Category Archives for "Workplace Dynamics"

June 5, 2019



A situation in which a person either hides or downplays some aspect of themselves because they do not want to feel (or have others feel) uncomfortable [Deloitte]


My manager made it clear that a physical condition he had (that was largely invisible to everyone else) would at times affect his ability to work long hours late at night. Him disclosing this, instead of toughing it out or making up excuses, allowed the entire team to be more honest with our own individual challenges, which I really do believe helped us do better work in the long term.


At my consulting firm, a male Senior Manager told us a story about how he would tell coworkers he had "important weekly client meetings," but he was actually spending time with his kids. He was trying to "cover" because he believed other men would not understand why he would need to spend time with his kids during the week – he thought other men would judge him and think this responsibility fell on his wife.

Facts and Data

Take Action

Some forms of covering are a part of doing business while others are more harmful. HBR writes: “Enabling employees to feel comfortable being themselves could unlock dramatic performance gains because they can focus their attention on work, rather than hiding parts of themselves.”

  1. Share your story and be a bit more vulnerable (in the right context)

  2. Know that many people feel it necessary to hide parts of themselves, especially related to their sexual orientation, disability, gender, race, and more.

  3. Don't pressure others to "uncover" anything they don't want to. Just because you might be a safe person to "uncover" with doesn't mean that others are as well.

June 5, 2019

Bystander effect

Bystander effect

A social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim as more people are present. Several factors contribute to the bystander effect, including ambiguity, cohesiveness and diffusion of responsibility [Wikipedia]


As a Black female engineer I was often the only female and usually the only black person. In my first project a middle-aged white guy at one of our suppliers screamed at me in a meeting for making a suggestion (not raise his voice... scream), telling me I had no idea what I was talking about. He didn't speak to anyone else on my engineering team that way even though we were all in agreement. I was so shocked I froze.  

A male colleague stepped in, there on the spot, and told him it was an inappropriate way to address anyone on our team. He then reinforced his agreement with my assessment. The strongest form of allyship was that he was able to address it immediately as opposed to just feeling uncomfortable and not speaking up and waiting to handle the damage on both sides later. I appreciated his respect and support, especially since I had no idea how to defend myself in that moment.

Facts and Data

  • Researchers have posited three main reasons why the bystander effect occurs: the diffusion of responsibility; social referencing, the tendency to see how others behave and act accordingly; and simple shyness. [nymag]

  • One study showed that even 5-year-olds succumb to the bystander effect. When asked to help an adult clean up a spill, almost all children did when alone, but only 50% did as the number of 5-year-old bystanders increased. [nymag]

Take Action

  • Trainings and knowledge of the necessity of a proactive stance has been shown to reduce bystander effect. Even discussing with colleagues how you might approach different scenarios can make a big impact

  • Become more aware of this phenomenon, and encourage your office to get trained

June 5, 2019

Office Housework

Office housework

Logistical and administrative tasks that are essential to office functioning, but don’t pay off professionally. Examples include taking notes, cleaning up after meetings, planning social events, bringing food/coffee, etc. This work often falls on women, and especially women of color. [Harvard Business Review]


The best advocates I've had give me a chance at thought and group leadership, while the most frustrating have relied on me for quasi-administrative tasks. I (and many women, especially other women of color) will default into (or be defaulted into) taking responsibility for organizing logistics, tracking attendance, NOTE TAKING. My best advocates free me up from these admin tasks (spreading the work amongst genders, races, etc) so I can participate in the content. 

Hear it FirstHand

I have to actively stop myself from volunteering for extra roles (i.e. party planning, note taking, cleaning up after a team lunch) that I don’t enjoy and that can be low status. As a woman, I feel that there is a strong expectation for me to be perceived as helpful.

