Why do successful women need to be mindful of qualities associated with gender? How do the cultural influences on gender create differences in workplace interaction, performance, and likeability? What makes a good professional mentor?
Five Terry College professors — women with a wide array of academic and professional backgrounds that include strategic management, information systems and technology, law, government, and accounting — participated in a roundtable discussion on the state of career and gender. They shared experiences in and out of the classroom, they discussed the importance of research, and they talked about the kind of advice they impart to students who are about to embark on their careers.
Marisa Pagnattaro (Legal Studies): I told my class about this roundtable and I asked them, “What are your concerns?” A woman’s hand shot up immediately. “Work-life balance,” she said. “I’m afraid if I have a baby I’m not going to be perceived as committed in the workplace.” All of the women agreed. I asked the men and they hadn’t thought about it.
Elena Karahanna (Management Information Systems): Time magazine had a recent article that showed male CEOs are never asked about work-life balance. They are asked about having time to exercise, but never about time to spend with their children. Yet the first question asked of female CEOs is, “How do you balance family with the job?” The article also polled the genders about work-life conflict — 47 percent of the women and 67 percent of men said they experienced it. Of the men who answered, “Yes,” all but one had a wife who was a stay-at-home mom.
Jacqueline Hammersley (Accounting): But there was still a higher percent for the men?
Karahanna: Yes. The men said they don’t have time to spend with their kids, but women, who complain about it less, actually have to juggle more. There are statistics that say for dual-career couples, women spend twice the amount of time as men doing housework and three times the amount engaged in child-rearing activities.
Hammersley: Students think about this issue. A couple of years ago I had a student ask me for advice about job offers from two firms. One was a firm with fewer opportunities for growth compared to the higher-profile job. She thought she shouldn’t take the job with the higher-profile firm because she wanted to have children.
It turns out that she wasn’t planning to have a baby for another 10 years. I suggested she take the job with the bigger firm, whose policies, by the way, would be more flexible and accommodating — especially if she proved herself valuable. This was news to her, but it made me wonder what else they’re thinking about that influences decisions that limit their possibilities.
Karahanna: What qualities do you believe women need to possess in order to be successful in business as a company president or CEO?
Christine Shropshire (Management): Indra Nooyi, the chairman and CEO of Pepsico, is heralded for managing what is called the “double-bind,” the balance between being perceived as feminine enough and also having managerial qualities not perceived as “feminine” such as being a tough negotiator and a strategic thinker. Women are often punished for displaying these qualities whereas men are rewarded. Nooyi hosts dinner parties for her employees and their spouses, which gets her points on the female side and offsets her reputation as a very tough negotiator, which earns her C-Suite credibility. Women have a much higher hurdle to overcome because in addition to being a successful leader, there’s an expectation that they exhibit some of these feminine characteristics.
Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander (Legal Studies): Isn’t it awful that this has to be the case? You give a party because it’s fun and a nice thing to do, but why does it have to have a characteristic of gender on it?
Pagnattaro: The same things can hold you back if you’re not careful about it. You have to be very confident. You also have to have a thick hide and a lot of drive. A lot of women wait for someone to tap them on the shoulder and say, “It’s time to move forward,” and if you wait, you’ll be left behind.
Bennett-Alexander: And if you don’t wait, you’re perceived as this … person who keeps trying to roll over everybody to get where you want to go. There are cases all the time in workplaces where this attitude still exists. I was reading a piece in Fortune recently about the difference in employee evaluations and in the language that is used in them.
Karahanna: I saw that …
Bennett-Alexander: Part of the research included in the Fortune piece was based on the gender of who was doing the evaluating; thinking that if it was a female, she wouldn’t be engaging in the same behavior that has the same negative impact as males. But they found little difference based on gender. The results make perfect sense if the folks signing your checks are males telling you that you have to cater to what they want. But the language used to characterize the female employees in the evaluations was so different than the language in male employee evaluations — and all of the evaluations were good overall. Still, there was always far more negative language in the evaluations of female employees (79 percent) compared to male employees (27 percent).
Jacqueline Hammersley: And assertive women are characterized as “abrasive.”
