Sunday, January 30, 2011

I am Guilty of Gender Bias

This week, representatives from one of the financial institutions my company works with stopped by to introduce Joe our new regional credit manager. My company’s president popped into my office saying:

Do you have a minute? I’d like introduce you to Joe our new rep. He really wants to meet Steve (our CFO), but Steve is busy with the auditors. I told him he will be working mainly with you anyway. Bring a couple of your business cards.
I walked into a conference room full of men and one woman. Our current rep Tim stood up and introduced me to Joe and we traded business cards. Then Joe turned towards the woman introducing her as Heather. I asked her for her card. She shook her head saying she never remembers to bring them and slouched back into her chair. In the past, I worked with both our rep and his assistant Tracey. Tracey and I never really hit it off, so I decided to make an effort with Heather. I turned to her and said, “So you will be assisting Joe?” She responded with, “No, I am Joe and Tim’s boss. I mumbled something like, “I got that wrong.” She smiled taking it all in stride, but I was disappointed in myself.

Why was I disappointed in myself?
My blog project for 2011 is “Making Women Count.” I had just finished reading When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins and had begun Lynn Cronin’s Damned If She Does, Damned If She Doesn't: Rethinking the Rules of the Game That Keep Women from Succeeding in Business reading the chapter “Still Stuck on an Unlevel Playing Field” the previous evening.

Gender bias can be summed up with these points from
- Half of all managers at US employers are female, yet when it comes to senior posts, men outnumber the women by almost 6 to 1.

- Women who comprise less than half the workforce in a business are also more likely to be pushed toward tasks that are stereotypically feminine, such as support work.

- Given equivalent positions, men are perceived as more influential than women.

So here I am, my head filled with stories of gender bias and I automatically assume the one woman in the room is a man’s assistant. How could I not be disappointed in myself? How can I begin to “Make Women Count” when my own perceptions are biased?

Did appearance make a difference in my perception?
In my
interview with Susan Bulkeley Butler, Susan talks about the importance of "packaging." She says:

Within 5-10 seconds, people have a perception of you based on how well you are put together - your confidence, your body language, the way you dress, make eye contact and shake hands and how you walk, sit and listen.

I wonder if Heather had been dressed more professionally (she was wearing a button-down shirt and a pair of khaki pants), had perfect posture and had remembered her business cards if I would have come to a different conclusion. Honestly, I don't think so. I would have assumed she was a nicely dressed assistant. It is interesting to note, Susan’s point is right on; I sized up Heather’s appearance within seconds of meeting her even taking in her hairstyle.

Was there a perceived Gender Bias towards my position?
Absolutely, as I turned to leave the conference room, I heard our President explaining to the group, who were still disappointed they were not introduced to our CFO that 99% of Joe’s contact with our company will be through me. They also didn’t realize I make 99% of the decisions regarding our account with this company. I am sure they assumed I was a support person taking direction from our CFO. Perhaps, gender bias even contributed to Heather's nonchalant behavior towards me.

Final thoughts:
Ladies - we have a lot of work to do, but on a positive note Heather does have a senior level management job in this company.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Interview with Susan Bulkeley Butler

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Bulkeley Butler. Susan is the author of two books Become the CEO of You Inc and Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World which I reviewed here.  In her interview she provides insight and lessons learned from her career as the first female partner of Accenture, a major consulting firm..  While reading her answers, I felt as if I was working with my own personal career coach. I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

What piece of advice or knowledge do you wish you had known at age 18?

Be responsible for who you are and who you want to become. You should be the "CEO of You, Inc." Like managing a company that means managing your life to make sure "You Inc." is successful not just today, but also in the future. You need to invest time in "You Inc." to ensure you are all you can be at every stage in your life and career.

As the CEO of "You Inc.," you need to:

*Develop your aspiration for who you want to be

*Develop your "Board of Directors" - a team to advise you

*Develop your plan to achieve your aspirations and then work your plan.

