How Male Allies Can Support Women's Emerging Success

In this blog series starting today and shared in the coming weeks we are going to provide a transcription of Rachel Thomas's talk at the Better Man Conference 2016 as she outlines How Male Allies Can Support Women’s Emerging Success.  Rachel Co Founded Lean In with Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg. Lean In has a mission to empower women to achieve their ambitions.

This week Rachel shares a story of hers along with important insights and statistics that point to how both she was treated unfairly, how other women are treated unfairly and what both men and women can start doing to bring awareness to what’s happening before identifying what male allies can do to support women’s equal treatment and therefore advancement.  Below you'll find the excerpt from Rachel Thomas or you can watch the video. 

"So, about a year ago I was at a conference on workplace well being and I looked out at the audience and I made a comment,  “Wow, it’s about fifty/fifty percent women and men, that is great.”

The woman standing next to me, Maxeen Williams, who runs diversity on Facebook and is a woman of color, she said “Rachel, look again.”  And I looked back at the audience and in all honesty it looked a lot like today’s audience.  Very few minorities.  When I looked through her eyes, I saw something different.  

Men always ask, “What can we do?  How can we play our part?How can we support woman?”

And one of the things that men can do is you can take a second look at women and women's experiences.  Do me a favor, raise your hand, if you have been called too aggressive at work?

(Rachel raises hand and so do people in the audience, predominantly women.)

So, there is always some men (who raise their hand).  But we travel all over the country and Sheryl's (from Lean In) traveled all over the world and we talk to two groups of people whenever we ask the question and when it’s an audience of women, every hand in the audience goes up.

When women assert themselves we often see them as being too aggressive.  We like them less.

If you took out your phone right now and you googled “Hillary Clinton and Ambition” and “Donald Trump and Ambition” you would see something very different.  Hillary…”Unbridled Ambition, she’s ruthlessly ambitious”.  Trump …”He has an ambitious deportation plan, he works on ambitious projects, he is proud and ambitious.”

We have a different reaction to women in leadership vs. men in leadership.

There’s a great woman named Karyn Snyder, for those of you who aren’t familiar with her, she is a linguist and she runs a company called Textio.  And what Textio does is it looks at language and things like job descriptions, performance reviews, all types of language but particularly gender language.

So, they recently did a study.  They looked at one hundred and seventy performance reviews conducted by both men and women.  And what they found is women are fifty percent more likely to hear critical feedback in their reviews.  (It’s easy to) start thinking about personal critical feedback about you as a person, your personality, (and) how you interact with people…..(because you hear) comments like, you are abrasive sometimes,  you need to pay attention to your tone, or your peers think sometimes you don’t leave enough room and suggest you to step back to let others shine.  

71 of 94 reviews of women, included comments on them personally.  Only 2 of 83 reviews of men did.  We’re having a different relationship with men and women when they assert themselves.

So, what is going on?  And what can we do about it?

A lot of this is rooted in age old stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.

When we think of women the stereotype is nurturing, collaborative, kind.  When we think of men (it’s) strong, assertive, in the lead.  So, what happens is when men lead, we’re really comfortable with it.  We expect you to lead, we celebrate you when you do.  When women lead, it can be a little bit more complicated.  It’s not the expectation, so sometimes women feel push back.  And I want to be really clear, when I say, “we”, I mean everybody.  I don’t mean men are doing this. I mean men and women are doing this.  We all fall into these stereotypes. And I also want to be clear it’s unconscious.  I don’t believe anyone in this room is walking around going, “Wow, when women assert themselves, I really don’t like them.”   This is really unconscious - deep rooted and powerful.

So, one of the things that you can do is look for and listen for the language of what we call the likeability penalty.  When you call a woman “political, pushy, or out for herself”, stop and ask, “What exactly did that woman do?”  And when you hear the answer, follow up with, “Would you feel the same way if a man did the same thing?”  You’ll be surprised by how often the answer is “no”.  And this makes a big difference.  Think to yourself, “Who would you rather promote, the man who has high marks across the board or the woman with really high performance but not as well liked by her peers?” Exactly, we promote the man.  And do this for yourselves as well,

if you have an adverse reaction to a woman just stop and say, “You know...would I feel the same way if a man just said that or if a man just did that?”

I have to admit for the last two years I’ve been putting my interactions with women through this very likeability test.  I’m a woman myself, I run a women’s organization, and I still fall into the trap of judging women more harshly.

The other thing we need to do is realize that women are not having the same experience you are.  So, before I founded Lean In, I co-founded a tech start up and we needed to pitch, we needed to raise money.  So, I built our deck and I ran our pitches.  And after about our second VC pitch, my co-founder who also happened to technically be my boss, he was CEO, he said, “Rachel, I’m really disappointed in you, you’re not pitching in during the Q & A, you’re not giving me enough support.”  And I said, “Andy, do me a the next pitch, watch.”  So we went and did the pitch and on the way out, the doors had just shut, we get around the sidewalk and he says, “Oh my God, they don’t ask you any questions, I can’t believe you’re speaking as much as you do!”  And this is important for two reasons, one,

Until he looked again, he didn’t see that I was having a different experience but also he was penalizing me for it.

Rightfully so.  I should have been participating, I should have been supporting him...and this is very common.  This is the experience that women often have in meetings.

Research tells us that women get less air time and they often get less credit for their ideas.  In fact, in a typical meeting women talk about 25% of the time.  We also know that women are more likely to be interrupted (versus) men, and to be clear, more likely to be interrupted by both men and women.

So, do a little social science experiment the next time you’re in a meeting and watch for two things:

First, watch where women sit in the room.  

Research will tell you women will often sit at the edge of the room, kind of away from the positions of power.  And then (second)

count how many times are the women and men at the meeting interrupted? You’ll be surprised at what you see.

We also know that women get more blame for failure and less credit for success…."

Watch for blog 2 of this series where Rachel begins outlining specific action steps men can take to support leveling the playing field for women being treated fairly along with supporting their advancement in the workplace.


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