Help Small Women-Owned Businesses Affected by COVID-19

It’s no secret that the pandemic has had an impact on businesses all over the world. Not surprisingly, small-business owners have found themselves in seriously unsteady waters, with female entrepreneurs being hit especially hard during these times of crisis. In moments like these, a little support can go a long way and it’s vital if we want to help small women-owned businesses affected by the pandemic survive.

In addition to threatening small businesses that could be forced to close permanently, the changes brought about as we adjust to our new “new normal” could also undo the progress made in the rise of female entrepreneurs. Especially since many of these female-led businesses are part of some of the most vulnerable industries, including the hospitality and beauty sectors.

Support local women-owned businesses. Photo Credit: Tim Mossholder- Unsplash

Support local women-owned businesses. Photo Credit: Tim Mossholder- Unsplash

COVID-19 and its Impact on Small Women-Owned Businesses

The past five years have seen a rise of 21% in the number of women-owned businesses, with companies owned by Black and Latinx women growing at an incredible rate. Unfortunately, these tend to be small businesses employing fewer than 500 staffers, many of which won’t make it out of the pandemic without at least a little help.

According to American Express, around 22% of all small women-owned businesses are included in the “other services” industries, comprised of companies like nail and hair salons and pet groomers. Female entrepreneurs also own 16% of the hospitality and food service industries.

On top of the ways in which coronavirus has made it impossible –or at least very difficult– for most small companies to stay up and running, female business owners often face banks and financial institutions that’ll deny their loans in order to favor pre-existing costumers. Laurie Fabiano, president of the Tory Burch Foundation, explains that women “tend to have less of a track record with banks” because they borrow less than men.

This isn’t very promising for entrepreneurs who had been having issues securing capital before all small business owners began to need it.

Women-owned businesses have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. They need our help to survive. Photo Credit: Brooke Lark- Unsplash

Women-owned businesses have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. They need our help to survive. Photo Credit: Brooke Lark- Unsplash

Information and Funding for Female Entrepreneurs

Many organizations have begun to find how to help small women-owned businesses affected by the pandemic. In addition to donations and funding, some have offered resources to help entrepreneurs stay informed as well as webinars to help them navigate different aspects of the COVID-19 crisis.

  • The Tory Burch Foundation supports the empowerment of women entrepreneurs, providing access to capital, entrepreneurial education, mentoring and networking opportunities. Their site is currently dedicated to information and guides for female entrepreneurs struggling with the effects of the pandemic. From applying to PPP funding and well-being tips to webinars helping small businesses stay alive.
  • Hello Alice works similarly, helping small businesses “get back to business” by providing e-learning guides, mentorship and immediate $10,000 grants to small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Recipients will also continue to get support from the community, which offers tools and opportunities for specific businessowners.
  • The Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation has showed its dedication to “elevating and supporting women through entrepreneurship” by teaming up with GlobalGiving to create The Red Backpack Fund. The fund will give $5,000 grants to female entrepreneurs in the United States who have been affected by the crisis.
  • The IFW COVID-19 Relief Fund will provide microgrants to women-owned businesses that have been impacted by this crisis. You’ll have to create a crowdfunding campaign through their website to be considered for a grant.
  • Ladies Who Launch has created a thorough guide that includes articles, information on grants and funds, websites on wellbeing and staying healthy, workplace tips, finance resources and different tools to help entrepreneurs work and manage their businesses from home until it’s time to get back to business.

    Photo Credit: Aw Creative Fl - Unsplash

    Photo Credit: Aw Creative Fl – Unsplash

Six Ways to Help Small Women-Owned Businesses

If you’re not a small business owner but you’re interested in how to help small women-owned businesses affected by the pandemic to stay afloat during these unprecedented times, there are some ways you can contribute without having to leave the safety of your home.

1Identify Small Women-Owned Businesses in Your Neighborhood: They could be closer than you think! There are directories available online and chances are that a little bit of research will lead you to at least a couple of women-owned businesses in your area. This is the perfect opportunity to buy their products. Many of them will probably deliver them to your door depending on what it is you’re looking for.

2Support your Female Friends Who Own Small Businesses: It’s always good to start helping those closest to you. So, before you expand your help, look around. Can you support your female friends, colleagues or relatives promote their business? This is a great time for care packages. How about surprising people in your network by sending them your friend’s products or services? We recently organized a “quarantine surprise campaign” with Christtine Organic, the small manufacturer of the best alfajores de dulce de leche you’ve ever tried.

