No matter how much acceptance in workplaces have evolved, gender bias still exists, especially towards women. In this episode, Andie Kramer and Al Harris open our eyes further on the gravity of this reality. Both specializing in combating gender bias for over 30 years, they have used their platform to coach and encourage women in the workplace. In this episode, they talk about how to help companies or solopreneurs identify gender bias along with the three trains that represent the key players to help overcome it—women, men, and organizations. Read on this short yet powerful piece.
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Identifying Gender Bias And Overcoming It with Andie Kramer and Al Harris
We have for you a dynamic duo. We have Andie Kramer and Al Harris. You guys have a book, It’s Not You, It’s The Workplace. What is going on with gender bias in the workplace?
Unfortunately, it still runs rampant. Notwithstanding the fact that we’re in 2019, we still have gender-biased workplaces and we need to have tools and ways of dealing with it.
How do you spot gender bias? Some of these things I think are so ingrained in our society. We don’t even know that there’s a bias going on.
One of the best ways to think about it is there’s a joke about two fish swimming along on a bigger fish comes by and it says to them, “How’s the water?” They keep swimming on. One says to the other, “What’s water?” That’s a little bit like what gender bias is. It’s implicit or unconscious. It’s a predisposition and expectation. An attitude that we’re not even aware that we have that man and women are fundamentally different, men are better at leadership. They’re better at a competition, they’re better at decisive, demanding careers than women. That predisposition, that expectation carries through and makes it much harder for women to advance in careers of all sorts than it is for men.
It’s like you’re wearing blue glasses and everything looks bluer than it actually is. How do you help a company or a solopreneur identify gender bias and then overcome it?
There are three trains leaving the station at the same time. One is there are things that women can do in our careers where we don’t have to wait for the world to change. The second train is what men need to do. They need to be made aware and understand that there is a problem. That’s the first step there. Then the last train is organizations. Organizations need to be aware of this issue and change their policies and procedures to prevent gender bias from holding women back. Change their policies from allowing management and senior leaders to rely on those stereotypes that somehow women are not as competent or committed as men. It’s those three trains leaving the station and we don’t want to let them men in the organizations off the hook. For women in our careers, we’ve got to do something today. We can’t wait for the world to become better.
You guys were lawyers. How did you get into gender bias? Were you doing legal cases on that? How did this all come about?
I was on my firm’s management and compensation committee. What I found on the compensation committee is that women would present themselves in very modest, self-effacing ways and men would talk about how great they were and what total rock stars they were. The men were making more money than the women. That got me asking questions. Why is it that women don’t self-promote? Why is it that women feel uncomfortable bragging or talking about their accomplishments? That was the turning point for me.
Al, how did you get involved?
I started a law firm with three other people some years ago. I was convinced that I knew I wasn’t biased. I didn’t believe my partners were biased. We were going to have absolutely the fairest, most equal, meritocracy that anyone could possibly imagine. Many years later, as I looked around, I saw that we weren’t doing any better at promoting women than any of the other firms were. That was the eye-opener for me. To recognize that people who honestly believe that they were biased free could in fact operate with all sorts of unconscious predispositions that were discriminatory to women. It was at that point that Andie and I started collaborating. We started writing together, speaking together, conducting workshops together to try to do something to make the world a little better place.
How did you identify it? What made you decide that it wasn’t like, “Our law firm didn’t quite cut the grade and then decide to change it?” How do you identify it and how did you decide that you wanted to change it?
It was easy enough to identify it because while we were hiring women at the same rate we were hiring me, our associate ranks were about 50/50, men and women. Our equity partner ranks were only about 15% women. Something was happening. We were hiring talented, ambitious women but they weren’t making it to where I wanted them to be. I needed to do something about that. When I realized that the best of intentions was not going to cut it, that’s when Andie and I started to try to design and think of what needed to be done in order to correct that problem.Predisposition and expectations make it much harder for women to advance in careers of all sorts then men. Click To Tweet
You said there are three trains, something women can do, something men can do and something organizations can do. What is something women can do?
