RALEIGH — Around the time that film producer Harvey Weinstein was going down on allegations of sexual assault that ignited the #MeToo movement, Joanne Lipman released her instant bestseller, That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together.
Her timing couldn’t have been more impeccable. Tapping into the cultural zeitgeist, the former chief content officer of Gannett and editor-in-chief of USA Today did a deep dive into the ongoing struggle for gender equity, coming up to offer her own solutions in the workplace.
Today, she is set to be the keynote speaker for the Raleigh Chamber’s Women’s Leadership Conference at the Raleigh Convention Center. WRAL TechWire‘s Chantal Allam recently had the chance to ask her about her book and also about her own journey, first starting out as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal to eventually becoming one of the nation’s leading journalists. Here’s what she had to say:
- In your book, That’s What She Said: What Men and Women Need to Know About Working Together, you argue that to close the gender gap, men – not women – have got to change. Please explain.
Women already change themselves plenty to fit into a work world that was created by men, for men. We adjust our speaking styles, our wardrobes, our communications, etc. We are “leaning in” so hard to fit with men that we are practically falling over! It’s time for men to lean back in toward us.
What’s more, women talk all the time to each other about the issues we face at work – being marginalized, interrupted, not taken as seriously as our male colleagues. But what we don’t do is talk to men about those issues. Yet there are plenty of guys who can and should be part of this conversation – and who want to be part of it. They just aren’t sure how. Women talking to each other is half a conversation and gets us at best to half a solution. To truly close the gap, we need men to join us.
- Talk about unconscious bias, and your argument that both men and women discriminate against working women. Why is that? And what are some tips and strategies to avoid that from happening – on both sides?
All of us have unconscious biases. These biases are buried so deeply inside of us that we don’t even realize they exist. Research shows that women, as well as men, have biases against working women, who are seen as at odds with the stereotype of women as helpmate. This manifests itself in multiple ways. For example, women are interrupted three times more frequently than men, get less respect than men in the same job, and need to be more than twice as competent as a male colleague to be seen as his equal.
However, once we are aware of these biases, we can work to overcome them. Some simple strategies that have proven to be effective include “interrupt the interrupters”: when you hear a woman being interrupted, call it out and say “Susan was speaking; let’s let her finish.” Another strategy is “amplification”: when a woman speaks in a meeting, repeat her point and give her credit by name. Also notice your own behavior: When you meet a couple, do you immediately train your attention and interest on the man, not the woman? Do you show greater respect to a man than a woman in a meeting? In researching the book, I noticed some of these biased behaviors in myself, and have worked hard to overcome them!
- While I’m out reporting, many men have expressed to me that, in this #MeToo era, they feel like they’re walking on a tightrope, afraid of putting one foot wrong. What advice would you give to them on navigating this new landscape in the workplace?
This is a dangerous backlash. There are several ways men can combat it. First of all, breathe! If you’re a good guy, you don’t have anything to worry about; your female colleagues aren’t looking at you as a potential sexual predator. Second, there’s never been a better time to talk about these issues; if you have questions about appropriate behavior, ask. Third, for men in positions of authority, mentor up-and-coming women. There are many ways to do this that don’t involve going out drinking or playing golf. For example, when I was a young, single reporter, my boss would say, “My wife and I would like to take you and a date out to dinner.” Later, when I had kids, my boss, who also had kids, would arrange family play dates, or we would take our kids to the movies.
- In your book, you tackle the issue of the “motherhood penalty” where working mothers face an uphill battle with a pay gap and the perception that they are less devoted to work. What’s the solution?
In this case, as in so many others, women think this is “their” problem and their responsibility to solve it. But this is actually an issue that management needs to be aware of and to address. The onus can’t be on the woman who is being discriminated against.
There are several ways organizations can counter this trend. First, they need to continue to offer working moms opportunities; don’t proactively decide that “she’s got kids at home and wouldn’t want that promotion” or “wouldn’t want to transfer” or “her husband has a great job.” Ask her – don’t make the decision for her.
Second, organizations need to perform gender wage analyses to ensure that women and men are being paid equitably. And third, at each level of the organization, quantify the promotion gap – what percentage of women vs men are being promoted to the next level. Where there is a gap, there is a problem either in mentoring, training or bias that needs to be addressed.
- In this #MeToo era, what should companies be doing to achieve parity?
All of the steps I’ve outlined above. Also, set goals and measure them. And the most important issue: leadership needs to “own” this. The CEO and CFO need to be responsible for diversity not just for women but for all underrepresented groups. It isn’t enough to delegate it to the HR department.
Every piece of research shows that gender-balanced organizations are more financially successful and their employees are happier. So gender balance isn’t a “nice to have”; it’s a business imperative for any organization to be successful. The leadership must be responsible for this, and be held to account if they don’t follow through.
- Tell us about your own journey to the top of a male-dominated industry like media. How were you able to navigate the gender divide?
I made every mistake I discuss in the book! Not speaking up, lacking confidence in my own decisions, using upspeak (where every statement comes out as a question) and hedging language (“This may be a stupid question, but…”). I also faced hostility from some male colleagues, which I did my best to ignore, without success.
I was fortunate in a couple of ways, however. My male bosses weren’t just mentors, they were sponsors – an important distinction in that they were in a position to offer me promotions and opportunities, not just advice. I also forced myself to be more assertive in meetings, something that didn’t come naturally, but that made an immediate difference in terms of respect and impact. And I had a great support network of both male and female colleagues who became close friends.
- Can you give us a personal anecdote about when you had to have an awkward confrontation with a male colleague? How did it conclude?
When I first became a supervisor and was given an office, I was still unpacking when a male colleague walked in and started pacing the perimeter. I asked him what he was doing. “Measuring your office,” he said, and proceeded to tell me that my office was smaller than those of the men who held the same position. I laughed at him and shooed him away. I could care less about the size of my office.
But it turns out he was on to something. I hadn’t negotiated for the size of my office – something I considered trivial – just as I hadn’t negotiated for the size of my paycheck, which was essential. It turns out the men who demanded larger offices were also negotiating bigger raises. Lesson learned.
- Finally, what’s your advice to women and how we can help each other?
A good friend and colleague used to always say, “The success pie is infinitely expandable.” She’s right, but too often women see each other as competition, and don’t understand that we are stronger when we all succeed. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that historically women truly were in competition only with one another, because there was only one “woman slot.” But as more women reach into leadership it’s important that we support each other.
One of my favorite strategies to achieve this is called “Brag buddies”: One woman tells her accomplishments to a colleague and vice versa. Then each woman goes to the boss and brags about the other one. Every woman should have a brag buddy — and should be one, too.