Bennett-Alexander: Exactly. That word was used a lot in those evaluations. If you get the women in there and they are doing what they are supposed to do, they get punished. Eventually, it shows up in their career progression, because when you look at the language in their evaluations it doesn’t make you think, "I want her to take this next step".
Karahanna: There were studies done that looked at workplace performance and likeability. For males, performance and likeability were positively correlated. For women, they were negatively correlated. If you do well as a woman, you’re less likeable and if you do well as a man you’re more likeable.
Bennett-Alexander: Bringing in diversity of gender, race, sexual orientation, and national origin is nice. But the big piece is making sure that the environment where they work will help them thrive and be all that they thought they could be.
Hammersley: It also helps to have role models and mentors, people ahead of you who have been successful and interested in going out of their way to show you the ins and outs and the pitfalls that you may encounter that might not be obvious to you. It can make a difference in the trajectory of a career.
Shropshire: Do you all have female mentors?
Karahanna: I have mentors who I like, but they are not female.
Hammersley: I have close friends who are women in this field and I have senior female colleagues who are very interested in being good mentors. But probably the best mentor for me early in my career was a male colleague in my department. He has always made sure that I knew the ins and outs — and that was really valuable.
Pagnattaro: Learning to navigate the landscape is critical.
Karahanna: Did you know that 57 percent of men negotiate their initial salary, but only 7 percent of women do?
Bennett-Alexander: And if they do negotiate, they tend to settle sooner than men do.
Pagnattaro: Part of it is also the cues given to men. Women get cut off more. Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In talks about the concept of one more question, and how men will keep their hand in the air to ask a final question.
Bennett-Alexander: Acculturation has an impact. It is so different for males and females growing up, and a lot of it manifests later in our work life. If you’ve participated in sports, especially team sports, and you’ve had the continuous opportunity to lose and try again, it helps create a very different mindset towards handling rejection, developing thick skin, and persevering. A guy has an advantage going in with that thick skin because he’s had to do it so often — and in ways that women didn’t. It’s not that women don’t want to do it; the opportunities aren’t always presented in the same way. When you take women who played sports or competed in some way, you end up with a very different dynamic than those who didn’t.
Shropshire: I hadn’t thought about the team sports element. I often see this manifest in a different way. I assign case studies in my strategic management class. If we were to quantify the amount of information each gender needs before they are willing to make a decision, I’d estimate men need around 60 percent while women need way more — they often want to collect perfect information before deciding, and there is no perfect information. There’s always ambiguity and uncertainty, and this tendency can hold someone back from speaking up at the table.
Karahanna: What are some strategies for women to have greater success being seen and heard?
Pagnattaro: This is a problem. I had a female student with an internship at an accounting firm who was supposed to do a presentation with four guys — and they consistently cut her out of the conversation. They had her doing secretarial-related work. What she found most distressing was the sexism among people her own age and how little she thought the world had changed.
Bennett-Alexander: Yes, because they believe that all the people who keep thinking that way are going to die off and it’s going to be a perfect world. [Laughter]
Pagnattaro: I actually thought that years ago, but it hasn’t happened.
Karahanna: One of my former students had a similar experience working in a technology department. There would be a group meeting and they would come up with solutions to a problem. When she would say something, she’d be ignored. Then the male colleague would say the same thing two minutes later and …
Hammersley: Great …
Shropshire: Great …
Bennett-Alexander: Great …
Karahanna: Great idea!!! [Laughter]
Pagnattaro: And that’s when I say, “I said it 10 minutes ago.”
Hammersley: Do you say that?
Pagnattaro: I have.
Karahanna: I do the same.
Hammersley: I know women who have said in the past that in these situations they could have stood on the table and shouted their answer and they wouldn’t have been heard.
Karahanna: Then the question is … what do you do at that point?
Hammersley: If I were in the room observing the woman being cut off, I would start by coaching her after the fact about how to avoid that in the future. You do have to stand up for yourself — and it doesn’t always come naturally. If that isn’t enough, I’d try to help her out the next time. But this requires having someone in the room who notices. It doesn’t have to be a woman, just someone with some authority who is willing to address the situation.