Facts and Data

  • Wharton professor Adam Grant writes about research on this subject: “When a woman declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is ‘busy’; a woman is ‘selfish.’” [Harvard Business Review]

  • Participants of a study were asked to evaluate the performance of a male or female employee who did or did not stay late to help colleagues prepare for an important meeting. For staying late and helping, a man was rated 14 percent more favorably than a woman who also stayed late to help. When men and women both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. A woman had to stay late and help to get the same approval rating as a man who didn’t help. [NY Times]

Take Action

  • Create a schedule of predictable “office housework”  tasks and share them fairly. Simply making well-intentioned but vague commitments to share these tasks equitably rarely works – add structure if you're serious about this

  • Check-in with those doing office housework regularly. You may notice someone on your team doing these “non-advancement” office housework tasks. You can't know for sure how anyone feels about doing these tasks, so don't make assumptions, but do respectfully check-in about the situation

  • Model good behavior. Volunteer to get the coffee, clean up after the meeting, water the plants, etc

  • Make the existence of "office housework" common knowledge on your teams. The more bias can be identified, the less power it has, and the more ability you have to do something about it

June 5, 2019

Stereotype Threat

stereotype threat

"Stereotype threat", as defined by psychologist Claude Steele, is the mental drain from being at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about one’s group. In less dense language this means that people get mentally depleted when they're trying to avoid playing into negative expectations – and this impedes successful completion of a given task. [Wikipedia] For example: "I am a woman in a room full of men. I am taking a math test. There are stereotypes that women are not good at math." [University of Arizona]

This is related to the psychological phenomenon of "priming" in which an initial experience primes someone's brain in such a way that their later behavior is affected. For example, the word "Nurse" is recognized more quickly following the word "Doctor" than following the word "Bread". [Wikipedia]

There are main contributors to stereotype threat. These include situations when (1) stereotypes about one's identity feel relevant to the task at hand; (2) someone is solo in a small number of underrepresented people in a given context; and (3) someone faces evaluative scrutiny [University of Arizona]

XKCD comic titled "How It Works" [XKCD]

Facts and Data

  • There are many major consequences to stereotype threat. Here are five of many: (1) Anxiety and dejection; (2) Heightened self-consciousness of stereotypes; (3) Lowered performance expectations and subsequent practicing time; (4) Reduced creativity and speed; and (5) Altered professional identities and aspirations [University of Arizona]
  • The mere presence of other people can evoke stereotype threat. Researchers found that women who took a math exam along with two other women got 70% of the answers right, whereas women who took the same exam with two men got an average of 55%. This same score decline didn't occur with verbals test, only on math tests. There weren't significant differences in performance for men. Lastly, women’s lower performance in math was proportional to the relative number of men in a group: in same-sex groups, women got 70%; in a mixed-majority (two women, one man), women got 64%; and in a minority-group (one woman, two men), women got 58% [Harvard Kennedy School]
  • Stereotype threat can affect everyone, including overrepresented groups. Any social identity can affect performance on a task that offers the possibility that a stereotype might be confirmed, even overrepresented groups. This includes  men with tasks of social sensitivity; white people compared on tasks assumed to reflect natural sports ability; and white men facing supposed Asian superiority in math [University of Arizona]
  • Stereotype threat can hurt or harm depending on framing. Researchers found that the framing of an athletic task significantly affected how Black and white athletes performed. They found that Black participants performed significantly worse than did control participants when performance on a golf task was framed as diagnostic of "sports intelligence." In comparison, white participants performed worse than did control participants when the golf task was framed as diagnostic of "natural athletic ability" [American Psychological Association]
  • Stereotype threat with gender and negotiations. One study had female-male pairs do a negotiation exercise together and found that when the pair was told good negotiators had traits commonly thought to be female (e.g. emotional, good listeners, expressive) the women performed substantially better than the men. When the the pair was given a gender neutral description of good negotiators, they found that men did substantially better [Northwestern Kellogg]
  • Asian women did better and worse on a math test depending on whether their race or gender was primed. Asian American women performed better on a math test when their Asian identity was primed compared to a control condition with no priming (conforming to the "Asians are good at math" stereotype). Conversely, participants did worse on the math test when instead their gender identity was highlighted (conforming to the "Women are bad at math" stereotype) [Harvard Kennedy School]

Claude Steele found that Black students facing stereotype threat did much worse on a GRE-like aptitude test compared to their previous SAT scores than did Black students who did not face stereotype threat. White students' scores were not significantly affected [Wikipedia]

