Do Differences between Generations Matter?

 by Joanie Connell

diversityDifferences between Generations

Now, more than ever, people are talking about how different the generations are in the workplace. Skeptics wonder: are they different? Aren’t we all just people in the workplace? What’s the big deal about generations? The answers are: yes and yes, and it’s not a big deal but it is something to be aware of. Yes, we are all just people and we differ along a number of dimensions, the generation in which we were born being one of them.

There are two major reasons why generations differ. First, people of different generations are different ages and people change as they mature.   A parent of four has different needs and values than a college intern, for example. Second, people of different generations grow up in different times. My grandmother grew up during the Great Depression and wouldn’t dream of throwing away a piece of aluminum foil (which used to be tin foil). My daughter is growing up in an age where breakfast is a candy bar and is enclosed in a disposable wrapper. People’s values change alongside the advances in technology and shifts in affluence, among other things.

What Differentiates the Generations?

The environment in which people grow up is partially responsible for who they become. Beyond the basic factors, such as food and shelter, attitudes and important events, such as 911 and WWII, influence people’s outlooks on life and their way of being. A generation shares the experience of growing up during certain events and is influenced by the prevailing attitudes of their caretakers. Obviously, individuals within a generation may react differently to the same events, but overall, a person’s generation can be a group to which he or she belongs. Understanding differences—and similarities—between groups can help the groups appreciate each other’s perspectives. The table below outlines the key factors that influenced each generation. Knowing that the Silents grew up during the Great Depression, for example, can help Baby Boomers and Millennials, who grew up in more affluent times, understand why they approach money matters differently.

Defining Moments of Generations

Generations in the Workplace

My great grandmother told me stories of going out on dates in horse drawn carriages. My daughter doesn’t know how to open a car window without pressing a button. These two people never met, but I have interacted with both of them. I have gotten wisdom from both of them. One taught me patience, while the other taught me to stop and smell the roses—literally! Similarly, at work, we can all learn from each other even though it may require a higher level of understanding.

Millennials: The New Generation

Millennials, the newest generation at work, have gotten a lot of attention. They are noticeably different from the other generations in the workplace. Of course, some of this has to do with their youth. Younger people tend to be more idealistic, full of energy, and confident of their immortality than older people. They tend to have fewer responsibilities and are less concerned about planning for the future than perhaps they ought to be. On average, the previous generations were that way too. It’s part of the adult development process. Some of the attention the Millennials have gotten is due to their youth, but there is more than just that.

Look at the differences in the defining moments of the Millennials compared to other generations. For example, look at parental advocacy vs. latchkey vs. discipline. Kids in these different generations grow up with much different perspectives by the parenting styles alone. Latchkey kids grow up having to fend for themselves and, as such, are much more independent in their work styles. Disciplined children grow up with respect for hierarchy. Children who are advocated for grow up more dependent on others to solve their problems for them and less respectful of hierarchy. Understanding how people come to the office with different perspectives and expectations helps people work together. It can also help people appreciate alternative viewpoints.

Generations Working Together

The four generations in the workplace today provide diversity in their approaches to work. They also provide diversity in perspectives and experiences that can be of great use in developing products, innovating, and thoroughly considering alternatives. As with all forms of diversity, appreciating differences is important to working together. But understanding what is behind the differences brings collaborative relationships to a deeper level. Stay tuned for more on generational differences to help you leverage the generational diversity in your workplace.

To Women in Business: Lessons from Female Heavy Metal Singers

By Joanie Connell and John Thornburgh

Letangry women’s face it: women in the workplace aren’t exactly known for supporting each other.

Rosa Brooks exemplifies this with her recent Washington Post op-ed piece titled “Recline, don’t ‘Lean In’ (Why I hate Sheryl Sandberg).” In the op-ed, Brooks attacks Sandberg’s “meticulously coiffed hair,” among other things. Can you imagine a man writing a piece like this? While Brooks’ article raises many points worthy of consideration, it’s unfortunate that she preyed on the stereotype of women cat-fighting to grab the attention of the media. The documentary film Miss Representation captures many more examples of how women tear down other women in the workplace and the media.