Shropshire: There is some research on critical mass in boardrooms. You need — not proportionately, just the number — three women to be able to tap into some of the benefits of gender diversity when brainstorming and discussing strategic decisions. It’s the same number whether you have a board of 8 or a board of 20.
Pagnattaro: What advice can we give to women who are about to graduate from business school?
Shropshire: Find a female mentor or someone in a role you aspire to one day, and try to develop a relationship with that person in order to learn about those additional, unexpected career roadblocks.
Pagnattaro: Find someone comfortable with where he or she is. Some people ahead of you can be insecure and dangerous. I have seen instances where a manager — a man or a woman — tells his or her associates, “I have pulled up the ladder behind me.”
Hammersley: I’ve been lucky that the senior mentors around me are not from the “pull the ladder up” school of thought. A good mentor, regardless of gender or background, is interested in your success.
Karahanna: Someone you feel comfortable in confiding, telling them what’s going on with you and your life, someone capable of advising you.
Pagnattaro: Especially if you’re dealing with a tricky situation and you’re not sure how to handle it. And be aware that what is appropriate to expect is different for each potential mentor. There are different levels of mentoring.
Bennett-Alexander: I hate this question [Laughter]. I always do, because my heart just hurts for what I know they’ll see. UGA can be a very nurturing environment. Students tell me how classrooms can be very politically correct — and then they go out and get hit with the stuff that we talked about. My first piece of advice is really work your butt off and know that you’re going to have to do so, because you’re just not perceived the same way. Hang in there and have really tough skin, because you’re going to be knocked down at least a few times if you’re doing anything right. I try to make students aware in class that this behavior still exists — and when it happens, don’t take it personally, don’t absorb it, and don’t let it dissuade you from participating at the same level you were before it happened. You are not the only one this is happening to — the picture is a whole lot bigger than you are. That alone — knowing it’s coming — can blunt the effect, rather than being absolutely blindsided by it, especially when you had no idea whatsoever it was coming and thought all of that stuff was over.
Karahanna: Are there certain industries that you believe are more challenging for women than men and why?
Hammersley: I only know about one industry. [Laughter] And it works very hard to make sure there are good opportunities for women.
Karahanna: I think the S.T.E.M. fields — science, technology, engineering, and math — have a relative lack of female representation. Women only comprise 24 percent of these fields. Management Information Systems is a S.T.E.M. field and there are relatively fewer women — about 30 percent of the workforce. Although 41 percent of women earn their Ph.D.’s in S.T.E.M. fields, only 28 percent of women are tenure track faculty. There’s something happening in the S.T.E.M. fields that discourages women from pursuing them.
Shropshire: In sub disciplines of management, we have a lot more women in the micro side (organizational behavior) than the macro (strategic) side. I feel like I have very few peers from the macro side. There are not a lot of women in strategy.
Bennett-Alexander: I think there are a lot of industries that are more challenging for women, and you’ve named several of them. People know that they are supposed to allow women into these industries; the problem happens after the initial hire. Women want to be productive and move forward like everyone else, but the basics are still a real problem. Police and fire are still a problem. The kinds of cases that come out of those areas and industries are ridiculous. Sexual harassment with failure to promote, pay differences, and differences in assignments indicate that we’re still fighting the 1960s mentality of “you don’t really belong here.” I’ve had students in other industries with similar stories.
Shropshire: Do you do gender research?
Karahanna: We studied gender differences with the use of technology. We found gender differences in the early stages of technology, but now that it is used ubiquitously there are fewer gender differences. There are still some in the use of applications. Women use applications a little differently. If you look at online gaming for example, the use of these applications is predominantly male, but there are more women using applications in social media. The use varies by gender.
Shropshire: Some of my research looks at gender representation across boards of directors and top management teams. There are industries that have more opportunity for women. We know that women make most of the purchasing decisions at home, and in the consumer goods industries there is more female leadership. This is why the General Motors CEO was such a high-profile announcement. It is so unusual for there to be a female in a manufacturing-heavy, traditionally male-dominated industry.
