Category Archives: demographics

Facing ‘Double Jeopardy’ in STEM

One hundred percent is normally associated with a perfect score in something, but a new academic study on race and gender in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is now casting that figure in a very imperfect light.

University of California Hastings School of Law Professor Joan C. Williams and the Center for WorkLife Law just released the report titled Double Jeopardy? Gender Bias Against Women of Color in Science, which demonstrates how subtle—and not-so-subtle—bias shapes the daily work lives of women in STEM, and how women’s experience of gender bias is shaped by race.

“This is the first time someone has asked women whether they have encountered in actual workplaces the specific types of gender bias documented in social psychologists’ labs,” said Williams.

Given the amount of attention recently paid to the lack of gender diversity in the tech space,  it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that women working in STEM fields have experienced some form of bias or discrimination in the workplace.

But perhaps the most startling result of the research was this: 100 percent of the women interviewed reported some sort of gender bias.

“But studies of gender bias generally focus on the experiences of white women, leaving unanswered the major question of whether the same patterns of bias extend to women of color,” Williams said. “This report finds that women of color experience pervasive gender bias—but in ways that often differ from the ways white women experience it.”

In essence, women of color working in the STEM fields find themselves in “double jeopardy” when it comes to dealing with bias in the workplace.

Significant findings of the report include:

  1. 100% of the women interviewed reported gender bias.
  2. Black women are more likely (77%) than other women (66%) to report having to prove themselves over and over again.
  3. The stereotype that Asians are good at science appears to help Asian-American women with students—but not with colleagues.
  4. Asian-Americans reported both more pressure than other groups of women to adhere to traditionally feminine roles and more pushback if they don’t.
  5. Latinas who behave assertively risk being seen as “angry” or “too emotional,” even when they report they weren’t angry; they just weren’t deferential.
  6. Latinas report being pressured by colleagues to do admin support work for their male colleagues, such as organizing meetings and filling out forms.
  7. Both Latinas and Black women report regularly being mistaken as janitors.

From the looks of the findings, there’s definitely a great deal of work to be done before the STEM playing field evens out. But the report introduces a new approach to organizational change to interrupt gender bias, called Metrics-Based Bias Interrupters, developed by Professor Williams last year.

Bias Interrupters uses a four-step iterative process: 1) survey women to find out whether they think gender bias is playing out in basic business systems (recruiting, assignments, evaluations, etc.); 2) develop objective metrics to test whether women’s perceptions are accurate; 3) implement “Bias Interrupters” to interrupt bias in real time; 4) see whether the relevant metric improves and, if it doesn’t, strengthen or modify the intervention.

Here’s hoping these “bias interrupters” can put a dent in that imperfect 100-percent score the next time research is done on the topic.

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For Women, ‘Assertive’ Still Means ‘Mean’

We really haven’t come that far, fellow females.

Not when recent polls show too many women in business — whether by their own fault or by their being mislabeled — are still being 162892062 -- bitchy bossperceived as too gruff, too assertive, too downright mean when they’re in positions of authority.

When Lawrence Polsky wrote an article about “bitchy bosses” earlier this year, he garnered hundreds of responses, clearly touched a nerve and sparked a nationwide conversation about why women leaders are perceived differently than men, according to one release I read about the article .

“Ninety percent of the leaders I have coached over the past 20 years [have been] women,” says Polsky, managing partner at the Princeton, N.J.-based global consulting firm “I have found the reason they are called bitchy or some  version of that, by their team or colleagues, comes down to one thing: the perception of being ‘too’ assertive. It can also be a way for employees to undermine a woman leader they don’t like or are jealous of.”

Polsky followed his article up by polling 221 professionals on their perceptions of the article for a survey he appropriately titled “Bitchy Bosses” as well.

That poll found:

  • 76 percent of women reported having a “bitchy boss” in the past, compared to 64 percent of men;
  • 89 percent said it reduced team productivity;
  • 87 percent said they or someone on their team left their job because of it;
  • 79 percent said it made them less motivated to do a good job;
  • 62 percent of men said they were lied to by the boss, compared to 52 percent of women;
  • 36 percent told human resources about the problem, yet only 10 percent said HR did anything to help the situation; and
  • 15 percent called in an outside consultant, and of those, 79 percent said that didn’t help.

