Every Time I Don’t Shut up, it’s Revolution : How to start breaking the bias in the workplace.
Originally published on Thesingingtech.com
a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it.
When I think of the term “ revolution” as it relates to women, I often picture ballsy women of the past that performed drastic actions in order to facilitate change in their future world. I see them marching down the streets towards congress in the early 1900’s with Susan B Anthony. I hear them chanting for workplace equality in the 1960’s while carrying banners meant to shock and appall. I feel their passionate determination in the 1970’s fueled by their inclusion in the civil rights movement by Coretta Scott King after the death of her husband.
On January 21, 2017, I marched with 175,000 people in Seattle in a show of solidarity to send a message to our government.
Even with my planned actions of advocating for women’s rights politically, protesting and writing my representatives I couldn’t help but think… what’s the next step for me here? This NEEDs to make a difference for me personally.
It’s when I realized that the change didn’t need to only happen inside our government. Change needed to happen in my actions in my everyday life.
When being the Woman who spoke up Backfired
When I started in the tech industry, I had made a point to build up my confidence in the workplace and in my career advancement. I didn’t want to be like Melanie Griffith’s character in the beginning of “ working girl” who hid her self-worth away and didn’t seem to fully understand she WAS something special and worthwhile in her field. I studied hard and sought to not only excel but to create and improve everything I touched.
But… I did end up being that “working girl”…
One particular meeting at one of my first tech companies stood out to me.They had introduced a new process in which there was a major flaw. Everyone on my team hated this new process because not only did it not make any sense whatsoever, it was slowing down our productivity as a team and lowering overall morale. The company had an upcoming meeting to discuss this new process and give feedback. I decided to take this as an opportunity to not only give my opinion but also propose a solution and encourage discussion.
They opened up the floor for discussion, I proceeded to give my constructive feedback, opinion and a proposed solution that I had researched and found to be successful at several big companies. When I had finished, most of my team vocalized their agreement. We waited for their response and were only met with them attempting to end the meeting with “ well, thanks for the feedback but we have seen MANY other companies use this process and various studies and we KNOW it to be successful so we are going to go ahead and do it this way”.
At this point, I could have shut my mouth and conformed to being your stereotypical “yes” man. But I figured “If they know this way to be better, maybe they can tell me why”. So instead I decided to speak up “ Oh I didn’t know other companies successfully used this. Could you tell me which ones? Also which studies have you seen this process be successful in? I’m curious”. He didn’t answer me. Instead, another manager told us that was “enough for today “ and we were ushered back.
Later that day I was called into an individual meeting with that the manager I had questioned and my direct supervisor. The manager proceeded to talk down to me and implied that I shouldn’t question any process changes because he felt I just “didn’t understand the big picture” and even when I asked him to explain it to me he refused. He also made sure he kept mentioning how someone “ like me “ could never begin to understand the business and I needed to “learn meeting etiquette” because a “woman speaking up as much” as me could never get ahead. I left that meeting with a red face, tears and a feeling of defeat. I just didn’t understand. I had seen many of my male colleagues at this same company speak up the same way ( to the same manager mind you) I had done and were never taken aside and berated like this. Why was this meeting any different just because a woman had spoken up and dared to ask a question?
The Depressing Research
This was the first event of many where I was the subject of gender bias in the workplace. While sexism may not be as blatant as it once was in years past, there is still an undercurrent that exists in business today. We are still undervalued in the workplace to this day:
- Women are paid less — Pew Research study , Census Bureau
- Women are less likely to negotiate their salary- Glassdoor Survey
- Women that DO negotiate their salary lose likeability- Harvard Business Review
- Women that speak during meetings are more likely to get interrupted- Study, NY Times Article
What do we do to start moving our society forward? How do we navigate the subtle sexism that was bred into our culture and lives beneath the surface without many realizing it?
WE ADDRESS THE BIAS IN FRONT OF US
Sometimes the best way to approach a problem is to first acknowledge it’s there. It exists and is right in front of you. Why the hell are you ignoring it? .First, address that elephant in the room and acknowledge the damn problem. Then, most importantly, find the BEST way to move forward. Sometimes the perpetrator of the biased action is not even aware of what they did.
I have found the best way to help shift the behavior in business has been not only to point out that bias has taken place, but also to cite recent studies to further illustrate your point.When someone is not only told they have done a harmful action, but also that they are following the ways of an oppressive past, they tend to listen up more.
You would be surprised out how often this technique of simply making others aware has turned out in my favor.
During a project that was split between me and a male colleague, we would give weekly reports to our supervisor on our progress and present him with powerpoints and even video walkthroughs of what we were building. I had started to notice at the end of each meeting, our supervisor would congratulate and thank ONLY my male colleague at the end of every meeting but never me. The first time I let it slide as an oversight, but started to notice it kept happening.
The Options of Approach
Did I have the option to ignore it? Of course, I did. But did I want to have this type of behavior set the tone for the rest of my career as a pushover that never spoke her mind? No. Finding the right approach had proven to be more difficult than the actual conversation. Now there are several approaches one can take when this kind of thing happens:
- Angry Approach” HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?”
- passive aggressive approach “ well… maybe …like…. you could not say that please?”
- Saying nothing
How about an informative approach? I decided to go with that.
When I approached our supervisor about this issue, I made sure to point out that it not only hurt me because I applied equal effort to this project along with my male colleague, but it also hurt because studies had shown that women get looked over in the workplace every day. His actions had made me feel like I wasn’t included in the credit to our department’s success.
Now at this point, I am betting you expect the said “boss “ of my story to perhaps start to mansplain to me, bully me, or even get angry. Well, you’re wrong. By having an open conversation with this boss and pointing out how his actions were hurtful but also a direct reflection of the bias influenced in our culture, he immediately apologized. He even went above and beyond from that point on in making sure to thank me, acknowledge me and even gave both me and my colleague an award at the end of the quarter for all the work we had done. He is still to this day one of the best bosses I have ever worked for.
What I learned from this is that we can’t expect change to happen when we don’t take an active role in creating that change every day. Tell your boss/colleague/manager/director when this happens to you. Educate them.
Even little actions like asking for acknowledgment when you have been looked over is a step towards the new feminist revolution. You are saying “ stop! I’ve had enough !” to the status quo of how it’s always been done and instead shifting our culture to see things from another point of view.
If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow. we aren’t really living-Gail Sheehy
Make every day your revolution.