Human Resources Management Articles on a variety of HR topics, Diversity and inclusion, leadership and more, offered by the Red Shoe Movement

5 Tips to Stay Cool Under Pressure When Things Don’t Go as Planned

What happens when the worst November snowstorm in history hits New York City on the inaugural day of your leadership development event? You roll with it baby! Here are a few insights on how to stay cool under pressure when things don’t go as you planned.

The snow had already piled high on the ground and was falling at a fast clip as my team and I were arriving at the WarnerMedia building in Columbus Circle. We tried to keep our boots out of the puddles that were quickly forming in the sidewalk while keeping our heads down to avoid messing up our hairdos. It wasn’t easy.

The worst snowstorm to hit New York City in November had caught it unprepared. And of course it had to fall on the day when we were hosting “Celebrating True Inclusion Stars” with a Cocktail Reception and an Awards Ceremony. It was the evening before our 7thannual RSM Signature Event and we were honoring leaders who had won the Hall of Fame and Red Shoe Leader awards during 2018. Guests were coming from Europe, Central and South America, Canada and the U.S. Thankfully, the out-of-towners had arrived right before the storm. The biggest problem for most people was to get to the venue from their hotels and homes.

As you can imagine, we were bombarded by messages from people being stuck in the highway, or without a cab. And from executives to honorees to our team members who had a role in the event who couldn’t make it.  It was one of those moments when your patience and trouble-shooting skills are sorely tested. One of the opportunities to truly practice your executive presence.

Cynthia Hudson welcomes the Red Shoe Movement audience to Awards Ceremony

Cynthia Hudson welcomes the Red Shoe Movement audience to Awards Ceremony- A great example of someone who knows how to stay cool under pressure.

Insights on how to stay cool under pressure

1Have a back up person for every key player

As can be expected when you put together a major event, last minute challenges are the norm. The day before the Cocktail Reception, we almost lost our EMCEE who wasn’t feeling great. As we anxiously searched for a replacement (and luckily found one) he called back to inform us he was doing better and was pretty sure he’d be fine for the next two days. But the truth is we hadn’t even thought about having a stand-in for our EMCEE. Big mistake. You should treat your leadership event as theater producers treat every play. They have understudies at the ready for each main actor.

Some of the male champions at our Awards event #RedTieTuesday

Some of the male champions at our Awards event #RedTieTuesday

2Train every member of your team to play more than one role

Some of the most important “losses” we experienced as a result of the storm were in our own staff. We didn’t learn about these absences until the very, very last minute as they were trying to reach our location and got stuck for several hours on the road. So a decision needed to be made right then and there to tell them to turn back and go home safely while we reassigned their responsibility to someone else. Now, how can you do this if nobody else knows the task at hand? We had a large team who knew what the event needed to look like, and what was expected of each person. Everyone had a general idea of what the others were responsible for. So it was relatively easy to delegate the roles to different people on the spot.

Audience at Celebrating True Inclusion Stars

Audience at Celebrating True Inclusion Stars

3Script as much as possible

I don’t mean to suggest that you should micromanage the team. But when you put together a leadership development event or any other kind of event, there are certain key aspects that need to be scripted. From the remarks everyone in your team will deliver, to the flow of the event, to the bios of key participants, and so on. The more you can put into writing the easier it becomes to provide the script to someone that has to quickly stand in for someone else.

Ilya Marotta, EVP, Engineering, Panama Canal, receives Hall of Fame award

Ilya Marotta, EVP, Engineering, Panama Canal, receives Hall of Fame award- In charge of the Panama Canal expansion, Ilya led for years this massive infrastructure project staying cool under the most intense pressure.

4Use humor and engage the audience

Resorting to humor when things don’t go as planned is one of the best tactics to stay cool under pressure. Being transparent about what’s happening and what’s wrong fosters empathy and as a result builds patience. It helps you get people to cut you some slack.

As the storm delayed some of our honorees, we had to shift the order in which they were being asked to come up to stage to receive their award and say a few words.

