22 July 2020

Gender & Performance – Q&A Recording

Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst


  • Why the topic of gender and performance is so important, especially considering COVID-19, and our recent research in this area
  • The approaches companies are using to reduce bias, particularly with regard to how feedback differs between men and women
  • Issues with D&I analytics and how technology is evolving to provide more assistance with it
  • 3 key findings for participants / readers to take away and implement

This week’s call was all about Gender and Performance. We started out the call with an introduction to our Leveling the Field and The Double-Double Shift research. Through this research, we found that the experiences in the workplace around performance are very different for women. These differences represent clear, systemic, significant disadvantages for women, resulting in a consistently unequal experience. We also researched how COVID-19 has changed the landscape even further for women, when many employees are working from home. From this call, you'll become more aware of the problem and learn strategies to address it in your organization.

Q&A call transcript

Introduction (0:00)

All right. We’re now being recorded. I’m Dani Johnson, one of the cofounders of RedThread Research. We started these Q&A calls because we realized that so many people have questions and they don’t get the opportunity to ask them or don’t have a relationship with us personally. And so we want to give them an opportunity to ask these questions and deep dive the research just a little bit more. So I’ll be sort of emceeing. You’ll hear a little bit from me and then Stacia, do you want to introduce yourself?

Yeah. So I’m Stacia Garr, cofounder of RedThread Research. And for the purposes of today, I’m the primary author on this study on gender and performance management. We’ve actually got two studies. I'll talk about why we have those and then we’ll have a wide-ranging discussion, based on what you all want to know about them – and anything else that we want to talk about relevant to the topic of gender, performance management, and COVID right now.

Overview: Leveling the field & double-double shift research (1:00)

So Stacia, why don’t you start with an overview of that research. I know we put together an infographic on it, and maybe we can just pop that up and show it really quickly. So as I mentioned, just a moment ago, what we have done is actually 2 pieces of research. So the 1st one is what’s called Leveling the Field, which you all can see the infographic for. And this was a piece of research that began out of a study that Dani and I did last year with Emily Sanders, where we were looking at some of the critical practices of performance management. We got through that study. I actually said to Emily, “You know what? I wonder if there’s a gender component to this research. Like if there’s something interesting happening with gender.” And Emily said, “Yeah, you know, usually it shows there aren’t that big of differences. When we look at, you know, scores and blah, blah, blah.” But we’ve actually at the same time, just finished a study on women and networks and technology. And I said, you know what, let’s go – just see what we can find.

And so what we found is actually what you see here at the bottom, which is that in our data set, women are 17% less likely to say their manager can effectively have difficult conversations, 16% less likely to say they have formal performance conversations, 14% less likely to say their organization has a culture of trust, and 8% less likely to say their environment facilitates information-sharing. There were actually a few other things, but these were kind of the highlights of what we found. And so I kind of think of that as the beginning of going up, like, you know, Alice through the looking glass where we went and we said, huh, well, we heard, we know, you know, in conversations that women tend to get less feedback and some of these other things, but what’s happening here more broadly.

And so we then went out and we did this incredibly large lit review, and found all of these studies about what was not working for women with performance management. And so we then said, okay, well, let’s put that in the context of the model that we just developed, which is what we did here. And so that model is really around 3 concepts of culture, capability of managers, and clarity. So this idea that those are the three factors that really drive high performance. And so we then said, okay, within each of those out levers, what should we be thinking about when it comes to women and gender? This is all great and good. We did this over the course of the winter. We were just about ready to hit publish on this study and then COVID blew up. And we said, well, this is probably not the time to talk about this. So let’s take a step back and let’s think about it a bit more.

And then we developed really the follow-on study, which is one we call, The Double-Double Shift, which is really kind of taking what we learned there with regard to culture capability of managers and clarity, and saying – right now we work from home in the pandemic – what does this mean? What should we be thinking about? So that’s kind of the big frame for how we got to where we are and these two studies in particular.

