No women? Leaky Pipeline? Here’s how to fix it.

Today’s guest blogger is Jodi Detjen, Managing Partner at Orange Grove Consulting, Professor of the Practice in Management at Suffolk University in Boston, MA and co-author of The Orange Line:

Microsoft announced on November 23 that the percentage of women decreased by almost 2.5% since last year.  The reason? Changes in their workplace meant that women – who predominated on the production line – were laid off.  The real reason?  Too many women at the bottom and too few at the top:  The leaky pipeline.

Too often excuses about the leaky pipeline are rationalized as women’s choices or insufficient talent availability.  In fact, there are two key reasons why the pipeline continues to drip.

Reason #1 is entrenched organizational bias that limits decision makers’ ability to see alternatives.  Decision makers fall into the trap of promoting people that look and act just like me rather than identifying candidates outside the traditional path.  Managers make decisions for women rather than asking them (e.g. she won’t want to do that international trip; she has young kids at home). Women hear comments like: she shouldn’t present; it’s an audience of all men and they will want to hear a man speak. It also limits the way work is defined such that work becomes focused on how many hours we can extract from employees rather than cultivating ideas and innovation.

Reason #2 is more hidden and less identified.  These are the hidden assumptions women make about themselves that limit their career ambitions.  These too show up as rationalizations: I can’t go on that international trip; who will take care of the kids? I can’t ask my husband. Or as limited opportunities:  I don’t want that promotion.  I’ve never done that before.  I’m not qualified.  I’ll try in a few years.  After a while, these hidden assumptions start to become fact and become unconscious.

The problem with unconscious bias is that we don’t see it.  The problem with raising consciousness is we don’t know what to do about it.  The way to manage both reasons is to face the bias head on and then shift our mindset about it.  That is, we notice the bias, we look at the impact, then we reframe how we think about it.  Instead of she shouldn’t present, we ask, who’s the most competent and compelling speaker for this audience?  Instead of I don’t want that promotion we think, that promotion will help me grow.  I will learn and be able to contribute more. I will figure out the details as I go.

Changing our mindset changes everything.  We move from a limited, contracted world-view to one with significantly more options.  We have choices.  We can experiment.  And the end result?  The pipeline stops leaking.  Working with only one reason won’t work.  The bias is in both places.  The solution isn’t easy but it also isn’t impossible.  We simply reframe.

detjen
Jodi Detjen
Jodi@orangegroveconsulting.com
@jodidetjen

For more information on overcoming biases in the workplace, join Jodi Detjen for our upcoming Soundview Live webinar, Overcoming the Biases that Can Limit Women’s Careers on Tuesday, December 8th.