Research supports the notion that women don’t support women at work. For example, the 2014 Survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that women who bully target other women 68% of the time, whereas men who bully tend to target both men and women more equally (43% and 57%, respectively). “Why do mature, normally reasonable women do this to each other?” Asks Lisa Quast in her recent Forbes article. Good question! Quest offers many reasons, as does Amy Tennery in her recent article in Time. Competitive threat, stereotype threat, lack of training in team sports, and tokenism in a male dominated business world are a few explanations given.

Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, in their thoroughly researchedwoman with man at work book, Through the Labyrinth, explain that women have to be assertive yet feminine and work their way up the ladder in a more subtle, convoluted way than men. If women act like men, they are perceived as “bitches” (our word not theirs). That is a fate worse than death to any aspiring business woman. It doesn’t have to be this way though and women heavy metal singers are proving it.

You don’t have to be a fan of heavy metal music to recognize that it is the epitome of a male dominated culture. The “good old boys” consist of Aerosmith, Metallica, Van Halen, Scorpions, and Black Sabbath, to Kissname a few. They are a menacing, shrieking, growling, aggressive bunch, and metal fans aren’t known for being particularly feminist. Discussion boards on metal sites such as Blabbermouth.net are filled with misogynistic comments about how women don’t belong, and when one leading female-fronted band opened for Metallica in France, the audience booed as soon as the band took the stage. Record labels haven’t always helped either. For example, Delain singer (and Gender Studies graduate student) Charlotte Wessels had to fight efforts by her previous label to Photoshop her legs.

How have women broken into the male-dominated metal culture? If you aren’t a fan of heavy metal music, you might be surprised to know that there is a strong feminine presence developing. If you are an American (metal fan or not), you may be particularly unaware of this trend. That is because it’s largely a European trend. (Coincidentally, European business women are faring better than American ones too. What’s up, America?)

Women in business could learn a thing or two from women in metal. They know how to support each other and break into a male-dominated business.

What are female heavy metal singers doing that gets them ahead? First of all, they are not afraid to be themselves—feminine and beautiful and a stark contrast to the male singers. Secondly, they are notoriously supportive of each other. For example, established women metal singers regularly collaborate with up-and-coming artists they like, helping them to grab the spotlight. For example, Amy Lee of Evanescence performed with up-and-comer Lzzy Hale of Halestorm several times recently while they were on tour together. This helped promote Halestorm’s breakthrough. Lee explained: “It’s cool to have another female on the road. Not just because it inspires me musically—because it does—it makes me feel this sort of pride and ‘yeah, go get’em’ when I see a chick rocking.”

women metal supporting each other clippedHighly successful women metal singers, far from being divas who want all the glory for themselves, also regularly collaborate on each other’s albums. This delights fans and is a win-win for the artists. For example, Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish) appeared with Sharon den Adel on Within Temptation’s latest album. In the “making of” video, Sharon relays that the media had been pitting the two singers against each other for years and asking the two of them to comment on each other, even though they had never met. When they finally did meet for this endeavor, they clicked instantly and sang a beautiful duet together.

Women in metal are also highly supportive of each other online. They promote each other’s work on Facebook, and for a time even had an official support network called Eve’s Apple with over forty members worldwide. This group Eve's Apple at MFVFrecently declared “mission accomplished” and ended its formal role, but the members remain sisters who look out for each other and advise each other about the music business. One of Eve’s Apple’s leaders, VK Lynne, explains “in the media today, competition between women is very pervasive. It’s not just talked about. It’s fostered, and it’s supported, and it’s encouraged. And at Eve’s Apple, we believe that not only is that not healthy but we simply don’t want it and so we won’t do it.” There’s nothing stopping women in the more traditional workplace from doing the same.

It’s okay to be different from men and sometimes it’s even better.

