Attitude: The Unfair Expectation Women Face at Work.

I hated performance evaluations. I always greeted them with an overwhelming sense of dread – and I never really thought too much about why, until recently when I was writing a blog about preparing for an annual performance evaluation (coming next week).

When I was early in my career, I always felt like I had something to prove. As a result, I was constantly [over]analyzing everything I did and trying to figure out how I could be better at my job. So when I walked into my first “annual review” I felt pretty confident that I knew what feedback I would get. I probably knew better than my boss what I needed to work on, what I was putting off, and the places I could improve. I wasn’t worried about the conversation.

There I sat, across from my boss, ready to hear the things I already knew, get a pat on the back, and be back to work. Section after section I was met with “meeting expectations” and “exceeding expectations” with very little insight on places I could improve or specific examples of what I could do better – nothing unexpected. When we got to the final section of my review, “Attitude,” I was given, “Needs Improvement”. I was immediately confused.

What followed was a stream of statements like:

“You’re too blunt.” “You need to be better about filtering what you say.” “You need to be nicer in your communication.” “You’re aggressive.” “You speak your mind too much.” “You need to smile more when sharing an opinion.”

I sat there flabbergasted. I had never been called aggressive in my life and as a girl that was moderately bullied in my youth, being told to be “nicer” was a punch in the gut. I didn’t understand. Was I a direct communicator? Yes. Did I have opinions and state them? Yes. Was I assertive, passionate and driven? Yes. But I’d never been told that any of it was a bad thing. It felt deeply personal. Never in my life had someone given me negative feedback that felt so directly tied to who I was as a person and NEVER had I gotten feedback that my communication was a problem.

(With one tiny exception being the t-shirt I proudly wore as a 6 year-old that stated “I love my attitude problem”. Hey, it was the 80’s.)

For years to come, I consistently got feedback about my communication. I consistently was called “scary,” “aggressive,” and “blunt”. I consistently, on almost every evaluation, was told I was doing an exceptional job – except for – you guessed it – my communication.

All those years and all that feedback shook my confidence to the core. I found myself constantly second guessing if I was “too much” in a meeting, holding back from sharing my opinion because I had already talked too much, and generally sugar-coating feedback and comments that should have been delivered more directly. It was like an out of body experience. It felt inauthentic. I hated it.

It didn’t last.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to stop caring about the feedback and to be true to myself – regardless of the way my actions were perceived. Somewhere I along the way I realized that it wasn’t me. It was them.

The truth is, women are more critically judged for displaying assertive and confident communication. An article in Harvard Business Review states, “While ability to communicate can be an important skill for leaders, it is noteworthy that women received most of the negative feedback about communication styles.” In fact, their research showed that 76% of references to being “too aggressive” were found in women’s reviews.

The reality is that the expectation for women in the workplace is to be smiley, happy, empathetic, compassionate, warm, inviting, and motherly. When we, as women, don’t fit into the expectation that people (both men and women) have for us, the behaviors are seen as problematic, unacceptable, and often get in the way of our advancement.

So what do we do about it?

First, we have to evaluate every piece of feedback we receive. We have to ask for examples of the problematic behavior and request insight on alternatives. We then have to vet each of those instances against our gut. We have to ask ourselves, “Is this feedback objectively true or is this feedback subjective?”

Second, we then have to do our due diligence and find what is useful in that feedback by asking ourselves: What within this feedback is helpful? How can I use this feedback to get better (even if it is subjective)?”

Third, we have to pay attention to individual triggers that people have about our communication. Perhaps it’s a certain word or phrase you use that turns them off. Maybe it’s a certain topic. Pay attention and use that information as data to adapt, retool, and find different ways to get your point across to people – in a way they can hear it. Communication is 100% the way the message is received and 0% the way the message was intended to be received. We can’t change intrinsic or unconscious bias overnight, but we can adapt our style so our messages are heard and accepted more often in spite of that bias.

The point in all of this to not let our communication be the thing that holds us back from advancement. This Forbes article highlights women who’ve been successful in the aftermath of “bad communication” feedback. Each of the women took a different course, but all of them refused to allow the feedback to stand in their way – or shake their confidence.

Was some of the feedback about my communication warranted? Probably. I was young and hadn’t quite learned the art of finessing one’s communication to each individual. In the end, I used that feedback to find a way to be myself; direct, passionate, assertive, driven, but in a way that gives my communication power instead of weakening it. I’ve found a way to authentically deliver messages that can be received in the way I intend them. I’m still a straight shooter and I still regularly get feedback about my communication style. Am I okay with it? You bet.

