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Pinterest Accused of Gender Bias in Suit by Former No. 2 Executive

SAN FRANCISCO — In April, Françoise Brougher, the chief operating officer of Pinterest and its top female executive, abruptly left the company with little explanation.

In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Ms. Brougher accused the $21 billion company, which makes virtual pinboards, of firing her after she complained about sexist treatment. In her suit, which was filed in San Francisco Superior Court, Ms. Brougher said she had been left out of important meetings, was given gendered feedback, was paid less than her male peers when she joined the company, and ultimately was let go for speaking up about it.

“Gender discrimination at the C-level suite may be a little more subtle, but it’s very insidious and real,” Ms. Brougher, 54, said in an interview. “When men speak out, they get rewarded. When women speak out, they get fired.”

Pinterest was reviewing the lawsuit, a company spokeswoman said. “Our employees are incredibly important to us,” she said, adding that the company was committed to advancing its culture so “all of our employees feel included and supported.” Pinterest is conducting an independent review regarding its culture, policies and practices, she added.

Ms. Brougher is one of the most prominent female tech executives to file a gender discrimination suit against her onetime employer since the venture capitalist Ellen Pao sued her firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, in 2012. The new lawsuit suggests that bias against women in Silicon Valley has persisted, even after tech’s culture of sexual harassment of female executives and entrepreneurs became part of the #MeToo movement.

Ms. Brougher’s lawsuit follows a gender discrimination lawsuit last month against Carta, a financial technology start-up, by its former vice president for marketing, Emily Kramer. Ms. Kramer accused Carta of paying her less than her male peers and said the company retaliated against her for speaking up about gender equality and diversity.

A Carta spokeswoman said, “Gender inequality in the workplace is a real and systemic problem, particularly in Silicon Valley, however, the allegations in this case are unfounded.”

Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Ms. Brougher’s suit adds to the scrutiny of Pinterest, which has a large audience of female users. In recent months, the company, based in San Francisco, has also been criticized by some of its former Black employees over racial discrimination. In June, two of them, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, tweeted about racist and sexist comments, pay inequities and retaliation they experienced at the company. They quit in May.

Ms. Brougher is well known in Silicon Valley. She previously led the business side of the financial technology company Square and worked in a variety of positions on Google’s advertising business. She joined Pinterest in 2018 as chief operating officer and was responsible for the company’s revenue, with roughly half of the 2,000 employees reporting to her.

When Pinterest filed to go public in 2019, Ms. Brougher learned that she was paid less than her male peers and that her equity grants were “backloaded,” meaning most of them vested after several years, while her executive male peers’ grants were not, according to the lawsuit. After complaining, her compensation was adjusted.

Ms. Brougher said she was not invited on the “road show” to talk to investors for Pinterest’s initial public offering. She was also not invited to board meetings after the company went public, though members of her team were sometimes invited to those meetings without her knowledge, the lawsuit said. (She was not a member of the board.)

Ms. Brougher described a culture of “constant exclusion,” where decisions were frequently made in unofficial capacities, or “the meeting after the meeting.”

“When you are brought in as a No. 2, you are expected to advise the C.E.O.,” she said. “But when you are not in the meeting where the decisions are made and don’t have the context, it makes your job harder.”


Credit…Anastasiia Sapon for The New York Times

Ms. Brougher said Pinterest’s chief financial officer, Todd Morgenfeld, asked her at one point, “What is your job anyway?” in front of peers, according to the lawsuit. Mr. Morgenfeld also offered Ms. Brougher formal feedback that she viewed as sexist, according to the lawsuit. When she confronted him about it on a video call, he raised his voice and hung up on her, the suit said.

Ben Silbermann, Pinterest’s chief executive, was dismissive of Ms. Brougher’s concerns about Mr. Morgenfeld, comparing it to a domestic dispute, according to the suit. Human resources treated the complaint as a legal matter, the suit said.

In April, soon after the heated conversation with Mr. Morgenfeld, Ms. Brougher was terminated, according to the suit.

“I was told I wasn’t collaborating enough,” she said. Pinterest asked her to announce that leaving was her decision and she declined, she said.

Ms. Brougher’s law firm, Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe, also represented Ms. Pao.

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How Vulnerability Can Be a Leadership Superpower

May 04, 2020

Good leaders bring mentally healthy values to their teams and organizations. And that means showing weakness, at times, and facing the resulting risk of being perceived as a weak leader. But accessing that vulnerability is harder for some leaders than others.

In this episode, host Morra Aarons-Mele speaks with Jason Rosario about his own journey with depression and anxiety, and the lessons he’s learned about vulnerability, masculinity, and leadership. Rosario left a career in finance to found The Lives of Men, a social impact and creative agency focused on decoding masculine psychology and challenging false concepts of masculinity.

HBR Presents is a network of podcasts curated by HBR editors, bringing you the best business ideas from the leading minds in management. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Harvard Business Review or its affiliates.

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Gender Equity Starts in the Home

Executive Summary

Many men teleworking from home for the first time are getting a front row seat to the daily demands of running a home and caring for kids, as well as a crash course in learning to “balance” work and family. Although many men have experienced traditional role reversals for short stints, most have never worked from home for an extended period while leaning in as primary caregiver for children. Most of this work has fallen on women.

The presence of more men sharing more fully in domestic duties for an extended period of time has the potential to create a sea change in gendered norms — at home and at work. Men teleworking during the pandemic are more likely to appreciate women’s work-family experiences, understand the value of flexible work arrangements, appreciate the benefits of relationships with work colleagues, and role model more equitable work-family gender roles for their children.

Martin Poole/Getty Images

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Jack Koban, a geologist and engineering project manager, is working from home during the pandemic shutdown while his wife, Ashley Saucier, works long hours as a pediatric emergency medicine physician. In our recent call with Jack, he reflected, “I don’t remember the last time I’ve cooked three meals a day and done the dishes for three straight weeks. It’s been nice being home, having more family time, and being more involved with the kids. We’ve definitely achieved a new work-life balance.”