What if women business leaders started just being themselves instead of tirelessly tight-roping across the line between masculine assertiveness and feminine modesty? There is diverse meetingalready research out there that shows companies with gender-diverse management boards perform better. What if women were valued for being women in the world of business? If women supported women, there might be enough women leaders to make that happen. Female heavy metal singers have; they are definitely not like men and no one wants them to be.

Share the spotlight with an up-and-comer.

How cool would it be if high profile women business leaders helped up-and-coming women to “grab the spotlight?” Men do that for each other. It’s called “sponsoring” someone. It’s putting your name on the woman presentingline for the other person’s success and highlighting the other person to help them get ahead. Women tend to avoid this and see more junior women as a threat. For example, as reported in Science Magazine, a recent study found that, “in academia, women collaborate less with their same-sex juniors” than men do. Women see that there are so few slots available to women in the higher echelon that they don’t want someone else to take theirs. If there were more women in the higher echelons, women wouldn’t see other women as threats because there would be room enough for everyone.

Metal women singers see other women as helping their cause, not hindering it—the more the better. As explained by French singer Clémentine Delauney, “[We] can help and protect each other instead of being rivals. … There are not a limited number of places in the scene. Jealousy is ridiculous and doesn’t help you get better.” When metal women singers sponsor other women, the only threat to them is if the women don’t do a good job. Thus, they do their best to bring the other women up, not push them down. At Eve’s Apple: “We wanted to help new singers understand the music industry and we wanted to show everybody that the female fronted rock/metal scene is not about bitch fights, gossip and diet marathons. It was the beginning of a new family and a whole new world opened up to many of us when we found out that we are not alone—and not lonely—in this business.”

Move from collaborative to collaborating.

Women are known for having a more collaborative leadership style than men, but that is not the same thing as collaborating. The collaborative leadership style is more democratic and consensus-driven than directive and authoritarian. Although women may be more collaborative, they don’t necessarily collaborate with each other.

A photo essay in BusinessWeek shows 11 business partnerships that changed the world, like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. They are almost entirely partnerships between men and none are entirely between women. What would it look like if women leaders collaborated with each other to change the world? Women in music are leading the way. In addition to heavy metal singers, pop singers, like Britney Spears, Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston have made top hits by singing together. Many business initiatives exist to encourage women to collaborate with each other, particularly in science and technology. The idea is clearly out there. Let’s see more women do it.

Promote other women’s work in social media

Social media has been called a narcissist’s heaven because it is a venue to shamelessly self-promote and see yourself on screen. However, experts in social media suggest that the best way to get out there is to promote others. Metal women singers have learned this, and so can women business leaders. Some women have started. For example, Oprah promotes women and is currently supporting Lavern Chatman for congress. Lean In promotes women and offers Lean In Circles as a way of sharing and learning together. This is start, but let’s see more!

Learning from heavy metal singers is not as much of a stretch as you might think. Music is art, but it is also a business. Heavy metal female singers are making deliberate business decisions to collaborate with and support other women. As a result, female metal stars are growing in popularity, with more bands, releases, and fans each year. The Pretty Reckless (featuring ex-Cindy Lou Who, Taylor Momsen), recently topped U.S. rock radio, only the second female-fronted band rock onin the last 24 years to do so, after Halestorm last year. Both bands benefited from the support of veteran Evanescence, and both bands in turn have supported other female-fronted bands.

Rock on, heavy metal women, rock on!

Contributors:
Joanie Connell has 15 years experience as an organizational consultant and has a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley (http://www.flexibleworksolutions.com).

John Thornburgh is a contributor to Sonic Cathedral, a webzine devoted to female-fronted metal (http://www.soniccathedral.com/webzine/).

Thanks to Tim Tronckoe for permission to use his photograph of Eve’s Apple at the Metal Female Voices Festival in Belgium (https://www.facebook.com/tim.tronckoe).

Images of Sharon den Adel and Tarja Turunen are from Within Temptation’s “Paradise (What About Us?)” music video.

Get Web Meetings off to the Right Start!

men on computerby Joanie Connell

Want to waste less time in web meetings waiting for the technology to work? Follow these tips to make your virtual meetings more efficient.

