Sample Emails

Covering

A situation in which a person either hides or downplays some aspect about himself/herself because he/she does not want to feel (or make others feel) uncomfortable [Deloitte]

Struggling

At my consulting firm, a male Senior Manager told us a story about how he would tell coworkers he had "important weekly client meetings," but he was actually spending time with his kids. He was trying to "cover" because he believed other men would not understand why he would need to spend time with his kids during the week – he thought other men would judge him and think this responsibility fell on his wife.

Facts and data

Take Action

Some forms of covering are a part of doing business while others are more harmful. HBR writes: “Enabling employees to feel comfortable being themselves could unlock dramatic performance gains because they can focus their attention on work, rather than hiding parts of themselves.” Try (1) sharing your story and being a bit more vulnerable – in the right context; (2) know that many people do feel it necessary to hide parts of themselves, especially related to their sexual orientation, disability, gender, race, and more.

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Bystander Effect

A social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim as more people are present. Several factors contribute to the bystander effect, including ambiguity, cohesiveness and diffusion of responsibility. [Wikipedia]

Winning

As a Black female engineer I was often the only female and usually the only black person. In my first project a middle-aged white guy at one of our suppliers screamed at me in a meeting for making a suggestion (not raise his voice... scream), telling me I had no idea what I was talking about. He didn't speak to anyone else on my engineering team that way even though we were all in agreement. I was so shocked I froze.

A male colleague stepped in, there on the spot, and told him it was an inappropriate way to address anyone on our team. He then reinforced his agreement with my assessment. The strongest form of allyship was that he was able to address it immediately as opposed to just feeling uncomfortable and not speaking up and waiting to handle the damage on both sides later. I appreciated his respect and support, especially since I had no idea how to defend myself in that moment.

Facts and data

  • Researchers have posited three main reasons why the bystander effect occurs: the diffusion of responsibility; social referencing, the tendency to see how others behave and act accordingly; and simple shyness. [nymag]
  • One study showed that even 5-year-olds succumb to the bystander effect. When asked to help an adult clean up a spill, almost all children did when alone, but only 50% did as the number of 5-year-old bystanders increased. [nymag]

Take Action

  • Trainings and knowledge of the necessity of a proactive stance has been shown to reduce bystander effect. Even discussing with colleagues how you might approach different scenarios can make a big impact
  • Become more aware of this phenomenon, and encourage your office to get trained

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Sponsor

A person senior to you who advocates for your career progression (vs a mentor who simply advises) [Wikipedia]

Winning

My boss regularly encouraged and supported me to take on new challenges and provided me opportunities to do so. For example, he asked me to present our work at city, state and nation-wide events in which he could have easily just presented the work himself. It was more work for him to guide me through it and he took a bit of a risk putting me out there, but he valued me and my professional development.

Struggling

"What, do you think I'm too old for you?" said a 50-year old to me at a conference dance – the next day my boss introduced me to him as the CEO of our department's 5th largest supplier: he said hi and immediately walked away. I felt pressure to not go to meetings with this CEO to avoid making him feel awkward AND, to top it off, I got reprimanded by my boss for 'skipping meetings' and had to explain why I wasn't going.

Facts and data

  • The percentage of men with sponsors (19%) is almost more than 50% higher than the percentage of women (13%) [NY Times]

Take Action

  • Men can consciously or unconsciously avoid sponsoring women in the workplace. Spending one-on-one time with women can feel uncomfortable purely because of the optics. Since sponsorship is crucial for professional development however, make a concerted effort to overcome these obstacles and sponsor women.
  • Some companies have created formal sponsorship programs that help connect junior employees to more senior employees. The intentionality behind the programs can help overcome the barrier to entry for people to connect across differences

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Confidence Gap

The statistically-based gap between the self-assurance of men and women in professional settings that can often prove detrimental to the career advancement of women.

Winning

My team was preparing for our final presentation – three female, three male, and we had to select two of us to present. All three men self-nominated, and all three women agreed that any would do an excellent job. As they began discussing, however, one man interjected that he thought I should present instead of him, not only so that we would represent our team’s gender balance, but also because he thought I was a stronger presenter than him. I was flattered and reminded that I could have asserted myself at the start, but I, (like many women) rarely "self-nominate" myself for any position.

Struggling

It took me about a month to feel comfortable really speaking up in class, and when I talked to other women in our class, we noticed that, across cohorts, women are less likely to be the first to speak up and generally take longer to warm up than the men in the class. I can't speak for everyone else, but for me, I know this was rooted in a lack of confidence in my preparation for business school and anxiety that others wouldn't value my contributions.

Facts and data

  • Based upon data from HP, women applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the new position, while men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. [The Atlantic

Take Action

  • Encourage women in your life to pursue their goals and nominate them for leadership positions if they’re interested.

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Office Housework

Administrative tasks that help but don’t pay off professionally: taking notes, cleaning up after meetings, planning social events, etc.

Winning

The best advocates I've had give me a chance at thought and group leadership, while the most frustrating have relied on me for quasi-administrative tasks. Many women will default into (or be defaulted into) taking responsibility for organizing logistics, tracking attendance, NOTE TAKING - by freeing me up from these tasks (and spreading the work around across a team of both genders), I've been able to participate in the content more often. So in short, ask yourself what type of assignments and roles you are selecting women for.

Struggling

I have to actively stop myself from volunteering for extra roles (i.e. party planning, note taking, cleaning up after a team lunch) that I don’t enjoy and that can be low status. As a woman, I feel that there is a strong expectation for me to be perceived as helpful.

Facts and data

  • Participants of a study were asked to evaluate the performance of a male or female employee who did or did not stay late to help colleagues prepare for an important meeting. For staying late and helping, a man was rated 14 percent more favorably than a woman. When both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. A woman had to help just to get the same rating as a man who didn’t help. [NY Times]

Take Action

  • Look at the predictable types of “office housework” that come up and create a calendar to share these duties fairly. If you notice a woman on your team cleaning up a room after a meeting, jump in to help. Lastly, start a larger conversation on the topic to generate more awareness. 

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Pay Gap

The gap between the average salaries earned by men and women. The pay gap can be used to describe the overall pay gap between all men and all women, or the pay gap between a woman and man with similar backgrounds working identical jobs.

Winning

My (startup) boss gave me a special agreement in my job offer that if his next hire were to get more equity in the company than me, that I would get a match of half the difference between the number of our shares. I requested this arrangement to hedge against being less compensated than who will most likely be a male coworker. My boss understood and supported the spirit of the request, figured out a way to make it work, and backed his allyship up with actual dollars.

Struggling

About a year into working at a startup, I realized that my male coworker (who does not have a masters like I do) who has less experience than me was actually getting paid more than I was. I was angry, but there's so much going on with the company that I didn't bring it up – it feels like I have to choose my battles and unfair as this is, I think it would reflect negatively on me for bringing it up.

Facts and data

  • In 2016, the US Census Bureau reported that the female-to-male earnings ratio (based on the median earnings of men and women in 2015) is 0.8 (or 80 cents to the dollar). Even when women perform the same jobs as men, and after controlling for observable variables, women earn 93-95 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts. [Stanford Social Innovation Review]

Take Action

  • Depending on the context, it can be helpful to share what you make with those around you so they know if they’re being underpaid relative to you.
    Encourage your company to conduct its own internal review for potential salary gaps and base job salaries for new and experienced hires on internal benchmarks, not on their past job salaries. Salesforce went so far as spending $3 million when it found it had such a pay gap – actually they did it twice as they kept acquiring new companies with wage gaps.

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