Not everyone is seeing a silver lining in the shutdown, though. Families are struggling with unemployment, keeping small businesses afloat, and having to work to survive in the absence of paid sick leave. What’s more, many individuals are now discovering what it’s like to spend so much of their time managing work, childcare, and a household.

Further Reading

For most women, this last challenge is nothing new. Despite the fact that women outnumber men in the paid workforce, women still do more of the domestic work and childcare — almost twice as much as their male partners. The pandemic has closed many schools and daycare centers, creating childcare scarcity and exacerbating the stresses and strains of caregiving, home-schooling, and domestic duties, especially for dual-earner mothers who were already doing more unpaid work. Even with expanded use of telework and flexible work arrangements by many businesses, working from home isn’t necessarily easier when parents are juggling job responsibilities, full-time childcare, and supervision of children’s education.

Because 44% of all U.S. households with children are comprised of married dual-earner full-time working couples, and because 1.57 billion children are currently out of school globally and most non-critical workers are now teleworking from home, a seismic shift in the traditional division of household responsibilities is likely. It is not a stretch to expect that men are doing more housework and childcare during the pandemic — an enlightening experience for many.

Many men teleworking from home for the first time are getting a front row seat to the daily demands of running a home and caring for kids, as well as a crash course in learning to “balance” work and family. Although many men have experienced traditional role reversals for short stints, most have never worked from home for an extended period while leaning in as primary caregiver for children. Nowhere is this more evident than among men who are partnered with women who are essential healthcare professionals, currently required to work even longer hours outside the home. Because the healthcare industry is female-dominated (25 of 30 occupations are majority women), many of these families include a husband who is taking on primary caregiver and household responsibilities during the pandemic.

The presence of more men sharing more fully in domestic duties for an extended period of time has the potential to create a sea change in gendered norms — at home and at work. Men teleworking during the pandemic are more likely to appreciate women’s work-family experiences, understand the value of flexible work arrangements, appreciate the benefits of relationships with work colleagues, and role model more equitable work-family gender roles for their children.

In interviews we conducted for our forthcoming book, Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, women told us that gender equality at work had to start with men becoming equal partners at home. Real allyship and gender partnership demands that men do their fair share of household chores, childcare, transportation for children’s activities, the emotional labor of planning and tracking activities, and supporting their partner’s career. When men genuinely enact equal partnership at home, it accelerates gender equality at work in three ways.

First, women with equal partners at home are more successful at work. When people are less concerned with the impact of their job on family responsibilities and able to focus and commit more fully to their work, it’s no surprise that they’re more productive and able to take advantage of growth and advancement opportunities.

Second, fathers who are equal domestic partners role model equity for their children, shaping expectations of our future workforce. Daughters with dads who do their fair share are more likely to pursue their career aspirations, often in less stereotypical occupations, with more self-esteem and self-autonomy. Sons who see their father role model equal partnership in household duties have a more egalitarian perspective of women’s and men’s roles at home and work.

Finally, men who equally share unpaid work at home aren’t afraid to ask for and talk about why they need flexibility in their work schedule. When women alone request and use flexible work arrangements, paid sick leave, and parental leave, the perception that these programs exist solely for women creates a stigma that deters men from using them. For example, although men are more likely to be in jobs that allow telework, women still telework more than men. But when men lean in to truly equal partnership at home, they tend to use flexible work policies, normalizing it for everyone.

This pandemic has created a golden opportunity for men-as-allies to purposefully leverage their newfound domestic partnership chops. Men can start with considering how to intentionally lean in to being a better ally to their partner at home. Here are some recommendations to jumpstart better male allyship at home today:

Do your fair share of chores and childcare. There is no time like the present to check in with your partner and ask for a domestic performance audit to assess how you’re doing. And when she tells you that you need to do more, don’t get defensive; figure out how to be better.

Take on the emotional labor of tracking, planning, and organizing family needs, activities, and special occasions. The mental lists that women are more likely to maintain for their family is another form of unpaid work — cognitive labor. Grocery lists, holidays, birthdays, children’s school requirements, children’s clothing, medicines, pets’ needs — the list is seemingly endless. Men need to do their fair share of this labor.

Be purposeful in prioritizing work and family responsibilities. To help you prioritize, use “ruthless compartmentalization” in setting boundaries between work and family and adhere to them. As you set goals for work, do the same at home. Set key performance indicators (KPIs) for your family responsibilities the same way you do for work. This will help you self-monitor and ensure you’re being the dad and partner you intend to be.

Support your partner’s career without reservation. This may mean putting your own career on hold, reducing current work responsibilities, or changing your work hours so she can have the time she needs to not just do her work but explore opportunities for professional growth. We find some couples creatively striking a balance by designating paid work (telework) days and non-paid work (kids and chores) days for each parent. This establishes a clear and shared priority for childcare and household duties.

Deliberately role model allyship for your children. Depending on the age of your children, openly communicate family and career goals. Life is messy, so show your kids how to disagree, listen, and respect others’ perspectives. Be transparent with your children in how and why decisions are made through compromise and balance. When you lean in to doing your fair share of domestic work, let your kids see that this is important and meaningful, and not just another task. Your positive attitude toward childcare and household responsibilities will send an enduring message of commitment and allyship to your children and your partner.

Be authentic and transparent about your current work-family situation. This includes transparently managing your daily schedule and availability so that you can prioritize family responsibilities. Most people now realize that when you’re working from home with children, pets, and others in a shared space, it’s futile to try to create an image of peace and serenity. Accept and normalize it for yourself, your family, and your coworkers. Authenticity makes you more effective in all your roles.