There are numerous tools out there for making virtual meetings possible, such as GoToMeeting, WebEx, Skype, and so on. The problem is, however, not everyone has the software installed or knows how to use it. Even if one person in your meeting is not up to speed, it can slow down the entire meeting. We’ve all experienced this, probably more than once. The key to preventing a frustrating delay is to prepare in advance and to make sure attendees are prepared too.

  • For a very important or first time virtual meeting, send out invitations ahead of time and have people practice getting connected ahead of time. “If you don’t test it, it’s not going to work, no matter how confident you are,” grumbled one seasoned executive.
    • Make sure people have the correct software downloaded for the meeting. Also, make sure they have computers that are able to handle a web meeting. Some people have limited processing power or very old computers.
    • Have people test their audio and video as needed. Many people don’t know that they need headsets for a good audio connection or how to change the volume on their computer or how to mute. Some people also don’t realize that some headsets don’t have audio inputs and they won’t understand why no one can hear them.
    • Have a backup alternative to computer audio. Offering a dial-in number for people to call in on their phones can reduce time wasted getting technology to work. Most people know how to do a conference call.
    • Tell people that they should have a good internet connection to attend a web meeting. A cellular connection is a last resort and public wifi is asking for trouble. As nice as it is to conference in from home, you may need to go to the office to have the right hardware and IT support if needed.
  • Include an alternative way to contact you in the meeting invitation. Email, cell phone, and Skype chat are some suggestions. If someone cannot get on the meeting, they will need to find a way to get in touch. Make sure you have a way to reach attendees as well, in case you need to call them to help them out or give them instructions for an alternative course of action.
  • Ask people to get there 15 minutes early. This means that people may start sitting down at their computers 15 minutes early and after they realize they need to install software, find headsets that will work, and get logged in, they will be there on time.
  • As the host, get there 15 minutes early to help people with technical problems.
  • Send out the meeting information again 30 minutes before the meeting. This will remind people that they need to get started ahead of time and clue in the clueless where the meeting will be held.
  • If you are the presenter and you have resources, have someone else set up the meeting and deal with problems that arise while you focus on the meeting.

The most important tip is to expect complications and don’t let them stop you from being productive. I recommend proceeding with the meeting and letting latecomers add on as they can. It sets the expectation that people need to be prepared so this won’t keep happening. In any case, here are some tips for backup solutions.

  • Email out slides or resources for people to follow along in case they can’t see them on their screens.
  • Record the meeting and make it available to people who could not get connected in a timely fashion.
  • Have a conference call number available in case it’s so bad you decide to abort the web meeting entirely.

If you like these tips, you may also like my tips for getting technology to work for in-person presentations.

Tech Tips for Presentations

  man on computerBy Joanie Connell

How much time do you waste in meetings—in web meetings or in person—waiting for the technology to work? Here are some tips for making your meetings more efficient.

  • Find out what kind of technology you’ll be using for your presentation.
    • Your own laptop? USB or other connector? If you have an Apple computer, make sure there is a plug adaptor for the projector cable.
    • Someone else’s computer? Apple or PC? What software is installed on the computer?
    • Do you need audio for your presentation? If so, make sure there will be sound.
    • Do you need the Internet for your presentation? Figure out wifi or other connections in advance, not to mention firewalls and passwords needed.
  • Get there early to set up and make sure it works.
    • If you can do a dry run the day before, that is the best in case there is a problem.
    • If it’s “just in time,” get there at least a half hour early. I recommend 45 minutes but some people won’t be willing to meet you that early. Perhaps you can meet the IT person early to set up.
    • If the person who is hosting you is not tech savvy, get someone who is to help you out, like an IT person. If something goes wrong, you’ll need them. Ask them to stick around for 5 minutes after you start to make sure everything is going smoothly. If the meeting is critical, have the IT person stay the whole time.

