This weekend, Joanne Lipman, former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, offered a slightly different spin on the usual career advice for women hoping to finally achieve pay equity and equal opportunity in the workplace: namely, she focused on men, specifically male managers. Some commentators were less than thrilled.
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From Suzy Khimm, national reporter for MSNBC:
Khimm’s tweet was retweeted over 300 times during the following four days, and embedded on Jezebel. The question is — cringeworthy hed aside — did Lipman’s piece offer constructive advice?
Let’s take a look at a few of her suggestions.
1. For women to get ahead, they need men’s buy-in.
“If you want to change the numbers, you have to get men involved,” Mike Kaufmann, chief financial officer of Cardinal Health, tells Lipman. Kaufman, she tells us, leads Cardinal Health’s women’s networking group.
Leaving alone for a moment the question of whether women’s networking groups should be led by men, Kaufmann’s point has some validity. Gender diversity consultancy 20-first recently released its fifth annual scorecard on the gender balance on executive teams of Fortune 100 companies in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Their findings showed that while 82 percent of top US companies have at least two women on their board, only 9 of the top 300 companies have female CEOs. In other words: we’re making progress, but we’re a long, long way from a point where women will be represented equally in big business.
Until that time, we’ll probably need men on board in order to effect change, if only from a numbers perspective. Otherwise, women will be stuck waiting until female-driven businesses knock the existing Fortune 500 off the list.
2. Men should learn to understand what women mean when they speak.
The problem of culturally indoctrinated female speech patterns is a popular discussion topic in these conversations. Vocal fry, statements in the form of a question, the ubiquitous apology — all create the impression that women are less confident and therefore less deserving of attention than men.
“Believe me, women are aware of this,” Lipman says. “Advice books tell us to dump the question mark, but I can tell you from personal experience that it is a tough habit to break.”
The suggestion in Lipman’s piece is that men get in the habit of asking women for their opinion — good advice, certainly, but probably just as difficult to cultivate as ditching the question mark is for women. Perhaps instead, everyone, male and female, should get in the habit of soliciting perspectives from the quieter or seemingly less-confident team members in the huddle. Failure to do so might mean missing out on a great idea.
In the meantime, however, women should practice speaking assertively, if only to reinforce to themselves and others that their ideas deserve to be heard.
3. Men should push women into promotions they say they don’t want.
Yikes. This is probably the only advice in the whole piece that I personally disagreed with. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In anecdotes notwithstanding, trying to pressure a subordinate into taking a promotion is almost always a bad idea. Best-case scenario, they want the promotion, but don’t feel ready, which could still lead to less-than-optimal results and diminished confidence in the long run. Worst-case scenario, they don’t want the promotion, because they don’t want the promotion — and here you are, promoting them to their highest level of incompetency, and wondering why things don’t work out.
Does that mean that you should never encourage a report to push herself or reconsider a position? Absolutely not. Women habitually undervalue their abilities, thanks — as Lipman points out — to a lifetime of social training. But be very careful before you assume someone’s saying no for the wrong reasons.
4. She won’t ask for a raise.
This is true, but not for the reasons many people think. When we discuss why women don’t ask for raises as often as men, the conversation often turns to women’s confidence again, as if by boosting their self-esteem, we can erase the gender wage gap.
In fact, many studies have shown that women who ask for raises are viewed negatively by their peers, and seen as aggressive, unfeminine, and unlikeable. They also often don’t get what they ask for.
Here, perhaps, is where men can really help out women who work for them: if your employee asks you for a raise, and you’re inclined to view her demand as pushy or forward, ask yourself if you’d feel the same if a man asked you for more money.
5. “Don’t be afraid of tears.”
One-hundred percent true, but not just because women need feedback as much as men. Managers shouldn’t be afraid of tears, because it’s time that we destigmatized tears in the office anyway. If you expect your workers, male and female, to come to work every day and put their heart and soul into what they do, but never expect them to have a passionate reaction to a situation, you’re either a robot or Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. As long as people keep it professional and rare, the occasional tear shouldn’t be a career-ender.
For most of these things to happen, however, we will need a cultural shift. Perhaps it’s less that male managers will need to understand women, but that corporate culture in general will have to learn how to embrace differences, whether they be male/female, extrovert/introvert, or executive/creative professional.
Bottom line: if you’re part of a disadvantaged group in the workplace, and women most certainly still are, you can’t afford to wait around until your bosses learn how to deal with you. Practice advocating for yourself, be on your own side, and build your career knowing that you have a right to pursue the opportunities — and pay — that you deserve.
Then, by the time today’s leaders catch up with you, you’ll be able to greet them from a position of power.
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