3Find Small Businesses Online: A lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs will have a website, app or social media profile where you can contact them and buy their products or services. Some of them will only ship locally, but you may be surprised at how many will find you wherever you are (for an additional cost, most likely.) You can find anything, from clothes and art to food and drinks. Do a little digging, you might find something you’ll love and help someone who really needs it. Here’s the story of the founder of our partner Lola Ramona, the company that creates shoes with an attitude. 

4Support GoFund and Other Campaigns: Some small companies have created campaigns to raise money on platforms like GoFundMe, their Facebook profiles or their official websites. Through these, you can usually donate as much as you want directly to them and help them cover payroll and other important expenses. A lot of them will even tell you how they plan to spend your money.

5Invest in their Future: Some sites have started to offer gift cards to restaurants, cafes and bars around different cities. These gift cards will be exchangeable when business is resumed, helping these businesses stay afloat while they’re forced to keep their doors shut. Help Main Street!, Support Local, Rally for Restaurants and Give Local are some of the options out there.

6Don’t Forget to Share: The power of social media is great, so make sure you share and encourage others and show them how to help small women-owned businesses affected by the pandemic. Promote them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, give them positive reviews and recommend them to friends and family.

Think of surprising friends and colleagues by sending them something awesome from one of your female business owners. You'll help them spread the word and make someone's day a bit brighter. Photo of Christtine Organic Alfajores

Think of surprising friends and colleagues by sending them something awesome from one of your female business owners. You’ll help them spread the word and make someone’s day a bit brighter. Photo of Christtine Organic Alfajores

 Support Black Women-Owned Businesses

This is also an opportunity to show your support to the Black Lives Matter movement and the black community by investing in businesses owned by black women in the United States. According to the Washington Post, African American owned-businesses decreased by 40% as a result of COVID-19 and the government mandated shutdowns.

It won’t take long before you find a magical bookstore, delicious bakery, Etsy shop or whatever it is your heart desires.

Help however you can. It’s a great time to be there for each other and show some sisterly love.

Diversity in Science: Making a Difference on Aging Brain Research

Discover how aging brain research benefits from diversity in science. And help address disparities in health by taking the MindCrowd online test.

When we learned about Dr. Huentelman’s MindCrowd project and his team of scientists, two things caught our attention. First, he achieved diversity in science. His team consists of more women than men with a variety of backgrounds. Next, his cognitive function and aging brain research study was designed to allow everybody to participate.

Achieving diversity in science is no simple feat. Science can benefit from the varied perspectives brought about by a diverse team. Each team member contributes different approaches to problem-solving and research analysis.

Not only has this team achieved diversity in science in their workplace, they also want to engage the largest and most diverse group of people to take part in the MindCrowd study. Many demographic groups (including women and Latinos) are often absent from clinical trials and scientific research studies. Minorities’ lifestyles, genetics and environmental factors are not studied or taken into account. This lack of representation has serious consequences like inaccurate findings and/or healthcare disparities.

Table of Contents

MindCrowd is the largest online scientific research of the aging process. Backed by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in collaboration with the Universities of Arizona, Miami, Emory and John Hopkins.

Its goal is to find out how to extend quality of life by helping people keep their cognitive abilities in old age. In simple terms, they are trying to help us keep our thinking, learning, understanding skills and working memory for as long as we live.

Given the impact of the study, we sat down with Dr. Matt Huentelman, TGen’s Professor of Neurogenomics and Dr. Carol Barnes, Regents Professor and Director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Arizona, to learn about this powerful project and to listen to some of their insights on achieving diversity in science.

Bonus for those who read to the very end. These two scientists share their recommendations on dealing with COVID-19.

If you want to take part in the study, grab your laptop, desktop or tablet and visit The test takes about 10 minutes, it’s like a video game and you will find out how your brain compares to others like you.

MindCrowd, the Most Diverse Aging Brain Research Online Study

Dr. Matt Huentelman envisions a future where successful aging prevents age-related disease. Discover how aging brain research benefits from diversity in science. And help address disparities in health by taking the MindCrowd online test.

Dr. Matt Huentelman envisions a future where successful aging prevents age-related disease.

RSM – Matt, what led you to study the aging brain?

MH – Aging has always fascinated me because of its complexity. Our differences in aging are due to our genetics, our lifestyle choices, the diseases we have, and even diseases we may have had and recovered from. The long-time frame of aging in the human being is such a tough thing to study… and I have always been attracted to that. The process of time – aging – amplifies our individual differences, which is both interesting and difficult to study at the same time.