Thanks, Stacia. And just so you all know, you can access both of these infographics on our website and they should be accessible to anybody (Leveling the Field and Double-Double Shift), whether you’re a member or not, even though memberships are free right now. So feel free to access them and study them, and pull them up right now and ask questions about them, all that good stuff. Okay. So we’re going to start with a question that was asked online, and then again, please feel free to share your questions in the chat. We’ll answer those we prioritize first.

Why is gender & performance management important? (4:44)

So Stacia, why is this topic of gender and performance management so important, especially right now with COVID?

You can see here, I’m going to leave this up on this Double-Double Shift infographic, because I think that this does a really good job of highlighting why right now with COVID. So we know, and everybody is now starting to write about this. It’s kind of funny when we first started doing this work, not many folks were talking about it. Now we’ve got Melinda Gates today in foreign affairs writing about, you know, the impact of the pandemic on women and differentially. But, we know you know, for a lot of the women who are working at our organization, they’re taking on a much greater percentage of the housework, the childcare work. And a lot of that childcare work is actually coming during business hours. And so that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re doing a worse job at their jobs. We know that it just means that they tend to be doing it in chunks of time. And so those chunks of time – so not necessarily being accessible during every single moment of the traditional workday. We know overall, everyone is working longer hours, if you look at some of these work-from-home reports. But the fact that they may not be available every single moment of the day could lead to some unconscious biases that we know exist, even when we’re all in the workplace in a normal time. So, there’s a tendency for some of the things that we’ve found in the core report to be amped up.

So one of the most interesting findings that was in the study was if someone is a mother, whether that has an impact on their work. And not just the fact that somebody knows that they're a mother actually ends up with a bias kind of creeping in, and they tend to get recommended for difficult positions or difficult learning opportunities less often that can lead to, you know, promotion. And also you can kind of see a statistical impact on their performance scores. So you think about that then in a work-from-home environment where everyone can see, you know, like me, I’ve got my kids beautiful tower behind me. I think it can turn into a real challenging situation.

How has COVID-19 exacerbated the situation? (6:59)

So how much do you think it’s exacerbated? That’s what I wanted – exacerbated with COVID versus what was happening normally anyway. It’s hard to say I would, because I think that, you know, and we’re already hearing this and I’d love to hear what other people think, but we’re already hearing a lot of organizations saying, okay, well, we’re not sure what we’re going to do with performance. Like if we’re an organization that had scores in the past, you know, are we going to take the equivalent of what many schools did, which is just say, "Hey, everyone gets a pass."? This is a difficult time, whatever. So, so it’s, it’s unclear because I think we haven’t gotten to that point where a lot of organizations are going to give scores. But I think though, and, or I should say promotion opportunities because many organizations, you know, don’t have scores, but they still have to make decisions on how to promote people and the biases can come in there. So, I think it’s a little bit early to tell. But I do in terms of the actual impact on advancement, but in terms of how people are being treated.

I think, you know, we both know that there’s kind of two approaches. There’s the, "Hey, you’re an adult. We expect you to get your work done and we know you’re going to do it on your own." And I think that probably in those environments, women are probably doing, you know, comparatively fine. But in the environment where it’s been a lockdown, tell me everything you’re doing every minute of the day kind of approach. I think it’s probably turning out to be extremely difficult. I think it’s really interesting that you mentioned learning opportunities. I think sometimes we don’t necessarily include those when we think about biases. I do learning for RedThread and we are starting to sort of dig into that idea more and more. There are lots of opportunities that women are sort of passed over because they’re mothers or have responsibilities outside of work or perceived responsibilities outside of work that would make it more difficult for them to participate.

Can I add to that Dani? One of the things we wrote about in the first report though, is sometimes I think that the women are not necessarily pursuing those opportunities either for a range of reasons. So one might be just, you know, they don’t have access to the networks to learn about them. So it’s not that they’re actively being passed over where they just don’t know that opportunity exists, and so they’re not putting their hand up. The second is, particularly, you know if they have other responsibilities, whether those be childcare or eldercare or whatever it is, they may say, "Hey, you know what. I’m in a situation where my manager understands me, they’re flexible. Like we’re kind of good. Like why would I go and, you know, upend this Apple cart." And so that’s not to say that there wouldn’t be another manager who would be those same things, but they’ve kind of gotten themselves into a decent situation. And so there isn’t a real reason to advance because that would kind of upset everything else in their world. So those were some of the things we saw in the literature for us in terms of being other reasons people may not be pursuing these opportunities.

