Tag Archives: sheryl medeiros

Getting Culture Right: It Starts at the Top

Leading a large organization of people is not unlike raising teenagers. At its core, the goal is to provide enough independence to allow growth and innovation and to fuel excitement about what people are doing, but at the same time to provide the necessary guard rails to help keep focus on the mission and prevent the stray person from getting too far from the flock and encountering danger. Parents are like the C-suite, and their approach to life, their leadership stamina and their commitment are key drivers in the family’s success.

When a teenager makes a huge mistake, or perhaps even worse, does harm to himself or others, people often look to the parents. Are they good parents? Strict enough? Involved enough to know what’s going on? Participating enough to influence behavior? Modeling good values and social norms? The same is true when a business finds itself embroiled in scandal or accusations of wrongdoing.

See also: How to Lead Change in an Organization  

Incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace have dominated recent headlines. These examples are not in the gray area of whether there’s hidden bias impeding the path to promotion for women, or whether there’s a systemic gender pay gap, for example. These headlines include overt sexual behavior that most people readily agree is totally inappropriate at work, and that many judges and juries will likely find are illegal, as well.

The managers at Microsoft’s Xbox division reportedly sponsored a party with scantily clad waitresses and too much alcohol. Uber has been accused of rampant sexism, sexual harassment and an untenable environment for women employees. Members of the U.S. Marine Corps reportedly have a Facebook site with 30,000 followers on which naked photos of female Marines are posted for all to see, comment on and share. Some of the naked photos were apparently taken without the subject female’s knowledge or permission, and some identify the women by name, rank and duty station. Sadly, these are just a few of the highlights. Examples are plentiful and span all industries.

The first questions that came to my mind when I read these headlines are directed at the leadership of the organizations. Have those leaders done something to create or facilitate this behavior at work? Are their policies strict enough? Are those policies enforced? Do the leaders even know what’s going on in their organization? Are they modeling good values themselves? Sound familiar?

Teenagers, even though the vast majority of them are wonderful, caring people of good character, don’t always exhibit those characteristics in their behavior. They are notorious risk takers and exercise poor judgment. Parenting them is hard. I’ve discovered recently that the biggest parenting challenge, however, originates not with my own teenagers, but with their friends’ parents.

Let’s consider underage drinking. Studies show that the vast majority of students drink alcohol while still in high school. Locking up your alcohol, staying up late to chaperone gatherings in your own home or to greet your teenagers when they arrive home, imposing consequences when you discover your teenager has been drinking and even enlisting professional help if it’s a consistent problem requires stamina and commitment. It disrupts your own social life and your own freedom as a parent.

Even more difficult, it draws judgment and scorn from other parents and from your teenager’s friends. If you inform other parents that their own kids are participating in drinking, you could end up being an outcast, and there will almost certainly be negative social consequences for your teenager. It’s hard. And if you don’t, the risks are too scary to imagine. Studies show that teenagers who drink are three times more likely to become addicted than people who start drinking later, and alcohol-related deaths among teenagers (already too frequent) are on the rise. Nonetheless, studies also show that most parents will throw in the towel and ignore the drinking, decide not to inform other parents, fail to follow through with consequences and accept that it’s “normal” for teenagers to drink. My teenager, after all, is a “good” kid.

Creating a workplace environment that is hostile to sexual harassment is also hard. Even though the vast majority of men are wonderful, caring people of good character, when together in groups there can easily be a high incidence of inappropriate sexual behavior that is deeply disturbing (and illegal) in the workplace. Corporate leaders may either be unaware of it or may condone it. Either is problematic.

Reporting incidents of sexual harassment, or punishing employees who engage in it can draw judgment and scorn from fellow leaders and very often results in negative social consequences for both the victim and the leader. When the consequences of speaking out affect career advancement and rewards, the impulse to stay out of it or ignore it altogether can be overwhelming. And yet the consequences of failing to speak out and stand up to sexual harassment in the workplace can kill your business. Sound familiar?