Karahanna: There’s a big push in computer science to recruit a lot more women to the field. There’s also a big push in S.T.E.M. fields. There is a movement called Code.org and a lot of the big names in technology — Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, the creators of Dropbox, and several others — are all joining forces to create all of these cool videos and instructional material to encourage not just women, but kids to go into these fields. The promotional material shows women and minorities engaged in the field with the accompanying rhetoric, “You know how to read and write, but in the future you really need to know how to code.” Making the statement that coding is just as fundamental of a skill as reading and writing is a major push to promote interest in this area. They also have an initiative that targets women and encourages them to learn coding and pursue computer sciences. Traditionally, it has been a male-dominated field filled with stereotypes about the kind of person who does it: The geek with the lack of social skills, which is not the case.
Shropshire: I have a study with a Ph.D. student that looks at how activist shareholders target certain firms that have female leadership based on the stereotype that they’re more receptive to stakeholder demand and they’re more compassionate. The idea is that this stereotype could make them more open to this targeting and it is costly for their organization. It’s also creating this extra hurdle for female-led firms. We find that the way the media talks about the female led firms strengthens those effects and creates extra hurdles for female leaders to overcome.
Bennett-Alexander: A lot of it is so preventable. In my employment law class, one thing that I have to have students do is an exercise that lets them see what’s in their head. I’m not trying to change what’s in their heads, but I want them to know it’s there because when you make these decisions it’s going to be there and be a part of that decision. Yesterday, someone brought an article into class about transgenderism. I had a student in class who used air quotes with his fingers when referring to Cher’s daughter as “she.” It was so instructive just to stop the discussion at that moment and use this as a teaching point. I told the student to imagine the impact of what he just did if he was a leader in his field. I specifically placed him in a leadership role, because most students have goals to be a manager, leader, or owner as their careers develop.
What was interesting is that the student hadn’t even thought about what he was doing. I asked the students what does it mean when you have “air quotes” when referring to a person. They talked about the minimizing factor it creates and what message would it give to others if they saw you in a meeting as a manager doing something like that? I asked them to consider impact on those employees if you had a diversity policy that said we were inclusive, including transgender and they saw that their manager was treating it as if it was some marginalized group. Just that bringing attention to something this simple blew away the student. He said, “I just didn’t think it did all that.” Now think about that action multiplied by every single behavior like it that’s in a workplace — even by those who make decisions about other people. You begin to understand how important it is to do training so we don’t even have to question something like this, because so much of it is taken care of beforehand.
Shropshire: It’s embedded from childhood.
Bennett-Alexander: Oh, absolutely. When you’re in that pink or blue blanket!
Shropshire: There was this study I read about changing protagonists in children’s literature because so many of them are male. If you change the names of existing characters to female names, it has this disproportionate impact on how girls receive those messages and behave in more empowered ways.
Karahanna: When my daughter was very young and I was reading her Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and all of those stories ended with the woman meeting her prince …
Hammersley: And he swept her away and they got …
Karahanna: No, no. Not my version. They started dating and she told them, “Let’s keep on dating while I enroll in my graduate studies program … (laughter), get my Ph.D., and if we’re still together, we’ll get married.” These stories have messages that are nonsense: I’ll get rescued, we’ll be married, and I’ll live happily ever after. I wouldn’t have any of it. So in all her stories, the prince or princess earns their Ph.D. and then they decide whether they get married or not. Later on, my daughter goes to school and one day she comes home and says, “Mommy! Cinderella! The teacher said how it ends, but I told her ‘No, she gets her Ph.D.’”
Hammersley: I love it! That’s beautiful!
Karahanna: But those are the stereotypes that are very impressionable on little girls 1, 2, and 3 years old, and they grow up with them. I think there are personal factors and stereotypes that prevent women from entering certain fields. There are also institutional arrangements that can help them thrive in the workplace and advance and we talked about some of both. But these are two different issues. The first is encouragement and pursuance, particularly in S.T.E.M. fields, to pursue. Then, once they’re in the workplace, we need to make sure they are successful. I think the same goes for males. You see dual-career couples and whether it’s the male or female, I think we all struggle with work-family and work-life balance. I think it’s the nature of having a dual-career couple. I see it with my male colleagues who have children and their wife is working.