RSM – Carol, are there similarities between the animals you have studied and the human aging brain?

CB – Yes, there are actually many similarities between them. I have been studying memory and the aging brain for over 4 decades in rats and monkeys. And there is one kind of memory we can test across animals – spatial memory.

That’s the kind of memory that allows you to remember your way home or where an object is in relation to another. Something you may have noticed people with Alzheimer’s dementia have trouble with.

Spatial memory worsens with age across every examined species, including humans. Of course, a rat is old at 2 years of age, monkeys at 22, and  humans at 65. So far, the fundamental biological process of “brain aging” is similar across species, but sped up in other animals compared to humans.

RSM – What is the difference between normal brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease?

CB – Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias are not part of normal aging. Furthermore, only humans develop Alzheimer’s disease – other animals do not. Thanks to this difference we are able to use these other animals to define what to expect for normal aging.

There are two consistent changes in normal brain aging. A lower number and reduced function of connections between brain cells or synapses. And a reduced ability to strengthen the connections made between cells that are thought to be the biological basis of memory.

So, in normal brain aging you may forget which word to use, you may lose things or make a bad decision once in a while. You may even forget what day it is but remember it later.

While Alzheimer’s usually occurs in an aging brain, its changes happen in a cell type that is well preserved in normal aging. Some warning signs of dementia are life disrupting memory loss, confusion with time and place, difficulty having a conversation or completing familiar tasks. The good new for us is that, only 14% of people over 70 have dementia symptoms.

Latinos are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. And they are severely under represented in scientific research studies for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Taking the MindCrowd memory and reaction time test can help scientists find out how to slow down brain aging.

And they are severely under represented in scientific research studies for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Help scientists learn more about the aging brain by taking a short memory game at

The MindCrowd Project: A Scientific Study of the Aging Brain

RSM – What is MindCrowd and what is it trying to achieve?

MH – MindCrowd is an online scientific research study of the brain whose ultimate goal is to learn how to slow down brain aging. That way, people can preserve their memory for their entire life. And by doing so, avoid diseases of learning and memory like Alzheimer’s.

To achieve this goal we need to engage one million participants with the most diverse backgrounds in the United States and the world.

RSM – Who should take the MindCrowd memory and attention test? Why?

MH – Everybody who wants to be represented in scientific research or is curious and would like to know how their brain compares to others like them. All they need to take the memory and reaction time test is to visit on a laptop, desktop or tablet.

Lack of representation in medical research often translates into health care disparities. Quite often, scientific research is done in person. That is not convenient for those who work full-time jobs, have more than one job, or live far away from a University. This results in a lack of scientific and medical information for these underrepresented groups of people. This can then translate into poorer medical care.

In short – the discoveries made in science and medicine are most specific for those groups who take part in scientific studies. We recognize that this is a problem, that some groups of our United States “melting pot” are being left out of research.

We hope that by conducting a study online, we can encourage everybody to be part of our human brain research and help end disparities in healthcare.

Participating in scientific research is a step towards addressing disparities in healthcare. Test your brain and be counted!

Participating in scientific research is a step towards addressing disparities in healthcare. Test your brain and be counted!

CB – We want to expand MindCrowd to include studies of people across the United States that are representative of the population. Most studies of cognitive health in aging have been small, cross-sectional, and geographically and ethnically constrained. We need to study more people so we can understand what groups will benefit most from what types of treatments.

A so-called Precision Medicine approach such as used in cancer research, is a must to understand how to avoid age related cognitive decline. We want to be in a position to guide public policy and health decisions, and to take the next steps to personalize intervention strategies. When we apply these approaches to the process of aging we call it Precision Aging.

How to Achieve Diversity in Science

RSM – What do you believe it takes to achieve diversity in science?

MH – I strongly believe that diversity in science is driven by actions that encourage participation by young students. We have to begin to encourage grade and high schoolers to consider science as a career. Help them understand that they can be leaders in high tech fields. So, I believe it starts with a focus on the young minds out there.

It is critical to develop and support programs that have a focus on the recruitment of diversity into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math-based fields). Support the teachers who foster and represent diversity in the grades and high schools. Help students of all types understand that their future is their own and that they can overcome any perceived pre-destiny.

I admit that it is a tall order. That our society for all of its opportunities has competing stereotypes that serve to push certain groups away from some careers. However, in science, we thrive on creativity and differing viewpoints and world views… so I really view a lack of diversity as a disservice to science and medicine.