Take Action

Trying not to think about stereotype threat doesn't help. Stereotype threat reduces available "working memory"  which is one of the strongest predictors of ability. It is self-defeating to seek to avoid the effects of stereotype threat by trying not to be anxious, not to have feelings of self-doubt, and not to pay attention to negative stereotypes. Such efforts further deplete the cognitive resources available to them for successfully performing workplace tasks. Read on for better solutions [HBR]

  • Affirm counter-stereotypical strengths. Women, for example can think of themselves as tough, risk-taking, and competitive for a few minutes before engaging in a task with potential stereotype threat [HBR] [University of Arizona]

  • Encourage a growth mindset. Emphasizing the importance of effort and motivation in performance while deemphasizing inherent talent or genius reduces stereotype threat. Black students who were encouraged to view intelligence as malleable were more likely to indicate greater enjoyment and valuing of education, and they also received higher grades that semester [University of Arizona]

  • Encourage self affirmation. When people affirm their self worth they protect themselves from perceived threats and consequences of failure. This can be done by encouraging people to think about characteristics, skills, values, or roles that they value or view as important. White people who affirmed their commitment to being non-racist were less likely to respond in a stereotypic fashion to an implicit measure of racial associations linked to racial bias. African American students who self-affirmed themselves for 15 minutes performed better during the semester than those who did not. The effects arise because the affirmation alleviates the fear of confirming to negative stereotypes [University of Arizona]

  • When giving feedback, emphasize high standards with assurances about someone's capability to meet them. Constructive feedback is most effective when it communicates high standards for performance, while also providing assurances that their abilities and “belonging” are assumed rather than questioned [University of Arizona]

  • Remind others that stereotype threat is real but stereotypes are not. Remind someone that the anxiety they may experience when performing a task with a negative stereotype has nothing to do with their actual ability and everything to do with stereotype threat [HBR]

  • Help others avoid viewing themselves through an identity lens. Instead of “I am the only black woman in this meeting”, focusing on achievements and abilities (“I am the only person in this meeting with an MBA”) [HBR]

  • Exposure to positive role models improves performance. Providing even a single role model that challenges stereotypic assumptions can eliminate performance decrements under stereotype threat. Evidence indicates that even reading essays about successful women can alleviate performance deficits under stereotype threat [University of Arizona]. Google noticed that only 1 of 15 conferences rooms on a certain part of their campus were named after women and so began naming more after women [The Atlantic]

  • Move demographic inquiries (i.e. race/ethnicity, gender, etc) to the end of performance evaluations. Multiple sets of researchers found that moving demographic questions to the end of the AP Calculus test resulted in significantly higher performance amongst women on the test. By instituting this procedural change, it is estimated that an additional 4700 female students would receive AP Calculus credit annually [University of Arizona]

June 5, 2019

Being the only one

Being the only one

This phrase refers to being the "only one" of an underrepresented group (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc) in a majority group. The "only one" may commonly (though not exclusively) experience:

  1. Pressure (overt or not) to speak for all members of their group and to educate others on matters related to their group

  2. Loneliness, isolation, lack of common experiences and cultural backgrounds

  3. Internal conflict when hearing derogatory comments – whether to break harmony / take a stand or "keep the peace" / be silently upset

  4. Discomfort speaking up and fully engaging in teamwork

  5. Decreased productivity and effectiveness due to Stereotype Threat (covered in a future newsletter)


I was glad to be encouraged to play my music at work even though it was likely different than what my manager & white coworkers listened to. They wanted to be exposed to music I liked. 

More Champions

A white, male colleague began debating me about the difference between racism and prejudice seemingly out of nowhere. I wasn't interested in having this debate. Fortunately, a different white, male co-worker stepped in and said the original guy was wrong and moved the conversation away from this topic. 

Hear it Firsthand 1

It was always hard feeling like I didn’t belong with a certain group of white coworkers. They all liked the same type of music that I didn't listen to and did activities I didn't do (snowboarding at Tahoe, EDM concerts, etc) – and the surprise or shock they’d always have when I hadn’t heard of the musicians. It made me feel very different. 

Hear it Firsthand 2 

I was once asked to answer another colleague's question during a sexual harassment meeting by the HR rep. She started by saying, "is there a black person here?" I (a black woman) did not make a sound. Someone pointed me out. She then asked me, "could you explain why it's funny when a black comedian uses the N word, but not a white comedian." As every angry black stereotype flashed through my head, I just complied while NO ONE, including the full time HR person said a thing. One of the worst experiences of my life. Only black woman in a company of 160.