None of this is necessarily easy, but it puts you in charge of where you are going, with the help of others to provide advice and counsel and a plan to make your future happen rather than let it happen to you.

Additionally, it is important to realize the difference between a job and a career. I had a job for the first four years of my career. I didn't know the difference and I didn't realize the impact until I didn't get my first real promotion. Know the difference. What you do every day helps you build who you are and where you want to be in the future.

What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today?

Most women have the desire to have children. Therefore, when and how they integrate children with what they hope to achieve for themselves becomes an obstacle. My philosophy is to begin your career with the idea you will be at your employer for the long term (men think we are short timers) and focus on achieving all you can achieve.

When it is time for you to think about starting a family, find role models. Determine how integrated having children with having a career. Two-career families the norm today; the mom who stays at home for her entire life is no longer the norm. And doing everything we do at 110 percent is not possible when you have work, family and a home to manage. Look to others for "best practices," particularly for your career and the roles and responsibilities at home.

Has that obstacle changed over time or does it basically remain the same?

Progress is being made, but women still talk about work/life balance before they are even married, or thinking about starting a family. My philosophy is, make decisions based on the deck of cards you have in your hand today.

When you begin your work life, be committed to your work, determine your aspirations and do the best work you can for your employer. When your deck of cards changes to include a family, rethink your aspirations. Think about how you might continue working less hours and/or from home, with your aspirations dialed back and your shared responsibility for your family. My friends who wrote What Happy Working Mothers Know say that children want their moms to be happy, and that doesn't mean they need to be around 24-7.

In your book Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World, you didn’t discuss physical appearance. One of my biggest regrets is wasting so much time obsessing about my appearance when I was younger. I wish I would have spent this time learning something new and discovering who I was. Do you have any thoughts on the media’s portrayal of women and women’s obsession with appearance?

I am amazed at the percentage of young girls who are obsessed about their appearance at such young ages. According to one study, 42 percent of girls in grades 1-3 want to be thinner. I was heavy as a young girl, but never was obsessed about my weight.

I talk about the importance of "packaging." Think of a product in a store. Sometimes it's the packaging, not just what's inside it, that convinces us it's the right product for us. On the other hand, we might miss getting the product we really need if it's not packaged properly.

Within 5-10 seconds, people have a perception of you based on how well you are put together - your confidence, your body language, the way you dress, make eye contact and shake hands and how you walk, sit and listen.

Packaging, not thinness or beauty, reflects who we are, and who wants to be with us.

What factors do you think contributed to your success at Accenture? Would those same factors be applicable today?

Being a team player, being strategic, working hard, being creative, learning from my mistakes, focusing on the future rather than the past, asking questions, having a point of view, developing members of my team, taking risks, being financially responsible and not being afraid to ask for help.

I had a plan, and others confirmed it. Two partners said, "Susan, you can be a partner and we will help you get there." They mentored me to help develop my skills, package my product, and look and act like a partner, the position I aspired to be in.

Women sometimes believe they need to do everything themselves or it shows weakness. And they believe they will be "tapped" on the shoulder, once people see their good work.

I would rather make things happen for me, rather than let things happen to me.

What has been the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Create your future and make it happen. This is about putting yourself in the driver's seat of your life; you are in control of the direction you're going instead of just going along for the ride. You are going in the direction you want to go, not the direction somebody else thinks you should go.

What has been the biggest mistake you ever made?

There were times I found myself in situations where I didn't really know what to do next. I had been given an assignment to do, and when I went to my office to do it, I really didn't know where to start. I received an evaluation of my performance which was less than satisfactory and I had no idea why I received it and what I needed to do to change it.

My advice:
Make sure you understand what is being said to you, and don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand. Ask for examples of what you need to do. And in the case of changing my evaluation, I should have asked what I needed to do to be better and also if the person would be willing to be on my team to help me make the necessary changes.
Did you ever let them see you cry?