CB – I served in many service capacities at the Society for Neuroscience, including President. One of the working groups I was involved in was tasked to try to figure out why there are so few female Full Professors in Neuroscience. At that time it was about 11%. While there are about 50% women graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, somewhere after that we start to lose women – the classic “leaky pipeline.”

No one has a good answer, of course – other than active mentoring, and developing support groups.

The situation is even more severe with respect to achieving ethnic diversity in science – where the numbers are even more extreme. Most now think we need to start at early ages to show kids how amazing STEM can be. Getting them to actively participate and realize they can be ‘good at science.’ But first, we need to tackle as a nation health and wealth disparities that need not exist.

Diversity in science: Making a Difference on Aging Brain Research

Diversity in science: Making a Difference on Aging Brain Research

RSM – What would be your message for women who are considering a career into STEM?

CB – Find out what really keeps your attention – find something you are passionate about – and, if it is in the STEM field – I say go for it!! There will be challenges to overcome as in any area of life – but I believe the key is to follow your heart with respect to where your passion is.

Every day I feel lucky to be in a position to ‘go in and learn and discover something new.’ My determination to understand brain aging and memory so that I can help people maintain their brain health is truly sustaining. To be sure, there are obstacles to overcome for women in STEM – but if we don’t fight to do and excel at what we love – we all lose.

I’ve gotten many awards for my work and have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. But the award I treasure most is the Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award for mentoring women in neuroscience. So, a final word – once you find your stride in STEM – encourage others.

COVID-19 Recommendations for Dementia Caregivers

RSM – What are your recommendations for people who live and care for others with age related memory issues during this quarantine?

MH – For the caregivers, life during stay-at-home orders and quarantine can be especially challenging. Here are some suggestions that are important to consider.

Keep yourself well: This is the time for the caregiver to pay special attention to themselves. Follow the basic precautions, such as hand washing, physical distancing, don’t touch your face, and clean high touch surfaces (like doorknobs) frequently, and follow the guidelines about face coverings.

Keep others well: Remember that you can carry the virus and not show symptoms. So, when you are in public you should wear a mask.

Think of others, think of the people those you encounter will be in contact with and make sure you protect them. After all, it’s not only about you. This is a pandemic.

Keep physical distance but don’t socially isolate: It is critical to protect the most vulnerable by observing physical distancing guidelines, but we cannot let this slip into social isolation. We know that a lack of social interactions has a negative effect on the brain. Humans, by nature, are social animals and this aspect of the pandemic is perhaps one of the most significant.

Be creative about ways to keep in touch with loved ones. Each case is different, but consider video visits, phone calls, and writing letters. There are many games that can be played online with a loved one. And sometimes listening to music together or sharing a meal on a video call can be calming.

COVID-19 Recommendations for Dementia Caregivers: Keep physical distance but don't socially isolate

COVID-19 Recommendations for Dementia Caregivers.

Carol A. Barnes, Ph.D.

Regents Professor, Psychology, Neurology and Neuroscience
Evelyn F. McKnight Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging
Director, Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute
Director, Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging
University of Arizona

Matt Huentelman Ph.D.

Professor, Neurogenomics Division
Scientific Director, Center for Rare Childhood Disorders
Head, Neurobehavioral Research Unit
Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)

Cesar Cernuda: Dissolving the glass ceiling fostering full inclusion

Cesar Cernuda’s role as President at Microsoft Latin America and Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Corporation has made him one of the most influential Hispanic leaders and a key player in dissolving the glass ceiling by fostering full inclusion at all levels of the organization.

RSM #IWDleader Hall of Fame

RSM #IWDleader Hall of Fame

Cernuda began his journey in Microsoft more than 22 years ago, serving as president in the Asia Pacific region. In his current position he supervises a business that includes 35 offices in 21 countries with more than 2,500 employees and 80,000 business partners. In 2019 he was named co-executive sponsor of the Women at Microsoft Employee Resource Group.

Cernuda’s key area of focus is to support the Latin American Region to accelerate its digital transformation with the help of AI.

He graduated with a degree in Business Administration and Marketing from ESIC University in Pozuelo de Alarcón, Spain. He then moved on to complete the Management and Development Program (PDD) at the IESE Business School at University of Navarra,  and a Leadership for Senior Executives program from Harvard’s Business School.  Among other awards, he was honored with the Ponce de León ‘Executive of the year 2019’ award presented by the Spain-US Chamber of Commerce.