Until we break more glass…

The Most Important Book You’ll Ever Own.

It’s of average size and comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. It has no publisher, no title, and no reviews on Amazon.

The author is you.

The book? A Success Journal.

The concept is simple: Have a dedicated place where you regularly record your accomplishments. Big ones and small ones. Personal ones and professional ones.

No one else is sitting around recording everything you’ve achieved. Your boss, advisor, or mentor isn’t going to regularly track all the things you’ve done. You are responsible for tracking your accomplishments. If you don’t have a Success Journal, run your fingers to your favorite online retailer and buy one… now.

Why? Data.

So you can better advocate for yourself. For that promotion. For that job. For that raise. For that title. For that grad program. For that leadership position. For that award. For you.

It’s easy to forget everything you’ve done over the course of a year – over the course of a job or position. We often sit down in performance evaluations, job interviews, or in conversations with our supervisors and mentors without the data that demonstrates our achievements, our skills, and our potential. We scramble to update our resumes and are flummoxed trying to figure out “what we did” while we were in a specific role. We leave annual reviews frustrated and disappointed because we didn’t get the raise we were hoping for. And if any of these statements feel familiar to you, it’s time for a Success Journal.

I am currently coaching a young professional. It’s her first time ever supervising staff and in addition to leading a team she was tasked with creating and implementing an enormous project in a very short window of time. This project required her to engage lots of different stakeholders, work in partnership with some really important people, and would make a significant impact on her organization. It was a no fail situation. At the start of her engagement I had her start a success journal. Ninety days into our engagement, we checked in on successes.

She had a little list that looked a little like this:

  1. Finished and launched big project.
  2. Trained staff.
  3. Happy staff and clients.

Everything on that list is true, but nothing on that list accurately encapsulates the true work and success she has had in the last 90 days. Each of those achievements are more likely ten smaller achievements that better represent all of the work she has done and truly highlight her skills as a young professional. Take that list into a performance evaluation and your supervisor will be less than impressed. Turn that list in to 30 specific achievements that highlight what when into achieving those goals – and you’re destined for a raise, a bonus, or a promotion.

I’m not going to lie, a success journal takes work. You can’t look at a Success Journal like homework you have to do. You have to look at the Success Journal as an investment in you.

Ready to get started? Here’s a few tips to make it a success:

  • Write something down every day. I don’t care if your only success today is, “got so-and-so to call me back”. Write it down. It’s much easier to edit away the stuff that isn’t that big of a deal, than it is to remember what you did in April. You’re also more likely to capture the little wins along your way to the big goal.
  • Ask yourself, “What went into achieving this?” Try to subdivide and parse out everything that went into achieving those successes. The more you try to separate your achievements into smaller ones, the clearer the picture becomes on what your true talents, skills, and achievements are. It gives you concrete examples to use when applying for jobs, awards, promotions, or leadership positions.
  • Include personal successes, too. Don’t just write down things you achieved in your job or “leadership position”, but record things that are a part of your personal and/or volunteer life, as well. While you might not be able to use them for a promotion, they come in handy for resumes and applications.
  • Review every 90 days. Take a look back at your successes every 90 days. Highlight the big stuff. It’s important to look at how far you’ve come and use those things to inspire new action, set new goals, or give yourself a kick in the pants.

Look for a blog coming soon about how to use these successes to advocate for that raise, promotion, or job. Until then, start recording those successes!

Until we break more glass…

We Have a Pipeline Problem

The McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2019 study was recently released and while it shows that over the last five years women have made significant gains in representation in senior leadership, as well as companies’ commitment overall to gender diversity – there is still a glaring and widening gap.

While the majority of college graduates are female (around 60%), women still remain underrepresented at every level in business. That lack of representation only grows as women move up the ladder. Women represent 48% of all entry-level positions, 38% of managers, 34% of senior managers, 30% of VPs, 26% of senior VPs, and 21% of C-Suite employees.

With less and less women at every level of an organization, it’s no wonder we lack representation at the highest levels of leadership. It’s not surprising that I constantly hear our clients and business leaders alike say, “We just can’t find any female candidates.” It’s true! Organizations have exponentially less women to choose from for leadership positions because there are fewer qualified women. But where are all the qualified female candidates? The pipeline problem begins for female talent at the very beginning of a woman’s career and compounds the further and further you move up the proverbial ladder.