What are companies doing to reduce bias? (10:02)

That makes sense. And probably a little bit more now, just because everybody is so slammed with everything that’s going on. You mentioned biases and I wanted to go to a question that somebody asks about what companies are doing. You mentioned that a lot of companies are considering maybe not giving performance reviews this year. But the question is what are companies doing in performance calibrations to reduce bias?

Yeah. So, it’s an interesting question because there’s actually a whole bunch of things you should be doing before you even get to any sort of calibration session. Right. So one of the things I’m trying to remember yeah, so we actually had it right here. So only about 60% of organizations are being very clear about what the promotion criteria is. And we see similar things in terms of being very clear about what employees goals are. So, you know, if you think about at the end of whatever your period is, if you haven’t been very clear on what people are expected to achieve at the end, it’s very easy for biases to get in the way – because, you know, you didn’t know what you expected anyway, and you know, it all kind of falls apart when there’s no structure, I think is the point. So, there’s that aspect.

The other, you know, some of the other aspects, can we get into this here? I think on feedback is, you know, we need to make sure that there’s a range of sources of feedback so that, you know, the biases that the way that somebody has presented in a calibration session isn’t just based on a single person, but it’s based on a well-rounded perception. Similarly, frequency of feedback, we all know about all the biases that can come in because of feedback. And so making sure that you’re doing it more frequently can at least overcome some of those. So making sure all that happens before you actually get into the calibration session is super important. And then when you’re actually in the session, you know, having a thorough conversation about, okay, well, what are we basing this on? What’s the actual evidence of these things? You know, what’s an alternative interpretation of what may or may not have happened. And then, you know, kind of zooming out because you can’t do this on an individual level, but zooming out what are our patterns? Are we consistently rating a certain type of person at high potential high performance, whereas you’re consistently not reading other types of people? There’s some technology from actually SuccessFactors that'll allow you to do that – where you can take your 9-box and you can see by gender or by you know underrepresented minority status, whatever it is by age – you can see where people tend to fall on the 9-box. And then you can also, it’ll also pop up for your historicals. So this person for 3 years has been rated high performance, but medium potential, yet they’ve never been advanced. Is that okay? Maybe? I mean, maybe there’s good reasons for that, but maybe there’s not, so there can also be kind of a technological intervention.

But I think the strong practices and approach throughout the year, and then in the meetings themselves is your first line of defense. And the technology is kind of a flag for what may be happening that you may not be seeing. I like that. I like the idea of technology and data. You and I have talked a lot about how data is helping us make more informed decisions across the board, but especially when it comes to biases in diversity and inclusion, etc. We also had a conversation earlier this week where we wanted to sort of dive into this idea of high performance and leadership tracks, and all of these things that we tend to assign to employees when they’re fairly young and it just sort of follows them, which also biases them. I’m also fairly short of that. The way that those things are assigned probably will get biased and not necessarily based on data. So we plan on digging into that a little bit more. I think it’s a really interesting question.

What additional challenges do women of color face? (13:42)

We’re in a really interesting place in the world and in our country specifically right now, because we’re dealing with COVID, but we’re also becoming more aware of this idea of Black Lives  Matter (#BLM). One of the questions that we got was what challenges do women of color, especially leaders and managers, face and what do they need or want in order to solve those problems? Yeah, it’s a great question.