For relentlessly working towards full inclusion at all levels of decision-making at Microsoft and their partners, we honor Cesar Cernuda with the 2020 Hall of Fame.

 Red Shoe Movement — What are some of the key traits of a great leader?

Cesar Cernuda Microsoft Hall of Fame

Cesar Cernuda Microsoft Hall of Fame 2020- Fostering full inclusion at all levels of leadership.

Cesar Cernuda — I think the central trait of a leader is serving others. True leadership is not about being at the center of anything, quite the contrary, a leader strives for others to succeed. There are many ways in which great leaders achieve this but there is always that commitment and dedication to helping others achieve their goals and find their best selves. Personally, I believe that curiosity, empathy and a passion for learning really help, particularly when you realize being a leader is a journey and not a static final state.

Fostering full inclusion to help great leaders arise

RSM — Why do women make great leaders?

CC — One of the most important and perhaps complex things about leadership is the fact that there is no single formula for it. Of course, we can see some common trends like empathy and creativity, but leadership goes beyond a list of preconceived qualities; it is not designed but developed, and true leaders are constantly learning and adjusting.

Every time we believe someone can or cannot be a leader we are operating on a fixed mindset and pretty much condemning our venture to fail from the get-go. Personally, I don’t believe men are good for some things and women are better at others. I think people have unique talents and the important thing is to not reduce them to any specific set of traits attributed to gender, race or any other category. Understanding that no group could ever possibly lay claim to such a subtle, human and powerful quality allows true leaders to drive success for others. It is vital that we realize that full diversity of backgrounds –gender being one of the most crucial– is the only field from where great leaders can arise.

RSM — How open is your door for your associates to approach you and what’s the best way to do it? What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?

CC — I know people in leadership positions want people to be able to approach them as directly as possible, and it’s crucial to communicate this, but it’s also vital for leaders to develop a structure people can trust. Particularly if you are part of a big organization. It’s always positive to know a leader is aware of an issue and is open to direct engagement, but even the most well-intentioned of statements will pale in comparison to structural action.

Having said that, whenever someone approaches me, I really make an effort to not have a preconceived idea of what they need. Even if it’s someone I work directly with and I can probably imagine what they’re there for. In the end, an open door counts for little without an open mind. Perhaps the only thing I would expect from people is for them to be as honest as possible with whatever it is they need; if there is no honesty it becomes very difficult to solve any issue or situation. With this in mind, it’s crucial to make people feel comfortable to express whatever is on their minds, no matter their position or requirement.

Microsoft women with red shoes

Supporting #RedShoeTuesday in the office or at external conferences and meetings the Central America team of Microsoft fosters full inclusion every week- In this picture, bottom row, second from left, Patricia Mejia, a 2019 Red Shoe Leader Awardee. Second from right, Gracia Rossi, Sr.Segment Leader Central America and Venezuela, both, career-long inclusion champions.

Diversity as our reality: making inclusion happen

RSM — What would you say are the most effective ways to get men to become female champions?

CC — I think we need to understand that it will never be enough to assume inclusion will just happen by itself. Although there is undoubtedly a positive trend in this regard, men need to take this as a personal commitment and take concrete steps towards this, particularly in the business world. Having a diverse team needs to be a priority for anyone who seeks to bring success to their projects. That might be easier said than done as sometimes we don’t realize that we surround ourselves with people who think like us, that is undoubtedly a weakness in any team. As men, not only do we need women in our teams, we need women to lead us in order to achieve success.

Specifically, at Microsoft, we work to get men to be female champions, by educating and encouraging male allies to advocate for, mentor or sponsor women during their career journey. Also, in many cases, like our LATAM region, there are male sponsors of our female employee resource groups who provide perspective as well as advocacy for the goals and objectives of the group.

Cesar Cernuda inspirational quote

Cesar Cernuda inspirational quote

RSM — In your experience, how does having a diverse and inclusive team of executives impact your bottom line?

CC — One must understand that diversity is not an ideal or an imagined state; diversity is simply the best description of our realityFor any company of any size, working within any industry, be it locally or globally, the market they operate in is always a diverse one. Once you realize this, it becomes clear that success and innovation can only be driven by developing a business that reflects such reality, and the only way to build such a business is through an inclusive workforce. 45% of my immediate team is female and the diversity of perspectives makes for richer, more effective leadership. You want to be relevant, successful and thrive? You have to be inclusive.

RSM — At your level of responsibility, what do you spend most of your time on? 