McKinsey states, “We often talk about the “glass ceiling” that prevents women from reaching senior leadership positions. In reality, the biggest obstacle that women face is much earlier in the pipeline, at the first step up to manager.”

Let me put all of this plainly for you: More women are graduating from college than men, yet men are getting promoted more often than women at every level in an organization. The biggest problem however is that first promotion into first-line management. In fact, for every 100 men that are promoted to a first-line management position, 72 women are promoted. The data is worse if you are a black woman (58 for every 100) or a Latina woman (68 for every 100). This inequity has a long term impact on the career trajectory of women, as well as the achievement of gender equity overall.

It bears repeating, we have a pipeline problem. We will never achieve gender equity at the highest levels of leadership if we can’t fix the first “rung of the ladder”.

So what do we do?

First, we have to invest in women who are early in their careers. Organizations are quick to invest training and coaching dollars in women who are already in leadership – helping them prepare for that next level. While that will always be a good investment, we have to invest in training and coaching for entry-level and early career women, too. We have to teach young women how to advocate for themselves and take ownership for their own careers right out of school (or maybe even in school). More on this in a coming blog.

Second, we have to make evaluating performance and considering employees for promotion more fair. That requires us to make the process less personal and emotional and make it more quantifiable and measurable. We have to train evaluators on the unconscious bias that can often creep in when evaluating people (because we’re human and it’s inevitable) and create systems and criteria that can “check” that bias. We have to ensure that our talent pools are equitable, not just for senior positions, but for front-line management as well.

Third, we have to track the data. Does your organization know how long women stay in entry-level positions before they’re promoted or leave? Do they know how that compares to men? Organizations have to start tracking the data that shows where their pipeline problem begins. I’ve always said, “You can’t fix problems you don’t know exist.” We have to look at hiring pools, promotion pools, and our gender ratios at every level. We have to look at the data to find the problems before we’re slapped in the face with them.

All-in-all, the data tells us a story. It tells us that over time, we have made progress toward gender equity in the workplace, but we still have a long way to go. It’s time to start talking about breaking glass and fixing broken ladders.

until we break more glass…

*This blog was cross posted at The Center for Leadership Excellence.

Your Feminism, My Feminism, All Feminism.

I’ve heard a lot of women, young and old, utter the words,

“I’m not a feminist.”

That statement, particularly from women, always leaves me a little flabbergasted. I find myself wondering how a woman could claim she’s not a feminist; How a woman could claim she doesn’t care about equal rights for herself and her fellow women?

My quick answer? I think the word feminism comes with so much baggage. People assume that to be a feminist you must align with a certain political party; you must own a pink stocking cap and drive a Subaru with a #nastywoman bumper sticker. The world thinks if you’re a feminist – you’re an angry, bra-burning man-hater. The word “feminism” has been taken hostage and being used against us; It’s being used as a weapon to scare women (and men) away from the fight for gender equality. It’s become a tool to divide and deter us.

We have to change the narrative around feminism. We have to attach the word feminism with the fight for gender equality again. But we also have to stop condemning the work for gender equality that women (and men) are doing that maybe doesn’t align with our own version of feminism.

Here’s what I mean…

My version of feminism means working with men to help them see and understand the everyday, unconscious biases that women face in the workplace. I help them identify opportunities to correct those biases or create better systems to ensure that the bias is less likely to interfere in workplace decisions like hiring, promotion, performance evaluation, succession planning, leadership, training opportunities (you get the idea). I see men as our partners in the fight for gender equality. I believe that most men come from a place of good intention, but are generally unaware of what women encounter every day. Some feminists, however, view men as intentional actors in the suppression of women and fight diligently to overcome male dominance.

My version of feminism understands that the idea of gender equality is complex and that there is loads of intersectionality that impacts the common goal of equal rights for women. I work every day to understand the unique challenges that women of color face. I read regularly to understand how we can make the fight for gender equality include individuals who don’t identify on the gender binary. Some feminists, believe the simpler we make it, the easier it will be to overcome. They’re less concerned with the complexity and intersectionality and more concerned with more women (and any women) in leadership in our country.

My version of feminism is helping women advance in leadership. Yet, there are hundreds of ways to be a feminist and hundreds of ways to fight for it: Perhaps your version of feminism is fighting to build a consent culture and address sexual violence. Maybe it’s being a stay at home mom and raising your son to respect women as equals and teaching your daughter self-confidence and that she can be anything she wants to be. Maybe it’s working to address human trafficking. Perhaps it’s attending a march or protesting in the streets. It might even been running for a political office.