I think for someone to say, you know, it’s just because of homophily, it’s a little bit easier for me to answer the questions on gender than it is necessarily to extrapolate to color. And I am a little bit hesitant to do so because this research did not actually focus on people of color. So all that said, what we generally see in research is that what's happening for women because it tends to kind of be I would say the most advantaged of the underrepresented groups, what is happening for them just tends to be worse, particularly for women of color. Women of color tend to just, if you look at the statistics, they just end up being so much farther down it’s really, really heartbreaking. So, you know, what would I recommend just kind of giving all those caveats first, you know, is what we’ve done here in general, which is with this research, we just say that, look, if we do everything that’s in here, it’s going to raise everybody’s vote, right? If this has just meant much of it is just sound performance management practice. And that will enable us to make sure that we have better conversations throughout. So, it starts there – make it better for everyone particularly around fairness and feedback, and focusing on the development opportunities. So everything that we have here on this, in this culture bucket. So that’s where I would start.

I think then it is you know, moving on to capability of managers we have here, we talk about barriers in the report. We actually talk about visible, semivisible, and invisible barriers. And some of the invisible barriers and some of the visible and invisible barriers are the ones that are, I think, most likely to affect people of color. So things like it’s unclear to the extent which my manager support actively supports diversity, my manager doesn’t have the language to stand up for me when something happens that gets at diversity – so those are some of the things that are kind of in those semivisible or invisible barriers. And so we think that giving managers the language and the practice around how do you, if something is said, you know, something like a microaggression where someone makes some offhand comment, you know, not really appropriate, certainly not, you know appropriate if we’re trying to be kind and you know, the best version of ourselves for everyone.

What’s the language that managers should use? What’s the language that employees should use? How should they know that the manager knows that they’re saying the right things. So I think this is an opportunity for some of the virtual reality training that we’re seeing are some of these things that actually puts you in the moment, because I think that the problem’s not something you can read on a piece of paper. I’d never let that happen. I’d say, blah, blah, blah. But when you're in a moment where someone has said it, and it’s someone where there’s relationships you know, you need to have the right words and at least putting yourself in some sort of alternate reality that could give you a chance to practice. That may be a step in the right direction. But I think that issue of these semivisible and invisible barriers is where there’s likely the biggest opportunity for people of color. Again, saying that was not the focus of this research. That’s just me. Yeah, I think you’re right. I think there are parallels that can be drawn there. It has to do with decency and being human and all those good things. I’m interested.

What practices promote a good D&I culture? (17:44)

There’s a question here about culture and training. So we know that diversity and inclusion training has not been super successful in the past. We also know that some organizations are much better at developing a good culture around diversity and inclusion than others. What are some of the things that you’ve seen that promote this good culture and address kind of how do I know how to talk to about this with my coworkers or my manager, etc.? Yeah. So I think in the organizations that I’ve seen build a good culture, it has started in the recruitment process. It starts before anybody is actually ever a member of your company. This is who we are, this is what we do. This is what we stand for. And this is integrated into every aspect of how we engage with a candidate, how we assess the candidate, how we treat people, and then it continues on through the whole employee experience.

So you know, when you come into onboarding, how do you talk about it? You know years ago, I did a study where we talked about General Mills and I think General Mills is in many ways, just a remarkable story because they’re in a, shall we say, not very diverse area of the country, and yet they have some of the highest diversity of any organization that you can see. And part of the reason for that is they’ve built a culture that when you come into, for instance, onboarding, they say diversity is every single person in this room’s responsibility. And inclusion is everyone at belonging and equity. It is what we do and who we are. And that gets that expectation then filtered through everything in their leadership training. They’re learning, you know, as you talked about performance management, succession, everything. And so I think that is how you get there. It’s, you know, it’s the system that reinforces and yes, performance management, what we’re talking about today as part of it. But it's just one piece in that bigger, bigger picture – but it has to be deeply entrenched from the beginning.