CC — To be honest I try to spend my time learning as much as I can. I’ve been fortunate to have global positions within Microsoft and even though this has allowed me to live and get to know different cultures it has also implied I spend a lot of time traveling. I have always been inspired to help others, so in a way, I am lucky to say that I love to spend time with people and learn about them. Specifically, I like to get to know the people I work with, what their motivations are and the challenges they face. In many cases, you end up talking about more than just work and while it’s crucial to respect people’s privacy and whether they want to share something or not, I personally like to get to know my team as much as I can in order to do as much as possible to aid them in their careers and, therefore, in their lives. I always tell my teams that by “getting the people equation right” you will get the results you need.

Ways to overcome inclusion barriers in tech
Red Shoe Tuesday at Microsoft

Weekly social media postings supporting #RedShoeTuesday #RedTieTuesday are one of the ways in which the organization showcases the commitment of its talent to diversity and inclusion

More women in tech and innovation

RSM — What is Microsoft doing specifically to attract more girls to STEM?

CC — There are some good initiatives that we’ve worked on. One of the best ones has to be DigiGirlz, part of our YouthSpark initiative that aims to help students and youngsters develop the skills they need to lead us into the future. Girls Who Code is another organization we partner with around the US to encourage young girls to learn computer programming. Both organizations play a very important role in terms of exposure that can encourage girls to get into technology. Getting more women into tech is vital if the industry wishes to continue innovating. Through these and other initiatives, we have continued to increase our female representation, but we acknowledge there is still an untapped potential including half of the world’s population in this regard. For an industry like ours, mostly dependent on ingenuity and passion, this is simply untenable.

RSM — In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular mistake or failure that you now “cherish” because of what you learned from it?

CC — Of course, I have made many mistakes during my career and I still make them and will make them. However, in order to learn, you first need to be humble enough to acknowledge your mistakes. It is not always easy to acknowledge or even recognize mistakes as it requires courage, self-confidence, and humility. One of my biggest lessons was years ago when I started managing teams. I hired a person who was not qualified for a specific position. He didn’t like the job, was being overworked and was not having a good time – naturally, he was also not delivering on job expectations. My team eventually approached me and pointed out that I was not doing my job by keeping a talented individual in the wrong place. They opened my eyes by sharing how my lack of leadership and decision-making ability was affecting everybody since the whole team depended on delivering those. As he was reassigned I learned how important it is as a leader to ensure you have the right people doing the right job and how to help different individuals work together as a team.

Explore key diversity and inclusion strategies at leading companies


Example of Unconscious Bias in Action: What’s wrong with this picture?

Take a quick look at this image. What does it represent to you? No, it’s not a test about unconscious bias in action but it should be. Let’s analyze this example of unconscious bias in detail.

A perfect example of unconscious bias in action. What do you see when you see this pic? Here's the description used by iStockphoto where both the publisher of the article discussed here and the Red Shoe Movement purchased it: A stylized vector cartoon of a Man and woman's feet playing footsie, the style is reminiscent of an old screen print poster. Suggesting Romance, flirtation, love, attraction, seduction or temptation.

What do you see when you see this pic? Here’s the description used by iStockphoto where both the publisher of the article discussed here and the Red Shoe Movement purchased it: “A stylized vector cartoon of a Man and woman’s feet playing footsie, the style is reminiscent of an old screen print poster. Suggesting Romance, flirtation, love, attraction, seduction or temptation.”

Here are a few things that come to mind when I look at it: A woman rubbing a man’s leg under a table. A seductress in action. A woman coming on to a man. And several variations which you can read in the caption (above) used by iStockphoto to describe the picture to potential buyers.

Let’s Add Context to the Picture: Sexual Harassment?

Now some context. This picture illustrates an article about sexual harassment in a magazine for leaders. The title of the piece is: “How to stop sexual misconduct in the workplace,” a problem that has mostly involved high powered men harassing less powerful women.

Yes, it’s true that there are cases of women harassing men. But this particular piece focuses on solutions for the more pervasive situations that started coming to light following the New Yorker revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation. The illustration is a perfect example of unconscious bias on the part of the publisher.

A Great Example of Unconscious Bias: The Red Shoe

I know you probably think I’m hypersensitive because the shoe is red. And you’d be right. I’m hyper observant of red shoes in real life and on print. But that doesn’t make the pairing of this image with the text any righter. You see, it’s part of why things move so slowly when it comes to changing the culture in our workplaces and our communities. We let slips like this go unchallenged.

