Last year, when I had more time, I occasionally wrote for Technorati; this article was published there first.
Company vs. Societal Culture
There are many companies and other organizations that pride themselves on their diversity and the effective programs that opened opportunities for women, but are they effective in changing the way people actually think?
Not so much.
MIT is an excellent case study, especially since it was an MIT study 12 years ago that triggered many changes; not just in academia, but in the corporate world, too.
However, changing organizational culture is easy in comparison to changing societal attitudes.
Let me use a bit of personal history to illustrate.
In 1977 I joined MRI as a recruiter. Fortunately for me the manager with whom I interviewed left and it was his second in command who actually made the decision to hire me (his predecessor thought I was too pushy).
I was given a choice of two areas, insurance and telecom, and I chose telecom.
Telecom meant engineering and included military, e.g., microwave, RF, radar, etc. I worked telecom for 12 years, migrating from the military/industrial stuff to commercial voice and data. Another woman worked a biomedical desk.
Although we were both in the top producers circle all 12 years I can still remember other managers at the beginning asking my boss how he managed us and what he did if we cried. And the (usually) unstated assumption by male recruiters that we closed our deals by sleeping with the clients. (I found this hysterically funny considering the number of clients, most of mine on the East Coast, and the time required for the “visits.”)
Today the accusation is more general, that women are promoted because they are women, not because they are good at what they do.
“No one is getting tenure for diversity reasons, because the women themselves feel so strongly that the standards have to be maintained.” –Marc A. Kastner, Dean of the School of Science, MIT
When I am working with clients to change/shift their company’s culture I remind them that the most they can hope for is solid functional change. It is unlikely, if not impossible, that their efforts will actually change the way people think.
And I always remind them how far away we still are from Bella Abzug’s definition of success, although I must admit we are much closer to that reality in politics.
“Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”
Another way to look at it is that if spending $100 results in a bottom line increase of $1000, did you really spend the $100, or did you gain $900? That $900 that wouldn’t be there if you hadn’t invested the initial $100.
Any increased spending on diversity development is an investment and will be more than offset by the increases in innovation, productivity and revenues.
The real question is how do you define diversity?
Old diversity focuses on diversity of race, gender, orientation, creed and national origin.
New diversity includes all of the above plus diversity of thought.
Think about it, with a little effort a manager can create a diverse group who all think the same way—George W. Bush’s initial Cabinet looked diverse, but their MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) was homogeneous.
It’s far more difficult to put together a group of totally diverse thinkers. Managers tend to hire in their comfort zone and more and more that refers to how people think, rather than how they look.
So what can you do to ensure that you’re building a truly diversified team?
Here are five key points to keep in mind before and after hiring.
Avoid assumptions. People aren’t better because they graduated from your (or your people’s) alma mater, come from your hometown/state or worked for a hot company.
Know your visual prejudices. Everybody has them (one of mine is dirty-looking, stringy hair), because you can’t hear past them if you’re not aware of them.
Listen. Not to what the words mean to you, but what the words mean to the person speaking.
Be open to the radical. Don’t shut down because an idea is off the wall at even the third look and never dismiss the whole if some part can be used.
Be open to alternative paths. If your people achieve what they should it doesn’t matter that they did it in a way that never would have crossed your mind.
Most importantly, if you’re totally comfortable, with nary a twinge to ripple your mental lake, your group is probably lacking in diversity.
For years I’ve wondered why the target of advertisers and companies was 18-35 year old males; a target that, based on my experience and observations, was incredibly fickle and rarely had the money to spend that other demographic groups had.
But what did I know?
Apparently more than I thought.
If you are a startup, especially a tech startup, you need to do two things.
It turns out women are our new lead adopters. When you look at internet usage, it turns out women in Western countries use the internet 17 percent more every month than their male counterparts. Women are more likely to be using the mobile phones they own, they spend more time talking on them, they spend more time using location-based services. But they also spend more time sending text messages. Women are the fastest growing and largest users on Skype, and that’s mostly younger women. Women are the fastest category and biggest users on every social networking site with the exception of LinkedIn. Women are the vast majority owners of all internet enabled devices–readers, healthcare devices, GPS–that whole bundle of technology is mostly owned by women. –Genevieve Bell, Intel researcher
Along with the stats, you would do well to keep in mind that women are social creatures who love to share—especially tips and opinions.
Then take a hard look at your staff.
How many women have been hired? In what roles? How many are in a position to provide input to your products or services? How often is that input applied, i.e., how much weight does “her” opinion actually carry?