Do existing approaches to feedback inhibit / help? (19:52)

Thank you. Let’s go into our next question. Do existing approaches to feedback enable achieving gender parity in the workplace? Yeah, so yes, it can, It can certainly inhibit, it can also certainly help. You know, you can see here on this one, we talk about analyzing performance feedback language by differences by gender. So, for instance, there’s a couple of technologies out there right now that will let you basically ship in all of your performance reviews and then analyze them for tone, for the type of language that’s used, etc. That technology and associated research has tended to find that the feedback that women are given tends to be more relational in nature and based on, you know, specific behaviors. So things like you did a really good job fostering that relationship with the customer. You’re very kind and open and warm, right? By contrast, the same, you know with a man, that feedback tends to be more you had to have a strong relationship, but that resulted in us being able to increase the revenue or the sales from this customer by 10%, this year – very tied to business outcomes very much so. The commentary on what happened, but then the business result and also the feedback tends to be in general about the things that actually drive business results versus some of the softer stuff. So this has been replicated in numerous studies.

So, you know, I’ve seen it from technology providers who have kind of shown me their data, but then I’ve also seen it a bunch of academic studies. So if you think about how should we be giving feedback, no one making sure that it is certainly behavioral, but then tied specifically to a business outcome. The second part of this is that the feedback to women tends to be a softer, so less critical feedback around the things that you need to do better and more of a kind of, yeah, just, well, you know, you did this thing well, good job keep doing that. And the research shows that when feedback is vague and nonspecific like that one, that it’s harder for women to improve, but two, it impacts their performance scores. Interestingly, if feedback is similarly vague and nonspecific for men, it does not have an impact on their performance. And when we look at some of the research behind why this might be the case. And some of that gets into this idea that women are, there’s a fear that women will be more emotional about the response. And so people can, and this is men and women. This isn’t just like, yeah, this is women as well. We’ll tend to not give that more critical feedback. And so I think, you know, how do we address that?

Create a feedback culture – creating an expectation. This is what we do. This is how we do it. We have unclear practices and language that we use, and this is the expectation. So that whoever’s coming into that feedback conversation isn’t letting in some bias around how this person’s going to respond, impact the quality of the feedback that they give to them. Because, you know, if people don’t get good-quality feedback, how are they going to improve? Right. So it becomes this reinforcing cycle. So that is the biggest. Second thing that we’ve found around feedback. I remember when we were doing it, one of our roundtables for responsible organization, one of the best pieces of advice I heard for that whole thing was learn how to give drive-by feedback. So instead of sitting down and having a formal meeting and making it a big deal to get feedback, learn how to just do a drive by, "Hey, you’re doing this wrong. Hey, can you fix this." Much more acceptable and create that feedback culture, and makes everybody aware that the feedback is what we’re trying to do here. Rob said that he watched a presentation about a women and feedback. The key message of the presentation is that men get feedback and coaching on business acumen and other very specific business related topics. Like you were saying, women more often get feedback on style. I’ve gotten it myself. And that pretty much aligns with pretty much everything that we’ve found in the research as well. It is what it is, but we can fix it. That’s exactly right. Rob – it’s in the longer report, a number of sources of research that supports that.

Do women giving feedback to women focus on style? (24:15)

Stacia, I’m curious. Do women giving feedback to women do the same thing? So it doesn’t matter who the giver is. The bias when the receiver is a woman is to focus on style. Yes. Hmm. That’s fascinating. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s interesting. We mentioned at the beginning, we also wrote this network report. We also find, you know, instances where you might think that when in their network are women, a woman manager with a woman direct report tends to support more – that isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, sometimes it can be the opposite case. So, it’s interesting. The what’s your intuition might be for how these relationships would order is actually not how it tends to work.

What is the best way to address D&I analytics? (25:02)

I wanted to read this question and a statement from Jennifer Beck, who’s attending. I find a lot of organizations are pointing to a single D&I number or group initiatives to a single program. One result is that outreach is sort of singularly focused. Hence real diversity is masked, i.e., an organization may have more women in positions of power, which is great, but women of color and other minority groups are still underrepresented. What is the best way you have seen organizations address this or at least in their D&I analytics?