A recent post on this blog by Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine supports this notion that we have a problem out there, women. His post describes, as one linguist uncovered through her research, “what seems to be a powerful bias against women who are seen as ‘too assertive’ in the workplace — and the bias seems prevalent regardless of whether the review was conducted by a man or a woman.

That research, which surveyed 248 performance reviews from 28 companies, showed women received much more critical feedback than men did. (About 59 percent of men’s reviews included critical feedback, while nearly 88 percent of women’s did.)

Some of the criticisms against women written in the reviews included: “Stop being so judgmental” and “You can come across as abrasive sometimes.” In fact, the linguist found the word “abrasive” was used 17 times to describe 13 different women, but the word never appeared in men’s reviews. (McIlvaine’s post also includes a link to an HRE piece addressing this.)

More recently, in her October column addressing the scuffle caused by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s comments on women’s pay, Susan R. Meisinger, our HR Leadership columnist, acknowledges this double standard in how we come across affects pay as well.

“Some women aren’t comfortable asking for more money,” she writes, “because they fear it will adversely impact how they are perceived. The fear may be valid: Research shows that both male and female managers are less likely to want to work with women who negotiate during a job interview, since women who press for higher pay are considered pushy.”

Boy, we really can’t win for losing, can we?

Of special concern to Polsky, from the research he did, is that HR doesn’t appear to be all that effective in mitigating the perception problem, at least as it concerns female bosses.  What this means, in his estimation, is that:

“HR cannot rely on hearing about a bitchy boss from employees but must be proactive to discover if the problem exists. [HR leaders] need to look for clues, such as a leader complaining to HR: ‘The people on my team are not stepping up to the plate.’  Another sign is if you sit in team meetings and many team members are very quiet. Both are clues that there is no space for the team to contribute. This points to the fact that either the leader hasn’t built trust or is eroding it.”

He offers these tips for dealing with this issue (as well as how he gave them to me below). If HR does hear about this type of behavior in a female manager or leader:

  1. Encourage employees to talk directly to the boss. Direct feedback is the most helpful for leaders to understand the impact they are having. Our research showed 43 percent of people spoke to their troublesome boss about the problem and about one in five said it helped improve the situation.

  2. If more than one person brings it up, then they need feedback. This needs to come from their manager, not HR.  Why?  If they are to turn this around, it could get messy before it gets better.  They need their manager on their side through the process, to make them aware of the perception problem. Often, these leaders are not aware of how they are being perceived.  Their manager needs to discuss the situation with them.

  3. Oftentimes, the team and the leader need support to move through this problem.  The leader needs help pulling back and being less aggressive while the team needs help being more assertive.  Most of the times I have been involved, the team needed to learn to be more assertive to push back on an overly assertive leader’s aggressive communication. What often gets forgotten, and what we always do, is help the team go through a process of open, honest dialogue with the leaders. This creates healing and forgiveness. Employees will forgive and move forward if they believe the leader is sorry and will change.

  4. If the leaders do not change, after six months of coaching and support from HR and/or a qualified coach,  then they need to be moved to a different position where they can thrive or be removed from their job.

Also, overlook it, he says, if it’s a one-off. If there is only one person complaining, make sure this is not an employee with an axe to grind. Check into it. “I have seen where an employee with an axe to grind gave anonymous feedback to make the leader look bad,” Polsky says.

Also overlook it if the female leader has been charged with implementing a new vision/strategy/approach. “Employees,” he says, “might be complaining because the leader is  pushing them more than the previous manager/leader/situation required.”

This notion kind of feeds into a piece by Mark McGraw, posted here earlier this month, suggesting there are times when “being a jerk” can be effective in business. Unfortunately, the researchers in his piece don’t address the “bitch” factor, only the multi-gender “jerk” factor.

I guess the million-dollar question that has yet to be answered is: Why are women getting the lion’s share of the “bitch” complaints? And (perhaps for Polsky to take on in 2015) what can HR do to even that score?


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Microsoft CEO Touts Equal Pay after Apology

Satya_NadellaIt seems Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella (at right) is still in apologetic mode after making some ill-advised comments at a recent conference that, in essence, discouraged female employees from asking for raises.

Apologizing immediately afterward, Nadella now says in this Oct. 20 Time magazine online article, that men and women at Microsoft are paid equally. Clearly, the need for more positive spin is still there.

Here, in case you missed it, is Josh Eidelson’s Oct. 13 post on Bloomberg Businessweek‘s Politics & Policy site about whether Microsoft’s female employees have grounds for a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, based on what Nadella said onstage at the recent Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference in San Francisco.