Facts and Data

  • A study on differing numbers of female board directors found big differences between having one, two, and three women. Solo women experience much of the "being the only one" effect and find participation challenging. Two women directors are perceived as a separate subgroup from the board. At three, the "female directors" become "directors" and the team culture shifts towards collaboration, sustained focused, and a broadened scope of work [HBR]

  • Social events and relationship building – activities that aren't always obvious but very important for advancement – are harder to navigate for underrepresented people due to a lack of shared background and cultural landmarks [HBR]

Take Action

  • Add some structure to social settings. Informal social settings cause stress for many people navigating social interactions. Adding some structure (ice breakers, little competitions/games, a leader doing introductions) can really help [HBR]

  • Value diversity. Diverse teams have been found over and over to produce better and more creative results. You don't have to be everyone's best friend, but taking an interest in coworkers' lives and interests helps people feel they belong [HBR]

  • Mentorship. Creating structured systems to match people with mentors helps facilitate career advancing relationships [HBR]

  • See something, say something. If you see or hear uninclusive behavior, even if it wasn't intentional, do your best to do something about it

June 5, 2019

Sexual Harassment Part 2

This post includes descriptions and examples of sexual harassment and sexual assault

Sexual harassment part 2

This important topic is broken up into two separate entries. This post is about sexual harassment and assault incidents and how to best be supportive as an individual. The other post is about sexual harassment policies and processes. 

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are common, though many people don’t know their friends’ and colleagues’ stories. People rarely talk about because they're difficult to share. The New York Times wrote that Harvey Weinstein was able to go about business as usual while he was sexually harassing and assaulting women for three decades [NY Times]. There are many such men who have engaged in similar behavior – the NY Times documents 201 of them here [NY Times].

They were able to do this because the systems of power that operate within companies and industries prevent many assault and harassment accusations from being taken seriously, and accusers are retaliated against. How else could Louis CK, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, and countless others have gotten away with behavior that was largely an “open secret” in their companies and industries?

These same power dynamics can be seen in companies outside of media and entertainment, such as Uber, in which Susan Fowler described a culture in which “high performers” were allowed to indiscriminately sexually harass women with no consequences with HR fully understanding the scope of the problem [Susan Fowler’s Blog]

Source: NPR

Hear it Firsthand

The other female member of my team would sometimes grow irritated in our team meetings because the men weren't treating them with respect. I recall a few occasions where other members of the group would ask her whether she was on her period or joke that she was PMS-ing after she left. I was surprised that they would say these things in front of me, as if this was a totally normal thing to say to a woman. 


One of my colleagues noticed the fact that I was quite disturbed and cold with this guy we were working with, and he asked me why. I told him he was behaving very inappropriately. “You need to report all of this stuff, I will back you,” he said. So then I reported it, but the fact they watched out for me made me stay. I was touched." ~ Amelie, Engineer [source] 

Facts and Data

  • Support after sexual harassment matters. Many women who stay in their jobs after being sexually harassed name that they were able to do so because of the care and peer support they received from managers and colleagues [HBR]
  • Men standing up to sexual harassment makes a real difference. Studies show that men involving themselves in anti-harassment behavior and who become gender-equity advocates make a real difference. Relative to women who confront sexism, men who act as allies are seen as more serious and legitimate in their efforts to combat sexism [University of Washington]
  • False allegations of sexual assault are very rare. The FBI finds that 8% of sexual assault cases opened with law enforcement agencies were determined to be “false or baseless”. This statistic does not include the fact that most sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement and so the percentage of “false or baseless” allegations (compared to all incidents of sexual assault) is much lower [FBI]
  • Most sexual assault is not reported. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 26% of sexual assaults were reported to the police. Reasons for not reporting include: Self-blame or guilt; shame or desire to keep the assault private; humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual's perceptions; fear of not being believed or of being blamed for the incident; and lack of trust in the criminal justice system [National Institute of Justice]

