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They Still Don't Get It, Do They? Why Women are Still Underpaid and Undervalued at Work
In 1995, I published They Don’t Get It, Do They? Closing the Communication Gap Between Women and Men after writing “The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk” — a Harvard Business Review reprint bestseller. In both cases, the purpose was to explore the role everyday communication plays in advancing or slowing the progress of women at work.
Certainly women realize more than they did then that stretching communication styles and adapting to our surroundings are important to career success. But as keen observers of workplace issues point out, the last two decades have not produced the results expected. In fact, there has been a palpable stall in women’s progress on many fronts, especially in value of work and senior-level promotions.
Women are exiting high-tech jobs even as programs are promoting their entrance into those fields. Among fund managers, where the presence of women increases organizational success, women are also moving on.
By invitation from Big Think, below are excerpts from They Don’t Get It, Do They? with explanations regarding why significant problems moving to senior levels still exist for women at work and what can be done to change that.
At the heart of the problems women face is the fact that men and women working together do not speak the same language. ... Fundamental differences in the way women and men think as described by Carol Gilligan in her book A Different Voice lead to fundamental differences in the way they communicate job commitment, managerial expertise, leadership, and a host of other promotion-relevant competencies. ... We worry about saying that men and women differ. But they do, if not innately, then because of socialization; and the way they communicate these experiences is therefore different as well.
Unfortunately, as Gilligan also wrote, it is difficult to say “different” without saying “better” or “worse.” Men have largely developed the standard measurements of workplace value. When women’s styles do not conform, the natural conclusion is that there is something wrong with women and that they cannot effectively lead.
Most women prefer to believe that men welcome them to the workforce. In fact, when young, in their “cute-and-little phase,” men are often willing to mentor and guide them. So young women naturally wonder, “Why all the fuss?” After all, things appear to be going quite well. That’s where women lose a lot of valuable learning time. When they become candidates for promotions previously taken by men, they’re unprepared for the precipitous decline in collegial support. As UCLA Distinguished Professor of Psychology Shelley Taylor shared with me, “The whole process of learning that men aren’t all that comfortable with women at senior levels is very painful for women.”
One option for women was to become more like men. When that didn’t work, women became entrepreneurs or tried to beat men at their own game. They were given labels that were uncomfortable. Some ignored or rejected them and pushed on. Doing so well means altering how you respond to put-downs and constraining categories — changing your communication style so that people think twice about trying to put you in what they consider your place.
“Communication is a complex activity. ... When it comes to the big stakes game of senior management, women’s communication strategies must be both sophisticated and variable — less focused on what men want, more focused on what works both professionally and personally.”
Communication patterns between women and men have not adequately adjusted to the increasing presence of women in the workplace. Changing this condition means stepping out of the scripts we’re used to enacting, especially the dysfunctional ones. Being left out of meetings, given dead-end tasks, enduring far more interruptions, and having ideas ignored only to be adopted later as belonging to someone else are just a few of the problems women still find infuriating. The reason why these kinds of problems continue to exist is, in good part, fear of coming on too strong.
“The truth is that a wide range of communication strategies exists between demure and abrasive. Clinging to either end of the range is a recipe for failure. Many women worry that assertive behavior will upset men and lead to disfavor. What they have failed to consider is that they aren’t exactly in favor anyway. Letting others label your interactions, and exclude, interrupt, and devalue you is not better than upsetting a few men now and then.”
To change the overall picture for women in the workplace, it’s critical to change the day-to-day as well. That means taking a good look at how we communicate. The conversation below shows how easy it is to slip into a dysfunctional communication pattern (DCP):
Michael: You sure came on strong in that meeting.
Jessica: I was just trying to make a point.
Michael: Well, you certainly did that.
Jessica: Do you think I overdid it?
Michael: It’s not what I think that counts.
Jessica: Did Al say anything about it?
Michael: He didn’t have to. Did you see his eyes?
Jessica has abdicated control in this conversation. Each of us is at least 75% responsible for what goes on in interactions. If Jessica responds regularly this way, she is allowing other people to limit her communication and to silence her at meetings. Instead, she could change the course of the conversation.
Michael: You sure came on strong in that meeting.
Jessica: Someone had to. It’s an important project.
This reply is short and unexpected. It can be said calmly and/or directly. It conveys that Jessica is confident and that she has a persuasive, legitimate, work-related reason for her actions. She refused to participate in a script and implied label of “pushy” that lowers the value of her contributions. An added advantage: Michael is less likely to slip into that script again.
To the extent that women, in particular, recognize dysfunctional scripts and take steps to intercept them before they do damage, the way they’re perceived at work can become increasingly positive. Work is about getting jobs done. It’s not home. How we’re perceived is shaped by daily conversations. To the extent that women manage them, the likelihood of progress to senior levels is enhanced.
Fear of being labeled is still a significant obstacle for women. The truth is — you’re going to get labeled anyway, so you might as well have some input.
Photo: Cartoon by John Fullbrook for Little,Brown publisher
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.
- Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
- Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
- One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.
Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.
- Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
- The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
- The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
Duke researchers have developed the first gel-based synthetic cartilage with the strength of the real thing. A quarter-sized disc of the material can withstand the weight of a 100-pound kettlebell without tearing or losing its shape.
Photo: Feichen Yang.<p>That's the word from a team in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University. Their <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/adfm.202003451" target="_blank">new paper</a>, published in the journal,<em> Advanced Functional Materials</em>, details this exciting evolution of this frustrating joint.<br></p><p>Researchers have sought materials strong and versatile enough to repair a knee since at least the seventies. This new hydrogel, comprised of three polymers, might be it. When two of the polymers are stretched, a third keeps the entire structure intact. When pulled 100,000 times, the cartilage held up as well as materials used in bone implants. The team also rubbed the hydrogel against natural cartilage a million times and found it to be as wear-resistant as the real thing. </p><p>The hydrogel has the appearance of Jell-O and is comprised of 60 percent water. Co-author, Feichen Yang, <a href="https://today.duke.edu/2020/06/lab-first-cartilage-mimicking-gel-strong-enough-knees" target="_blank">says</a> this network of polymers is particularly durable: "Only this combination of all three components is both flexible and stiff and therefore strong." </p><p> As with any new material, a lot of testing must be conducted. They don't foresee this hydrogel being implanted into human bodies for at least three years. The next step is to test it out in sheep. </p><p>Still, this is an exciting step forward in the rehabilitation of one of our trickiest joints. Given the potential reward, the wait is worth it. </p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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