Yeah. So Jennifer great question. I think that this is an area of real development. So we’ve been, as I think you, you may know, we do a lot of work on the people analytics side as well. And so we’ve been just kind of hammering this topic of D&I and people analytics, and we’re starting to see some movement historically though. I think the reason that we’ve seen this is that the EEOC requirements do not allow for things like intersectionality, right? Like there’s such a joke, those metrics. And so, we think that kind of this more sophisticated understanding is something that they've lacked. So that’s the historical perspective. Add onto that, a lot like the number of organizations I’ve talked to historically. I started doing research in this space in 2013, who just wouldn’t touch D&I metrics. They said, look, if we do it, we can get in legal trouble. If we know about it, like we’re just gonna get into it. Then we can have that deniability that is starting to change. And part of the way that it’s changing is one, certainly employees are demanding it, but two, quite frankly, the technology providers are making it a lot simpler to do it.

And so it’s gone from this mammoth undertaking as an organization to something that well, you know, actually literally, what was it last month? Workday just launched a D&I analytics thing and we were on a call with them. I was on a call with them earlier this week. And I said, I think this may be one of the biggest things that drives change here, because if you have to make an additional investment to do this thing, which could be perceived as risky, I’m probably not going to do it. But if it’s right there in your Workday module and you can get these analytics and you can do exactly what you’re saying, because you can filter, you know, to the nth degree because now these analytics packages enable you to do that. You’re going to start to get these answers. So, you know, what do they do? I think, you know, some of it, and I’m not promoting Workday because there’s others, obviously who do that, I’m just mentioning it. Cause they’re  so widely used in the industry. But I think that getting access to the metrics saying that, you know, particularly right now with Black Lives Matter, if you think this is important, let’s go and look, we can do it. And then, you know, D&I partnering with people analytics, because right now that partnership is not nearly as strong as you might think, partnering with them to say, okay, what can we actually see? And not just representation numbers, cause representation numbers are, you know, such a lagging indicator. But, you know, are women of color having conversations? What map your diversity demographics over your engagement data? What did women of color say about their trust in the organization about, you know, the quality of the feedback they’re getting and really started to dig into that. But yeah, I think, you know, I have real concerns about singular color diversity, you know, indices. They certainly have some value, but they’ve masked a lot.

But I think the real real story is where we can now get with these sophisticated analytics, which is at these individualized levels. So I’m not sure if that fully answers the question, but that’s kind of what I’m seeing. I think part of the challenge is collecting the data, right? I mean, I work for some organizations that are international that are not allowed to collect some of that data. And so it’s sort of like, what’s the point of measuring inclusion if you’re not allowed to measure inclusion of or cut the data by different demographics like that? Well, I think that’s why gender has been such a hot topic because that is something everyone can collect where, you know, that the ethnicity question is one that is uniquely American. Thank you.

Which formula do you use to represent a D&I index? (29:31)

Yeah. Kind of going along with that, we have a submitted question, which index or formula do you use to represent a diversity and inclusion index? When that question came in, I kind of, as I’m laughing, I laughed, then I laughed now. I mean, there’s so many of them, you know, it’s hard to, I don’t really have a perspective on which one’s better, you know, or because I think that there’s strengths in all of them. And there’s also weaknesses, like we were just saying with Jennifer. But I think, you know, what’s important is to make sure that you are getting a robust set of questions that look at not just diversity, but also inclusion, belonging, and equity that you make sure that you’re asking that regularly and that you’re following up on it. Pretty much, not every, but many of the engagement experience providers today have an index. You can certainly add your own questions onto them. But I think it really just, you know, starts with that foundation, build on it and then go with what seems to work for your organization.

Yeah. I think that last point, they should go with what seems to work for your organization is a really important one. Everybody’s got different challenges. We’re all trying to settle diversity and inclusion, but it’s different for every single organization. And it isn’t really what you can cheat off your neighbor. In this case, you need to figure out kind of what works for you and your organization.

What was surprising about the research? (30:49)

I’ve got a question here asking what you thought was the most surprising thing about the women and performance research. So there were a number of surprising things that overall, Dani, as I told you, when we were doing the research, it was most, it was largely depressing. I’d have to step away from it for a few days and then come back to it. To the extent to which it was depressing by that has been most surprising. But I think kind of the one nugget that I took away that I hadn’t really fully considered, and this is in the main report in the Leveling the Field report was a study on rating scales. And I’m sure Rob will get a lot of this one.

