Executive Women's Networking Blog

Executive Women's Networking Blog

Nature or Nurture? Advertising, Toys, Sexist Stereotypes, and Destiny

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Maxine NeuhauserIn the midst of the holiday buying season, let’s take a moment to reflect on the influence of advertising on our gift-buying choices and the potential impact that those choices have on our children. We are well versed in the power of advertising in enforcing stereotypes in our culture and on ourselves. Last month, NPR aired a segment that offered striking evidence of how much that might matter. 

The NPR segment reported on how advertising in the early days of personal computers, which were marketed by companies such as Radio Shack and Commodore, effectively shut the door on girls entering computer science by targeting the new product as a toy for boys, much like erector sets.  Pitching personal computers to boys gave them a significant head start in learning computing and coding. Girls, on the other hand, did not grow up coding because personal computers were not marketed to them. As a result, by the time that boys entered college, those considering a computer science major already had a significant base of knowledge.   The boys’ baseline then came to be the standard expected by professors.  Girls who had a similar interest in computer science entered college with a knowledge base far behind that of boys; as a result, most girls abandoned computer science for other degrees before really even getting started. From there, the male computer nerd/genius stereotype took off and took hold. This is despite the fact that women led the field until 1984. 

Much of society continues to perpetuate these harmful sexist stereotypes. Just last year, Random House published Barbie, I Can Be a Computer Engineer, targeted to three- to seven-year-old girls. As reported by Taylor Lorenz in the Business Insider, Barbie “is portrayed as an inept programmer who inadvertently plagues her friend’s computer with a virus and can’t fix a bug without help from a man.”  According to one Amazon review quoted in the article:

Barbie starts out at breakfast stating that she’s designing a game but when questioned by her sister Skipper, she admits, “I’m only creating the design idea, I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.” Literally six sentences into the story, and already Barbie can NOT do it.

Although the book has been discontinued and now appears to be a collector’s item ($199.99 sold as a package with I Can Be an Actress), it is out there—along with the attitudes, both society’s and our own. 

As reported earlier this year in an article by Elizabeth Weingarten, “How to Get Girls to Choose, and Stick with, STEM Careers: A Future Tense Event Recap,” published on Slate.com, Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College, offered this formula: “Show them that it is fun (and lucrative, and flexible), strip away the intimidation factor (by gently telling know-it-all, geeky boys in class to pipe down), and help them see that they’re smart enough to do it.”

I’ll go for that.

Women Entrepreneurs – Risk, Reward and Remarkable Talent Changing and Challenging the Corporate Milieu

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by Becca Sanchez Martin

[From the Editors: One of our engaged and regular readers of The Executive Women's Networking Blog, Becca Sanchez Martin, Community Manager, MBA@UNC, has called to our attention a number of creative and innovative women entrepreneurs— creators of their businesses and, in a very real way, architects of their own professional destinies.  We thought Becca's guest post and the short stories of these incredible women should be shared.  Hope you enjoy! If you have a post that you think might be of interest to our readers, please send along— we love hearing from our readers.]

For the past 26 years, women have outnumbered men on college campuses— and within the last 12 years, they have outnumbered men in earning undergraduate business degrees. A recent study suggests that women are better leaders than their male counterparts, and companies with women in executive positions are, on average, 48 percent more profitable. Yet despite the evidence that women add significant value to organizations, they are wildly underrepresented in leadership positions at work. In Fortune 500 companies, just 14.6 percent of executive officers are women.

Fortunately, the gender gap seems to be decreasing as more women entrepreneurs pursue executive MBA programs and gain the skills to lead and manage complex organizations. According to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report by American Express OPEN, women are now starting more than 1,200 new businesses per day, and the number of women-owned businesses increased from 8.6 million to 9.1 million between 2013 and 2014.

Take a look at MBA@UNC’s article “33 Female Founders Forging Their Own Path” for profiles of highly successful female entrepreneurs who challenged the status quo by launching a business and leading that business on a path toward success.

While there still exists a gender gap in entrepreneurship, women are clearly making strides in evening out this discrepancy.  Women are becoming more optimistic about their future in entrepreneurship, and in turn, are more confident and more likely to succeed at these entrepreneurial ventures.

Becca Sanchez Martin (rebecca_martin@kenan-flagler.unc.eduis the community manager for the University of North Carolina’s MBA online program. MBA@UNC empowers professionals to pursue an MBA in entrepreneurship from one of the top 10 schools in the world for leadership development. Becca graduated from Loyola University in Maryland with a B.A. in Business Administration and a concentration in marketing. An avid traveler and lover of all things tech, Becca spent a year abroad working for a technology company in the wine sector. Now, back in the USA, Becca spends her spare time visiting friends in other cities, volunteering, and playing tennis. Follow her on Twitter @bsmart10.