There is a simple solution that will at least eliminate the headlines we’ve seen lately, even if it doesn’t address the whole problem: no safe sex in the workplace. Period. Sex is a personal and private activity that has no place at work.

We as humans easily understand that there are certain environments where sexual behavior by adults is always inappropriate. For example, you would be hard pressed to find a person who thinks it acceptable to expose preschoolers to strippers, pornography, aggressive propositioning or naked pictures of parents. Consequently, we don’t do that in preschools, and not because adults suddenly don’t enjoy that type of behavior on their own time, and not because the people who do enjoy that behavior are not “good” people. Instead, adults recognize that preschool is a safe zone in which adult sexual behavior is not appropriate or welcome.

A similar mindset at work would be extremely effective in eradicating offensive and illegal behavior. No strippers at work gatherings. No passing around naked pictures of colleagues. No standing by quietly and watching your colleague or boss harass a woman in his organization. Work needs to be a safe zone in which sexual behavior is not appropriate or welcome.

See also: Is Your Organization Open to New Ideas?  

A plethora of books about how to be a good parent and how to succeed as a corporate leader are readily available. You can read thousands of pages about which seven habits are most important and effective. I offer a simple tip that applies equally to parenting and leadership. It is hard. The consequences of getting it wrong are significant. But when it comes to the big stuff, there are no shortcuts. Stand up to the potential negative social impact and stop your teenager from drinking. Stop your colleagues from bringing sex into the workplace. You will be very glad you did.

Women in Business: the Network Paradox

Women know we thrive when we are together. All the way back to ancient times — in the red tent or carrying water from the river — women have relied on each other for support, encouragement and help with basic survival.

Nonetheless, women today report feeling isolated at work and have trouble breaking into the professional networks and sponsors critical to their career advancement.

Recent data collected in a comprehensive study tracking various trends related to women in global corporate leadership revealed women are three times more likely to rely on networks made up of mostly women. Because men hold more senior positions than women do, women only associating with women limit their access to leaders who can open doors to advancement in their careers.

Paradoxically, women choose to rely on other women and thrive when they rely on other women, but the very reliance on other women limits their career opportunities. For ease of conversation, I’ll label this the “network paradox,” and I’ll describe it as a problem.

See also: Value in Informal Employee Networks  

The accepted solution to the network paradox is to integrate women into the well-established, centuries-old male network. Men have built a robust and extensive professional network, and most successful male executives have figured out how to tap into it. Research shows men have more interaction with senior managers, have more access to challenging and career-advancing assignments, are consulted more often for input on major decisions and receive informal feedback significantly more often than women.

Understandably, people view this disparity as unfair, and, consequently, workplaces are devoted to creating a gender-neutral environment. In addition to training programs, HR departments manufacture mentoring relationships between men and women, create specific and detailed hiring and review processes that are viewed as gender-neutral and set goals for senior executives focused on accountability and results. The underlying assumption is that if it’s the male network that creates an advantage, we should include women in that network on an equal basis.

At the risk of sounding too negative, that approach is never going to work. In response to the realization that because women thrive together and are significantly more likely to network with other women, we have decided the solution is to put women with men and hold people accountable for ignoring the fact that they are women. Put more positively, we want to create an integrated network that benefits men and women, and we have set about adding women to the existing framework.

I propose that, instead, we should first build a network of women.

The prevailing solution ignores the essence of the paradox: Women strongly prefer to network with other women. Despite overwhelming evidence that the male-dominated network is more effective at creating career paths to leadership, women are three times more likely to network with other women. Let’s respect that and put it to good use. Women in corporate leadership are isolated from each other. Companies have, at most, a few women in senior leadership. But across all companies, there are many women leaders who should be brought together. Circling back to my opening remark, women throughout history have thrived when they spend time together.