Presenting themselves better, a connotation to it is as if what they’re presenting in the first place isn’t good enough. I don’t want to suggest that. What I would say is that we need to understand the people who we’re interacting with and the stereotypes and the biases that they may be dragging along in the suitcases that they carry. Presenting ourselves in a way that may feel comfortable, may not be able to have them see us the way we want them to see us. Basically, it’s like dipping into our closet and deciding that if today, I’m talking to somebody who I ought to be wearing a formal ballgown, that’s going to be different than somebody that I put on a pair of running shorts.
It’s being aware of who you’re communicating with because we do present ourselves differently depending on who the audience is.
We found that it’s difficult for women often to do that, to consciously present themselves differently which is what we call impression management because they say, “I am who I am and I want to be authentic. If I try to be something other than what I actually am, I’m going to be a phony.” What we try to get across is that we’re all lots of things. We’re not all one thing. We’ve all got strong characteristics and modest characteristics. We’ve all got aggressive tendencies and welcoming and kind characteristics. We need to learn how to package those characteristics to be most effective in the situation to get the job done that we need to.
What can men do?
The first thing men can do is they can get the problem. Men are like I was. They believe that it’s just as easy for women to reach the top as it is for men. If we do surveys, which we have or we’ve looked at other social science work, only about 30% of men think that it’s harder for women to reach the top of major organizations than it is for men but if you ask women, it’s well over 80%. There’s a disconnect between the genders as to what the obstacles that women are up against. The first thing that men need to do is they need to understand the problems that women encounter. Once that’s done, a lot follows. Until that step is taken, it’s very hard to get men engaged with the diversity efforts that are necessary. If they don’t see that it’s broken, they don’t see that there’s anything that needs to be fixed.
Andie, when I was an electrical engineer, I worked my butt off. I went to conferences. I did whatever they told me. I got the promotions and brought in business. When I had my son, I came back to work after four weeks. On a Monday morning at 10:30, I’ve been back one day, they come into the office and they say, “There’s a radio conference in Missouri tomorrow. We’d like you to fly on a 5:00 to Missouri and attend the conference,” granted I have a four-week-old. It’s the first time ever, Andie, I said, “No.” A month later, I find out there’s a rumor going around the office that I’m on the mommy track and not reliable anymore.
Unfortunately, I’m not surprised because the stereotypes that we hold about women are one thing but the stereotypes that we hold about mothers are even more offensive. The belief is that if a mother is not committed 24/7 to her children, she’s a bad mom. If she’s committed to her job, then she’s a bad mom. The expectation is that they assume that you can’t be both at the same time. It was an unrealistic demand request that they gave you and the consequences were well out of proportion.
I had to bear the consequences, not them. This has been fascinating and way too short. How do our viewers find out more about you?
We have a website which is www.AndieAndAl.com. We have our blogs and a questionnaire and resources on the website and our books are available on Amazon or other online retailers. People could walk into their favorite bookstore and ask them for copies and they’ll be able to get them.
What is one parting thought you’d like to leave our audience with?
My parting thought is something I’ve raised before. Men need to get engaged in diversity effort. Men are in control of most of our organization. Until men think that diversity, women’s empowerment, women’s promotion, women’s growth into senior leadership, until they believe that’s a priority, it’s going to be very hard for the women to do it on their own.We need to understand the people who we're interacting with and the stereotypes and biases that they may be dragging along. Click To Tweet
For me, I would say that women need to know that we’re not alone in this effort. It’s not about us, it’s about our workplace, which is why our second book is titled, It’s Not You, It’s The Workplace.
You can find out more about them at www.AndieAndAl.com. Find us on Facebook at Heartrepreneurs with Terri Levine. I am your guest host, Sam Mak, diversity and inclusion consultant. You can find out more about me at www.SpeakerAuthorMotivator.com.
- It’s Not You, It’s The Workplace
- Heartrepreneurs with Terri Levine
About Andie Kramer and Al Harris
Andie Kramer and Al Harris specialize in combating gender bias. For over 30 years, Andie and Al have used their platform to coach and encourage women in the workplace. They are the authors of Breaking Through Bias, keynote speakers, and trailblazers in the world of equality.
They discuss important topics such as how to say “no” in a way that doesn’t hurt relationships, how women can avoid or overcome discriminatory gender bias, and communication techniques for women to succeed at work.
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