Source: NPR

Take Action

  • Read these three articles! There is too much important info to fit into these posts. Read up on (1) interrupting harassment, (2) what to say to someone who has just been harassed or assaulted, and (3) how to support someone who has experienced harassment or assault

  • Intervene if you see harassment happening. When bystanders remain silent, and targets are the ones expected to shoulder responsibility for avoiding, fending off, or shrugging off offensive behavior, it normalizes sexual harassment and toxic or hostile work environments [HBR]. You can disrupt indirectly by dropping a book or asking the target to meet with you in a conference room. You can talk to the harasser in the moment or later by asking questions like “Were you aware of how you came off just now?” You can talk to colleagues by saying something like “Did you notice that? Am I the only one who sees it this way?” If you have a trusted authority figure, you can also enlist them to help [NY Times]

  • Talk to a target of harassment. Researchers say talking to targets of harassment is essential. Targets often feel isolated, and observers might not know if they thought the interaction was consensual or amusing. You can say: “I noticed that happened. Are you O.K. with that?” People often blame themselves for being harassed, so saying “This isn’t your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong” is really, really important [NY Times]

  • Five sentences to immediately use if someone tells you they’ve been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. [RAINN]

    • (1) I believe you

    • (2) This is not your fault and you don’t deserve this

    • (3) Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me

    • (4) I’m sorry this happened to you

    • (5) I support you – and what would be most supportive that I could do in this moment?

  • Six ways to support someone who has experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault. [RAINN]

    • (1) Listen and don’t jump to problem solving

    • (2) Validate their feelings without saying overly-optimistic things like “this is all going to work out”

    • (3) Express concern and care and avoid judgment

    • (4) Do not ask about details since talking about the incident can be traumatic. If someone does share details, listen attentively and supportively

    • (5) Help find appropriate resources and options

    • (6) Check in periodically 

  • Create a healthy, feedback-rich environment. At the most fundamental level, avoiding harassment can come long before an actual incident. Proactively engage in informal conversations on the following: team values around treatment; how to help everyone do their jobs and make their days better; how to give positive feedback. Normalizing talking about behavior and defining respectful behaviors also make it easier for coworkers to see and give negative feedback [HBR]

  • Respond to harassment as a team and culture. If sexual harassment does happen, the manager needs to emphasize that it is up to everyone to fix it. Above all, they need to express gratitude to the person voicing concern in order to reinforce the message that such behavior won’t be tolerated. Do it quickly and early [Fast Company]

June 4, 2019

Sexual Harassment Part 1

This post includes descriptions and examples of sexual harassment and sexual assault

Sexual harassment part 1

This important topic will be broken up into two separate entries. This post is about sexual harassment policies and processes. The next post will be about sexual harassment incidents and how to best be supportive as an individual. 

Most people have a general idea of how sexual harassment is legally defined – unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature [EEOC]. But many people don’t recognize the indirect but extremely damaging types of sexual harassment nor do most realize how intense the emotional and career harm it can cause.

Enforcement of federal Sexual Harassment law comes from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is a federal agency, established in the 1960s, that administers and enforces laws against workplace discrimination [Wikipedia]. It’s mission is to “enforce federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. [EEOC]