This particular article was written by two men and a woman. Granted, they may not have seen the picture the editor picked for their article. But the editor did. And the female president of the publication did as well. And nobody thought there was something wrong with the way the picture contradicted the advice they were giving.

This is how unconscious bias works. It’s unconscious. So you must be trained on how to perceive your own biases and on how to perceive those of others in your environment. Then, you must have the presence of mind to call out what you see at the right time. That is, before going to print. Fixing the workplace is a joint venture. We are all in it together all the time. Regardless of titles or job descriptions. In other words, we should adopt the very effective New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority campaign slogan, which has been licensed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “If you See Something, Say Something ®”

The picture used to illustrate the article we discuss here reflects an unconscious bias and it contradicts the advice in the article. Example of unconscious bias.

The picture used to illustrate the article we discuss here is a clear example of  unconscious bias and it contradicts the advice in the article.

Unconscious Bias in Action: 4 situations where you should say something

1Colleagues talking about women in a dismissive or derogatory way.

They may not realize that their comments reflect a bias against female colleagues or they may be doing it on purpose. Either way, when this happens in your presence, take a stand. Stop the conversation by pointing out that this kind of talk is damaging. Although it may be hard to do depending on the context and the people doing the talking, it’s imperative to find a way to avoid engaging in the conversation. Clearly, the same applies when the derogatory talk involves men.

Read more about how to become a male ally.

2People making jokes about women (or any other non-majority group.)

These may be the hardest situations to “fix” given that jokes often seem to slide by without much contention. But be aware that they are as damaging as the other examples of unconscious bias discussed here. Not only do they frequently offend women but they also perpetuate the stereotypes they portray: Women as weak, submissive, not smart or as sexual objects.

The best way to intervene? Rather than laughing along, just say something such as:  “That isn’t funny.” Then, when the joker points out your lack of sense of humor, you may reply in a kind voice and a serene demeanor: “How would you feel if I made that joke about your daughter or sister? Or if I told her the joke?” This way you bring the unconscious bias to light and give people a chance to put themselves in the shoes of the group that is the butt of the joke. You can apply the same approach to the previous point.

3Advertising by your company that features women who are unnecessarily scantily dressed (meaning, the ad is not for a product you’d use at the beach.)

There are no lack of examples of ads featuring women in sexy clothes, poses or roles to sell products and services. In a great many of them the women are just eye candy.

This is another example of unconscious bias in action that has a pervasive effect on the image of women. Why not question your creative team or your agency about their decision to use sexy women to generate sales? It may mean they are not that creative after all.

4Starting/Spreading rumors about sexual relationships in the office.

Whether founded or unfounded, rumors are damaging to everyone’s reputation but in the end, they tend to affect women the most. Almost inevitably, going forward, others will assume that these women received a promotion through special favors. An unconscious bias that doesn’t affect men the same way. On top of that, this kind of rumors create tension at home for everyone involved, particularly for those in committed relationships. So, as hard as it is to resist the guilty pleasure of gossiping, do. If for some reason, the information about the affair is relevant to you, your best approach is to discover the source of the rumor to verify its veracity and take action from there.

Changing unconscious biases that are so ingrained in our culture is not easy. By being observant and calling out unacceptable behavior and unconscious slips we can all contribute to creating a workplace that is welcoming to everyone. Is there any example of unconscious bias that comes to mind? Share it with me in the comments section below.

Ultimate Software, a Tech Company Ahead of the Rest

Ultimate Software, a company that provides Human Resources solutions, is way ahead of the competition. Boasting nearly 50% female leaders in an industry where that number is in the single digits is a testament to the company’s lifelong focus on equality and inclusion. This is what makes Ultimate different!

Ultimate Software is the 2019 Red Shoe Movement Tech Lead. And there couldn’t be a better partner. They lived by our 7 Red Shoe Principles even before they ever met us! The strength of our partnership is evidenced in our interview with two of Ultimate’s top talent, Cecile Alper-Leroux, VP of HCM (human capital management) Innovation, and Heather Geronemus, Senior Manager of Media and Community Relations, who share what makes Ultimate a frontrunner for advancing women’s careers in tech.

Valeria Mendoza— When you think about female leadership at Ultimate Software, what do you see that is different from the tech industry?