The slides had been prepared with the AV department as a PDF, however, and they could not be shifted from their original order. So, we went around changing the name signs on the seats to keep straight the order in which each honoree was supposed to go on stage. But we couldn’t change the order on the slides projected on a movie-size screen. We had to play with the clicker moving the slides back and forth to find the right honoree. As this job fell on me, I made fun of the situation: “Moving back in time, we now call x” or “And now, we enter the time machine again and we move forward to y…” Making the audience part of the joke helps to keep things light and irons out any wrinkles in your perfectly planned presentation.

Even one the directors of our event, Teresa Correa,  opened up the Award Ceremony by saying that the snowstorm showed the power of the Red Shoe Movement to give guests a true New York City experience.

Marcelo Fumasoni, global HR leader, Novartis, receives Red Shoe Leader award

Marcelo Fumasoni, global HR leader, Novartis, receives Red Shoe Leader award

5Be present with those who are present

When it comes to putting together a large event, there’s a common reaction when something happens (like a snowstorm) and not all the people who had confirmed their attendance can make it. I’ve been in many a conference when the organizers spent an inordinate amount of time complaining about those who didn’t come. The truth is that you should have the best event for those who did. And rather than spending time disregarding the audience you have, you should always be gracious, and grateful to them for showing up. That’s what we always do and this time was no different. Although, surprisingly, we hit the numbers we were hoping for, we could’ve had a lot more. We acknowledge the unsuccessful efforts others had made to join us and left it at that. The rest of the evening was focused on making our guests have a wonderful time.

Yes, this post is about a professional event and a snowstorm. But many of these tips work for any other kind of situation when you need to remain cool under pressure.  When you have a seemingly impossible deadline, when you’re faced with any type of work-related crises or with the upcoming holidays. Preparing for it, using humor and rolling with the punches is a strategy that always works in your favor.

Gladys Bernett, USF, Ciudad del Saber, Panama, receives Red Shoe Leader Award

Gladys Bernett, USF, Ciudad del Saber, Panama, receives Red Shoe Leader Award

4 Key Diversity & Inclusion Strategies from Leading Companies

Looking for truly effective strategies to take your organization to the next level? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Here are 3 diversity and inclusion strategies from leading companies that you can readily try.

Key Diversity & Inclusion Strategies from Leading Companies

1Engage your ecosystem

At a recent Red Shoe Movement event for Novartis Mexico, where the company engaged its entire ecosystem.

At a recent Red Shoe Movement event for Novartis Mexico, where the company engaged its entire ecosystem.

The view from the front was inspiring. Participants were actively sharing their “ahas” and their best practices. A senior executive from the host company recognized publicly that although his organization was very committed to inclusion, they could still do more to de-bias the interview process. An HR leader realized that by not taking advantage herself of her company’s flexible work policies she was sending the wrong message to everyone below her. The director of a leading consumer products outfit expressed how positive it was to hear solutions that were working well for other companies and to have a space where they could share best practices.

Welcome to what it means to involve your entire ecosystem in conversations about diversity and inclusion. Not just your own talent. But also your suppliers, competitors, professional associations in your sector, clients, media, government, civil society, and others.

The above stories all come from a recent Red Shoe Movement event we did for Novartis in Mexico. It was a breakfast at a wonderful venue — La Hacienda de los Morales— where executives and directors from organizations that are part of Novartis’ ecosystem were invited to attend. The topic? “Tips and Tricks to Foster Inclusive Workplaces,” something that, if it’s really going to work, requires involvement from all players in society.

A leader in the space, this Switzerland-based pharmaceutical company, has been setting an example for a long time. In the last three years, we’ve conducted events like the one in Mexico in several countries in Latin America. By listening to the needs and suggestions of doctors, patient advocacy groups, medical associations, university programs, industry colleagues, their own talent, and the community were they operate the company is able to constantly innovate its inclusion practices.

Now, just as important as it is to reach out and connect with your ecosystem, it is to remain humble and open to comments, suggestions and new ideas even when they initially sound counterintuitive. Take the opportunity to create cross-sector partnerships and explore new ideas together. What’s the worse that can happen? That you solidify your network?

2Enlist committed male champions

Embracing male champions is a key D&I strategy of leading companies.

