In Business Performance

Although women and men graduate from college and enter the workforce at roughly equal numbers, men outnumber women 2 to 1 when it comes to getting promoted into their first manager role. That translates to roughly 1 million women getting left behind as men are promoted through the corporate ranks, and the disparity isn’t due to attrition or lack of ambition.

Each year, the Wall Street Journal gathers top executives in San Francisco to tackle challenges and opportunities facing women at work in conjunction with the release of its annual Women in the Workplace Study, done in partnership with Lean in and McKinsey. We were honored to be invited to attend and speak this year, and I wanted to share some of what I learned at the conference.


Larry Freed Givitas

Larry Freed, President of Give and Take, photo by Andrew Davis for the Wall Street Journal

Reciprocity in the Workplace Can Transform Your Culture

Give and Take’s CEO, Larry Freed, spoke about the rewards of generosity and a willingness to ask for help, both for individuals in the workplace and for the company overall.

For this audience of leaders, he stressed the importance of modeling a willingness to ask for help, celebrating and recognizing team members that put the good of the company ahead of their own ego and ask for help when they need it, and the value of modeling reciprocity by giving employees a safe, easy, place to exchange help, both in person and virtually.

We are excited to announce that we’re starting a network for professionals interested in advancing the cause of women in the workplace. We launched it at the conference and welcome anyone interested in networking with leaders and peers to tackle these challenges and opportunities. It’s free for all members; it’s our way of contributing to the cause ourselves.

Join a Network for Advancing Women in Business


What Makes a Good Workplace for Women?

The Purple Campaign is a nonprofit whose mission is to prevent sexual harassment by implementing stronger corporate policies, establishing better laws, and empowering people to create lasting change withing their own workplaces and communities. President and co-founder Ally Coll spoke movingly about her decision to leave a law firm that was representing Harvey Weinstein to start the Purple Campaign and about her work with big companies who are trying to do better, Watch her talk about how difficult it is to advise women about whether or not to come forward in an environment where there may still be negative consequences for women who report.

The Riveter is a a modern union of working women offering content, community and coworking spaces, all designed with a focus on women and work. CEO Amy Nelson shared how she creates an office environment that is friendly towards all working parents (not just women) while still delivering fantastic financial performance. One example is that meetings only take place between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., another is that children are welcome in the office. Watch a portion of Amy’s talk here.

Change from the Boardroom

Amy Chang, EVP and General Manager at Cisco Collaboration and a member of the board of Proctor and Gamble talked about how to leverage your network to get your first board position. If you have access to a CEO, ask him or her to refer you when they get an offer for a board seat they don’t want. She also shared ideas on how to make your board bio more compelling: add statistics and specifics.

Amy was joined on the panel by Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin Corp, a company that has increased the number of women on staff as well as made sure to include women on the board. He shared the importance of focusing on bottom line results when making the case for diversity in the workplace. He stressed that diversity is not just a feel-good initiative. It will make you more money! Glenn also introduced the concept of intersectionality into the morning’s program saying that while they’d made strides with gender equity, they still struggled with racial equity.

“Society is divided on gender lines, but it is much more divided on racial lines,” said Mr. Kelman, adding that he could tap into networks of qualified women through his wife and friends. “I don’t know a lot of Latinx people,” he admitted. “I don’t know a lot of black people.”


Let Go and Lead, aka DELEGATE

According to Modupe Akinola at Columbia Business School, women are less likely to lead than men, and they are more likely to feel guilty about it. However, Columbia researchers also found that when women don’t delegate, they have less time for gig-picture, strategic work, and they miss opportunities to advance.

According to Dr. Akinola, her research shows that women are more likely to delegate if they focus on the opportunity they’re giving to their subordinate for mentorship, development, and advancement. Women are more likely to delegate when they see the task as a benefit for all parties.

The Brain Game

Sian Beilock, President of Barnard College and a cognitive scientist by training, shared her research on how to overcome self doubt and build a more equitable workforce. She said just about everyone has “imposter syndrome,” but that its especially pronounced when people imagine failing or feel scared of something. We can overcome self doubt by practicing the scary event in advance (mentally and literally) and by evaluating past performance based on facts, without a lot of emotion or judgment. It also helps to frame anxiety reactions (sweaty palms, elevated heart rate) as an evolutionary advantage that brings oxygen to the places it’s needed most to perform well.

This was definitely my favorite chart of the day.


Tough Conversations, Nailed

I attended a working lunch led by Bravely CEO Toby Hervey and his colleague Michelle Greenberg about how to have difficult conversations in the workplace. The jist is that we need to put ourselves in the position of the other person and give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to assuming anything about their motivation. At the end of the day, the only behavior we can change is our own, but it’s helpful to have a coach to talk through strategies in advance of a difficult conversation.

Activists in the Office

Minda Harts, CEO of The Memo talked about the importance of including ALL women when we talk about gender equity in the workplace. The experience of women of color is fundamentally different than the experience of white women, and white women need to recognize this reality and strive to show allyship through action, not just words. An inspiring call to action!

Watch Minda talk about a situation where someone should have stepped in.

Writer Indu Reddy shared her experience leading a workplace walkout at Riot Games over a lack of diversity and equity in the gaming company’s workforce. Indu talked about the importance of being able to work at a place you can be authentic and bring your whole self to work and stressed the importance of having a network or squad of female colleagues who support your goals and aims. It’s also important to have a safe place to vent and get support.

There were so many more sessions . . . too many to recap. Valerie Jarrett, Sheryl Sandburg, Major General Jeannie Leavitt, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed also shared their thoughts on increasing equity in the workplace.

Thanks again to the Wall Street Journal for hosting us for a wonderful event! I would love to come back next year.

In the meantime, we hope you’ll join our network for folks working to advance the cause of ALL women in the workplace. It’s free. You can join today and post your first question among an amazing brain trust!

Join a Network for Advancing Women in Business
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