Leverage your partnership at home to build connection and community at work. We’ve all learned that it’s not only okay to talk about family and domestic challenges right now, but it’s actually quite powerful and meaningful in building relationships, emotional connection, and a caring community. Share both your wins and setbacks in achieving work-life integration so that others feel comfortable sharing theirs as well.

The current crisis is presenting new experiences for everyone at home and work — especially men. The silver lining for men’s experiences may be the ability to engage in gender equality and partnership in a way that we have not seen before. The benefits of equal partnership at home may be the catalyst to finally create a workplace that is equal for women.

If our free content helps you to contend with these challenges, please consider subscribing to HBR. A subscription purchase is the best way to support the creation of these resources.

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How to Spot an Incompetent Leader

Executive Summary
If we want less incompetent men in leadership roles, those responsible for judging candidates need to improve their ability to distinguish between confidence and competence. The good news is that, for some time now, we have had at our disposal scientifically valid assessments to predict and avoid managerial …

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Research: To Reduce Gender Bias, Anonymize Job Applications

Executive Summary

Research has shown that gender diversity promotes scientific creativity and innovation. Furthermore, lower success rates for women in science represent a shortcoming in social justice and reduce role models for young women, perpetuating the lack of women in the pipeline. Blinding applications is a relatively simple step forward in curbing these inefficiencies and injustices, but many scientific institutions have not yet implemented it in their processes. The authors’ research demonstrates that anonymizing applications can improve the rates at which women are accepted into prestigious research programs.

foto-ianniello/Getty Images

As the existence of gender, race, and other biases becomes more widely acknowledged, many organizations are “blinding” their talent selection systems. Whether in a hiring process or an application for funding or other opportunities, there is some suggestions that anonymizing details about the applicant — removing their name, for example — leads to the selection of more candidates from underrepresented groups.

But the evidence supporting this approach hasn’t motivated the science community, where women represent only 28% of the science and engineering workforce, are paid less, receive less funding, and are cited less often than their male counterparts. Though institutions such as the National Institutes of Health have discussed anonymizing applications to reduce gender bias for at least a decade, there has been no movement towards implementing this process.

Our recently published research confirms that anonymizing can mitigate gender bias in the review of scientific research applications. Specifically, we found that when indications of candidates’ gender (such as their first name) were removed from applications for time on the Hubble Space Telescope, women were selected at a higher rate than when their gender was obvious.

One of the largest implementations of anonymous evaluations occurred among symphony orchestras in the United States. In the 1970s several U.S. symphony orchestras began changing their audition processes so that musicians auditioned from behind a screen. (Think of the popular TV show “The Voice.”) One analysis of the data showed that the percentage of women in the top five U.S. orchestras increased from 5% in 1970 to 25% by the 1990s. Anonymizing the audition in the preliminary round alone increased the probability a woman would advance to the next round by 50%.

The results from this study were compelling, and we wondered whether they would translate to other domains. The research on the symphonies also never examined whether male or female evaluators were more affected by anonymization. We wanted to test those two questions, so we turned to data from 15,545 applications spanning 16 years of applications for research time on the Hubble Space Telescope from 2001 to 2018.

This data was ideal for analysis because the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee changed their application review process fairly significantly over that period. In 2014, evidence emerged that there was a statistical gender bias against women in the application process: A study revealed that female applicants’ success rate was about 19%, even though nearly 23% of the applications came from women. The Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee decided something had to be done and embarked on a process of obscuring applicants’ gender. Initially the first name of the applicant was simply removed from the front cover of the application. In 2018, all personally identifying information was removed and evaluators were instructed not to discuss characteristics of the scientists, but to only evaluate the merit of the science.

When we compared application success rates over these years, we found that female applicants were significantly more likely to have their proposals accepted when their gender was obscured in the application process. The most effective of all of the changes was to completely remove all names and instruct the reviewers not to discuss characteristics of the scientists. Before any anonymization, men outperformed women by about 5%. After just the removal of the names, that number dropped to less than 3%. When the applications were fully anonymized, women outperformed men by 1%.

Women are still vastly underrepresented, since they represented only 23% of applicants on average across this time period. But their relative success has been steadily growing: While women represented 18% of the accepted applications before anonymization, that number rose to 23% after first names were removed and to 30% when fully anonymized.

In addition, we conducted analyses comparing the year prior to anonymization to the three most recent years to examine whether rater gender affected the results. We found that the change in women’s success rates appears to be driven primarily by changes in ratings from male reviewers. This is somewhat surprising in that we all hold unconscious biases, but it seems that men were more likely to let those biases affect their ratings. We believe this might be due in part to the fact that the female reviewers — astrophysicists themselves — likely have more woman scientists in their own networks and might therefore have less-gendered unconscious biases. The female reviewers are a bit younger than the men; this would mean they went through school at a time when there were more women in higher education and science, thus again potentially making them less prone to unconscious gender bias.

What can organizations — STEM and otherwise — do with this information? We recommend that they implement anonymized recruitment where possible, especially at the early stages of applicant screening. When you have evidence that gender, race, age, or other differences are affecting your selection process, despite their not being relevant selection criteria, you have error in your process. In other words, extraneous information about one’s identity is causing you to make less accurate decisions. Given that we all want to make good (and legal!) selection decisions, the focus should be on defining relevant criteria beforehand and ensuring that extraneous information is not erroneously influencing your decisions.

Anonymizing applications is an appealing alternative to other strategies for promoting gender equity. For one, rather than trying to reduce bias, which often fails to be effective, anonymizing eliminates the possibility for unconscious bias to impact decisions by removing the information that triggers the bias in the first place. Second, many interventions cause backlash against women because of the perception that women are receiving extra advantages or preferential affirmative action. Removing personally identifying information from applications, however, mitigates the potential for bias for or against either sex.