Key Diversity & Inclusion Strategies from Leading Companies: Engage male champions

It’s immediately evident when diversity and inclusion is truly weaved into an organization. You see male executives who openly support initiatives to develop and promote 100% of the talent.  As a result, women have a career projection all the way to the C-suite. These are male champions who don’t just act as executive sponsors of a Women’s ERG event but who are actively involved in sponsoring individual women. They do everything in their power to provide relevant exposure, air cover when needed, and to influence policy changes when they see practices that impact women in a negative way. (Here are 10 behaviors men can implement to accelerate female representation at the top.)

Best in class companies have male champions who believe diversity and inclusion is a business imperative and act like it. (For us it’s easy to spot them as they wear red ties/socks every Tuesday to show their support for #RedShoeTuesday!)

3Once alerted, change the policy or benefit to impact everyone fairly

Ultimate Software only needs one associate to request an accommodation to review their policies. What does your company do?

Ultimate Software only needs one associate to request an accommodation to review their policies. This is a key D&I strategy. What does your company do?

“We only need one of our employees to bring up the need to modify one of our policies to accommodate their particular situation to make a policy change,” Jody Kaminsky, Chief Marketing Officer at Ultimate Software shared with me recently. The example had to do with parental leave. “When one of our associates came to us and told us she was adopting a child and that our parental leave contemplated only biological parents, we immediately changed our policy to include adoptive parents as well.”

That’s an admirable way to conduct business. Putting your talent first and having a healthy aversion to red tape.

Unfortunately, I’m sure you have as many examples as I do of companies that drag their feet whenever they get a request for an accommodation (usually from a woman) and when they grant it, it’s always as an exception to the policy. Seldom do they stop to think: “Hmm… I wonder how many others we could benefit if we made this part of our standard policy.” Because for every person who has the guts and patience to fight to get a benefit that they are not “entitled to,” there are many, many more out there who prefer not to bother. Whether it is for fear of putting themselves on the spot or for the lack of the energy it takes to fight these fights, they just don’t pursue it. (And perhaps, that’s exactly the goal of the organization: To fulfill as few of these exceptions as possible. In the long run, this is bad business, though.)

Not long ago, a client shared with me one of these sorry stories. She had accepted an executive position in Brazil with a Fortune 100 company. As part of her package, she received a company car. The only caveat was that her driver wasn’t allowed to drive the car, which meant she still had to run errands and pick her kids up from school and drive them to school activities. What good was it to have a company car if she couldn’t have her driver alleviate her from these tasks?

It took her three long months of relentless fighting to get the company to accept her terms. But did they make that the new policy? Nope. So the next female executive faced with a similar situation will be forced to jump through the same hoops. Or perhaps she’ll turn down the job because the organization is making it too hard for her to take it. And then the company will probably lament that, “women don’t like to move.”

Send a clear message to your talent. Whenever approached by someone who asks for something that’s not part of your benefits or policies yet, review the benefits and policies. Don’t see it as a one-time accommodation. See it as an opportunity to improve your retention and a great way to attract top talent.

What else works in D&I according to leading companies

4Engage your workforce with a larger community

Become part of a larger community to inspire your talent to own their careers and support each other's growth.

Become part of a larger community to inspire your talent to own their careers and support each other’s growth.

If I’ve learned something in the last few years it’s the power of being part of something bigger than myself. The enthusiasm that our #RedShoeTuesday initiative elicits has been humbling. Discovering people who have been having red shoe parties in Silicon Valley, book clubs in Mexico, Tuesday after hours in Spain feels nothing short of miraculous. And your organization can tap into that level of energy by simply implementing the 7 RSM Principles and inviting everyone to wear their red shoes, ties and socks on Tuesdays in order to keep up the conversation about inclusion. It’s using a visual reminder to avoid letting go of the topic so that together women and men in your workplace can figure out how to level the playing field for 100% of the talent. All while being part of something that goes beyond your company. Something that connects you with the outside world.

Here’s why it works:

  • It’s fun.
  • It’s contagious.
  • It’s a community that offers mutual support so for every action, there’s an exponential reaction.
  • It gives everyone ownership over their careers and the power to help others in theirs.
  • It invites everyone to be responsible and action oriented. To do something every week about making the workplace a better place to work.