I gave a presentation last week in an auditorium full of people. I followed the steps above and still had a major tech failure. Per the host’s instructions, I put my presentation files on a memory stick and plugged it into his laptop. I opened the PowerPoint presentation and tested the videos I was planning to use a half hour before the meeting. Everything worked perfectly. Then, between the times that others spoke and when I got up to speak, the computer ran a hardware scan and installed some updates. (It was clear he hadn’t used his laptop in some time.) When I got up to speak, my video files were blocked. There I stood, in front of an auditorium full of people, trying to figure out why my videos wouldn’t run, wishing I had insisted on using my own laptop.

This is why it is important to always have a backup solution (or two or three). Here are some tips for backup solutions.

  • If you are using your own laptop, bring a memory stick with the presentation in case you have to switch to someone else’s computer.
  • If you are supposed to use someone else’s computer, bring your own laptop anyway. Bring a power cable! Bring extra cables to connect with various projectors and the Internet. Some people still use old equipment and not everyone has wifi available.
  • If you need the Internet for your presentation, bring a wireless modem. However, I highly recommend you find a way around depending on an Internet connection for your presentation. Download the files ahead of time if possible. You may find you’re presenting in a cinderblock room in the middle of a building and there is no signal on your cellular modem.
  • Make a PDF copy of your presentation.
  • Bring paper (yes paper!) copies of handouts.
  • Email out slides or resources to the host and/or participants ahead of time.

The most important backup solution is to bring your sense of humor along. Stay flexible and move forward even if the technology doesn’t work. Talk through a video example, write on the white board (bring pens!), or turn it into an interactive discussion. It’s even better if you have a backup plan thought out in advance, but no matter what; don’t let a technology glitch stop you from getting your message across. Humans have been communicating for centuries without computers. We haven’t lost the ability yet.

 

Saying “No” to your Boss without Hurting your Career

by Joanie Connell

For most of us, it’s no on the handhard to say “no”—if not all of the time, at least in some situations. One such situation is when you think it might harm your career. Ironically, sometimes, not saying “no” might actually hurt your career more. Examples are: when you are being asked to do something illegal or immoral, or something that you will not succeed at. You might not succeed at a task because you are too busy to do it well or because you aren’t skilled enough to do it well. In either case, it will reflect badly on you when you fail.

When I tell people they need to be able to say ”no,” they often balk and say that they can’t say “no” to their boss. Then I say, “How about if you say ‘yes’ to your boss?” Their eyes light up when I tell them it’s possible to say “yes” and “no” at the same time. Try the models below.

  • “Yes. If I do this then I won’t be able to do that… Which do you think is more important?”
    • Boss: “Could you take on the budget proposal for the new product we’re developing?”
    • You: “Yes, absolutely. I’m currently working on the financial analysis of the old product though. If I take on the budget for the new product, I won’t be able to finish the analysis as quickly and I had originally estimated. Which do you think is more important to do first?”
  • “Yes. If I do it in that timeframe, however, it won’t be my best work. I could offer to do this instead… What do you think would be best?”
    • Boss: “Could you write up the 40-page report by tomorrow morning?”
    • You: “Yes, I’d be happy to. If I write 40 pages in one day, though, it won’t be polished. If I had till the end of the week, I’d have time to go over it a second time and proofread it. What do you think would be best?”
  • “Yes. Would it be okay to delegate that to …?”
    • Boss: “Could you manage the offsite planning?”
    • You: “Yes, I’d be happy to be responsible for it. Would it be okay to delegate the work to Marnie? She’s looking for more leadership opportunities and is good with logistics.”

These exact phrases may not fit with your style, but you get the idea. You accept the work with full disclosure of the sacrifice (not completing other work, not your best quality work, or not you actually doing the work) and give your boss the opportunity to decide what is more important. If your boss says, for example, that she doesn’t need your best quality on a 40-page report, just a rough draft, or maybe even an outline, then you’ve brought it down to a reasonable task in a short timeframe. If your boss says he needs it to be top quality and would rather wait, then you have turned it into a reasonable timeframe to complete the task.