The post also mentions that Nadella apologized and retracted what he said just hours later in a companywide email, calling his gaffe “completely wrong.” For the record and according to Eidelson, here was his egregious response to a question someone at the conference posed about what he would tell women who are hesitant to ask for a raise:

“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along. And that, I think, might be one of the additional superpowers that quite frankly women who don’t ask for a raise have. Because that’s good karma. It’ll come back, because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to.”

Wilma Liebman, who chaired the NLRB during President Obama’s first term and now lectures at Cornell University, says in the post, “You could make a very clear argument that [such a comment] means, ‘Don’t ask for a raise, and if you ask for a raise, you’re not going to be trusted.’ And ‘you’re not going to be trusted’ translates to ‘you could be in some jeopardy.’ ”

The issue raised in the Businessweek piece, of course — since it considers NLRB review and possible enforcement of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act — is whether Nadella’s message explicitly chills a protected concerted activity; i.e., a group of Microsoft women banding together in search of higher pay.

Lawyers are mixed on that one. “If a group of women said these comments chilled them from seeking together to get better pay in the workplace, they could file an unfair labor practice claim with the NLRB,” Paul Secunda, director of the Labor and Employment Law Program at Marquette University Law School, is quoted as saying in that story.

On the other hand, the story says, Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor and former Department of Justice official, doubts Nadella’s comments would merit NLRB review, considering he didn’t specifically address that kind of group activism. “Asking for a raise for oneself only would count as concerted activity if there was an argument that the employee was asserting a grievance that was or could be expected to be shared by others,” Bagenstos is quoted as saying.

Hope B. Eastman, principal at Bethesda, Md.-based Paley Rothman and co-chair of its employment law group, who I spoke with about this, concurs. “The fact that Nadella has apologized and retracted his statement, and the fact that his comment was in the context of an individual woman asking for a raise,” she says, “makes it unlikely that the NLRB would take this on … .”

That said, she adds, “there have been studies suggesting that women do not negotiate salaries as well as men; this is an issue that needs attention.” So the silver lining, I guess, is that this issue was given new light through Nadella’s comments.

The Businessweek piece also brings up another story we followed in 2011 on this blog, when the NLRB issued a complaint against Boeing, claiming executives’ public comments about striking employees in the state of Washington suggested they were to blame for the company’s intended move to a new South Carolina site at the time. (Here’s one other mention of that story on this blog.)

As Eidelson points out, that Boeing story establishes “precedent for investigating public comments from an executive as alleged discrimination.”

And — aside from staying on that apparently long, arduous road toward equal pay — what’s the message for HR in all this? I guess check with your C-suiters on absolutely everything they intend to say publicly before they take the podium or stage …

If that’s even possible.

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Could Gen Zers Help Solve STEM Skills Gap?

461252089 -- young scientistMore good news for employers when it comes to Gen Zers, the next generation — those now in high school and college — soon to enter the workforce en masse.

This just-released report from Chicago-based CareerBuilder says high-school seniors’ future career plans could very well clean up — or at least help bridge — that highly troublesome science, technology, engineering and math skills gap said to be barreling down the tracks.

According to the report, new research conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder and its subsidiary, Moscow, Idaho-based Economic Modeling Specialists International, shows nearly three in four of 209 high-school seniors polled already know what career they want to pursue, and STEM-related fields top their choices. (The survey queried 2,188 hiring and human resource managers, ages 18 and over, as well.)

The poll also finds the majority (97 percent) of high-school seniors plan to go to college to obtain a two-year or four-year degree or other training that may ultimately help close the talent gap. The most popular majors? You got it, mostly STEM-related. Here they are:

  1. Engineering
  2. Business
  3. Psychology
  4. Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  5. Physical Sciences
  6. Arts, Visual and Performing
  7. Computer and Information Sciences
  8. Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences
  9. English Language and Literature
  10. Math and Statistics

And here are the most popular choices for profession among the 73 percent of high-school seniors who know what they want to pursue (again, STEM-heavy):

  • Teacher
  • Engineer
  • Psychologist/Psychiatrist
  • Scientist – Biological/Physical/Social
  • Artist/Designer
  • Veterinarian
  • Machine Operator
  • Computer Programmer
  • Physician
  • Government Professional
  • Nurse

This seems to work quite nicely alongside a news analysis I posted on HREOnline on Tuesday, the same day the first truly definitive study on Gen Zers was released by Millennial Branding, based in New York, and Randstad, with U.S. headquarters in Atlanta.