Then there was a study that was done. It was in a university setting where they took professors and they looked at what their scores had been on a 10-point rating scale. And so it was this same group of professors who had delivered things, who had delivered this, you know, similar content. It was the same class, but they all kind of get in their own slightly different way. When he was on a 10-point rating scale, women were much less likely to get the top score than men, like hardly any women got it. The university decided to switch their rating scale for students for these professors down to a 6-point rating scale. And when they did that the likelihood of women and men getting the top rating now with 6 was equal. The teaching didn’t change. The content didn’t change, nothing changed. The only thing that changed was the rating scale. And so they started to then dive into why that might be the case.

And in many cultures, our own included, there is a perception that a 10 is perfection and perfection is something that is heretical in our culture, very difficult for women to achieve. And so when you shifted it from this 10-point scale to the 6-point scale, and it wasn’t this idea, you know, you think about it even like with what gymnastics or skating, you know, like the 10, the perfect it’s amazing, but there was no longer that perception. And so it was much easier to give people, give women that 6-point scale. And so that to me, and certainly there’s an argument, you know, Oh, well, you’ve reduced some of the gradation, blah, blah, blah. But I don’t think it really holds water.

I think that this point around the perception of what the top rating means is important. So you then translate that to our organizations. You might say, well, that seems maybe not so, so connected because most of us have a 5-point rating scale, blah, blah, blah. I would ask, what does a 5 mean in your organization? Does a 5 mean perfection? And if a 5 means perfection, you’ve probably got the same problem.

How do I help women be heard better? (33:50)

Interesting. Kind of along the lines of well, perfect. Well, the next question has to do with women being heard. So there’s a perception in organizations that women aren’t listened to or heard as much as men. And the question is how do I help women in my organization be heard better? I think, you know, there’s certainly a few things. One is an education and an awareness that this is happening – and we’re seeing some of that happen with some of the implicit bias training. I have lukewarm feelings about implicit bias training, but raising awareness is I think generally a good thing. And that probably comes there.

I think second is to build in practices and accepted phrasing about what happens when somebody gets overrun, you know, somebody might notice that it happens, but they don’t know what, how to handle it. So, you know, teaching, even in leadership, I’m most likely, quite frankly, in leadership programs or in manager programs, you know, you’ve observed something happen. Here’s what you say, like literally, "Oh, that looks like a point that Dani just made. Dani, could you maybe build on that even if somebody else has kind of jumped on and restated what was said?"

I think another thing is to be aware of and this isn’t just for women, but to be aware of different communication styles. Some people are just not that thrilled about jumping into the middle of the fray. And that’s exacerbated in our zoom world, right? Like we’re kind of in this weird world where the person talking now has this green box around their face and everybody gives attention. And so it can feel uncomfortable to jump in and have that dialogue. And if there’s a preset pattern of a certain type of person who is the one in the green box, that’s only gonna get exacerbated. So, building in kind of an expectation. We saw this, Dani, on our roundtable – we saw it was really interesting. We thought that once we got to a certain group side, there was a tendency for the women to kind of shrink back and for the men to dominate the conversation. In these roundtables, we have what I think it was around 12 to 15 people on a zoom call where that happened. And you know, the way that we kind of address that the next time is we actually just said, okay, we’re going to do lightning round robin, answer the question in two sentences. And then we move on to the next person. So again, that’s just a practice and accepted practice that this is what we’re going to do, and that makes sure everybody’s heard. So those are just a couple ideas that I’ve seen. I’m sure there are lots of others out there and if others can add that. That’d be great. Rob, I see you just asked about the name of that study. I’ll pull it out of the report and send it to you, or you can get it out of the report, but what we can not do that in follow up. We’ll stick it on the same page as the recording as well for everybody else.