Bosses don’t want their people to fail. It reflects badly on them too when you fail. They want the work done and done well and done on time. You need to speak up when you won’t be able to deliver. A positive way to do that is to help the boss find solutions, rather than raise obstacles. Bosses like solutions. And the bosses who don’t like to hear “no” like to be able to decide what is more important. If you give them that opportunity with the models above, then you will be able to keep your head above water too.

Empowering Millennials

 “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” ― Adrienne Rich

helping handStructured mentoring is the rage right now. Millennials love it! Not only do they love it, but they expect it and they need it—at least they think they need it. They’ve been programmed to think they need it from years of coaching and personal tutoring. They’ve been taught to believe they don’t have the power within themselves to get the answers. I don’t believe that’s true.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the workplace it’s that effective people take responsibility for their own development. They don’t wait around for the company to hand them a mentor and a plan. Effective people take action to get things done. They don’t wait around for someone to help them. That’s not to say that effective people don’t ask for help; they do. They seek help when they need it and find a way to keep moving forward when it’s not available. That’s because effective people have personal power.

powerHaving personal power means feeling confident in your abilities and knowing you can access the resources you need to accomplish what you want to. It means having a level of control over yourself and the world around you. It is about knowing what you can and cannot control. It is about thinking for yourself and being true to yourself. Personal power enables you to get things done.

Managers regularly complain to me that the new generation of workers needs too much “hand holding.” “They aren’t independent enough.” “They need directions and feedback at every step of the way.” How do we empower the Millennials to be able to fend for themselves? Mentoring is a good thing. I don’t knock that. But we need to ask ourselves if we are truly empowering Millennials by setting up so many structured mentoring programs for them. Could we, in fact, be disempowering them in the process? Could we be “enabling” them to remain helpless and dependent on others? By cowing to their mentoring demands, aren’t we continuing to send them the message that they can’t do it on their own?

As a consultant, one of the first things that we are taught is what the client needs is often not what the client asks for. For example, a client might call up asking for a training program for their team. Upon further examination, we might find out that it’s really the leader who needs training on how to lead the team.

Millennials ask for mentoring. They also ask to have their parents come on their job interviews. Companies are meeting these demands by providing what is asked for. But these respobird flyingnses don’t address the root of the issue: Millennials need to become more independent and self-empowered (and their parents need to back off). If we’re going to mentor young people to be effective in the workplace, that’s the message we need to send.

Rearing Resilience

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

–Frederick Douglass

1st place ribbonI went to a youth music competition this weekend.  There were 12 musicians in the age category I watched.  They varied a great deal in their ability.  After an hour of performances, the judges announced the winners.  There were 2 First Place winners, 4 Second Place winners and 6 Third Place winners.  Everyone won.  I overheard one of the Third Place winners asking her parents if Third Place was really Last Place.  The parents looked at her, not knowing what to say as she took the medal off her chest and put it away.  She wasn’t fooled.

crying babyThere is a movement toward sparing the feelings of children when they lose, make a mistake, fail, or simply aren’t the best at something.  We raise our children in a culture where “everyone’s a winner.”  However, when they grow up and find out that only very few people get into the best colleges and very few end up in their dream jobs right out of school, they are dumbfounded and caught off guard, and they crumple in defeat.  We aren’t preparing our children to survive in a world where everyone really isn’t a winner.

Resilience is probably the most important quality for success at work and life. Being able to stay strong, even in the worst of times, is what leads to success. It is the rare individual who goes through life without adversity. In fact, it would be surprising if there were any such people. Some people face greater adversity than others and have to be strong to get through it. For example, think of cancer survivors, kids who have escaped from neighborhood gangs, Holocaust survivors, or the Lost Boys of Sudan. How did they endure? What kept them going? It was inner strength and optimism. They never gave up.

Hopefully, none of us will have to face such severe adversity, but it is important to be able to get through what adversity we do encounter. How do we develop the inner strength to stay strong? We train for it just like we do for everything else. We start out small with low levels of adversity, such as not getting the piece of candy we want, working out our differences with our school friends, and learning from a failing grade that we have to study for tests. We move onto bigger problems to get through, such as handling the pain of breaking an arm or getting stitches, denting the car and having to pay for it ourselves, and working through our first heartbreak. Then we move onto even bigger things, such as learning to live with a difficult roommate, turning down an evening out with friends to save for the rent, and sticking it out at a miserable summer job. These experiences prepare us for the critical ones that require us to draw from our strength to get through trying circumstances and forge optimistically ahead.