Does it matter? Are her ideas really so different?
It definitely does matter if you plan to sell to her.
And the one thing you should have learned in the course of your life, whether you are 20 or 60, is that boys and girls are different.
They do not
think alike or even about the same things in the same way;
use language the same way (“men negotiate status; women talk for connectivity” –Deborah Tannen)
run on the same time table;
consider the same things important or
The list goes on and on.
Given that, how do you propose to develop products and services they will pay for if your whole team thinks like a guy because they are guys?
I WANT YOUR STORY Be the Thursday feature – Entrepreneurs: [your company name]
Share the story of your startup today.
Send it along with your contact information and I’ll be in touch.
Questions? Email or call me at 360.335.8054 Pacific time.
How much has really changed for entrepreneurial women in the last 50 years?
Not as much as you might think or as much as meritocracy hype might lead you to believe.
In the actual world of advertising in 1966, when the current season [of Mad Men] began, the most talked-about figure on Madison Avenue was the trim and determined Mary Wells, who hopscotched over the era’s endemic prejudices to develop Wells Rich Greene, the iconic agency she would run for more than two decades.
One reason stories like Mary Wells are so startling is that there are so few of them.
Yet even these successful women entrepreneurs are disappointing when you consider that most are in fashion, cosmetics/beauty products, advertising, retail, media, etc.
Although funding a tech company is almost as difficult for women as it always has been they are having more luck getting web startups funded—but it’s still an uphill battle.
Would you expect anything different when high profile experts in the entrepreneurial community are still making stupid comments more suited to the 1950s.
One advantage startups have over established companies is that there are no discrimination laws about starting businesses. For example, I would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon. [emphasis added] But you’re not allowed to ask prospective employees if they plan to have kids soon…Whereas when you’re starting a company, you can discriminate on any basis you want about who you start it with. –Paul Graham, prominent investor and co-founder of Y Combinator
Another potential backer invited her for a weekend yachting excursion by showing her a picture of himself on the boat — without clothes.
(And I doubt that he looked like a Chippendale.:)
The point of all this is that women aren’t going to slink back to the kitchen anytime soon.
They will keep overcoming obstacles to have babies.
Some of which will grow up to be IPOs, while others will be entrepreneurs.
(If you are hung up regarding women entrepreneurs next week’s post will show you why your attitude is sure to hang you out to dry.)
The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) is conducting a survey that looks at social media regulation within organizations, such as how companies are embracing new platforms as a productivity tool as well as restricting access – or even asking for Facebook passwords.
Participants completing this survey will receive a free copy of the preliminary results, which will be sent to you once all responses are collected and analyzed. Privacy is important to us; your responses will be combined with others, and your personal information will remain confidential.
SUBMIT YOUR STORY Be the Thursday feature – Entrepreneurs: [your company name]
Share the story of your startup today.
Send it along with your contact information and I’ll be in touch.
Questions? Email or call me at 360.335.8054 Pacific Time.
A few years ago I wrote about the value of learning to insult with class, instead of crass.
A few weeks ago I read a post that reminded me how much language reflects company culture.
But I found myself in the middle of a conversation about how a class of vendors would “rape” the company being discussed. There were 10 men in the room and me, and the word kept getting repeated, with intensity, from person to person as the discussion grew.
Penny Herscher, CEO of FirstRain, found herself “distressed and very uncomfortable.”
That reaction from a woman weaned on blue language and sexual harassment a la the semiconductor industry—not an environment conducive to shrinking violets or sensitivity—says volumes for the effect of language in the workplace.
Think about it.
Can you imagine Tony Hsieh, who created a culture that produced what is arguably the best customer service in the world and now teaches others how to replicate it, use violent language, whether raping a company or killing the competition, to get his point across?
Yet he succeeds admirably.
People with poor verbal communication skills often resort to four-letter words either from ignorance or laziness.
The following quotes are from an interview with Charlotte Beers, former chairwoman and C.E.O. of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, and meant specifically for women leaders.
As usual, I find that such insights and advice focused on a certain demographic is applicable to a much broader audience.
Don’t let someone tell you who you are. Keep your own scorecard, and it has to include the good, the bad and the ugly.
This is a humongous insight that qualifies as real wisdom.
Too often our perception of self is, in reality, a reflection of how our various worlds see and treat us; worse, that perception is often colored by negative experiences that happened to the person we were years ago and bear no relationship to who we are now.
Sometimes a company’s culture is a big influencer in how you see yourself, and you have to sift through that and see if it’s a fit. Part of it is knowing yourself so well that you know where you fit, and knowing yourself so well that you know why you work.
