What do you get when an assertive female pounds her fist on the table and insists “I want as much as he has!” in front of an authoritarian decision-maker? Action! The decision-maker didn’t realize how important it was to the female to allocate resources more evenly. In this case, our panelist Annette Felton shared, it was her three-year-old niece pointing out the lack of goldfish crackers relative to her five-year old brother, and their decision-maker father immediately remedied the situation.
While Annette’s broader point was that lessons can be learned from anyone at any age, similar situations play out in modern workplaces all the time. Inequities happen–usually inadvertently–because we don’t consistently take action aligning with our intentions.
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Our aim with Seat @ the Table is change. It’s why each year, we join forces with an incredible group of panelists and LeanIn.org to arm everyone with the facts and how to collectively take action on our intentions for more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Here’s a summary of my biggest takeaways from this year.
From Anette’s niece getting more goldfish crackers, to Kerry getting her first ecommerce job to me getting paid the same as my product management peers, so much of progress on everyone’s path came from simply making an ask. Don’t be silent or wait for someone else to connect the dots. Make a clear ask, and say why it could benefit the company.
Likewise, everyone on the panel benefitted from an advocate believing in their potential even when they lacked explicit experience.
Action: If you see an inequity, speak up. If you see a high potential person who lacks mentorship, step up or advocate for them to advance. Especially in areas like product, where the number of women doing it will only grow if women from other functions find advocates who believe in them.
It’s a vulnerable time for women in the workforce
Rachel Thomas shared the women in the workforce data for 2020, and it was sobering. 1 in 4 women were considering downshifting their career or leaving the workforce due to COVID-19. Organizations don’t yet know the second-order effects, but big ones are mothers and senior-level women, in particular, are burned out. They have more they do at home, even when they have partners to rely on. They are feeling more judged and aren’t talking with their coworkers about their struggles, so it’s not clear they might need or want help.
Action: More actively engage managers to support work/life balance. There is a big gap between what employees say managers do versus what management is supposed to do.
Rachel Thomas shared the latest Women in the Workplace data.
Performance bias plays a factor
Women already have to accomplish more to prove they are as competent as men and receive less credit for success. With remote work now a big part of post-pandemic workplaces, we have to watch that workplaces don’t create two classes of employees that reinforce negative performance biases of women.
Action: Be aware of this bias in promotions and hiring. Track intersectional data (gender + race + in-office vs. remote) about your workforce to understand impact and diversity better.
Rachel Thomas warned of the potential gap between remote and in-office employees.
Follow your curiosity
Most of our panelists didn’t design their career path but let curiosity and a deep desire to learn drive what was next. Sameer started in product, then tried business development, then sales, so making the leap to CEO was simply about how to use all those skills and enable others at scale. Growing up in New Mexico, Kerry only knew engineers working at national labs, so of course that’s what she studied. But she found consumer retail fascinating and parlayed supply chain knowledge she amassed out of school into a job in the retail sector. Someone took a chance on her because she was smart and persistent.
Taurean loves his current role helping data scientists scale their work.
Taurean started at Accenture Labs working on future workforce. He had many advocates that eventually helped him land as a technical product manager on an open source project that enables others to do amazing data science.
Advocating for her step into management came when Annette finally took ownership of the fact that she had been generating value for the company beyond her role as an individual contributor.
Action: Encourage career progression through learning, not just laddering up. But wherever you are and whatever you do, learn what excellence looks like and do it for the company at large. It’s what makes people believe in and want to advocate for you.
Get great at strength stacking
Annette hires for differences in age and experience because she believes it stacks different strengths on her team. Older team members bring experience and perspective. Younger team members fearlessly embrace change and challenge the status quo. The mix harmonizes the team. She found strength stacking allows her to keep an open mind and leverage different strengths without sacrificing value.
Annette Felton introduced us to the concept of strength stacking.
Taurean talked about his experience with the Presidential Innovation Fellows who did a “Hack the Pay Gap” developing a set of solutions that quantified how to do fair hiring and how people should value their pay. But they found radical solutions weren’t always welcome and better data didn’t necessarily bring about change. Instead, he found it took bold leadership willing to gut entire hiring processes to make a difference in having more diverse, equitable teams–which meant doing more potential-based hiring. It was a cultural shift in which the entire company was engaged, including the executive team.
Action: Create a portfolio of strengths by using your entire team. Hire and develop people for potential to prepare future leaders who will do the same when they are in leadership roles.
Be brave when creating culture
Kerry was very comfortable in all male environments, wanting to fit in and not be treated differently. But over time, she embraced being different as an asset and explicit strength. She realized being an example of bringing her whole self to work was important to those who came behind her. The idea of embracing intersectionality “I’m all of the above” lets others feel more comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.
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SendGrid had 4 H’s that grounded everything the company did–how they hired, rewarded, and even celebrated as a company. Embedding just four simple values (that everyone could remember!) into all the practices and processes is what helped it be the unifying force it was. They went as far as saying “Please don’t apply to work here if these don’t sound good to you.”
Action: Culture must be lived to stick. Stop behaviors that aren’t consistent with values. The power of culture is as much about what you do as it is the boldness with which you’re willing to enforce value-based norms.
There are so many more amazing things to learn from our speakers. I encourage you to listen and watch all of the video below. It will inspire you!