Granted, there are a lot of diversity and inclusion strategies you should explore. But these three are sure winners ready for you to implement right now. And they come with the backing of some of the leading companies in diversity and inclusion.

Ready to try them?

Best in class companies engage male champions with inclusion programs

Best in class companies engage male champions with inclusion programs

 

Solutions to Promote Gender Equality in the Workplace

Ready to move beyond pointing fingers to find effective solutions to promote gender equality in your organization? Here’s how!

The conversation about women in the workplace has intensified and with it the need to find solutions to promote gender equality in the workplace.

The #MeToo movement brought to light a slew of stories that hadn’t been told. Or that hadn’t been heard, rather. It opened a can of worms but it also opened a dialogue that had been off limits for a long time. Granted, a lot of pain and discomfort results from these conversations but the search for real solutions to promote gender equality has started in earnest. Not that it wasn’t something many organizations hadn’t been working towards for many years. Yet this time a larger number of companies seem to have realized it’s critical to their survival.

How to Promote Gender Equality in the Workplace

Most organizations are doing their best to level the playing field for everyone. Yet they still face unsatisfactory ratings from their associates. Or female talent that gets stuck in middle management. Or a large percentage of women who leave the company at faster rates than their male counterparts. What to do when it seems like you tried everything and have little to show for your efforts?

The RSM Circles are one of the effective solutions to promote gender equality in your workplace.

The RSM Circles are one of the effective solutions to promote gender equality in your workplace.

3 Solutions to Foster Gender Equality

1Ask the right questions

Don’t assume you know the answers to what the problem is. Or that you read some research and that’s exactly what’s happening in your workplace. And don’t just send out a survey. After having responded to many of them, most people are frustrated with the lack of action taken as a result of the findings.

Seek to understand from one-on-one meetings and small groups. Conduct comprehensive exit interviews with women and find out why they are leaving. Now, making sure you ask the right questions is key to identifying the real problem. When in doubt, consult with a few trusted female associates.

2Design to promote inclusion

If you’re truly interested in solutions to promote gender equality, in other words, in fostering inclusion, you can design for it.

  • From the way in which you conduct your hiring to the words you use in your job postings. You could scan your postings for wording that tends to attract one sex over the other and adjust accordingly. Adjectives like “highly competitive” and “ambitious” tend to attract men. Others such as “empathetic” or “community oriented” tend to attract women.
  • From the approach you use to give performance feedback to female employees to how you define cultural fit. Research shows that supervisors of both sexes tend to give personality-driven feedback to women and performance-driven feedback to men.
  • From how you talk about statistics to how you talk about leaders. When you constantly emphasize the small number of women CEOs you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Women perceive it’s not a job for them and men confirm their unconscious biases that this is a role for their gender mates.

Every aspect of your organization can be evaluated for unconscious biases and solutions can be designed to override any biases.

3Offer your female talent the resources to reach equality

Although reaching equality should not be the “job” of any woman but a given in the workplace, part of it still falls on women’s lap.

Given women’s upbringings and the social norms we adhere to, most of us are conditioned to behave in a certain way. When you add the expectations of different cultures you have a collection of behaviors that may get in the way of success.

For example, Chinese women are raised to revere seniority and keep their distance but in Corporate America they are expected to approach senior executives at events in order to develop strong networks.

One of the best ways to resolve this is by providing women with the right tools to negotiate, navigate politics and power dynamics. To help them build resilience and confidence in order to break away from social and cultural norms that may keep them from reaching their full potential. And helping female talent feel like they belong in your company and that they can reach executive levels, is one of the best solutions to promote gender equality.

Of course, different sized companies will need different solutions. Let’s start tailoring them to the smallest organizations.

Finding solutions to promote gender equality is everyone's responsibility.

Finding solutions to promote gender equality is everyone’s responsibility.

How to Promote Gender Equality in Small Organizationes

If you’re serious about finding solutions to promote gender equality the first item to consider is the size of your company. Smaller organizations may find it easier to establish simple measures to reach gender equality.