Facts and Data

  • Sexual harassment includes more than direct harassment – it’s also about work processes that result in adverse employment decisions such as wrongful firings or passing people over for promotions because of their gender. It’s also about hostile environments in which many seemingly small behaviors add up to create a workplace unfriendly to someone because of their gender [EEOC Report]
  • A huge percentage of women face sexual harassment in the workplace. Studies find that 25% to 75% of women have experienced sexual harassment at work. This very wide range stems from differing methodology. A US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report found that around 25% of women report having experienced “sexual harassment” when the term was undefined. This number jumps to 75% when women are asked about specific behaviors such as crude gender-based terminology, sexist jokes, and other “put downs”. One may logically conclude that the true figure is probably on the higher end [EEOC Report]
  • People are very reluctant to report sexual harassment, and most incidents go unreported. The EEOC found that the most common responses to sexual harassment are to avoid the harasser (33-75%); deny or downplay the impact (54-73%); and ignore, forget, or endure the situation (44-70%). The least common response was to report the incident: unwanted physical touching was formally reported a scant 8% of the time while sexually coercive behavior was reported only 30% of the time [EEOC Report]
  • Prevalence of sexual harassment is directly tied to workplace culture, not just some bad apples. The worst cultures are those in which people fear reporting sexual harassment and think nothing will come of their report. These offices ignore or reward sexist jokes or behaviors that may seem unimportant – but very quickly add up to create these toxic cultures [The Atlantic]
  • Women who are sexually harassed leave their jobs at 1.5 times the rate of those who don’t. Researchers found that 80% of women who experienced unwanted touching or multiple harassing behaviors left their jobs – whereas women who didn’t experience harassment left at a 54% rate over the same time span [EEOC Report]
  • Most sexual harassment cases are brought by women. In 2018, over 13,000 charges involving sexual harassment were brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 84% of them by women [EEOC]
  • Men and sexual harassment. Men do get sexually harassed, and often sexual harassment against men is not seriously, despite real psychological consequences. Men who deviate from "traditional" stereotypes of masculinity, such as being actively involved in feminist causes, were more likely to experience some form of harassment [Psychology Today] [American Psychological Association]
  • There has been a recent increase in sexual harassment cases. From 2017 to 2018 there was a 50% increase in sexual harassment cases [EEOC]

Twice as many women as men think reporting sexual harassment would be pointless, risky, or uncertain [McKinsey]

Hear it FirstHand

At my previous job I was on a conference call and had my manager and a higher-up in my conference room. In the middle of the call, the higher-up (whom I had worked with before and had a good relationship) noticed a bruise on my thigh and proceeded to touch it (which was pretty high up on my leg) and asked how I got it. I was mortified and didn’t know what to do, and my manager was looking and I couldn’t help think that my manager was going to think that I was getting good reviews because I let this higher-up touch my thigh (or worse). Afterwards, I thought about reporting this, but soon realized when playing out the scenarios in my head, that under no situation would reporting this incident work out well for me – the old boys club at the company I worked for would much sooner get rid of me than him, and cost me my job in the process. 


A client once told me my breasts were "a booby trap. I can't look away!"  My male boss, after giving me sufficient time to respond if I wanted to, and seeing that I was coming up blank, jumped in with, "I'm sure you're perfectly capable of looking away if you don't want to see them. You're an adult." Thanks boss man!!

There are also a dozen plus times when I've gone to him for support behind the scenes or after an incident (once I was borderline sexually harassed by a freaking city council member of all people!) and he's been a great source of listening, validation, and counsel when I've needed.

Women in different roles and of different backgrounds report experiencing sexual harassment differently. Remember, however, that the percentage of women who say they have experienced sexual harassment jumps considerably when sexual harassment is defined [McKinsey]

Take Action

  • Conduct a sexual harassment workplace climate survey. Employees must be able to take this anonymously. You can then review the findings, discuss the results, and take necessary steps.
  • Integrate employee conduct into performance assessment. Be willing to sacrifice and spend money to live up to your values. Keeping “high performers” who are culturally toxic damages office place morale and is a bad move financially over the medium and long term.
  • Clarify the definition of sexual harassment to your organization. This is a necessary step, and you must also educate everyone on the harassment grievance procedure. Many organizations have their employees do some kind of online or in-person training, but this alone is not enough. See the action item below...
  • Leadership and systems must be committed to a diverse, inclusive, and equitable organization. A commitment from leadership, including the very top, in which harassment is simply not acceptable is paramount. Furthermore, at all levels, across all positions, an organization must have systems in place that hold employees accountable for this commitment. Have clear and effective policies and systems in place. Check out the EEOC report starting on page 31 [EEOC Report]

April 19, 2019

White Feminism

White feminism

The term "white feminism" describes how gender equity and feminist efforts often focus exclusively on white women (purposefully or not), ignoring women of color and their experiences. [Wikipedia]

Hear it Firsthand

I (a young black woman) was waiting in the lobby at an industry conference. The person running the event - a white man - finally arrived and enthusiastically greeted my white, female coworker, ignoring me. I stepped forward to greet him, and his enthusiasm dropped. For the rest of the day he and the other members of his group (mostly male engineers) acted like I was invisible... 