Promotions and Progress: Three Women Join EBG’s Equity Partnership Ranks

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Maxine NeuhauserAre we going two steps forward and one step back? Two steps back and one step forward?  The anecdotes reported in an article by Staci Zaretsky, “Stop Treating Women Lawyers Like Crap,” published in Abovethelaw.com last week, are wince-inducing and suggest that there has been no progress for women lawyers at all.  I question the notion, as well as Zaretsky’s assertion, that “women lawyers aren’t taken seriously, and they certainly aren’t treated with respect by their fellow lawyers in this profession.” 

There are few of us, if any, who do not have stories of coming up against subtle and not-so-subtle sexism. At least some of incidents reported in Zaretsky’s article, none of which are dated, however, may be of a later rather than recent vintage. On the flip side, many of us also have stories of being supported, mentored, and provided with opportunities.

Plainly, there’s a lot of progress yet to be made. (In its Report of the Eighth Annual NAWL National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, published in February 2014, NAWL reported that 17% of the equity partners in the 200 largest U.S. law firms are women.) I am, however, delighted to report that at our shareholder’s meeting on October 18, 2014, Epstein Becker Green elected three new equity partners—all women.  This lifts our percentage of women shareholders to 21%.  So, while calling out sexism when we see it, let’s also give a shout out to progress and advancement.  Today, we  at EBG have three great steps forward to celebrate.  Congratulations to our new equity partners: Amy Dow, Susan Gross Sholinsky, and Linda Tiano!

Benchmarking Progress Part 2: Remember to Raise Your Hand a Little Higher

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Maxine NeuhauserI had not intended my post concerning women speakers being featured at EBG’s Client Briefing to be the first of a two-part series. But, after my post appeared, I was hit with two reminders about just how unusual our business-as-usual lineup of speakers actually was. They are both worth sharing.

First, I found Denise Graveline (@NoWomenSpeakers), who follows tweets about conferences with no or few women speakers—and also, apparently, conferences where women speakers are included. Denise retweeted my post about the three influential women featured at the briefing. (Thanks again, Denise!)

Then, on October 8, 2014, ProPublica and The New York Times’ The Upshot co-published an article by Charles Ornstein reporting on new federal data, which shows that men account for more than 90 percent of the 300 doctors who received the most money from drug and medical device companies as speakers and consultants. The article, “Dollars for Dudes: Almost No Women Among Medical Industry’s Top-Paid Speakers, Consultants,” cites data that, in 2012, men comprised 68% of physicians in the United States. The article notes that the reasons for the discrepancy are not clear, and Ornstein offers several possible explanations:

It’s possible that men are more willing to accept payments from drug companies than women. It’s possible that drug companies are more likely to make offers to male doctors. Or it’s possible that male doctors are simply much more likely to be in the senior positions or medical specialties that appeal to drug companies.

Yet, the data suggests that subtle bias and stereotyping may also be a factor.  In Ornstein’s article, Alison Tendler, an ophthalmologist who was among the top-paid women because she serves as the TV advertising spokesperson for the eye drug Restasis, observes, “I do feel that we can be potentially overlooked and not perceived as leaders and innovators.”  We’ve heard the advice she gives before, but it bears repeating: “In general, you have to raise your hand a little higher.”

Benchmarking Progress: EBG’s Client Briefing Features Three Women Speakers

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Maxine NeuhauserThis post is not only a little bit about tooting a horn, but also an appreciative nod toward how much has changed over the years for women in the workplace (acknowledging that there is still a lot to be done).

On October 2, 2014, Epstein Becker Green presented its 33rd Annual Labor & Employment Client Briefing. This year’s program featured two high-ranking speakers from federal agencies of key importance to employers:  M. Patricia Smith, Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), and Victoria Lipnic, Commissioner, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).  The program’s luncheon featured remarks by Maria Bartiromo, Anchor and Global Markets Editor at FOX Business Network – FOX News Channel.

Solicitor Smith, who was appointed by President Obama, heads the DOL’s Office of the Solicitor. In her position, Solicitor Smith leads the office whose mission is to meet the legal service demands of the DOL, including providing legal advice; representation of the Secretary of Labor and client agencies in enforcement actions and defensive litigation; assistance in the development of regulations, standards, and legislative proposals; legal opinions; and advice concerning DOL activities.

Commissioner Lipnic is one of three presidentially appointed Commissioners, who, along with the Chair and Vice Chair (currently vacant), comprise the EEOC. The Commission develops and approves EEOC policies, issues charges of discrimination, and authorizes the filing of lawsuits.