To us, the findings also expose a flaw in the common narrative around gender bias: We want more women, but we don’t want to lower the bar. Our data, and many other studies like ours, suggest that the bar is often higher for women than men. So, rather than worrying about lowering the bar, we emphasize processes that ensure the bar is at the same place for any applicant, regardless of gender, by creating a selection procedure based solely on the candidate’s actual qualifications.

It’s important to note that our study did not address racial biases, because Hubble does not currently collect data related to applicants’ race. However, there is evidence to support the assertion that anonymization would be similarly effective in reducing the impact of racial and other biases. It’s also worth noting that anonymizing an application does not change biases that might affect earlier stages of the application process, such as a lack of available role models for women. Other interventions are needed to mitigate these factors.

Research has shown that gender diversity promotes scientific creativity and innovation. Furthermore, lower success rates for women in science represent a shortcoming in social justice and reduce role models for young women, perpetuating the lack of women in the pipeline. Blinding applications is a relatively simple step forward in curbing these inefficiencies and injustices.

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It’s Time to Start Talking About Menopause at Work

Executive Summary

Menopause often intersects with a critical career stage. It usually occurs between ages 45 and 55 — which is also the age bracket during which women are most likely to move into top leadership positions. Since menopause generally lasts between seven and 14 years, millions of postmenopausal women are coming into management and top leadership roles while experiencing mild to severe symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation and cognitive impairment, to name a few. If we want to continue to move the needle on the number of women in leadership roles and maintain their valuable contributions to a company’s bottom line, we need to be more open about what menopause is and how it affects both individuals and organizations.

HBR Staff/teekid/Getty Images

Menopause is rarely a topic of open discussion in the workplace — despite the fact that nearly half of the world’s population experiences or will experience this biological transition, which marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle and fertility. According to a study from the Society for Endocrinology, a startling one in four women will experience serious menopause systems.

Menopause often intersects with a critical career stage. It usually occurs between ages 45 and 55 – which is also the age bracket during which women are most likely to move into top leadership positions (technically 53.46 years old for a CEO). Since menopause generally lasts between seven and 14 years, millions of postmenopausal women are coming into management and top leadership roles while experiencing mild to severe symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation and cognitive impairment, to name a few. A recent Korn Ferry analysis finds that women hold only around 25% of C-suite positions. If we want to continue to move the needle on the number of women in leadership roles and maintain their valuable contributions to a company’s bottom line, I believe we need to be more open about what menopause is and how it affects both individuals and organizations.

Some researchers suggest that workplace ageism also plays a part in the exclusion of menopausal symptoms from corporate health policies. Companies can be wary of hiring and or accommodating older employees’ health needs. “We find [aging women] kind of disposable or marginal — so it doesn’t surprise me that something that impacts older women in particular would be not only a discomfort, but a non-concern,” explained Chris Bobel, an associate professor of gender studies at UMass Boston.

Like a lot of women, I instinctually disguised my symptoms when menopause began for me. It was a sharp difference from when I was pregnant — during that time, I didn’t think twice about confessing forgetfulness and fatigue. Men and women laughed knowingly and supportively at my anecdotes. But menopause was different. I wouldn’t reveal the cause, despite getting lost (even with a GPS), arriving late to important meetings, double and triple-booking calendar time slots, missing flights, and not even being able to recall what someone had said to me just a few minutes earlier.

When my symptoms began, I was convinced that, at age 48, I had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Too afraid to discuss my difficulties with anyone at work, I made excuses for my forgetfulness and backed off from a career-enhancing role. How could I take on a bigger challenge when I kept forgetting key details about my projects? When my physician diagnosed menopause, it was a relief and a surprise.

Other women I’ve spoken to about this experience have echoed how difficult it can be to manage menopause symptoms and work. “Moderating that high-profile panel, in front of 200 industry experts, should have been a career highlight. It was a disaster,” grumbled Sandala (not her real name), a 46-year-old biotech vice president. “Those years of confusion, self-doubt, and severe anxiety practically killed my entire career,” Enia (also disguised), a 51-year-old tech executive, told me.

In Enia’s case, her symptoms became so severe that two years of damaging 360-degree feedback and deteriorating results led to her dismissal. Today, she works as a diversity-and-inclusion consultant for organizations who are accommodating a broader range of women’s health issues. With a twist of irony, her former employer now engages Enia as a consultant. She’s happier and healthier than ever.

In retrospect, Enia wishes she’d been more courageous and spoken up about her need for support. Any taboo topic loses power when someone with authority addresses it openly. We are learning to discuss race, gender, and generational differences more openly at work and we need to put menopause on the agenda.

What can employers do? Based on my experiences, it starts with talking. If you are a leader going through menopause, try to normalize your challenges, so that other women can feel empowered to speak in the future. Just saying something like, “I’m going through menopause, and I keep forgetting things!” shows others this is something that is okay to talk about. Dialogue costs nothing, but reaps big rewards.

It also takes education. There’s a lot of mystery and misinformation about this life stage, and just gathering some basic facts from trusted medical sources is a good start.

Managers can work to bring this issue into the daylight by focusing on its connection to employee well-being — after all, menopause is one of the many health issues that can contribute to stress and burnout.  Talk with the women and men on your team about how you might approach accommodation strategies like flexible work schedules, offering options to work from home, or providing company information sessions. Through active leadership support, an organization can begin to realize benefits in productivity, work culture, and the bottom line, when menopausal transition is addressed as a specific, work-related concern.

When I went through this, my initial fear of embarrassment stopped me from getting the support I needed. Finally, when it was too hard to continue pretending that nothing was amiss, I said in a 12-person meeting: “I’ll have to excuse myself for a few minutes. I’m having a hot flash and need a break.” In that moment, I felt powerful, self-assured, and relieved. Everyone nodded like it was no big deal. After the meeting two colleagues approached me to share their own experiences. That encouraged me to speak about my symptoms more often, and I hope my experience inspires others to do the same.


