An incident last week jolted me awake about women in the workplace.
I participated in two days of new employee orientation for a financial services client. About 70 percent of the 40 people in the class were women, the rest men. As part of a group exercise the instructor asked for a representative from each table to stand up and share the group’s work. A man spoke for every group but one, that being my table where I stood up.
I was shocked and saddened. Why are women letting men dominate, even in non-threatening situations like work orientation games?
When I was in my 20s we women boldly stood up and spoke up, knowing that our views were as valuable as the guys, oftentimes even more so. We weren’t very good at slinging the bull shit like some of our fearless men friends. So our responses were often more considered and thoughtful.
We knew we had to speak up. Trailblazers like Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzeg had worked hard and sacrificed much to help us move into the corporate world. We wanted to pay it forward by succeeding and helping other women in their journeys. Having a say and being heard was essential.
When I was working at AT&T early in my career I was promoted into a job where I made $22,000, taking over for a man who hadn’t been performing so well at the job but had been making $48,000. More than double what I was paid for the same responsibilities. I raised this disparity with HR, which told me that the man had more experience, and, confidentially, “if you keep speaking up like this you could hurt your career.” I loved telling that story, and I more loved seeing the pay gap between women and men shrink.
We’ve made such gains over the 30 years, but apparently not enough.
Aside from my fear that women will continue to not get promoted as quickly or make as much as men if they do not speak up and believe in themselves, I worry about businesses being able to adapt and grow. Research shows that the more diverse the thinking an in an organization, the faster and better it can solve problems. If women are submissive, organizational performance will suffer.
I was recently planning a conference with a wonderful, enlightened European man. He recruited the first 12 speakers. Eleven of the 12 were men. When I pointed out this imbalance, he was taken aback. He hadn’t even noticed that he had invited almost all men. I am pleased to tell you that this conference is now equally represented.
Today the Fast Company blog had a story that caught my eye, “Eight Successful Entrepreneurs Give Their Younger Selves Lessons They Wish They’d Known Then.” When I clicked on the story all the entrepreneurs were men. Really? The writer couldn’t find one successful female entrepreneur?
Let’s call the media on this imbalanced view of business.
Let’s also get back to supporting and encouraging women in the workforce.
I don’t know about you, but I thought we had come farther. I thought my diligence in helping and promoting women had worked and now I could move on to new issues.
Just as Sheryl Sandberg is doing with her LeanIn.org, we need to help women stand up and be heard for their considerable talents and perspectives. If they don’t speak up confidently they will be overlooked for promotions and for increased compensation.
Worse, we wont be able to solve the complexity of today’s issues without the equal voices of both women and men, and not just women and men. But people who think differently from one another. Believe me, no one has the answers figured out in any industry.
PS — this Hay Group study just came out yesterday.