Yes, when I didn't get the promotion that I expected. And I have provided Kleenex to people to use, usually when they got bad news. This was before I and a lot of women in the work force received the message that it "isn't cool to cry." Women are emotional and do need to find a way to let their emotions go. Keeping them inside is not the way. You need mentors and other special friends to talk with when something unexpected happens.

Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about you or your book?

The 100th anniversary of the Women's Right to Vote will be August 26, 2020. To each of your readers, I would ask: How are you going to help bring about equality for all women? Women deserve to be equal partners with men as we continue to make this world better for everyone. We are on this earth for a reason. Everywhere we invest our time, we need to make a difference for our having been there.

Otherwise, why are we here?

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Thanks to Webb From the Garden Bench for bringing the issue of shadeism to my attention. In my post My 2011 blog project, I mentioned a six year old girl who felt she wasn't pretty because she didn't curl her hair or wear lip gloss.  In the above documentary a four year old girl already believes white skin is beautiful and is unsatisfied with her own brown skin.  The video was originally posted on Vimeo:

It is an introduction to the issue of shadeism, the discrimination that exists between the lighter-skinned and darker-skinned members of the same community. This documentary short looks specifically at how it affects young women within the African, Caribbean, and South Asian diasporas. Through the eyes and words of 5 young women and 1 little girl - all females of colour - the film takes us into the thoughts and experiences of each. Overall, 'Shadeism' explores where shadeism comes from, how it directly affects us as womyn of colour, and ultimately, begins to explore how we can move forward through dialogue and discussion.
The concept of shadeism isn't new to me. I remember reading about colonialism in the Caribbean and how afterwards lighter-skinned people were rewarded with better employment while those with darker skin had to work in the sugar cane fields. It is even mentioned in my most recent read When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins:
It was hard to avoid noticing that Spelman girls were not only extremely well-behaved; they were also, in general, extremely light-skinned. “The best of all possible worlds is that you are light as you can be, you have green eyes, or light brown, and you have long straight hair,” said Gwen Robinson, who was dark-skinned and who found that the male students from neighboring colleges were cruelly dismissive. (Pg. 136)

I even remember my own paternal grandmother preferring her blond fair-skinned grandchildren over her brown-haired olive skinned grandkids. At the time, I thought it was because the fairer children looked more like her side of the family, but now I believe her preference was due to skin color.  She preferred those who looked German over those who looked French. I also remember her telling me to stay out of the sun; don't tan your beautiful white skin.  

In another disturbing video, A Girl Like Me, a mother and her two daughters eleven and six all use skin lightening creams. As pointed out in the above documentary skin bleaching creams are harmful not only to a person's identity, but their skin. Please see the health threats of unapproved bleaching creams which describes the health and skin problems that may result from using these creams.  And most importantly tells us:
The best approach to be able to avoid the unwanted effects of bleaching creams is actually not to use them when it is not essential. Skin whitening ought to be used solely for skin issues.
How do we move forward?
In Shadeism part 2, Nayani Thiyagarajah suggests the first step is coming together and asking questions along with:

- Sharing stories
- Challenging what has been taught
- Changing our way of thinking

And most importantly:
There is strength in each of us our skin tones included and after centuries of trying to change ourselves, trying to blend in and trying to be accepted the time has come to collectively challenge the idea that beauty comes in only one form.
Also, please see Vivianne's post Shadeism - Unraveling the Color Barrier and read about her experience with shadeism.  She asks, "Why do we do this to ourselves and our children? Isn't there enough to battle against already?" and "Let's stop this now and cut the crap out."

Sunday, January 09, 2011

My 2011 Blog Project

It’s a New Year and time for a new blog project. Each year I try to dedicate a series of blog posts to a theme. Previous themes have included Getting my Ducks in a Row  and Getting a Clue.