... (continued from above) but, my white, female coworker - someone with a lot of experience who was well respected in the industry - was an awesome ally. She used every opportunity to center me and to make sure that I was acknowledged in the discussion and that I was given adequate time to speak when it came time for me to present. Her actions were subtle, but I noticed them and it was very encouraging. 

Facts and Data

  • Consider these two charts from McKinsey's Women in the Workplace report from 2016 and 2017. The 2016 chart doesn't include race, and reveals a major underrepresentation of women as one moves to the c-suite level. The 2017 report includes race, which shows that the underrepresentation for white women is really bad (31% to 18%), but for women of color it's a nightmare (17% to 3%). If we're not thinking about race, we're going to miss all sorts of important dynamics like these. [McKinsey]

This chart below is from the Kapor Center's 2017 "Tech Leavers Study" that investigated why people left tech jobs. Black and Latinx women found themselves facing much more stereotyping than their white and Asian female counterparts. It's important to realize that gender is not the only force at play in a woman's experience of her job. [Kapor Center]

Take Action

  • Include and expand gender equity efforts to include race (and other identities such as sexual orientation). Since conversations on gender equity that don't explicitly name race often focus on white women, make sure to include other dimensions of identity. Learn about experiences of women of all different races. You cannot be an advocate for gender equity if you're not an advocate for women of color.

  • Increase representation of women of color. Make sure you and your company include women of color on important committees, marketing materials, speakers, conferences, panels, etc.

April 19, 2019

Paternity Leave

paternity leave

Leave from work that fathers take in order to care for a new child, either born or adopted.

Facts and Data

  • Taking paternity leave advances gender equity. Most workplaces are designed to reward long, continuous stretches of office work. Since women take the vast majority of parental leave and spend more time parenting, this means mothers disrupt their careers more than fathers. If men were to take more paternity leave, career disruptions would be better shared, and this would contribute to more gender balance in professional advancement [HBR]

  • Men say they will change jobs to spend more time being fathers. 69% of fathers (and 53% of men without children) reported they would change jobs to be more involved in caring for a newborn. Male interest in fatherhood is higher with millennial men than older generations. One study in the UK shows that in 1982 43% of fathers had never changed a diaper and now this figure is closer to 3% [Warwick]. Having paternity leave policies can help with recruitment and retention of talent [HBR]

  • Whether fathers take paternity leave has a lot to do with their financial situation. Fathers with lower incomes had very real worries about how their family would survive if they took unpaid, or low-paid, time off. A study of Scottish fathers found that 78% of all fathers take some paternity leave, but among those in the bottom 20% of wealth, only 43% took time off [HBR]

  • Men often don't take paternity leave from fear of harming their career advancement. Many men fear negative repercussions if they were to take the full amount of paternity leave available to them, and a full 21% fear that they would lose their job entirely if they did so [HBR]

  • Paternity leave boosts engagement and retention, potentially being a net financial gain to companies. Employers who aren’t offering paid family leave may be choosing not to do so because they worry that it could be too expensive. Some research suggests that costs may balance out because of the boost in staff engagement and retention.  [HBR]

  • More info on the legal rights of fathers in the US taking paternity leave at this link


Well, I myself got off the partner track to have children because I'm married to a doctor and they weren't getting off theirs. I think parenting has proportionately landed on one gender and I don't think that that is biological nor required. 

Hear it Firsthand

When my daughter was born, one of the things I wanted to do was take off three months and do the full leave and be a stay-at-home Dad.… I felt like this was the only time in my career I would be able to do this.… But the original reaction I actually got inside of the firm was "oh no, you can’t take three months off." (source) 

A Suggestion

We need a lot more flexibility about measuring outcomes and not the hours in a job. We need to get very outcome focused and less time focused. There's a lot of parents that can do a 40 hour week in 25 hours, versus the person who might come into the office, get their coffee in the morning, and walk around the office four times. We need to get serious about helping people out with the first 10 years of a kid's life until they can stay home alone because if it's fricking hard. (from an SVP at a Fortune 500 company) 

Take Action

  • Take paternity leave yourself and support others who do. Workplace culture has to be such that all parents feel that they can use their benefits without harming their career prospects. Even the best-designed policy will not have an impact if employees don't feel comfortable taking advantage of it. This may be a particular risk with paternity and caregiver leave, which are less likely than maternity leave to be widely accepted in the workplace. Set a good example by both being on the advancement track in your company and being a dedicated parent. Encourage the leadership in your company do so as well [BCG]

