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Addressing Gender Bias Complaints

Last week’s post discussed ways to show women the respect they deserve at work. One of the recommendations was believing women when they bring gender bias and discrimination to management’s attention.

When the issues are not blatant, it can be difficult to determine if a problem really exists … and more difficult to know what to do about it.

Inevitably, the woman is going to say something happened — but the man is going to say there is no issue and it is all in the other woman’s mind. That pesky discrimination dogwhistle is going to continue to blow — and your workplace will suffer and be at risk.

Count on it.

How do you get to the truth?

Look for patterns

Review communications for tone and timing. Also look at audience and escalation. If there is bias, you will find the messages have a negative, condescending and/or demanding tone. You will also find copying of unnecessary other people on messages and/or escalating issues to the woman’s supervisor which should be resolved a peer level … Compare these patterns to the handling of communications with male co-workers in similar positions and see if the same thing is happening. If not, gender bias is likely at play and it should be addressed.

Listen for buzzwords

Pay attention to how women are described. Girls, gals and females are words that can chip away at respect for women in the workplace. Some other buzzwords are dramatic, emotional, nagging, whiny, bossy and pushy.  Even worse are words like pussy and bitch … When traits associated with women or being a woman are used as negative adjectives to describe anyone in your workplace, it is wrong — and gender bias is likely at play and it should be addressed.

Learn from witnesses

Your employees are smart and they see what’s going on. Many are eager to share their observations and feedback. Utilize witnesses to gain insight into the issues. Ask what they have seen occur between the parties involved and what their own observations and experiences have been … See if they say the treatment for all is the same. If not, gender bias is likely at play and it should be addressed.

Gender bias is happening. Now what???

Gender bias in your workplace doesn’t mean firing all the men and replacing them with women. The goal should always be to maintain diversity, inclusion and fairness.

What it does mean sharing the feedback and taking corrective action with the men who show gender bias behaviors.  It means declaring what is unacceptable. It means outlining what is appropriate. It means providing one or both parties with training to improve communication and inclusion skills. It means not allowing these kinds of behaviors to continue.

That means following up with both individuals routinely to assess progress. It means resetting expectations. It means defining timelines and deadlines for improvement. It means checking in periodically to ensure sustained effort.

Because eliminating bias in our workplaces isn’t just a one-and-done kind of thing. It takes continuous, concentrated and committed effort. It is nothing to play with.

Don’t start the work if you don’t intend to finish it.


Give Women the Respect They Deserve at Work

Recently, a story went viral about a man accidentally sending emails as his woman co-worker.  The person he emailed argued with him about recommendations. However, when he clarified that he was actually sending them email, not the woman, they immediately changed their tune and began to comply with what was asked.

To see if the issue was a fluke, he kept sending emails as his woman co-worker for several more days. He learned it wasn’t a fluke. Clients and other co-workers gave him all kinds of push-back on issues when they normally would not. He found his advice was not followed. His recommendations were challenged. His data was questioned.

Meanwhile, his woman co-worker was having the best week of her career. Clients were more responsive. They accepted her recommendations almost immediately. She was not questioned or challenged on anything.

Because they thought she was a man.

Her co-worker thought she was less productive and effective because he had more experience than she did. He assumed she was less organized and not as strong at communicating.

He was wrong.

Women in workplaces all over the world are facing this same challenge every day. And it is a shame that it takes a man to experience the behaviors for society at large to believe it.

But now that the truth is out, what are we going to do about it?

  • Accept the fact of gender discrimination in your workplace. It is impossible for our world to be full of patriarchy, male privilege and rape culture … yet our workplace be clear of any of those effects. Impossible. It’s there. Face it.
  • Believe women. Sexist behaviors much like racist behaviors are very nuanced. It is another kind of dogwhistle. When women tell you that they’ve heard the whistle blow, trust that they’re being honest about their experience. Take them seriously and look into the issue.
  • Call out unacceptable behavior. When an issue is found, address it. Swiftly, directly and candidly. Put bad behavior on blast and make sure it is clear it will not be tolerated.
  • Demand respect. Women in positions of authority must be given support to do their jobs without insolence or interference. That support means not allowing others to undermine them or call their integrity into question without evidence. It means not allowing men to take credit for their work or to be the face of projects to make things easier or more comfortable. It means giving them unfettered loyalty.
  • Enforce the standard. Do not do business with clients or continue to employ people who show disrespect for women. Point out the behavior and require change — but if the person cannot comply, cut them loose. Continuing to associate with sexist people once you’re aware that they’re sexist means you are sexist too. If that isn’t true, you will remove them from areas of authority and influence in your organization and your life.