Successful people are resilient.

Why Is Pregnancy a Women’s Problem?

baby at laptopBy Joanie Connell

Babies are a part of life. We were all babies once. Most of us will have babies. And, whether or not we do, we need babies to continue our society. So, why is it that the burden of having babies has landed completely on women?

The recent HBR discussion on whether women are obligated to tell potential employers that they are pregnant when they interview is a great example of how women are blamed for having babies. The conundrum is: tell the potential employer and don’t get hired or don’t tell the potential employer and be called a liar. It’s a lose-lose situation for pregnant women looking for work.

Are men liars if they don’t tell their potential employers that they have medical conditions that might affect their work? It’s interesting that pregnancy is considered a medical condition that needs to be disclosed, even though people have fought hard to have the right to privacy over their medical issues. The disability act requires employers to find a way to deal with a disability, but why don’t employers have the same obligation to find a way to deal with pregnancy? Isn’t that gender biased?

In an ideal society, we’d all be honest with each other and give each other warning when things were about to change. But this is not an ideal society. Employers don’t do it and neither do employees. Why are women held to a higher standard?

More to the point, however, is that we all have to bear the cost of having babies and we all get to reap the benefits of having babies too. We think so often about how people who don’t have babies are saddled with the cost of other people (especially women) having babies. But, could it actually be the other way around? It could be argued that people who don’t have babies are free riders of a sort.

The problem with the blame game is that it blocks productivity. We’ve seen this on a large scale, for example, when Congress disagrees on the budget and when presidents are investigated. Our government comes to a standstill. People get so rooted into a position that they bring everyone down disagreeing. They’re fighting for win-lose but everyone loses.

Pregnant womanWe’re asking the wrong questions about pregnancy at work. We shouldn’t be thinking at the granular level of what he said/she said or if he/she should hire this person or that. The reason why women are losing out is that employers keep thinking at the level of “would this person be better for me over the next 3 months” rather than what is the best solution for the company over the long-term? This is a pennywise, pound foolish approach. Women are losing wages and opportunity and companies are losing access to a huge portion of the productive workforce.

Let’s turn pregnancy into a win-win proposition by asking ourselves to challenge our current assumptions and think in new and creative ways. Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we started implementing solutions rather than blaming and harping on problems of pregnancy at work—if we found ways to leverage the productivity of pregnant women and mothers, rather than write them off as being less worthy? Wouldn’t we all be better off if we found a way to collectively bring in the next generation of leaders and employees while supporting the current leaders and employees? Think of how much more we could get done!

Pregnancy is not a women’s problem. It is a part of life that can drain or regenerate our society, depending on how we handle it.

Why Have Good Character?

cheatBy Joanie Connell

One evening several years back, my husband, daughter and I were sitting around the kitchen table after dinner. My husband got up and went into the pantry and shut the door behind him. I heard a bunch of rustling noises, like plastic bags being handled. I couldn’t for the life of me think of why my husband would go into the pantry and shut the door, and what he could possibly be doing in there. Then all of a sudden I remembered that I had hidden all of the Halloween candy in there! He was eating it! What do you think I did? I covered for him in front of my daughter then I took a turn!

Yes, I still do feel guilty about it, 8 years later. It just doesn’t seem right to tell my daughter that she can’t eat candy but I can. But how many of us do this? How many parents hold their children to different standards than they hold themselves? It occurs in various forms.

  • The children should get all A’s even though the parents didn’t.
  • The children should cross at the crosswalk, even though the parents don’t.
  • The children should never lie, even though the parents do.
  • The children should not drink alcohol before the legal age, even though the parents did.
  • The children should perform community service, but the parents don’t.