That study, Gen Y and Gen Z Workplace Expectations, shows Gen Zers are more rooted in prudent and pragmatic notions about how work gets done and what is needed to succeed than their Gen Y predecessors (ages 21 to 32).

“Gen Zers … appear to be more realistic instead of optimistic, are likely to be more career-minded, and can quickly adapt to new technology to work more effectively,” Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and author of Promote Yourself, told me for that piece.

They’ve also seen how much their parents and Gen Yers have struggled in the recession, he said, so “they come to the workplace well-prepared, less entitled and more equipped to succeed.”

Basically, Schawbel told me, they’re willing to work harder toward goals and have fewer illusions about what it takes to achieve them.

As the daughter, granddaughter and mother of scientists and engineers, I’ve lived through the hard work, stamina and — yes — realism involved in and needed for such pursuits.

So I have to say, I foresee only good things when you put these two reports together.

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What’s Next for Work and Workers?

Was it Yogi Berra who said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future?” Or maybe it was Neils Bohr or Mark Twain? (There appears to be some debate out there.)

Whoever it was who said it, I’m sure you’ll agree predicting what things will be like five or 10 years from now isn’t for the faint of heart. But that’s precisely what the SHRM Foundation set out to do through its research project on the changing nature of work and the resulting implications for HR professionals.

462910713At a press conference yesterday during Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in Orlando, SHRM Foundation Executive Director Mark Schmit shared some of the key findings from the just-released study titled “Evolution of Work and the Worker.” (The 50-page report was published by the Foundation and written by The Economist Intelligence Unit.)

Among some of many findings featured in the report:

  • An aging population in developed countries will continue to put a strain on those remaining workers. In Japan, for example, the old-age-dependency ratio—the ratio of those ages 65 and over to those ages 15 to 64—is set to grow from 38 percent in 2012 to 47 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, many emerging countries are facing an increase in the number of younger workers, with more than half of the population in the Middle East and North Africa under age 25.
  • In developed countries, women are poised to enter the workplace in vast numbers, posing problems for those organizations that have failed to utilize “the female potential fully,” according to the report. Many of these women will become “part of a growing army of temporary and part-time workers, many of whom are not physically present in the workplace.”
  • The world, as a whole, is becoming more educated, with the expansion of those with post-secondary education in rapidly developing countries reducing the proportion of college graduates from Europe, Japan and the United States globally. Should this trend continue, “China and India alone could account for 40 percent of young people with a tertiary education in all G20 and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries by the year 2020, while the United States and European Union combined would contribute over one-quarter.”
  • There will be a continuing decline of “middle-wage, middle-skilled workers in developed countries—or a “hollowing of the middle.” There’s “a bubble at the top end of skills and a bubble at the bottom end of skills” that’s leaving many people in the middle without jobs, Schmit explained.
  • Technology will continue to erode physical barriers and transform the nature of work. More and more, technology is creating new jobs and eliminating others—and is enabling previously isolated countries to participate in the global economy.

The SHRM Foundation plans to follow this report (part of its Thought Leadership Initiative) with two additional studies on “engaging and integrating a global workforce” and the “use of talent analytics for competitive advantage.” But for now, it’s already given those in the profession plenty to chew on. Even if only a handful of the predictions were to occur, HR’s agenda five or 10 years from now will look remarkably different than it does today.

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Innovation Central

One of the most dynamic sessions at this year’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference was the “Ideas and Innovators” session, in which experts from a variety of fields give five-minute presentations summarizing their thoughts on what HR leaders should do differently with regard to benefits.

Here’s a sampling of what some of them had to say: Lindsey Pollak, a millennial workplace expert and spokeswoman for The Hartford insurance company, called on companies to encourage mentoring between baby boomers and millennials. “Ninety percent of the millennials we surveyed said they appreciated guidance from boomers,” she said. “Millennials are digital natives, so they can mentor boomers in the use of technology.”

Millennials want the ability to customize their benefits, she said: “Millennials weren’t given teddy bears as kids; they were taken to Build-a-Bear workshops — they’re used to having things tailored for them.”

The same Hartford survey found that 70 percent of millennials consider themselves leaders, whether in their families, workplaces and communities. Companies can harness this leadership spirit for health and wellness, said Pollak — yet must keep in mind that millennials have also proven to be slow to sign up for benefits such as disability insurance. “Millennials aren’t taking advantage of these benefits — you must reach them on this.”