Hiring women and promoting them isn’t enough if you’re not willing to support them in overcoming the hindrances and obstacles that impact their effectiveness and productivity. Make sure they are given the respect they deserve.

Demand a Compassionate Workplace

I’m a huge fan of the show This is Us. Every Tuesday, I’m perched on my couch with my tissues ready for the emotional roller coaster.

One of the storylines centers around Randall, who is a bit of a workaholic, struggling with work/life balance while caring for his father with end-stage cancer. Ultimately, this leads to Randall having a severe anxiety attack that lands him in the hospital. About a week after Randall is released from the hospital, his father passes away.

During his absence from work for both his hospitalization, Randall’s job called him and texted him with questions. And the day before his father’s memorial service, work sends him a basket of pears, which he’s allergic to. On the day of his father’s memorial service, they text him again — acknowledging that they were bothering him but still asking for immediate answers to their needs.

Outrageous???? Yes … yet not all that uncommon.

During my 20 years in HR, I’ve experienced and heard so many stories like this. Some stories were even worse.

When a highly valued and dedicated employee has to take time away from work unexpectedly, managers are often devastated and confused. They cannot figure out how to function without the person. They cannot imagine the person would be unwilling to help. They cannot understand how someone who has always been so reliable could suddenly become completely unavailable.

It is this kind of thinking that makes FMLA regulations still very much necessary in our workplaces. If we want less government guidelines dictating our actions in this area, we have to do better in our workplaces.

We have to demand compassion.

The first thing we do to demand compassion in our workplaces is to model appropriate work/life balance. As managers, we have to work appropriate hours, take time off periodically for rest and give reasonable deadlines … We cannot give assignments on Friday, say the work is due Monday then act surprised when our employees end up with overtime after working the weekend. And if we do, we cannot be angry when they leave early or come in a little later or take off another day. If we are modeling work/life balance, we are making allowances for this and encouraging it when necessary.

The next thing we have to do to demand compassion in our workplaces is to cross-train duties and have back-ups for our positions. No one person should be the only one with the knowledge and authority to complete major tasks in the organization. And compassionate workplaces know that burden is too much for one person to bear … We cannot expect one person to develop all the strategies, organize all the projects, implement all the programs and communicate all the outcomes without assistance while feeling no pressure. And if we do, we cannot be surprised when all our efforts come to a halt because that person takes leave. If we are modeling work/life balance, we make sure responsibilities are evenly distributed and that a second-in-command has been appointed.

The final thing we have to do to demand compassion in our workplaces is never pressure a person who is dealing with a traumatic life event to return to work before they are ready. These tactics only ever have negative impact. Compassionate workplaces know this approach is not going to yield high levels of performance or long-term loyalty. It will only result in causing a dedicated employee to lose all respect for the organization and people they once worked so hard for. If we are modeling work/life balance, we trust the individual to be respectful and responsible and to tell us what they’ll need and what they are capable of.

When we demand compassion and model work/life balance, our employees feel free to take the time they need so they return to work as the best version of themselves. This is what we all truly want. Only demanding compassion can make that happen.

On This is Us, the hurt from the careless handling of his illness and bereavement was too much for Randall to reconcile. He quit in epic fashion.

This video shows his exit speech. If you’ve ever pressured anyone to work or return to work when they were dealing with a life trauma, I promise you that they’ve said this to you in their mind and heart.

Don’t ever let that happen again. Demand compassion.

Performance Reviews Made Simple

This has been a great week for me.

On Tuesday, I had the daunting privilege of speaking at a DisruptHR event. It is the first time I’ve stepped on a speaker’s stage in over a year. I was nervousAF — but I rocked it! Video to come.

On Wednesday, I had the awesome privilege of guest hosting SHRM’s #NextChat on Twitter. Each Wednesday at 3pm EST, this chat covers topics that are front of mind for HR professionals. The guest hosts are HR influencers sharing their advice and best practices along with other Twitter users.

I’ve been a participant in #NextChat for years! To be a guest host was a really cool experience.

This week’s topic was “A Positive Process for Performance Reviews”

On the heels of this, I thought it would be a great time to share some other posts I’ve written about performance:

If you are in a management position with people reporting to you, you will have to provide a performance review at some point. The longer you wait to start the habit, the more difficult the practice will be for you.

Coach your direct reports as close to daily as possible and keep records of all aspects of their performance — both the areas done well and the areas needing improvement. By doing this, it will be much easier to compile an accurate, comprehensive and meaningful review when the time comes.

And that “time” should come formally AT LEAST once per year of employment. Leaving people lingering for years with no specific idea of their standing simply isn’t cool.

Performance reviews are a necessary part of a productive and accountable work environment. Embrace it!

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