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Gender Parity in the Boardroom Won’t Happen on Its Own

Executive Summary

The sixth edition of Deloitte Global’s Women in the Boardroom report found that women hold just 16.9% of board seats globally. If the current rate of progress holds steady, it will take more than three decades to achieve gender parity in the boardroom. Even then, actual parity is likely to be concentrated in the few countries that are making concentrated efforts to address this issue. While the business case for gender diversity in the boardroom is clear, this change will not happen on its own. Research shows it will take concerted efforts to address the cultural barriers that prevent many women from reaching senior leadership roles and the boardroom.

rzdeb/HBR Staff/Getty Images

We’re making progress, but it is too slow. That’s the key finding of the sixth edition of Deloitte Global’s Women in the Boardroom report, which found that women hold just 16.9% of board seats globally.

Yes, this number is an increase of 1.9% since 2017, but if this rate of progress holds steady, it will take more than three decades to achieve gender parity in the boardroom. Even then, actual parity is likely to be concentrated in the few countries that are making concentrated efforts to address this issue. For instance, our report found that Germany and Finland are among the countries who have driven the fastest growth in board diversity since 2017. Germany saw a 6.7% increase which is likely linked to recent gender quota legislation passed in 2015. And Finland, which issued corporate governance code recommendations and encouraged more career development programs for women, saw a 7.2% increase.

While the business case for gender diversity in the boardroom is clear, driving greater board diversity will not happen on its own. Based on our research and experience, as well as our work with boards around the world, we believe it will take concerted efforts to address the cultural barriers that prevent many women from reaching senior leadership roles and the boardroom.

One of the key barriers to global board diversity is inconsistent efforts across countries. Our “Women in the Boardroom” report shows that there is no one size fits all solution — progress can be driven through different approaches. In some markets, gender quotas have driven greater board diversity, while other countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the UK have driven change through setting targets and corporate governance recommendations. The countries that seem to lag behind, though, with less than 10% of board seats occupied by women, do not have any targets or quotas in place.

Another significant barrier is the lack of women in senior leadership positions: globally, they hold just 4.4% of CEO positions and just 12.7% of CFO roles. Since these roles are often what propels executives into board seats, increasing the number of women in the C-suite is vital to increasing the number of women on corporate boards.

Our research shows that organizations with women in top leadership positions have almost double the number of board seats held by women. The inverse is also true, as gender-diverse boards are more likely to appoint women to leadership positions, like CEO and board chair. This suggests that some diversity spurs more diversity. But it also implies that homogeneity spurs homogeneity — and that without intensive efforts to provide women with more opportunities to climb the ranks within their own organizations, women will continue to be underrepresented in the C-suite and boardroom.

Any initiative to address diversity in the boardroom must go hand in hand with efforts to address diversity more broadly throughout an organization. One without the other isn’t just inconsistent and insincere — it’s also ineffective.

We already know what’s preventing women from progressing, so we know where to target our solutions. As Deloitte research has shown, organizations must aim to reduce bias in recruitment and development processes and roll out mentorship and sponsorship initiatives to support women. To encourage the retention and ascension of more women in the workplace, organizations should also implement programs to increase flexibility for working parents returning from parental leave, and establish programs to smoothly transition those reentering the workforce from a career gap.

Additionally, organizations should focus on the critical “middle management” level, where women can stall in their careers. Research suggests that providing women with elevated responsibilities and the opportunity to manage high-value assignments may actually be the greatest predictor of success and advancement. Organizations should feel empowered to challenge women in the workplace while supporting a modernized and flexible working environment where everyone can thrive, be themselves, and balance a successful career with their lives outside of work.

At Deloitte, we have seen firsthand that it’s possible to speed up the rate of change through these types of efforts. Women’s representation on Deloitte Global’s board jumped to 30% in 2019 from 16% the previous year. This is a result of structural changes, such as reducing the overall size of the board and a rigorous effort to ensure women replaced men, and that talented women are given more leadership opportunities. While we are immensely proud of this progress, we know we still need to do more to move the needle and that we must continue to demonstrate our commitment through concrete actions.

Our workforce should reflect the diverse world we live in, and business leaders are responsible for executing this vision. Leaders can reset the tone at the top when it comes to diversity — and, as a result, make gender parity a priority throughout an entire organization.


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Employee Demographics Don’t Have to Be at Odds with Employees’ Identities

MirageC/Getty Images

Over the past decade, more people have begun to openly acknowledge that their identities don’t fit in with existing conceptions of gender, race, and ethnicity. The way we see ourselves has evolved to better reflect the nuances and complexities of being human. “He” and “she” are no longer the only acceptable pronouns. It is becoming more widely understood that racial and ethnic identities can change across time and place.

In many areas of the world, the culture has begun to recognize these changes due to a number of societal trends: rising rates of immigration; marriage between racially and ethnically diverse individuals; a growing push for self-fashioned identities in Western culture; and access to media platforms that allow people to connect with others who share their unique backgrounds and needs.

Yet, most businesses remain behind these societal changes. Organizational categorization systems — institutionalized approaches used to sort and organize people into demographic groups — have tended to reflect longstanding cultural norms that treat the world as a simple, binary place.

Are there consequences to this?

In our recent research, we aimed to answer this question. We collected and analyzed more than 300 scholarly articles published in top management journals to better understand current assumptions about gender, race, and ethnicity at work. The articles were focused specifically on diversity in organizations and were published during a 20-year period, from 1996 to 2015.

We found that an overwhelming majority of this work (approx. 95% of the articles reviewed) categorize race, gender, and ethnicity in traditional, normative ways. Such categorizations are largely driven by what’s been done in the past, and in some cases, by governmental regulations that require businesses to classify employees under certain (often binary) terms.

To understand how these categorizations “bump up against” the changing culture, we then examined real-world examples of individuals who claim nontraditional gender, racial, and ethnic identities, pulled from a variety of outlets, including popular press articles, blogs, and nonprofit organizations.