Here are a few solutions that will help you level the playing field

  • Set up a specific salary range per band or position and make sure everyone within the band/role gets paid equally.
  • Design a questionnaire for each job application and make sure you ask every applicant the exact same questions in the exact same order. Assign a point range per question, for example 1-5. Then have a third person add up the points for each candidate and pick the one with the most points for the position. If it’s a tie, you may want to select the person who would best balance your current gender distribution at the level you are hiring.
  • Switch around the time and day of the week of your networking events so everyone can attend. This way, women who may be responsible for their family after hours, can also attend and benefit from strategic networking.

If you feel you need a more comprehensive solution, take a look a the RSM Programs.

Persistence with your gender equality strategy plays a key role in seeing results.

Persistence with your gender equality strategy plays a key role in seeing results.

Solutions to Promote Gender Equality in Medium to Large Companies

Now if you work for a larger employer, thesesolutions are intrinsically more complicated. Years of unchecked unconscious biases, long-established procedures, unwritten rules, and favoritism make it tougher to find effective strategies. When you add women’s general reluctance to rock the boat plus the double bind they face if they do, you have yourself a complex situation.

This collision of circumstances is what the Red Shoe Movement can help you resolve. Our diversity and inclusion solutions will strengthen women’s self agency and sense of belonging to your organization. Read more about our solutions here.

We find (and research supports it) that effective solutions to promote gender equality are never one-offs. They are never made up of one program or one initiative. They are part of a strategy that impacts your entire organization over time.

They come after a good assessment of where you stand in terms of gender inclusion and they involve the commitment of leaders at all levels. You can’t expect things to change by only offering leadership development for your female talent. Just as you can’t expect results by only focusing on discussing the problems and never acting on them.

Only when you look at your organization as a whole, layout a coherent strategy to work with all the stakeholders and persist, will the solutions to foster gender inclusion bear positive results.

Women Leaders: Leadership Styles that Play Against Us

With an ever increasing focus on promoting more women leaders, it’s worth recognizing that certain styles are less effective in building the leadership brand for women in general.  Part of effecting change is having courageous conversations. Read on!

From the beginning of the Red Shoe Movement, we made sure our motto focused on “women supporting women for career success” so that we would take some of the narrative regarding women not supporting each other off the table. By keeping our eyes on mutual mentoring and mutual support, we hope to encourage many more women leaders in our organizations. This helps avoid any distractions caused by the ongoing social discourse that women don’t support each other as the reason for the dearth of women leaders.

Powerful leaders inspire with their vision

Powerful leaders inspire with their vision

For a long time, I thought my colleagues exaggerated when they talked about some of the women leaders they had the misfortune of working under. They described abrasive leadership styles that,  instead of  eliciting cooperation and loyalty, turned employees off. Then I ran into a person who fit every stereotype of the woman leader that I  fight so hard against and I decided we had to talk about this issue openly. Because, whether we like it or not, women leaders are still a minority, and, as such, the missteps of one tend to affect the brand of the entire group. And what I mean by brand is the brand “women leaders” or “female leaders” as a whole. Just ask African Americans, Latinos or Jews about the ripple effect that a bad apple has on the reputation of the group as a whole.

Women leaders with ineffective leadership styles

Although the styles I discuss on this post apply both to men and women, today I focus on the impact they have on my female colleagues.

Here’s what happened to convince me to talk about this issue. After weeks of volunteering my time to help a friend (let’s call her Mary) organize a fundraiser to benefit an organization she supports, we were getting nowhere. Every time we got a leading professional to donate his or her services  for an auction, the CEO of the organization (let’s call her Jen) would change things around without notifying anyone involved.  As the date of the event approached, my friend Mary and I started to receive daily calls and emails from our professional colleagues who so generously had accepted our plea for their free services. They didn’t understand why their services were not listed on the event’s website, why the amount of consulting hours being auctioned was different from what they had committed to, or why they had been taken out of the event altogether despite having confirmed their participation.

After one too many unilateral changes, I emailed Jen expressing how unprofessional this back and forth made us all look in the eyes of our contacts, only to receive in return a scolding letter on which she copied six other people from her organization. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. I admit I should have called her to begin with, but my note to her was private. Her email to me was not.