My 2011 theme is going to be “Making Women Count,” borrowed from Susan Bulkeley Butler’s book Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World. I first became interested in writing a series of blog posts on women when I read Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique. Friedan had discovered an entire generation of unhappy housewives who were duped into foregoing a career by advertisers and businessmen. They had figured out women will buy more things if they are kept in the underused, nameless yearning, energy-to-get rid of state of being a housewife. I spent the past year attempting to get a clue about how advertisers were able to do this. It was a frustrating year. I read several books mired in examples of advertisements designed to manipulate purchasers. I came to the conclusion, we the viewer of these advertisements, don’t really have a chance. They are everywhere. The last straw came when I read Michelle’s post From the Smartly: Beauty.  Her beautiful six year old daughter thinks she is not pretty because her hair wasn’t curled and she wasn’t wearing blusher and lip gloss in a team picture.

Here are some of the topics I plan on including in my series:

-Women Count for more than their beauty. Explore our cultures preoccupation with weight and beauty.

- Highlight other women who are making a difference.

- Give practical advice on how women can achieve their full potential.

- Read and review books emphasizing strong women or women who have discovered their passion. Study these women as role models and analyze what made them strong.

-Answer women’s questions on work and finance issues.

-Continue to get a clue about health and beauty products. Currently, there seems to be a product or procedure that will fix just about anything. I plan to continue researching what products are genuine and which are scams.

Throughout the year if you come across a blogger who is making a difference, a book related to the above topics or an article pointing out a health, diet or beauty product that is a scam I would appreciate it if you would bring it to my attention. Also, I do enjoy answering your finance and work questions so keep them coming. My email address is savvyworkinggalathotmaildotcom.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Words to remember

If this is the worst thing that happens in life it will be a good life.
-Author Unknown

Trying to remember this as I work through my company’s year-end mess, the tax problem from 2006 still not resolved (not my error) and the phone calls from vendors screaming for money.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

TJ’s top songs discovered in 2010

My husband TJ is a passionate music aficionado who is constantly searching for new music. A couple of months ago I assigned him a project: come up with a list of the top ten songs he discovered in 2010. These songs did not have to be from 2010. He played me his list New Year’s Eve. I was so impressed that I am taking a break from my normal blog activity to present to you:

TJ’s top songs discovered in 2010

10. Rosanne Cash Girl From The North Country
This is his all time favorite Dylan song and the best cover of this song he has ever heard. It is so eloquent. He loved it from the first chord.  His favorite line is "Make sure she has a coat so warm."

9.  Sonia Dada
Lover, Lover (You Don't Treat Me No Good)

This is a simple bluesy, folk tune sung a cappella. Sonia Dada is a Chicago based rock, soul, rhythm and blues band that has been around for about 20 years. This song from 1995 has interesting male oriented lyrics.   

8.  Van Morrison Someone Like You
TJ first heard this song at a wedding a couple of years ago and knew he had to own it. He didn't get around to purchasing it until 2010. This song touches him both musically and lyrically and can be summed up in one word “Love.”

7.  Sade
Kiss Of Life

The girl is back.  Sexy, sultry, smooth and as sensual as ever. 

6. Paul Simon She Moves On 
This song has a South American flair influenced by Brazilian musicians with well-crafted lyrics and a sound that makes you feel good. Just listen to the guitar…

5.  John Mayer Heartbreak Warfare
John Mayer is an artist TJ didn't care for until he heard this song. He prefers the music over the lyrics which can be read 

4.  Chris Isaak "We Let Her Down"
This is a song that touched TJ's heart both lyrically and musically.  It needs no further explanation.

3.  Bob Marley Redemption Song
TJ has enjoyed Reggae music since visiting the Caribbean on our honeymoon. Listen to the Caribbean influence...
2.  Steve Earle Colorado Girl
How folksy can you get. He was surprised a folk song made it this high on his list, since he is normally a rock or alternative guy.

1.  Alejandro Escovedo Anchor
This song has a Texas rockabilly sound that is heavy into guitar. The background vocals are strong and effective. This song was his anchor for the year; it really pulled him in because he's always loved his love.

I hope you've enjoyed TJ's list as much as I did.  I have already given him another assignment: come up with a list of his ten most influential women in music. Due date the end of winter. Watch for it.