had any exposure to the “reasons” that women aren’t at the top (listed in the survey above).  They will not sit still for this.  They will leave the organizations and start their own.  There needs to be a wake up call across organizations.  This is HALF of the talent in the workforce.

I have recently dealt with young women who have been exposed not just to subtle discrimination, but to out-and-out double standards.  Women who have been told that their “legs” are a problem.  That is crazy.  What man’s legs have ever been a “problem” in an organization????  Women who have been sidelined for doing EXACTLY what their male peers and superiors have done.  They are being held to different standards than their male counterparts.  This isn’t something new.  The difference is that I expected it.  These young women don’t.  They don’t have any of the baggage that exists in both senior leader’s minds and in the minds of women who’ve risen through the ranks.  They are used to being equal.

It is Time!

And they are right.  It is time.  So . . . look at that list again.  Which of the beliefs that senior women believe in the survey —lack of line management experience, lack of role model,  exclusion from informal networks, lack of awareness of organizational politics–do you believe?  What are you going to do about it.  For yourself?  For young women in your organization?

Male leaders–what are you going to do about it?  What stereotypes do you believe that it is time to rethink?  What are you doing — being a mentor, role model, advocating for talented women in your organization, including women in your informal networks, hiring women into line management–to begin to build the leadership pipeline in your organization to include and support women?    It is time.

Do it in honor of your mother.  Do it for your daughter. Do it for all of us.

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Filed under Career Development, Diversity, Executive Development, Success