The incident left me wondering, why some women leaders exhibit leadership styles that are obviously unproductive? Leadership styles that, rather than project power, play to the stereotype of “the woman who undermines the power of other women.”

Together we build the brand "women leaders"

Together we build the brand “women leaders”

But the better question might be: Should we confront these women leaders with their misbehavior, or should we avoid them and move on?

It’s no easy task to approach any powerful leader for a conversation about their leadership style shortcomings, but, in cases like the one in my example, not doing so carries an even greater risk –  The perpetuation of the undeserved stereotype that women are not suited to lead. That all women leaders miss the mark.

Just as Jen’s style was ineffective and was eventually responsible for her losing her job and her organization closing down, here are a few other leadership styles that leave everyone wanting:

  • Micromanagers. Women leaders who can’t step out of their manager role and are constantly micromanaging their team rather than providing a vision and allowing their teams to carry it out.
  • Queen Bee. These are the women leaders who feel there ‘s only room for one woman to shine in the organization and they systematically undermine other women, refuse to help them succeed, or are over critical of other women in the company.
  • Emulators of male leaders. Women who rather than leverage their female traits alongside their experience, knowledge and skills, lose all femininity on the way to their powerful position in order to fit in. By emulating a masculine style, they play well in the boys club but tend to leave the culture of their organizations  unchanged for women coming behind them.
Women leaders stand on the shoulders of previous leaders

Women leaders stand on the shoulders of previous leaders

How to approach women leaders for an honest conversation

This is certainly one of those million dollar questions. It’s never easy to approach someone to provide this type of feedback. So here are a two suggestions on how to set up a productive conversation.

1If you have a good relationship with the leader, you could send a note saying you have a few insights that may help her get more support for her vision/project/etc. Then ask if she’d like to hear your insights. Giving the person a chance to accept or refuse your suggestions is key to avoid overstepping and creating a bad situation for yourself. If she accepts a meeting, prepare your feedback carefully. Focus on objective performance and results rather than personality.

2If you’re not too close to the leader, identify who has her ear. (Who does she provide air cover to? Who does she agree with at important meetings? Etc.) It may be best to speak to that person first and get a sense of the most productive approach to take. That person may even suggest that he/she is the one to bring up the issue with the leader. For this to happen effectively, you have to trust the person who will carry your observations to the leader and make sure they won’t backfire.

Women leaders are joined together to protect brand

Women leaders are joined together to protect brand

Standing up for more great women leaders

The truth is that we are joined together in the guardianship of the brand “woman leader.” The success of one is the hope for all. By the same token, the failure of one impacts us all. So, as painful and difficult as it is, we must have these courageous conversations with our gender-mates when they are called for.

Needless to say these  feedback conversations should be held in private and conducted diplomatically in order to avoid eliciting a negative reaction.  Unfortunately,  avoiding the discomfort of having these conversations will only hold us back on our quest to see more great women leaders at the helms of our organizations.

Microaggressions: Those Pesky Slights That Damage Workplaces

When someone asked Carol, (not her real name) “Have you eaten dog?” she felt deeply offended. As she spoke up and let her feelings be known, she was furthered hurt by having her feelings minimized. How do we stop this kind of microaggressions that permeate our organizations and society? Here are some key insights.

The woman in the story is an Asian – New Zealander who lives in New Zealand, a country where 74 % of the population is of European descent, 14.9% of Maori descent, 11.8% of Asian descent and 7.4% are non-Maori Pacific Islanders. But this kind of microaggressions based on cultural differences and, I pose, on power differences, happen all the time around the world.

What are microaggressions?

Comments, questions and behaviors such as the one Carol shared with us are commonly referred to as microaggressions. This is a term coined in the 70s by psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce and borrowed more recently by Teachers College, Columbia University psychologist Derald Wing Sue, PhD.

Here’s Dr. Sue’s definition: “Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

I believe that when some people are faced with any sort of difference they don’t clearly understand (or admit,) they may perpetrate microaggressions. And although microaggressions are often unintended that doesn’t minimize their impact.