Brian Poger, founder and CEO of consulting firm Benefitter, urged employers to consider getting out of the business of providing health benefits (perhaps an odd thing to hear at a conference devoted to employee benefits). “Most employee raises are being absorbed by rising healthcare costs,” he said. “Why not offer cash instead of health benefits?”

Poger cited a McKinsey survey that found 85 percent of employees would stay with their employer even if they stopped offering health benefits. Many employers are charging signficantly higher premiums for spousal and family coverage or dropping it altogether, he said, which can be a major hardship for families earning the U.S. median household income of $51,000 a year. “Giving employees cash to purchase a family policy on the exchanges may be a better deal for them,” he said.

Lexie Dendrinelis, health promotion and wellness leader at manufacturing firm Barry-Wehmiller Cos., discussed how her company has made leadership and culture — rather than exercise and eating well — the centerpiece of health and wellness. “People can’t focus on their personal health if they’re stressed out about an unsafe workplace,” she said. “Building trustworthy leaders and cultures is the best intervention.”

At Barry-Wehmiller, the company has committed to building a “caring culture” where “we are committed to sending our friends home safe, well and fulfilled.” The company uses incentives and rewards to highlight positive behaviors and takes a “holistic approach” to caring for its employees and families, said Dendrinelis. “We are looking at creating a thriving culture that will bring down healthcare costs.”


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Study: Diversity Not So Good for Creativity

After all the positive press that diversity in the workplace has been getting over the years, including here at HRE, a surprising study published in a recent issue of the Academy of Management Journal presenting an actual negative caught my eye.

dv496065aConducted by Prof. Roy Y.J. Chua of the Harvard Business School, it suggests — make that shows — that creativity in multicultural settings is highly vulnerable to what Chua calls “ambient cultural disharmony.”

In three distinct studies, the overall research finds that the presence of conflict or tension between two people of different cultures — whether the cause of strife is culturally based or simply due to personal antipathy — diminishes the ability of others to think creatively in multicultural ways, according to the research report. The paper, “The Costs of Ambient Cultural Disharmony: Indirect Intercultural Conflict in Social Environment Undermine Creativity” (subscription/registration required), appears in the December/January issue of AMJ.

“Creativity is not necessarily about producing a completely new idea or product that never existed before [but] oftentimes involves combining existing ideas in new ways that are useful toward solving practical problems,” Chua says. “To solve problems creatively in a global multicultural context, problem-solvers need to first see non-obvious connections among ideas from different cultures … . Ambient cultural disharmony motivates people to shut down the search for connections and patterns involving ideas from different cultures because they have come to believe that such intercultural connections are not feasible.”

How much of a problem could this be, going forward, in the global marketplace?

“It’s not clear how serious a problem this is,” Chua says, “since this is the first work to show creativity loss resulting from ambient cultural disharmony. Yet, the fact that intercultural conflict affects so many more people than those directly involved [a key finding of the research] and diminishes something as critical to organizational success as creativity suggests that what this research has uncovered is more than a minor drawback of diversity.”

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A Comprehensive Cancer Guide for Employers

With workforces getting older and older as boomers stay on longer and longer, an annoucement like this was bound to happen sooner or later.

78770849-- cancer at workThe National Business Group on Health just got there first.

In announcing last week its release of An Employer’s Guide to Cancer Treatment and Prevention, the NBGH called it “the industry’s first publication of its kind” and a culmination of three years of work in conjunction with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

“Today, more than ever, employers are facing the growing impact of cancer in the workplace,” NBGH President and CEO Helen Darling says in her organization’s release about the initiative. “With significant gains in cancer survival rates and most cancer survivors staying at work during their treatment or returning to work after their treatment, employers need a comprehensive benefits plan to ensure that their current strategies to address cancer in the workplace complement the needs of their employees.

“Cancer casts a wide net,” she adds, “affecting not only those diagnosed with the disease, but also family members, friends, managers and co-workers. The impact on a company’s culture can be profound.”

The Guide provides technical assistance to help employers design, implement and monitor the performance of their cancer-related strategies. It contains a series of six tools with guidelines and recommendations based on published research and reports, including the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology.