We found that employees who identify in ways that do not conform to the norms used to define and categorize them at work are more likely to feel marginalized, and even threatened. When organizational policies and practices are inconsistent with a person’s demographic identity, their identity autonomy (the feeling that one has freedom and personal control over one’s identity) and their identity legitimacy (the feeling one’s identity is seen and experienced as valid, real, and justifiable) become constrained. As a result, their motivation, engagement, performance, and overall satisfaction at work can suffer. Further, to younger generations of workers, who are more likely to view self-fashioned identities as the “norm,” a traditional organizational approach can make a company appear out of touch.

In short, the way most companies treat identity is increasingly misaligned with the complex ways employees — as well as customers, clients, and other stakeholders — see themselves. The first step towards making a change is recognizing the assumptions that are driving these misalignments. Four common ones appeared time and again in our research:

Assumption #1: Identities can be easily or naturally divided into singular categories based on simple binary choices. For example, it is commonly assumed that an individual is either a man or a woman, but not both or neither, or that someone’s race can be categorized as simply “white” or “non-white.” When we make this assumption, we misconstrue, mis-categorize, and ignore that some people’s identities are best represented by multiplicity.

Assumption #2: Once an individual places themselves in a demographic group (e.g., “I am Latino.” “I am black.” “I am male.”) that identity is unlikely to change. Today, it is much more common for people to claim fluid identities that vary depending on the situation, time, or period in their lives. (e.g., “Sometimes I identify with my Latino heritage, and sometimes I identify more with being black.” Or “My biological sex assigned at birth was male, but I actually identify as gender fluid.”) In terms of race and ethnicity, a Pew Research Center report on multiracial identity in the U.S. shows that many mixed-race adults have changed how they view their race over the course of their lifetimes. Still, about one in five multiracial adults report that they have been pressured by others, or society in general, to identify as a single race.

Assumption #3: Identities are self-certain. People often wonder how it is possible that someone could be uncertain about their own race, ethnicity, or gender. The reality, however, is that identities are nuanced, and feeling a sense of uncertainty around them is not only normal, but dependent on each person’s experiences and context. For example, in a workplace diversity discussion in which we asked participants to share their racial and ethnic identities, one participant responded that she had no clear answer. She explained that, as a minority in her country of origin, she has always felt that her ethnic identity was a bit murky, and after spending many years in the U.S., and anticipating that she may end up working in yet another country, she feels lost for words when asked this question. The accumulation of her different experiences makes it difficult to answer, since she herself feels uncertainty around it. As aptly put by listener Kristina Ogilvie who wrote into the NPR Code Switch podcast, sometimes “living at the intersection of different identities and cultures” can be like “stumbling around in a forest in the dark.”

Assumption #4: Identities are compulsory. Most categorization systems assume that demographic categories are relevant to everyone (e.g., everyone has a gender, ethnicity, and a race). But, in fact, some people see themselves as not having a race, ethnicity, or gender at all.

Because these assumptions are often deeply engrained in a variety of organizational practices — from formal employment systems and HR policies to informal cultural norms — diversity management efforts may not be enough to change them. To support the autonomy and legitimacy of individuals with all demographic identities, organizations will need to take specific and deliberate next steps to reexamine their approaches.

Here are a few ways you can start:

Conduct an audit. An audit of existing systems is a useful first step. Making incremental changes to existing systems can go a long way in communicating that a wider range of identities are legitimate and recognized by your company. As a starting point, ask: Do our organizational systems assume that employees only belong to one demographic group, or that employees have permanent, non-fluid, identities? Do we make demographic categorization compulsory, or do our systems recognize that employees may be uncertain about, or even prefer to opt-out of categorization all together?

An audit will also need to include an assessment of what is mandatory based on governmental regulations and laws, and where the organization seeks to flex to build inclusion for employees who may not fit easily into existing approaches. Through such an audit, some companies have found that vendor-provided systems may be constraining an organization’s inclusivity, and if the desired changes cannot be made, custom “in-house” approaches may be necessary.

While your audit can easily start with HR systems, it should continue on to other places where assumptions are less apparent. Consider how public spaces are used and labeled in your workplace, how information is presented in communications, or how difficult it may be for employees to alter their demographic information. For example, you might ask, “Are our employees able to update their personal profiles easily, or do they have to jump through several hoops to do so?” In an organization with a more inclusive approach, employees may be encouraged to update their personal profiles at any time, through a process that doesn’t involve layers of approval, in order to reflect the fluidity of their demographic identities.

While there is evidence of such audits being conducted relative to gender, organizational efforts to recognize more complex racial and ethnic identities seem to have stalled at providing “check all races that apply” on employee forms. Yet, in the context of existing assumptions, individuals continue to have their racial identities misunderstood, so organizations may need to undertake a more comprehensive audit across demographic identities of gender, race, and ethnicity.

Design categorization systems to balance a top-down and bottom-up process. Do you approach categorization as a top-down system that reinforces the above assumptions, or is there room to build a bottom-up evolving process reflective of employees’ identities? While your systems will need to align with legal and federal requirements — as well as challenging realities (such as a need for efficiency and streamlining in HR processes) — there is still room for you to make organizational changes that reflect your company’s values around diversity and inclusion.

Start by examining the categorization systems that may be guiding other internal processes, as well as the cultural choices your organization makes. Consider a situation in which an employee who identifies as agender (not identifying with a gender at all) requests to have their first name used in organizational communications, instead of a gendered title like Mr. or Ms. A company with a more structured, top-down approach might accommodate the request of this specific person as an exception; whereas an organization with a bottom-up, more flexible approach, might see this employee’s request as an opportunity to more broadly question and reconsider how and why it is using gendered titles at all.

Through our work, we learned about one organization in which new hires receive a “welcome survey” that asks them for their pronouns on day one. Their pronouns are then included in formal introductions and directories.