Cecile Alper-Leroux of Ultimate Software

Cecile Alper-Leroux of Ultimate Software

Cécile Alper-Leroux—

At Ultimate, half of our employees are women, and approximately 48% of our leaders are women. It has always been that way, since our inception over 28 years ago (we began with four employees: two women and two men). That is a remarkable state of affairs in any industry, but it is unheard of in the tech industry!

Ultimate offers a unique working environment, where women feel they have an equal voice in decisions and are more likely to voice their opinions, disagree, or raise alternate suggestions, without fear of repercussions. Women feel they belong and are welcomed and encouraged tobring their best selves to work. It also means that we have a broader, and I believe, more innovative view of the future of work. Our HR management products are in large part being chosen by women decision-makers, and we believe we can always be better. Including other voices and viewpoints that influence our product creation and services strategy makes our product more competitive.

Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software, honored on 2019 Hall of Fame

VM— Can you share the story of a successful stretch assignment you had at Ultimate Software?

CAL—The most satisfying stretch assignment I’ve been given at Ultimate was to create a new team—the HCM Innovation team. We knew that, to make the thought leadership applicable for our sales teams, we would have to connect future and theory with the concerns of decision-makers in our prospect and customer organizations today. Because I was given significant creative license, we created a center of excellence and knowledge that has helped not only our standing in the marketplace, but has also elevated the conversations our employees have with customers and prospects. That is helping to shape the conversation about the future of work in a rapidly changing world. If I had not had a leader who trusted me and was patient as we designed the new function, we would not have had the courage to push our limits.

VM— Which ones of the RSM principles do you relate to most and why?

CAL—I relate most to principles 1 and 5, because I believe that they are inextricably linked and can have a significant impact on women at work. Principle 1: “Mentor younger or less experienced women whenever you have a chance.” Mentoring women is important, for all women at all levels and stages of their careers. I’ve learned from every mentoring relationship I’ve had, whether I was the mentor or mentee. Mentoring others helps us crystallize our thoughts and refine our beliefs, which makes us better mentors. Every person can use support and mentorship in their work lives, as it provides a necessary alternate perspective and enriches our thoughts. But I believe mentorship is a critical first step for women’s careers, and we all need to take the next step to become sponsors of the women we mentor. Principle 5: “Celebrate the accomplishments of women publicly.” Sponsorship is more than a one-on-one relationship. It requires a public endorsement of another person. It becomes a relationship in which a sponsor advocates for the mentee/sponsee to propel them forward in their careers. It requires a sponsor taking on the risk of publicly endorsing someone else, and the effect can be career- and life-changing. We need more sponsors for less experienced women in the workplace to ensure a future with equal representation of women in leadership roles.

Ultimate Software team

Ultimate Software team

VM—What is the mission of the group Women in Leadership at Ultimate Software?

Heather Geronemus of Ultimate Software

Heather Geronemus of Ultimate Software

Heather Geronemus—The mission of Women in Leadership is to help women at all stages of their careers at Ultimate reach their maximum potential and support one another. One of the most inspiring traits of female leaders at Ultimate is their willingness to spend time mentoring other women in the company. No matter how busy they are—whether it’s through our formal mentoring program or simply taking the time to give advice, provide encouragement, or answer questions—they’re always available or willing to make time. Our leaders are constantly helping the next generation of Ultimate leaders thrive. They are genuinely warm, caring women who are always ready to share their knowledge and experience with their colleagues, whether they have been with Ultimate for years or days.

VM—Can you share some of the benefits you derived from being part of the group?

HG— There are countless benefits to being part of the Women in Leadership (WIL) group at Ultimate Software. We provide opportunities for personal and professional growth, service to our communities, and networking with peers. I recently participated in one of our mentoring cohorts both as a mentee and a mentor. Without a doubt, this was one of the most rewarding opportunities WIL has provided to me. Naturally, the ability to have a mentor was amazing. But, the most surprising part of the experience was learning how much I had to offer my own mentee who is in a completely different part of the company than I am, and, more importantly, how much we were able to teach each other. Additionally, as a leader in the WIL organization, I have grown tremendously. Working and collaborating with a group of inspired, passionate women who are dedicated to helping other women at our company thrive has been so rewarding.

On March 8, 2019, International Women’s Day, Ultimate Software’s employees and customers join the Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas. They will conduct bell-ringing ceremonies in 18 locations in North America, Europe and Asia! On this day, a company whose color is green, is stepping into red shoes, ties and accessories to support our mission to accelerate the representation of women at the top. That’s just how they roll. Welcome aboard Ultimate Peeps!

Viv Maza, Chief People Officer

Viv Maza, Chief People Officer