OP-ED: Why what your company does the other 364 days of the year beyond International Women’s Day is what matters

Nicki GilmourIn celebration of 2014’s International Women’s Day (IWD), and in keeping with the mission of The Glass Hammer to inform, inspire and empower you in your career, the many interesting, useful events that IWD creates will be covered extensively here throughout the month. Instead, today let’s talk about the elephant in the room; what is your company doing every other day to ensure that systemic biases are removed so that you thrive, not just survive?

Organizational culture, the often tacit and engrained ways that work gets done in your firm, is where the rubber meets the road for diversity, despite it often still being treated like the entrance checklist to Noah’s Ark. Observing the behaviors of leaders and managers will tell you a lot about your potential to get that corner office. Practically speaking, you can start to examine what actions get rewarded, what gets tolerated, what gets rewarded and who gets authorized to lead.

A good example of someone who fell foul to how things were being managed at their firm is Ina Drew and the London Whale scandal, which demonstrated that doing your job sometimes isn’t enough since silent endorsements of other people’s bad behavior, or even failure to act, can sink you. Ignore your people’s behavior at your peril is advice for a leader of either gender, but there is an added dynamic of having to prove yourself as a female leader.

Will we see change by 2020?

We all want to say yes. We all want to say we live in a post-bias world where meritocracy rules. In a recent survey by Accenture for International Women’s Day, 70 percent of the 4100 respondents globally said that the number of women CEOs will increase by 2020; with 15 percent believing the increase will be significant. Whilst admiring this optimism and hoping these results to be true, due to the absolute lack of growth over the past six years, this scenario is hard to envision. Data and history show the contrary, and I think there is a huge behavioral gap between what people think they want and consciously voice, and then what they unconsciously do.

Recently, I was involved in a career session where I presented research by a colleague of mine who extrapolated the “Think Manager, Think Male” research to include further dimensions around “Think Manager, Think Straight Male.” The respondents to the survey were aged 18-28 and were mostly females based in NYC. The results were surprising, with the survey revealing that respondents believed that straight men still had more leadership traits than straight and gay women. Interestingly, gay men were assigned attributes that least lined up with what they thought a successful manager looked like. Stereotyping is real. I am pretty sure if you had of asked these women if they wanted to be CEO, they would have said yes. Yet they are authorizing the other gender to do the job based on just that –their gender (and the intersection with their sexual orientation as straight).

The disconnect between espoused values and lived values continues, even in Generation Y with gender expectations still as prevalent as pink and blue. Those women who are breaking ceilings are faced with much the same surprise as the women who went before them. This is exemplified by a young female technologist who built a robot and was asked if she was a cheerleader.

Why what happens in Vegas, comes to the office

Men and women in equal measure hold perceptions around gender roles, and research shows that stereotypes are ubiquitous. Check your own bias at the door first and foremost, and educate your husbands, sons and male friends, if you see fit to do so. Sometimes, men at work are like right-handed people at large. Things are just set up for them so implicitly since they were historically there the whole time. When it is pointed out to them that others may have to adjust a little to get the machine to work for them equally well, they are usually genuinely shocked, and sometimes even appalled. If they view women with a very traditional lens of nurturers, is it really that surprising when they don’t think of you as leadership material if leaders are supposed to have those old ‘control and command’ traits?

You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Women who do behaviorally assimilate –and act like what I like to call ‘Jack Welsh in a skirt’ –tend to get the tough jobs, with the consequence of “think female, think crisis” and often being pushed off the glass cliff.

Take Blythe Masters of JP Morgan, attributed as the inventor of Credit Default Swaps, and later called a “Destroyer of Worlds” by the Guardian after the 2008 crash. The media has continued to malign her, and Ms. Masters has now gone on to be tipped as a continued “weapon of mass destruction,” condemning her to their opinion that she is showing no apparent remorse in her current ventures.

Ina Drew, on the other hand, was painted as the nice girl with Raymond “Chip” Mason, the co-founder of Baltimore’s powerhouse brokerage, LeggMason, endorsing her nice girl status with the following comment,

“She was very efficient and willing to do whatever was asked of her, but she wasn’t one to bother with a power grab or networking.”

Now, let’s be honest here, you don’t get to be the Chief Investment Officer of a major global investment bank without being ambitious. Yet his description of her, and the interestingly constructed New York Times piece (second hand accounts) of Ina’s career based on other people’s concepts of Ina Drew, is certainly kinder than that of other smart women where the exit is never pretty.

You see, sometimes it just isn’t about you personally, regardless of your talent levels. You can Lean in or even Recline if you please, because if you work for a company that allows women and men to carry their stereotypes into the office, then you might want to examine the impact of that on your career.

By Nicki Gilmour, CEO of