  • Request paternity support for yourself and other men. Many organizations have programs to support young mothers such as mentoring, back-to-work schemes, maternity replacement cover, and more. This support is typically not available to new fathers. Men need to make paternity leave plans with their boss and colleagues, attend medical and other appointments with their partners, request flexible work schedules, etc. Without this support, career disruption will continue to fall on women despite men's desire to be fathers [HBR]

April 19, 2019

Parental Leave

Parental Leave

An employee benefit that provides parents paid or unpaid time around the time of a birth or adoption of a child. [Wikipedia]

Facts and Data

  • The longer anybody is on parental leave, the more likely they are to be demoted and fired. Men who seek work schedules that include more parenting are marginalized and penalized [HBR]. Similarly as a woman's parental leave increases, both men and women see her work ethic less favorably [HBR]

  • Women take more parental leave than men, therefore their careers are harmed more often. Even when parental leave is offered to both parents to share, women tend to take the vast majority of that time. For example, only 13% of eligible men use any parental leave in Canada – where it is federally guaranteed for all parents – compared to 91% of eligible new mothers [HBR]

  • Offering leave to mothers only exacerbates inequity. Policies that allow more than six months for mothers only, and do not permit the same to fathers, appear to exacerbate the gender divide in terms of career progression [HBR]

   Despite all this...
  • Parental leave seen as net benefit by employers. Employers in California reported that the state parental leave law of 2002 had either a "positive" or "no noticeable" effect on productivity (89%) and profitability/performance (91%) [Scientific American]. A study by EY found that 92% of companies with a paid family leave policy found it had a "positive" or "no noticeable" effect on profitability [BCG]

  • Paid leave increases chances of women coming back to the workforce. Women who take paid leave are 93% more likely to be in the workforce 9 to 12 months after a child's birth than women who take no leave [BCG]


I've observed that parental leave is another extremely important moment for women at work. The best examples I've seen are when men are proactive about picking up work to temporarily shepherd it in good faith (vs. a land grab) and bringing women back into the fold when they return.

Hear it Firsthand

got pregnant and went on 8 months paternity leave in 2007 while a senior member of staff, running the IT department. The day before I returned, they informed me of a meeting I was to attend... Turns out they had already given my job to someone else (a man). They eventually offered me a role in a different department with 20% less salary and without management team seniority. I took it, as my family desperately needed the income - I was my family's primary income source. By 2015, I had worked my way back to the senior management team again. I am still the only woman on it, and I earn 25% less than the next lowest paid manager.”

A Suggestion

Here's what I've found to be helpful as a manager of women taking parental leave. Make sure they're still being given valuable work as they leave and return, and stay in touch while they're gone. When they come back to work, they'll be very connected to their new kid, and you have to make it worthwhile for them to be back.

I've probably been through eight parental leaves with women. I whiffed it once, and it really hurt, and I think ultimately led to this woman leaving the company. I think her return was unsettling as I just didn't give her a meaningful project right when she got back.

Take Action

  • Use "Keep in Touch" parental leave programs. "Keep in Touch" programs are when a leave-taker is paired with a coworker who can, for example, keep them updated on their projects, clients, and other coworkers [HBR]

  • Have a dialogue and create a plan for on and off ramps. Employee absences can be disruptive—both for those going on leave and for those covering for them. Start a dialogue and create a plan that includes managers and those covering for employees on leave [BCG]

  • Check your assumptions. Check your assumptions about new parents’ career and family priorities. Some employees may need or request changes to their work schedule; others may not [HBR]

  • Offer phased returns. Phased returns offer “check-in days” during leave and a gradual return that ramps up from three days a week to four, and then to five [HBR]

  • Make a company-specific checklist. Share this organization wide [BCG]

  • Create a parent-friendly culture. Support an organizational culture that positions parental leave as a brief interlude, not a major disruption. Include a mentoring program that matches experienced high performing parents with new parents [HBR]

  • Reward outcomes not time. Healthy organizational cultures also focus on outputs over face time [HBR]