I would disagree and say that all of it, “it” being anything you do/try to do/want to do, is knowing yourself (the good, bad, ugly and inane).
Company culture as an influencer is more than sometimes, it is all the time. Culture is the atmosphere you breathe and the values by which you work. If you are not at least synergistic with the culture going in you will either leave or be co-opted into its vision of values.
Beers also talks about what she looks for when hiring.
I’m trying to understand how they used the power to hire and fire and promote and make those kinds of invisible choices that really affect other people’s lives. If they don’t have some generosity of spirit and some quality of teaching, I worry that they’re not going to bring along a strong culture.
I’m trying to find out if they have confidence about the things that matter, their own ability to think and to get to the true center of things.
The importance of these traits to a potential manager pales in comparison to their importance to the individual.
Understanding these things about yourself in conjunction with your scorecard provide a firm foundation on which to tweak the you-you-are, as well as to build the you-you-want-to-be.
Take a minute and read the entire interview—it’s well worth your time.
The articles on Groupon’s IPO have been inundating the media since it was announced. Keith Ecker provides a look at the repercussions from a changing culture beyond the analysts’ discussions of share price and value.
I’m sure many of you are following the heated debate sparked by a screening of the November 18 episode, “The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley,” from the CNN documentary series, “Black in America.” One result was a Twitter fight over comments by Michael Arrington, claiming in one breath that he doesn’t know of an African-American CEO and in the next that Silicon Valley is a pure meritocracy (which you would only believe if you are an under-30 white male with access to a great Rolodex). Read this commentary by Hank Williams, a successful, black entrepreneur.
Speaking of entrepreneurs, check out Josh Petersel’s, Harvard Business School Class of 2013, take on entrepreneurism.
Cindy Ronzoni, a communications and social media consultant, had heard a lot about the Zappos culture. See what she thinks about it and her experience when she took the Zappos tour at its headquarters in Las Vegas.
Finally, Gene Marks, offers up his thoughts on Why Most Women Will Never Become CEO. At first reading it comes over as pretty sexist, but read it again and the reality of what he says is plain, although I don’t completely agree with his final statement.
…more employees intend to stay with their employer, feel motivated to put forth extra effort, recommend their companies as a great place to work, and say they love their current organization.
What’s the difference; why such disparate results?
More research from Harvard shows that what excites and engages people has nothing to do with money and everything to do with managers (you knew that).
According to recent research, the single most important factor is simply a sense of making progress on meaningful work.
Next, two excellent survey-based articles about women and work.
First, research from Harvard Business Review, looks at the factors that impact both women and men when competing.
…how women and men perform at work may be strongly linked to the gender of the person they are competing against.
And from McKinsey comes advice based on feedback that focuses on changing deeply embedded attitudes.
…a survey we conducted earlier this year indicated that although a majority of women who make it to senior roles have a real desire to lead, few think they have meaningful support to do so, and even fewer think they’re in line to move up.
No theme today, just six features that will add to your education and are good for dinner table chat.
According to Anne Hardy, a vice president of technology strategy at SAP Labs, companies “are building on masculine norms.”Why should we care? What would it take to change and what would happen if we did?
Are you or your boss as good as you think you are? While “87 percent of managers rate their overall leadership skills as “excellent” or “good,” and 74 percent think they have a good understanding of their strengths and development areas”actual studies show a different story.
What do you think of the thesis that people prefer and companies prosper when they act like museum curators, e.g. Groupon, which provides “a very limited amount of choices at a time, along with a brief, engaging description of each offering,” as opposed to an abundance of choice? This is new research from Harvard’s Assistant Professor Ray Weaver.
What do you think of the idea of legalizing an illegal act as a way to root out corruption? That seems to be what is on the mind of Infosys co-founder and outgoing chairman Narayana Murthy. He contends, “If bribe giving, and not bribe taking, is made legal then the bribe giver shall indeed cooperate with the authorities to expose the bribe taker.”
What would you do if someone not only used his offer from your organization as a springboard for publicity for his own startup, but also showed himself as an alumnus of your organization before even starting? That seems to be what Mike Moradian is doing to the Harvard Business School.
Want to take a course in AI (artificial intelligence) from Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, two of the world’s best-known artificial intelligence experts for free? You can thanks to Stanford’s computer science department that wants “to extend technology knowledge and skills beyond this elite campus to the entire world…”
That’s it for today. Enjoy your reading and enjoy your weekend!