Assess and revise. Changing longstanding systems and practices to afford greater identity autonomy and legitimacy will take time, resources, and effort that cuts across hierarchical levels and functions. Inclusion and acceptance of new, mixed, and changing demographic identities will require attention to policies (e.g., ensure platforms for benefits coverage include options for non-binary, multiple, or fluid identities), practices (e.g., allowing employees to check “unidentified” for demographic information), symbols (e.g., providing bathroom facilities designated for “all genders”), as well as the everyday norms of interaction in the organization (e.g. being aware of the preferred ways people wish to be introduced to a client).

While this work is undertaken, your organization can continue to ask, collectively: “Does our approach to managing diversity reinforce ‘fitting in,’ or does it fully encourage and embrace questioning, malleability, and complexity?”

The way people understand and relate to categorization systems will undoubtedly continue to shift and change with time. A broader acceptance of the fluidity and multiplicity of identity already exists among millennials and Gen Z, much more so than prior generations. Thirty-five percent of Gen Z and 25% of millennials knows someone who uses a gender-neutral pronoun, and almost 60% of Gen Z believes that forms and profiles that ask about gender should include pronouns other than “he” and “she.” As more work is done in this area, it will not be surprising to see these numbers rise in discussions of gender, race, and ethnicity. With newer generations moving into the workplace, organizations will benefit by remaining aware of and responsive to the evolving nature of peoples’ identities as part of their diversity and inclusion efforts.


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What “Women at Work” Listeners Want to Know About Money, Sponsorship, and More

HBR Staff/Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

Women at Work’s greatest asset is our devoted, responsive audience. When listeners tell us they want something, I pin their requests to the top of our show planning document. A piece of feedback that guided this past season’s production was “more actionable advice.”

It was an appealing challenge. Our hosts — Amy Bernstein, Nicole Torres, and Amy Gallo — love to share tips and draw out advice from the experts they interview. They enjoy wrestling with specific, personal questions women send us. And we’ve found that bringing our listeners into the conversation inspires other listeners to reach out with their own stories and dilemmas.

Three episodes in particular from our just-concluded fourth season continue to light up our inbox: “Let’s Talk About Money,” “Sponsorship: Defining the Relationship,” and “When You Work in a Male-Dominated Industry.” I circled back to some of our guests from those episodes and asked them to answer a few of the additional questions we’d received on their topic.

We’re already planning Season 5, and your questions will help us decide what we cover. What else do you need advice on? Email us:

The following questions and answers have been condensed and edited for clarity. 


Re: “Let’s Talk About Money

In this episode we discussed the tricky practicalities of salary disclosure and how to deal with the gut punch of learning a peer makes more than you do. One of our guests was Amelia Ransom, the senior director of engagement and diversity for the tax software company Avalara. She speaks from her experience as an HR executive in responding to these two questions about compensation and fair pay:

I was wondering how people handled employees that “oversell” themselves in an interview. I know the employer is partially at fault for not weeding through everything, but I truly believe some employees tell you all that you want to hear [and] overshoot their abilities… You hire them at a salary that you believe they deserve based upon what they sold themselves as. Well then after a few months on the job, you realize that they falsely advertised their skills, and now you see them being paid more than employees who can actually do more, are younger and have less experience, are capable of more, and are pushing to do more. 

Just something I am struggling with. When employee reviews come around, everybody is looking for a raise. It’s not like you can go backwards and offer less money now.

— CT

Amelia’s advice 

As a first step to resolving this issue, I urge you and your team to take a close look at your interview process as a whole. Personally, I’m not hiring anyone who tells me they “can do everything,” so if you’re hearing this sentiment during an interview it should automatically send up a red flag. Someone overshooting their skills during the interview process should be sussed out by precision questioning, examples of work, and references.

That said, no matter how fine-tuned your interview process is, you might end up hiring someone who isn’t delivering to your expectations. If this happens, there are a few steps you should take to resolve the matter.

First, truth yourself. Are your expectations in line? Are they reflected in the job description, or are they the unspoken expectations that nearly every role has? I’m inclined to say that in the situation you detail in your letter that there needs to be an honest dialogue with the individual about what they’re doing well and where you need them to pivot. It’s important that you’re specific in your dialogue and hold them accountable. If someone is in the wrong-level role, you can always relevel and pay accordingly. But this isn’t really about pay; it’s about honesty.

Finally, perhaps those “young” people you mention who are capable of more need to be up-leveled, but you’ve got a little ageism creeping in there …be careful.

It was peculiar timing that on the day I listened to this [episode], I found out that the two people I supervise actually make MORE money that I do. I certainly reacted in anger and still feel frustrated by knowing what they make. Is there a norm that supervisors generally make more money than those below them? Are there steps I should take to address this? Should I let it go?

— C. Cain   

Amelia’s advice 

It sounds like you found the podcast at the right time. I’m so glad you’re taking a breath and figuring out what you should do next.

You ask a good question — should supervisors always make more than their employees? I think this is usually the case, but the short answer is no. Ouch, I know, but hear me out…

Leaders aren’t necessarily hired or paid because they can build the widget. They’re being paid to ensure the widgets get built, which are two entirely different skill sets. Depending upon what your widget is (are you building the elusive part that seems to break on every McDonald’s shake machine?), the builder in that scenario might be more challenging to find in the marketplace and therefore command more salary.

Additionally, many companies now have two growth paths for employees — those that include managing and leading and those that allow folks to grow without managing folks (read: expert widget builders). This allows employees to focus on their area of expertise and drive deeper engagement and retention.

All of that said, I don’t know if this defines your situation or not, but you at least have some context as you begin to ask questions, which I highly recommend you do. Ask your manager if they are aware of the discrepancy and whether that’s intentional. Informing yourself is important. Just be careful not to draw a conclusion before you do so.