Our condemnation and/or criticism of other versions of feminism doesn’t unify our power. It divides it. We have to start embracing the work that we’re all doing as positive movement forward. When we fight each other, we only reinforce negative messages about feminism and women.

We have to support, encourage, and embrace all the individuals working to move gender equality forward. 6+3=9. But so does 4+5 and 8+1. The outcome is all the same, how we get there is irrelevant.

Your feminism may not be my feminism – and how we approach creating gender equality looks different for each of us. In the end, equality is the goal – let’s all work to get there.

until we break more glass…

What Going Vegan Taught Me About Work-Life Balance

I’ve been a vegetarian before. I don’t eat that much cheese and after a couple rounds of Whole30, I can’t look at eggs the same way ever again. Heart disease, A-Fib, high cholesterol run on both sides of my family. Couple all that with the overwhelming sense of impending doom related to climate change (eliminating animal products from your diet reduces your carbon footprint), I had plenty of reasons to consider going vegan. One day, I just pulled the trigger and went vegan, cold tofurkey.

Fast forward two weeks and I felt incredible. I thought I’d be hangry, bloated from carbs, and craving a filet. I wasn’t. I had more energy, my skin was clearer, and my pants fit better. I didn’t crave cheese or meat or butter or eggs. I actually enjoyed pizza without cheese. I was amazed at how little I missed it. I was astounded at how great I felt.

By this point, you’re probably thinking what in the world does this actually have to do with work-life balance? Here’s what:

We don’t realize how shitty something makes us feel until we stop doing it.

I probably have a sensitivity to dairy and I don’t really like meat. Yet I didn’t realize these things, until I stopped doing them. That’s probably the case for a lot of things in our lives. They don’t give us joy, we don’t really like doing them, they make us feel downright shitty – yet we don’t realize how crappy we feel because we’re too desensitized to the discomfort and pain. We’re so used to the hustle, the stress, and the feeling of never enough time, we don’t realize how bad it really is.

As women, we’re constantly faced with guilt of never doing enough, never being enough, that we find ourselves saying “yes” to way too much. We say yes to making snack bags that look like butterflies for soccer practice, when it would be easier to bring an economy sized carton of goldfish and a pre-assembled fruit tray from Costco. We say yes to meeting a friend for a drink who’s having a rough time, when we really want to be horizontal in our bed recharging from a hard week at 8 p.m. We say “yes” to way to much stuff – stuff that doesn’t even fill our bucket.

We don’t even realize how crappy we feel.

That is until we decide to stop doing certain things. Until we decide to start saying “no” a little bit more.

I want you to find better balance. I want you to feel good. I want you to start saying “no”. I started saying “no” more and it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t just start saying “no” to blts and nachos, though. I started saying “no” to the things I didn’t want in my life anymore – things I knew were making me feel pretty shitty.

I think there’s a lot we say “yes” to when we really want to say, “no.” I think there’s a lot of things we do – and we don’t need to do. The reality is that I started saying “no” more about a year ago. I said “no” to the constant work travel and “yes” to traveling – on my terms. I said “no” to other commitments during the tiny window of time I get to see my kids each night. I said “no” to working late and missing important life events.

I said “no” to the life I was living. I started saying “yes” to build the life that I wanted.

I started saying “yes” to being present and showing up for my family and friends. I said “yes” investing in my female friendships and “yes” giving my time to causes I care about. I said “yes” to building a career I was passionate about. I said “yes” to beans transformed into chicken nuggets and “cheese” made from cashews.

Was I afraid? Heck yes. I was afraid I’d miss the travel. I was afraid I’d lose ground professionally. I was afraid I’d lose my identity. I was afraid I was making a terrible mistake (the vegan thing, too). The reality is that I feel more myself than I ever have before. I didn’t realize how shitty I felt, until I started saying “no” to the things I didn’t want to do and “yes” to the things I felt myself missing out on.

I’m not trying to boast. I’m definitely not perfect and boasting is not at all my style. I tell you this because I tried something that worked for me. I tried saying “no” to some things – and it worked pretty well. Was it hard? Hell. Yes. Being vegan is hard. Saying “no” to friends, my boss, clients, is WAY harder.

Was it worth it? Hell “YES”.

The question now is, “what will you start saying ‘no’ to?”

Until we break more glass…