According to the NBGH, the tools are designed to coincide with the various steps in the employer-benefit life cycle, including plan design, vendor and program management, enrollment and communications, plan administration, and vendor and program evaluation. It also addresses issues across the continuum of cancer care, including medical, pharmacy and behavioral benefits; short-term disability; family medical leave; employee assistance programs; and health improvement programs, says the release.

Robert W. Carlson, CEO of NCCN, describes the guide as a “groundbreaking toolkit [that] empowers employers to be proactive in their approach to dealing with the needs of their employees as they deal with their own or a loved one’s cancer.”

Nothing to analyze or poke holes in here. Strictly a good-news story simply worth sharing.



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Female Senators Have Mentoring Figured Out

A most interesting piece in Time magazine this week about female senators — specifically, the ones who kick-started the end of the governmental shutdown by taking the lead in a male-dominated Senate and finding a way to resolve its stalemate over spending, the debt ceiling and Obamacare.

74879113-- female leaders; Time MagWhat’s really worth noting in the story are the special networks and practices in place — some more formal than others — that these senators have set up over the years to encourage, support, mentor and coach newcomers to their female-politicians’ ranks. This foundation of support established by and for female senators even crosses political aisles.

… the private gatherings among the sisterhood are a source of both power and  perspective. They occur every few weeks or months, depending on the need. Venues include the senators’ homes — and occasionally the unlikely confines of the Capitol’s Strom Thurmond Room, a space named for one of the chamber’s most  notorious womanizers. … Once a year, the group also dines with the female Supreme Court justices. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Select Committee on Intelligence, holds regular dinners for women in the  national-­security world. Even the female chiefs of staff and communications directors have started regular get-togethers of their own. … It’s a diverse group, ranging in age from Feinstein, who is 80, to [Sen. Kelly] Ayotte, [R-New Hampshire], who is 45. Feinstein makes herself available to every new female senator who wants advice on how she runs her offices.

… Close political alliances have developed among several of the women. [California Sen. Barbara] Boxer has taken a special interest in Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren — both are  liberal firebrands. Democrat Claire McCaskill, who hails from a red state and faced a tough re-election campaign last year, made a point of courting Republican friendships early on. Sometimes, those friendships trump party … .”

Richard Wellins, senior vice president of Bridgeville, Pa.-based Development Dimensions International, clued me in to this story. Before we launched into an interview (for an upcoming news analysis), he wanted me to know about it, and what it says — not only about the power of women to find common ground and bring opposing parties together, but about their power in establishing the kinds of systems and practices their followers need if they’re going to survive in a still-hugely-male-dominated political beehive.

“They’re practicing a lot of things around mentoring that corporations aren’t doing” and probably should be, he told me.

After reading it, I had to agree. Employers would do well to tear some pages out of our female senators’ notebooks on how to help high-potential, high-performing women progress and survive in pressure-cooker environments. (This news analysis I wrote a while back for HREOnline explores just far we still have to go in helping female top talent succeed.) Only in these top, richly deserved leadership positions will their unique abilities really stand a chance of making a meaningful impact on the business.

Just how meaningful? How about something on par with what Time describes as the female senators getting “the lion’s share of the credit for starting the process to break the weeks-long stalemate … “??

I reached out to Ember Reichgott Junge for her take on the story and the subject of the strengths women bring to government. Here’s what the former Minnesota state senator, author of Zero Chance of Passage:  The Pioneering Charter School Story and an outspoken advocate for women in politics had to say:

Research from organizations like the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University  has shown for years that, when women are elected to office, they are more collaborative, more inclusive in their leadership and more willing to compromise to achieve their goals. We have seen this in state legislatures over the years, but not as much at the federal level because only recently have women reached a critical mass in the U.S. House and Senate.

I personally experienced this [female political edge] in 1991 in the Minnesota legislature as author of the first charter school law in the nation, which prevailed by only three votes over intense opposition. The bipartisan champions were all women — I was joined, as the Democratic senate bill author, by Democratic House author Rep. Becky Kelso and Republican co-author Sen. Gen Olson.  Chartering would not have passed without significant bipartisan support led by this trio of women.

There is another lesson from this story. Frankly, I thought we failed when the compromised version of the bill was passed. Minnesota chartering advocates were deeply worried that the bill was so compromised that no schools would be chartered. We know now that, without compromise, no bill would have passed and chartering might never have happened. Two years later, the legislature improved the law, making it a model for the nation. The lesson here? Compromise is not defeat. As former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe wrote in her book, Fighting for Common Ground, “compromise is not a capitulation of one’s principles.  Rather, it is recognition that not getting all that you may want may be the only way to acquire enough votes to achieve most of what you seek … .”

