With gender bias so deeply ingrained that we often don’t see it, how can we create an environment where both men and women are valued and compensated equally for their work?
AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center (WLC) looked for answers to that question with “Bias Interrupters—Including Men in the Conversation,” a special session on November 8, 2018, featuring a mixed panel of experts on the topic.
Moderated by WLC Director Lauren McNally, the panel included Alton B. Harris, partner at Nixon Peabody LLP and co-author of Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work; Caroline Caselli, global chair of the Box Women’s Network; Daniel Ternan, co-chair of the Box Women’s Network; and Lois Cooper, PPC, practice leader for Human Capital Solutions at LMH Strategies Inc. and an AMA facilitator.
Talking about gender bias won’t eliminate it, but it is a step toward changing how bias harms women’s careers, panelists said. It’s a problem because even at the most modern, supposedly diverse organizations, leaders make decisions about pay, promotions, and assignments based on biases they are not even aware of.
WLC Director Lauren McNally
Changing how decisions are made
“We’re dealing with a systemic bias,” Harris said. “We need to find systematic ways to change the decision-making processes within organizations so that when assignments are made, when promotions are made…the ways in which that is done are not infected with the pervasive implicit biases that say that women are not as talented as men.”
He believes organizations should create new processes where more than one person is making decisions that affect an employee’s livelihood.
Even in a young company, where senior leadership deeply cares about diversity, “we still see the perpetuation of inequality,” said Caselli. “When you look at our leadership, it’s pretty dire in terms of women in leadership roles. And, while blatant harassment is not accepted in the workplace, bias is not that obvious, she said. Men who don’t experience the same things as women often don’t see the patterns.
Ternan agreed. “There’s a lack of self-awareness,” he said. “Men get really defensive. It feels to them like it’s some sort of personal attack.”
Working together to interrupt gender bias
There are actions that both men and women can take if they want to make a dent in a biased organizational culture, panelists said. One way is to work with the men who want to be allies.
“Allies are really imperative to bring a woman up within an organization,” Cooper said. “It’s not just being a mentor and saying, ‘This is how I did it.’ It’s being a sponsor and saying, ‘This is how you’re going to do it and how I’m going to help you.’” Having that ally is a key to being relevant in your organization so that when those decisions are being made about a promotion, you are now going to be top of mind, she said.
Ternan said that as a young businessman who wants to be an ally, it starts with educating himself. “I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately, which has been extremely impactful and educational for me, in understanding the things that I don’t see, the things that I don’t understand.”
Maybe men need to be better listeners, but women should start inviting men into the conversations more, Caselli added. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that there is a desire to engage,” she said.
Making your own success
Harris said he hopes there will be change within our lifetimes, but in the meantime, women should recognize that their organizations are probably biased against them. “So what are you going to do about it?” he challenged the audience. Harris suggested that both men and women need to take action to create change. “No one’s off the hook,” he said.
He recommends women find ways to communicate with the men in power so that those men view those women as leaders. “You can do things for yourself now, and it’s those things that I think you should be concentrating on,” Harris said. “How can I present myself better? More effectively. Not be a different person, but be a more effective advocate for yourself.”
“I’m going to give one other piece of advice,” added Cooper. “When you are asked to do something, and you are not sure if you can do it, just say yes. You’ll figure it out, and that’s how you’re going to continue to gain your confidence and advance your own career.”
“We’ve got an enormous educational job to do with men,” Harris said. “We’ve got to find a way to bring this together in a comfortable way that allows for candid dialogue.”
“There are men who want to participate in these conversations,” Caselli said. And as they start to show up, wanting to help change things for the better, women have to figure out what they need from their male allies. “What are our asks for them, now that they are here?” she said.
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