In the workplace today many people suffer microaggressions on a daily basis as a result of their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, a disability or any number of reasons. It makes diverse talent feel unwelcomed and pushes them out the door.

What are microaggressions? A definition

What are microaggressions? A definition

Now, in most microaggression situations there are at least two forces at play:

1The aggressor is someone in an ethnocentric stage of intercultural sensitivity. (Read my post, What is cultural sensitivity? for a full understanding of Milton Bennett’s theory of intercultural sensitivity.) And although Bennett’s theory refers to intercultural sensitivity, I believe the stages he described apply equally well to sensitivity towards other people’s gender, sexual orientation, etc.

So, being in an ethnocentric stage means being in one of the following stages:

Denial—people don’t recognize cultural differences and experiences.

Defense— people recognize some differences, but see them as negative because they assume their own culture is the most evolved, the best one. Equally, I pose, they may feel their gender or their sexual orientation is superior.

Minimization—Individuals at this stage of cultural sensitivity are unaware that they are projecting their own cultural values. They see their own values as superior. They think that the mere awareness of cultural differences is enough.

2In the context of the microaggression, the aggressor has more power than the person on the receiving end of it. And this is what I’d like to focus on here, as I believe many microaggressions experienced by women are due to their low power in organizations and society.

Power balance and microaggressions

As social psychologist Adam Galinsky’s research has demonstrated, when it comes to women, many of the differences in performance attributed to gender can be traced back to power differences.

In most of our societies, women have less power than men. And, as most people with less power, they are expected to behave in a certain way: Be nurturing, conciliatory, submissive, etc. So when women show ambition, assertiveness, confidence, competitiveness, and so on they are often penalized. (And this happens despite current efforts to get more women into leadership roles.) In other words, they are subject to a double bind. Otherwise known as: “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

What I’m posing here is that many of the microaggressions directed to women in the workplace come not from the fact that they are women but from the fact that they have less power in the company. The same can be said for all the other non-majority groups. It’s always been easier to prey on the weaker members of society, hasn’t it?

Having a diverse leadership team should lead to an increase in acceptance of others and a reduction of microaggressions

Having a diverse leadership team should lead to an increase in acceptance of others and a reduction of microaggressions

Microaggressions directed to people with less power

So let’s look at a couple of examples.

You are in a team meeting with 10 people, 8 men and 2 women. Julie, a manager and the person with least seniority in the meeting, voices her opposition to a new strategy and is interrupted several times while doing so.

When 2 of her male colleagues speak, everyone listens attentively even though they take much more time than Julie to explain their points of view. These interruptions are the kind of frequent microaggressions people like Julie experience daily. Now, my question is, Was Julie interrupted because she was a woman or because she had less power than anyone else, therefore they felt entitled to interrupt her?

Another example. In Latin America, women say that if they seek career sponsors they are perceived in their company as seeking special favors. Yet men don’t have the same issue with seeking sponsors. Is the perception connected to women seeking sponsors due to the fact that they are women or because they have less power and fewer connections in the organization? So if a woman is sponsored to a leadership level, people in the organization feel that the only way for someone with such low power to get to that position were through favors?

Microaggression are damaging to our workplace environment

Microaggression are damaging to our workplace environment

How to help your team move away from microaggressions and embrace a more inclusive culture?

There are two good ways to stop microaggressions.

1Educating your team members to help them move to an ethno relative stage of cultural sensitivity. As follows:

Acceptance — People are able to shift perspectives to understand that the same “ordinary” behavior can have different meanings in different cultures. They are able to identify how experiences are influenced by one’s culture, background, gender.

Adaptation— People become more competent in their ability to communicate with people who are different.

Integration— People are able to shift easily from one frame of reference to another. They develop empathy for people who are different.

2Having a diverse and inclusive leadership team. One that is made up of similar parts of men, women, people from various ethnic and racial backgrounds, with different levels of ability, who come from a variety of schools of thought, socio-economic backgrounds, and so on.

When everyone feels represented, the workplace becomes more welcoming of differences and as people become more curious about each other, the threat of the unknown starts to disappear and so do microaggressions. The best part is that your talent feels valued which in turn helps improve engagement, retention, and promotion.  A win-win all around. Ready to try it?