A network of women will function in the same way the male network functions today. Women with deep and enduring relationships will support each other, make introductions for each other, mentor each other, provide informal feedback, steer career-making opportunities to each other and fundamentally generate power and influence for the group. As a first step, building this network does not require creating artificial relationships; data shows women naturally gravitate toward each other for this purpose. What is required is a commitment by senior executives to the goal — and a focus on accountability and results.

See also: Why Women Are Smarter Than Men  

The insurance and technology industries, both of which have a dearth of women in leadership, are the perfect industries to lead the world through this paradox to the future.

In insurance and financial services, 57% of the entering workforce is female and only 21% of top executives are. In technology, the entering workforce is 36% female and only 19% of top executives are. More pressingly, as the demand for tech workers increases every year, the number of women entering the field decreases, creating a deficit of qualified workers to fill available jobs.

Redirecting resources from the futile exercise of manufacturing and monitoring artificial gender-neutral access to the existing male-dominated network to the creation of a network of women will organically equalize what men and women are experiencing at work.

The Right Way to Tackle Gender Bias

What is the difference between Sheryl Sandberg, Melinda Gates, Cinderella and Elsa from Frozen? Well, each is worth billions, each commands an immense global platform and each has dedicated her life to capturing the hearts and minds of girls and inspiring their dreams. Whether she knows how to code or whether she has magic powers, those are distinctions without a difference.

In fact, these four figures are all the same: They are princesses.

What I mean by that is we have changed the look and feel of the characters put forth for girls to admire, but we haven’t moved past the stage of fueling fantasies to the stage of creating change. We gave the princesses a makeover, but we didn’t address the core issue.

We are solving the wrong problem.

We decided we wanted girls to embrace heroines who are strong and fearless and can do anything boys can do. We want girls to admire women who code and who are scientists and gymnasts and world leaders. To put it bluntly, we want to see girls dress up as Olympic gymnast Simone Biles or Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky for Halloween instead of as Disney princesses Ariel or Belle. If we succeed, if fairies and mermaids are a thing of the past, we will still be in exactly the same place: asking ourselves why women aren’t leading companies; why girls aren’t pursuing careers in technology; and why, when they graduate from college, women enter the workforce at the same rate as men but leave it at a much higher rate.

Sandberg or Gates are shining examples of people we should admire and attempt to emulate. They are making tremendous contributions to everything they become involved in. Gates is literally eradicating diseases and lifting entire populations out of poverty. I do not mean to demean her or Sandberg or to devalue the work they do. But becoming them is just about as unattainable as becoming a real-life Disney princess, and we should recognize that.

Research published by LeanIn.org and McKinsey in 2015 concludes that, at the current rate of change, it will be more than 100 years before we see equality in the representation of women in corporate leadership.

The technology industry alone spent a combined half a billion dollars or more on gender bias training, and it resulted in no measurable change whatsoever. Enrollment in technology majors at Stanford rose as much as 93%, but the number of women graduating from those majors dropped from 40% to 18%. The 2016 update to the LeanIn.org/McKinsey study concludes that employees are not convinced that gender diversity is an imperative, despite compelling data demonstrating that companies with women in leadership significantly outperform their peers.

Perhaps most important is the stark assertion that men and women are not having the same experiences at work; this impedes women from developing as leaders and from accessing the opportunities that will get them promoted.

The conversations we are having and the training we are sponsoring is not working to create change. Women will not pursue careers in technology, will not stay in those careers and will not be promoted into leadership positions in those careers if we continue to spend our time, energy and money on efforts we have proven will not make a difference in their experiences at work.

The companies whose leaders today decide to side-step the need to eradicate hidden gender bias, who decide to stop worrying about whether princesses are strong enough, who figure out how to inspire women to bring their ideas to the conversation and to contribute their perspectives in the innovation lab will not only benefit from improved business results but will be the beacon that draws the most talented women leaders to join them.

There are no princesses here.