Bennett-Alexander: And it is perceived quite differently. One of the reasons for the Family Medical Leave Act was to include guys and the biggest surprise was that no guys would take the leave. The perception was that you would not be considered appropriate for doing it.
Karahanna: The National Science Foundation started a new initiative of having family-friendly practices if you have an NSF Grant. If you give birth to a child, they will extend your grant for a year without any penalty so that you can have that time. They have a number of these policies in place. The National Institutes of Health has a re-entry to workforce initiative. They will give money to existing grants to hire a person who has left the biotechnology workforce for a number of years to have a child and now they want to re-enter, but their skills are not as sharp as they should be. NIH provides a grant for companies to hire these people and build their skills so these people can re-enter the workforce.
Shropshire: When you actually have incentives in place to encourage hiring decisions, and it’s institutionally driven, these kinds of things will actually drive change. A lot of universities add a year to your tenure track if you decide to have a child. It’s automatic; you don’t need to go through an approval process and when you pursue tenure this one year is up to you.
Bennett-Alexander: This shouldn’t be seen as a favor. We’re working with human beings, not machines. Women will have children, thank goodness, and it shouldn’t be thought of as a negative. What Elena and Christy mentioned shows you what is possible and it makes absolute perfect sense. Why is that a big deal? You know why they’re going to be out for a while and they’re going to need the skills. Part of what drives me crazy is the perception that it’s a favor or accommodation when it’s just a fact that we make up almost half of the working population and it’s part of the territory. Get over it.
Karahanna: What challenges do women face in the work place (see above) and how can they be addressed effectively? Besides what we just talked about, I also think that you have to be very organized and you have to use your time wisely. I do time slicing. Even if I have 15 minutes I make those 15 minutes count. If I’m in line waiting to pick up my daughter from school, I’ll have a paper I’m reading or something I’m grading. I remember being at ballet reading and grading papers.
Pagnattaro: Swim practice …
Hammersley: I don’t have a child, and I do that too …
Karahanna: You just sit there for an hour and a half and you have your computer. I remember I was that mom with the laptop in the stands. You make every minute count to get organized like that. Learning these techniques helps, because work-life balance is an issue if you have children and a career. Learning how to juggle the two is important and learning how to also set boundaries with all the devices that we have that invade into our personal lives 24/7. Setting those boundaries so your children don’t feel that you’re working at their birthday party makes a big difference.
Shropshire: From an evolutionary psychology perspective, women are much better multitaskers. So this should come more naturally to us — spending five minutes to review a paper while waiting for the next appointment or event.
Pagnattaro: What about book recommendations?
Karahanna: I think Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg is a very good one to read. I got it for my daughter as a graduation gift.
Hammersley: I gave it to my grad students.
Dawn Bennett Alexander: If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails is actually …
Hammersley: This is a book, not advice, right? [Laughter]
Bennett-Alexander: It’s a book by a woman who was the top real estate person in New York, and it was inspired by a lot of what her mother used to say to her. Before she was the top real estate person in New York, she had a boyfriend who she helped become the top real estate person in the city. At some point, he decided to dump her after she spent an incredible amount of energy getting him to where he was. He told her that she was never going to be anything or amount to anything, and her idea of revenge was to be really successful and out-perform him.
What she used was the kitchen wisdom that her mother had. That particular piece of wisdom from the title came during a time she was working in a restaurant where the customers would choose their own seating. Customers would migrate past her bay area to the next area where the server had really large breasts. She complained to her mother about it. So her mother said, “If you don’t have big breasts, put ribbons on your pigtails.” She did it with a positive attitude and people came to her instead. From that experience, she learned an enormous amount of wisdom: How to grow your business, how to draw people in, and how to create something from nothing. It was so good that I gave it to all three of my daughters. It’s a timeless thing that encapsulates a lot of the stuff we’re talking about.
Paganttaro: Another interesting book is by Peggy Orenstein, Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half-Changed World. It deals with some of these issues in a world where it’s tricky to know what you want when you’re younger. Do you want the C-Suite or do you want to be at home? It’s difficult to know, and it talks about the power of self-realization. It’s a really interesting look at the world.