Here’s another example. When I was elected to the Minnesota state senate in 1982, there were only 10 women state senators of 66. When I retired from the senate in 2000, there were 22 women senators — of both parties. Along the way, some interesting things happened. During the early 1990s, an era when domestic violence and sexual harassment were not taken seriously, women of both parties banded together to propose and unanimously support a resolution for “zero tolerance for violence.” It passed overwhelmingly. Around the same time, the senate women saw the need for investment in early childhood services and crime prevention. We organized a senate presentation in which we asked several criminal offenders to talk about their abuse as children and how it impacted their lives. In just two years, women changed the entire agenda of the Minnesota senate. Instead of spending one dollar for crime prevention for every four dollars spent locking people up, we insisted that spending of new dollars for those purposes be reversed. That year, we succeeded in convincing our male colleagues to spend at least $2 for crime prevention for every new dollar spent for incarceration. We also successfully proposed the creation of an Early Childhood Committee. Women literally changed the agenda of the senate by moving issues known only as ‘women’s issues’ to a top priority that every senate candidate extolled on literature in the next election.

My experience with my women colleagues underscores the fact that we are relationship-builders. We are problem solvers.  It is not about ideas that are right or wrong.  It is about finding common ground and building new possibilities.  It is about finding the ‘next right answer.’

My public service experiences, of course, are from 1983-2000. In the last decade, we’ve seen the emergence of strong ideologies in both parties.  We have a very narrow ‘middle’ now. On the extremes of the parties, ideology will trump the ‘next right answer.’ But in the center, innovative solutions will emerge. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, my long-time friend, is such an example.  She has maintained course in the middle, building relationships with members of both parties. She intentionally asked [Republican] U.S. Sen. Snowe to be her mentor. As more women like Sens. Klobuchar and Snowe are elected around the country, the more we will move back to governing rather than finger-pointing.  Women, I believe, will lead the way.

These are the same leadership qualities that serve women well in the business world.  In the past, these qualities were viewed as weaknesses, making the woman leader appear indecisive. But as more women ascend to CEO positions, especially in the nonprofit and foundation worlds, they are accomplishing significant change. Collaboration, inclusiveness, problem-solving, and civility are now regarded as leadership strengths.

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Silent Majority Speaks Out

We’ve all experienced it, many of us probably more times than we’d like. There we are, sitting in a meeting, when all of a sudden we hear an annoying ringtone. It could be Beethoven’s 5th or something far worse. A second or two passes before one of your colleagues pulls out his or her iPhone or Android to take a call, scurrying to the door with an excuse-me look on his or her face. Not a good moment for that person or for his or her colleagues.

Worse yet, that person might be us.

158344061Uncivil behavior in the workplace can take many forms, but a case could easily be made that the misuse of smartphones and other mobile devices ranks somewhere near the top of the list of most repeated workplace annoyances.

It’s therefore no surprise to find more and more researchers studying these behaviors, with the latest coming from Peter W. Cardon of the Marshall School of Business (at the University of Southern California) and colleagues at Howard University. Their research, published yesterday in the Business Communications Quarterly, is reportedly one of the first studies (if not the first) to look at how attitudes toward these behaviors break down across things such as gender, age and region.

As might be expected, the findings confirm that most people consider such behaviors unacceptable, with 76 percent saying checking texts or emails is a no-no at business meetings and 87 percent of people saying that answering a call is rarely or never acceptable in such a setting.

Even at more informal business lunches, most (66 percent) consider writing or sending text messages rude.

If you notice more women shaking their heads in disgust than men, there’s probably good reason. The researchers — who questioned 550 full-time working professionals earning $30,000 a year or more — found men were nearly twice as likely as women to consider mobile-phone use at a business lunch acceptable. (More than 59 percent of men said it was OK to check text messages at a power lunch, compared to 34 percent of women who thought checking texts was appropriate.)

Before you reach for your silence button, though, it’s also worth mentioning that the findings offer a  glimmer of hope to those who think these behaviors aren’t all that bad.

Younger professionals were nearly three times as likely as older professionals to think tapping out a message over a business lunch is appropriate—66 percent of people under 30 said texting or emailing was OK, compared to just 20 percent of those aged 51 to 65.”

Which raises the troubling (at least to me) question: How different might things look 20 years from now?

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