Open Letter to Founders, Owners, Boards, and Executive Teams:
Your employees have given their loyalty to you and your vision. They’ve contributed to your success, through their own contributions and even sacrifices. They’re proud to be a part of your team.
You owe it to them to stop and consider whether your chosen leadership deserves their loyalty. Are you building an open and embracing culture, where each individual is valued for the skills, intelligence, and voice they bring to the table?
It’s likely that your employees already talk about this topic, particularly if there is a problem. The problem could come in the form of any bias – it could be motivated by differences in race, color, religion – or gender. That bias is the one I’m most familiar with, and the one we’ll address today.
Bias in my company?
If your organization has a problem with gender bias, your employees are already talking about it. They make lists — mental, but sometimes written — of situations where women were treated differently than men. If you listened in on back-channel communication, you might be surprised to discover that gender bias is quite bothersome to both men and women. You might be shocked to realize how much it’s hampering your ability to succeed.
After 30 years in business, I’ve seen gender bias in many forms. Sometimes it’s blatant – a man requesting sex in exchange for support of a project, for instance – where there is already a process for handling the blatantly abusive situation. More often, though, it’s subtle. It’s a man referring to a female colleague as “sweetie”, or calling her a “girl”. It’s a woman getting disciplined or even fired for a behavior identical to a man’s, while the man gets promoted. It often involves men who don’t know how to handle the sort of strong females they encounter in a business environment; so when these strong women speak up, they are regarded as “abrasive” and “emotional”, instead of “assertive” and “smart”.
This is a #metoo era, with a lot of focus on sexual harassment and abuse. I believe that the more onerous issue is that of subtle gender bias. If you staff executive positions with men who believe that women should be quiet, meek, and submissive, they will fail to spot and grow the best talent. Women inside the company will begin talking to each other instead of management. They will withdraw their contributions, and they will eventually seek other jobs.
I’m not a complainer; I believe in working with loyalty and respect to further the success of my employer. However, I also have a talent for spotting systemic organizational issues. When I see a problem, I call attention to it — a quality that most of my managers have valued and requested. I have a strong voice – but even I have found myself silenced in cultures where female voices are unwelcome.
That is the root issue, the ultimate effect of these subtle gender biases — they quiet voices that could be used to accelerate growth and efficiency of the organization. Eventually, they silence the voices of the very individuals who could have enabled success.
Ending the Bias
Gender-biased leadership quells the potential of the individuals and the organization as a whole. It is the most insidious gender-based issue in the workplace today. To stop it, we have to spot it. Talk about it. Shed light on the subject and understand the causes and effects. We all have to be willing to be brave, and openly address the topic.
For the best success of your organizations, your employees, and the world, leadership must investigate and uncover gender-biased practices that could be gaining momentum within the organization right now. Ask the right questions, and encourage open conversation. Discover situations when men and women are treated differently, solely because of their gender. That behavior might be acceptable in your personal life (your wife might like it when you call her Honey!), but gender bias has no place in the culture of successful organizations.
–Stacey Weber, Principal at Product Growth Leaders