The three speakers addressed regulatory and policy agendas, litigation, the economy, and other topics of interest to employers. Each of these women has achieved a position of influence and authority, and our audience of executives, in-house counsel, and other professionals at the briefing had the opportunity to gain valuable insights from their candid remarks.

Then after the briefing, Law360 carried articles reporting on the remarks of both Solicitor General Smith (see “DOL’s Smith Says Proposed OT Rule Is Still Months Away“) and Commissioner Lipnic (see “Don’t Expect Wellness Program Guidance: EEOC Commish“). Refreshingly, the articles did not include any mention of the speakers’ gender or what they wore.


Kudos to Our EBG Colleague for Her New Appointment at the Labor and Employment Relations Association

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Congratulations to our Epstein Becker Green colleague, New York office attorney Margaret (“Meg”) Thering on her unanimous election Wednesday evening, May 7, as Secretary of the New York City Chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association (“LERA”) for the fiscal year 2014-2015!!

LERA is the singular organization in the country where professionals interested in all aspects of labor and employment relations network to share ideas and learn about new developments, issues, and practices in the field. Founded in 1947 as the Industrial Relations Research Association (IRRA), the national LERA provides a unique forum where the views of representatives of labor, management, government and academics, advocates, and neutrals are welcome.

Today, LERA constituencies include professionals in the areas of academic research and education, compensation and benefits, human resources, labor and employment law, labor and management resources, labor markets and economics, public policy, training and development, and union administration and organizing.

Well done, Meg!!

You Have to Be in It to Win It! Closing the “Confidence Gap”

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Susan Gross Sholinsky

By Susan Gross Sholinsky

Imagine yourself in the following scenario. You’ve just learned that one of your colleagues has been promoted, and now that job—high profile internally and externally—is vacant.  Getting it would be a professional coup, not to mention a significant bump in compensation. When the position is posted, you review the requirements and realize that you have 90% of the skills and qualifications being sought. Your slightly junior male colleague reviews the job posting and believes that he meets about 50% of the requirements. Who applies for the job, and who gets it?

You may have guessed. . . .  If you’re like most women (read on!), you think to yourself, “Oh, well, maybe next time I’ll be fully qualified for the job.” You pass on applying, and resolve to commit yourself to 100 percent professional perfection. Your less qualified but eager junior male colleague applies for the job—and gets it!

This scenario plays out over and over again not just in corporate America but globally. A professor at a business school in England asks her class every year how much they expect to earn five years after graduation. Having repeated this exercise with different students over the course of about seven years, the professor reports “massive” differences between the responses from male and female students, with the women thinking that they deserve about 20% less than the men believe that they deserve. Yes, women have made great strides over the past few decades. But the gap in pay and the number of women in top roles is still not where it should be. Why is this? Well, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman (and the author of this blog post) believe it is due, in significant part, to what Kay and Shipman call the “Confidence Gap.”

In a thought provoking article published in The Atlantic, which summarizes the subject of their forthcoming book, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, Kay and Shipman provide evidence that, although women have similar abilities as their male colleagues, they unfortunately assume that they don’t. And that assumption has vast repercussions and frequently makes women less successful. Even when they do become successful, women often don’t feel as if they deserve to be where they are. Many fear that someday, someone will “find them out,” and expose them for the fraud they’ve perpetrated.

Kay and Shipman note that confidence is often as important, or even more important, than competence. They cite studies where colleagues with more confidence are better liked than their colleagues who may be more competent.

The confidence shortfall, according to the authors, comes from varied sources, including biology, upbringing, and socialization. In terms of biology, part of the differences between a man’s confidence and a woman’s may stem from the difference in testosterone levels, as well as some differences in the brain chemistry between men and women.

With respect to upbringing and socialization, boys and girls generally have different classroom experiences that ultimately impact on their confidence. According to studies cited by Kay and Shipman, girls are praised for being “good.” And praise is welcomed, so girls are encouraged to be better—they listen well, they behave well, play by the rules, etc.   Boys are often chastised for being “bad.” Further, boys roughhouse with one another, tease each other, and point out one another’s limitations. Such repeated negative evaluations eventually “lose their power,” and the boys become more resilient and let others’ tough remarks slide off their backs. This lack of sensitivity to rejection and failing encourages boys to take more risks in the future—something girls (and eventually women) aren’t as willing to do.

Further, females “internalize” more. In one study, as a college class got more difficult during the semester and the students’ test scores began to decrease, the male students tended to “externalize” the situation: “Wow, this is a hard class!” On the other hand, the female students began to doubt themselves: “I knew I shouldn’t have taken this class; I’m not strong in this subject.”

In another study, a disparity in spatial relations test scores between male and female subjects was so significant the researcher examined the results more closely. Apparently, many of the women had done poorly because they simply hadn’t attempted to answer many of the questions.  The next time test was administered, the researcher told the subjects that they were required to at least try to answer all of the questions. The women’s scores increased sharply, matching the men’s.