Re: “Sponsorship: Defining the Relationship

Sponsorship is when someone influential in your organization advocates on your behalf to get you where you want to go. But the sponsor-protégé relationship isn’t always clear-cut. On the podcast, Rosalind Chow, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, talked about what sponsors really do and what the protégé’s role is. Here she continues to fill in the blanks of managing this sort of relationship:

One question I have that I don’t believe the episode addressed is how one goes about thanking their sponsor. Thanking someone for a regular favor, I find, can be an awkward encounter: Am I showing enough thanks? Am I thanking too much? Am I showing enough excitement about having been helped? 

— Claudia

Rosalind’s advice 

This is an interesting question! First, there’s no harm (as far as we know, based on the research) to expressing gratitude. If anything, people underestimate how meaningful it is to others to be thanked for their efforts, because most of us don’t get thanked a lot! So if a person notices that I’ve gone out of my way to help them and they go out of their way to acknowledge my help, that usually builds a stronger relationship between us.

Now, there is a possibility that if women thank others too much, especially for things that are truly rather inconsequential, then they run the risk of implying “I can’t do anything on my own without help.” So, one option is to thank the other person for providing the opportunity and discuss how you will or have already begun to execute and perform well, which means that they opened the door, but you’re the one doing the work.

The other way to interpret the question is, are there certain forms of sponsorship that are more worthy of appreciation than others? Again, giving thanks is always good, in my book. But taking the question at face value, I would suggest thinking about how much reputation your sponsor has put on the line for you. The more they had to actively insist on others’ consideration of your abilities, the more “costly” that sponsorship is, and thus, more valuable. If someone says positive things about you in general, that’s nice but not overly costly to them. But if they strategically introduce you to the other person and say, “This is the person I was telling you about! The one you should hire,” that’s a more active form of sponsorship that probably warrants a thank-you note.

It’s one thing to have a sponsor, but then what? It’s not always the smoothest ride; much of it is impacted by forces beyond your control, basically power struggles and office politics. What happens when your sponsor leaves the company and/or they get pushed out and you become collateral damage? 

— G. 

Rosalind’s advice 

This is a great question, too, and relates to something I alluded to in the podcast: You don’t want to have only one sponsor; like stocks, you need to diversify. The more senior you get, presumably, the more opportunity powerful people in the organization have to directly observe your talents, so you won’t be as reliant on your sponsor.

But sometimes you pick the wrong horse (or the wrong horse picks you). Depending on what your relationship is with your sponsor, you can ask them for help, and they can try transitioning you to another sponsor in the firm. You could also leave with your sponsor, assuming that they have found a position in another firm that you’d be interested in.


Re: “When You Work in a Male-Dominated Industry

Women in male-dominated fields experience lots of stressors, both subtle and overt. As a result, many end up leaving the field altogether. But the ones who stay develop strategies to survive and to even challenge the status quo. In the podcast, Teresa Cardador, a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, talked about how to evaluate a company’s gender culture before you accept a job and how to stay true to your career goals when other people think they know what’s best for you. Here she offers advice on establishing credibility and receiving feedback in a male-dominated workplace:

I am a 30-something woman in a male-dominated environment. I find it is often assumed that I don’t know what I am talking about. However, in order to establish credibility, I feel I have to talk a lot or assert my credentials up front, which can come across as verbose, self-important, or domineering. My male coworkers don’t seem to have the same problem. How can women effectively establish credibility in new environments without playing into classic negative stereotypes of women who are too assertive? 

—  Rebecca 

Teresa’s advice 

Women often have to walk this fine line of proving competence through assertiveness, while not being seen as “too assertive.” As you note, males are assumed to be competent, so they don’t have to prove their credentials as much. They are also not penalized for assertive behavior. While there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for dealing with this, the research suggests that one technique that can work for women is to combine assertive behaviors with more stereotypically feminine behaviors, such as concern and participation.

Another tip is to focus on demonstrating good performance rather than asserting your credentials. In time, your good performance will speak for itself. You won’t feel the need to assert your credentials as much once you’ve proven to your colleagues that you do indeed know what you’re talking about.

I have a question about receiving feedback and how to tell whether the feedback you’re getting is driven by an actual need to adjust your approach or by gender bias (or both). For example, women are told more often than men that they are too aggressive, too intense, or that they need to adjust their tone. My female manager has passed on this feedback to me based on what she has heard from others on the team (I’m not sure who). 

As background, I am the most junior and the only woman on a team of men, and we work in the highly technical (and male-dominated) field of IT. I’m trying to figure out whether my “aggressive” approach is something I should work on, or whether this feedback is driven by men who aren’t used to a young woman acting assertively. 

I don’t want this to be something that holds me back from taking on more of a leadership role at my company, but at the same time I don’t think I should have to adjust my tone to accommodate the gender preferences of the men I work with.

— K. Rodriguez  

Teresa’s advice 

I often hear from women that they don’t know if they are receiving this type of feedback because they are a woman or because of something they are doing wrong. Since you can’t separate your gender from yourself, it can be hard to know if you are experiencing bias or a genuine need to adjust your approach. As you indicate, gender stereotypes prescribe that women should not be aggressive; and so when we do behave this way, we often get feedback that we need to soften our tone.

There are a few things you can do when you get this feedback. First, ask for specific instances of when you are seen as behaving aggressively. Try to gather as much information about what specific behaviors are linked to this impression. Second, and related, ask whether/how they see your behavior affecting your performance. Do they want you to soften your tone because it is legitimately undermining your effectiveness, or because they are uncomfortable with it? If it’s not the former, it’s probably the latter. Asking this question causes those giving you feedback to confront their personal biases if they can’t come up with any reason why your behavior is undermining your success.


Do any of these situations ring true to you? Are there any other questions you’d like us to cover in future articles or episodes? We’d love to hear from you. Our email address, again, is