Children learn character from their parents. They catch us in a lie. They ask why it is okay to tell Grandma that her cake was delicious even though we threw it away. They hear us yelling at other drivers from the car. They see whether we return the shopping cart, whether we come to a full stop at the intersection, whether we download music from iTunes or someone else’s computer.

But we shouldn’t just have good character for our kids. We should have it for ourselves first and foremost. And if we don’t have good character for ourselves or our kids, we should have it because society needs people of character for it to succeed. If we all let ourselves go, looking out for no one but ourselves, cheating the rules, and ignoring requests, we will all lose. Humans are social beings; we need each other to survive. Why not treat each other well in the process?

Women in Leadership: What We Deal With

by Joanie Connell

woman and man tug of warI was carpooling recently with three business colleagues, all male. One of them noticed someone in the car ahead cutting us off. He blurted out, “It’s a woman!” All of us looked a little surprised. One of the other men in the car said, “At least he didn’t say it must be a woman!” to the rest of us. The first colleague then went on to say that “the two worst things for our country were letting women drive and letting them vote.”

Yes, this happened in the year 2014. A man said that out loud, in a business context, with a woman present. He’s lucky he didn’t receive a black-belt-level kick in the back of the head from me at the time and he’s lucky now that he is remaining anonymous in this blog.

woman leader climbing ladderFor all you people out there who think that sexism and other “isms” are gone, you are wrong. I heard from another colleague just the other day that women leaders take time off to have babies and they shouldn’t progress to the top because of that. This was a woman speaking in the context of a discussion of why the percentage of women on Fortune 100 Boards has not increased over the years.

Yes, this was also 2014. A woman said that women shouldn’t be leaders of Fortune 100 companies because they have babies. She’s lucky I had an appointment to get to at the time and she’s lucky to remain anonymous in this blog too. Babies? All women? Never be top leaders? Don’t even get me started.

I’ve never been one of those people who can produce a zinger of a response in the moment. In fact, I still don’t even have zingers for these two people. It’s just too big for a zinger. I need a manuscript.

But what I want to say to you, the reader, is that, no matter what anyone tells you, it is challenging for women to be leaders even still. For all of you who think that sexism and other “isms” are a thing of the past, beware. They aren’t. And how are you to deal with that? The question to ask yourself is, do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution? Do you value equality? If so, it’s time to take a look at how you put this value into play. I’d like to challenge you to challenge others in their beliefs and in their behaviors.

I didn’t tell you what I said to these folks and the many others I’ve had to deal with saying disparaging comments about women to me, but I can assure you that I did speak up. And I can assure you that people know me as a person of character who challenges them to do the right thing.

In fact, a few years back I chaired a dissertation defense meeting on the topic of gender stereotyping. Would you believe, during the meeting one of the male committee members made several sexist remarks to the female candidate! How did I handle this? I shut down the behavior in the meeting and I followed up with individual meetings with each person who was on the committee and in the room, including the person who made the remarks. The goal was to give constructive feedback to my colleague on how his behavior impacted others to help him be more inclusive in the future. I hope it helped.

Just so you know, it was extremely uncomfortable for me to have to go to a colleague and call him out on his sexist remarks. It would have been so much easier to just let it go. But it needed to be done and I needed to do it because I value equality and inclusion.

One of my role models for advocating inclusion is Bernardo Ferdman. He’s one of those people who does even better than coming up with a zinger. HDiversity at Work book covere comes up with constructive responses that challenge the person’s thinking and behavior in a positive way to bring about inclusiveness. He has a new book out on the very topic of inclusiveness and I highly recommend it for you and your organizations. I’ve wanted to buy it myself, but it is hardcover and it carries a hefty price tag. I’ve been telling myself that it’s too expensive to buy. After the last couple of weeks, however, I think it’s too expensive not to.

I’ll leave you with a final fact, which might surprise you. The people in the three examples I gave are all high-level, highly influential leaders, with global impact. Don’t ask me who they are or even try to figure it out; I won’t tell you. The purpose of this article is not to expose them; it’s to learn from them. The lesson is: your behavior does count. Make it count!