The results of this experiment are significant. On the one hand, they’re very frustrating—women simply tend not to believe they can do it, so they don’t even try. On the other hand, though, it is very hopeful. It means that if women just tried, and didn’t assume that they wouldn’t win if they did, there would be a lot more women winners out there. Just like the theme of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, you have to be in it to win it!

What this article says to me is that, in order to narrow the confidence gap, women don’t need to change the essence of their personalities, or to “fake” self-confidence. And this is good, since, according to the article, studies show that others can tell when someone is faking their confidence level—and they don’t like the fakers. But women still need to be conscious of the confidence gap and understand that their actions (or more likely, inaction) may be negatively affecting their career advancement. As such, we need to change our perception of ourselves—that is, give ourselves a little more credit—and as a result, take more risks, and believe that we just might win the game (get the promotion, win the award, etc.). But to win the game, we need to play!

Narrowing the confidence gap alone is not the end of the conversation about women ascending to the C-suite. It is human nature to want to promote and work with people who are like us. As Sheryl Sandberg notes in Lean In, when men are in charge, there’s a better chance they’ll champion other men. As such, women will have a better chance to rise to the top once more organizations have women who are already in leadership roles.

But for now, in order to speed the process along, it can’t hurt for women to heed the message of the Confidence Gap, and to take more chances based on the fact that, notwithstanding what we may be inclined to believe, we need not wait until we’re 100% sure we’re ready and qualified to take that next step. Instead of asking “why would they want me,” the question should be “who wouldn’t want me in that job!?” Let’s not take ourselves out of the game before we give ourselves a shot to win.

What do you think? Do you agree with the premise of Kay and Shipman’s article? We’d like to hear your thoughts.

Save the Date: April 2 at the Japan Society

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There is an important and interesting lecture and reception at the Japan Society in New York, New York, with former Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoriko Kawaguchi and Ruth Porat, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Morgan Stanley, from 6 pm to 8:30 pm on Wednesday, April 2, 2014, titled "Tapping Potential: Encouraging Women’s Empowerment in the U.S. and Japan." For more information on the program and registration, refer to the Japan Society website. Hope to see you there!

Getting to the Top: Jumping the Hurdles or Creating Them?

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On February 24, the National Association of Women Lawyers (“NAWL”) published the results of its eighth annual survey regarding the retention and promotion of women into senior and equity positions within the law firms surveyed—200 of the top national firms. The survey results were disappointing in terms of the ascension of women into equity partnership ranks and compensation when compared to male counterparts and the ability of these women to “make rain”—i.e., to convert their contacts into clients.

While the results of the NAWL survey raise unfortunate and unanswered questions regarding law firm career development for women, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the blockbuster book Lean In, provides her observations regarding the dearth of women “at the top”—in corporations, law firms, not for profits, and as global political leaders. “No judgments,” as Sandberg says, but beware of “the messages we tell ourselves!” Self-defeating messages become professional liabilities that can hinder our advancement. The message of Sandberg’s video presentation “Why we have too few women leaders” addresses her insights, borne of her own successful career, concerning self-made, defeating obstacles to reaching the top. Enjoy the video’s thoughtful content and share your thoughts with us.

http://embed.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

What Employees May Now Expect While Expecting: Reasonable Accommodation of Pregnancy

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Maxine NeuhauserSince enactment of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it has been illegal for most employers to discriminate against women because of pregnancy.  Employers have, however, generally been excused from providing reasonable accommodation to pregnant employees, unless the women’s condition qualifies as a disability under federal or state law. Thus, although a woman having a normal pregnancy may, for example, be advised by her doctors to avoid heavy lifting, for the most part, employers have not been required to adjust an employee’s job duties to accommodate the restriction.  The trend—and the law—however, is changing.

On January 21, 2014, New Jersey joined Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, and Texas, as well as cities like New York, in prohibiting discrimination against pregnant workers and requiring employers to provide pregnant employees with reasonable accommodation.  Under these laws, “pregnancy” is generally defined as including “childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including recovery from childbirth.”

My law firm, Epstein Becker Green, has prepared Act Now Advisories summarizing two of the most recently enacted laws that extend the requirement of providing reasonable accommodation to women having a normal pregnancy: New Jersey’s amendment to the state’s Law Against Discrimination and New York City’s amendment to the city’s Human Rights Law.

An employer need not provide accommodation where doing so will create an undue hardship.  How the balance between a pregnant employee’s need for accommodation and an employer’s business needs gets struck will, no doubt, lead to further evolution in employment law. It will be a trend that employers will need to watch.

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