I also wrote a study just about women being heard for Brigham Young University earlier this spring about this – was fascinating to me, partly because it’s my alma mater, but it was really interesting. They were trying to figure out why women weren’t speaking up. And they found that when they made the majority of the group women – so the groups were generally five people – when it was four women and one man, women tended to speak out much more. The other thing that they did is they changed the way that they made decisions. So, in most organizations, it’s majority rules or the person who has the most authority makes that decision in these groups. They forced them to make them by unanimity which I thought was really interesting. And as soon as, you know, unanimity changed, even if there was a mixed group, though, the ability and the likelihood that women would speak up changed – it was really interesting. I felt similarly, so you and I went to very different undergrads, but I went to a woman’s college. And when I went to grad school, I was just shocked. I looked around and I was like, why are you not talking? Why is that quiet? And obviously that trend has continued in the line of work I went into. But it was, and I think for me, it was because I was in undergrad, surrounded by women and we all had to talk. No one was going to talk if the women didn’t talk. So I think I’ve kind of built in a habit of leadership in the habit of just, yeah, just doing that. And so that’s been an interesting observation, quite frankly, since I graduated college.

What is the one finding to take away & implement? (38:34)

I know we are. Okay. So Rob says similar experience for him working near the gap, 73% women. Interesting. okay. A couple more questions. I know we’re nearing the end of this meeting and we have about four minutes left. So anybody who’s on the phone that wants to ask a question, please get it in. One of the questions that came in was I’ve read your study. I’m really interested in the one takeaway you would like us to what’s the word I’m looking for? Paraphrasing your roots, the one thing that they think that they should take away and implement into the organization. Yeah, here, I’m just gonna pull up the key findings so that we can look at the same thing.

I think the number one finding is that while performance. Okay, I’m going to give you three. I know you wanted one, but this is different experience for women. Like I don’t think that it’s, there’s just a ton of research out there. You know, if you start where I did, which was a little bit skeptical after doing this work, I am completely convinced that it is a different experience than something we need to address is. It’s especially a different experience here with COVID-19, that’s number one. Two, though, is if we do some of these changes that we recommend – increasing the quality of feedback, giving more training on how to give feedback, helping people understand how to articulate, you know, objections when incorrect language is being used, or people that are being treated unfairly. We do all those things. Everyone benefits, women benefit, men benefit, people of color benefit, everyone benefits. So while the initial effort might be to advance more women or people of color, everyone’s going to do better. I think the third thing would just be, and this is adjacent to this, but look into your learning opportunities. I think that’s a big source of some of this. Ultimate unfairness is, you know, performance is obviously connected to learning opportunities and for a whole host of reasons, women aren’t getting an equal shot at those. And so there’s a big opportunity there, and that is I think, a relatively no one’s going to say you shouldn’t do that. You know, we know that the more gender diverse, the more diverse period. Teams tend to perform better. If there’s financial data, there’s a financial imperative to do this. If we know that impacts financial data. So go there.

How much will tech help with this problem? (40:55)

Final question. How much will tech help us relieve this problem in the future? I think the value of tech here is twofold. One is that it can help us identify patterns that we didn’t know existed. So when people say don’t do that, and then you can have an objective way of looking at data and saying, yes, actually we, all of us do this. And you do your manager as an individual. Here’s your own track record. And that’s not somebody else with a bias perspective saying that that’s based on data. I think that is a significant benefit of tech. Number one. Number two is because so many things happen within critical decisions get made in technology systems. I think that the ability to highlight what’s happening at the moment of decision-making is really important. So it’s that heightened awareness, but then the awareness in the right moment, the combination of those two, I think has real power. But, ultimately, we’re people. This is an incredibly complex people problem, and tech's not going to save us – it’s going to help us, but it’s not going to save us. And that’s true in pretty much anything having to do with people. It can inform us to help us make better decisions, but it’s not a silver bullet – ever.

Alright, I think we’re gonna leave it there. Thank you for everybody that joined us live and thank you for those who submitted questions online. It made this a really fun conversation. We will send the link to this recording to everybody that was on live, as well as anybody who submitted a question. And then we’ll be posting this live on our website, hopefully in the next week, so that you can go right to the question you have an answer for. That’s it. Thank you so much.

Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.


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