PresenceLearning CEO Kate Eberle Walker draws on a depth of experience – her own, and others’ – to describe the world of work from a female perspective. She evokes empathy for today’s female workers, who continue to face many inequities and outdated attitudes. Although her practical advice is helpful to women who encounter overt and subtle sexism, she directs it mostly at male managers, who make up the majority of women’s bosses in America, and upon whom much of the solution depends.
- Gender inequities in the workplace remain. A good boss makes all the difference in rectifying them.
- Address employees by their preferred, proper names.
- Take time to learn about and connect authentically with your team.
- Don’t make assumptions about why your female employees choose to work, or base hiring decisions on outmoded gender biases.
- Proactively support female employees’ return to the workplace after maternity leave.
- Keep a woman’s family demands in mind when scheduling travel and meetings – morning or evening.
- Don’t make female employees fight harassment alone.
- Offer high-performing female employees raises before they ask.
- Be an equal-opportunity critic.
- Encourage women employees to take risks and seize opportunities.
Gender inequities in the workplace remain. A good boss makes all the difference in rectifying them.
Men still earn promotions to management at a rate more than 25% greater than women. Just 7.6% of Fortune 500 firms boast female CEOs. More men by the name of “John” lead S&P 1500 companies than women of all names do. Women still bear the bulk of household duties and primary responsibilities for parenting. Just one consistency exists for women who realize their ambitions at work: They had at least one good boss along the way – a person who recognized their talent, paid them fairly, coached them and promoted them.
“In the workplace, the path for women has more friction and requires more effort than the equivalent path for men.”
Firms risk losing top performers when they fail to address women’s concerns, including fair pay, promotions, and protection from sexual and other harassment. The most important workplace relationships are often those between managers and their team members. Good managers make an enormous difference in the work life and career trajectory of their reports. Thus, the responsibility to encourage and support women at work lands not only with women bosses. Men must step up, too.
Many male bosses genuinely want to help, but do not know exactly how. The following rules for good bosses offer clear guidance. Follow each of the rules in any order you prefer. Each stands on its own, and applies to every boss and every woman.
Address employees by their preferred, proper names.
Always learn and remember your employees’ names, pronouns and honorifics, including how they pronounce them, spell them, and what forms of address they prefer, before and after they marry. Like students in schools, people perform better when you use their proper names. As a leader, you have no excuse not to take the time and effort to learn and use all of your employees’ names properly.
“If you can’t learn a person’s name it means you are either not putting in the effort, or you have a weak ability to retain important information.”
Absolutely refrain from referring to a woman as “sweetie,” “young lady,” “sweetheart,” or by any other condescending endearment. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama dismissed a question from a female reporter by calling her sweetie and telling her he’d get back to her. He called her hours later to offer his apologies. If a boss calls you one of these names, try telling him you’ll start calling him “honey bear” if he doesn’t stop. If you hear others not using a woman employee’s name, speak up. Don’t abbreviate a woman’s name without her say-so, or call her by a nickname like Suzy if she goes by Suzanne. Don’t offer suggestions on what name she should use after marriage.
Take time to learn about and connect authentically with your team.
Get to know the women who report to you. Do this respectfully, without prying, and at their pace and comfort level. Invite them to connect on your social media pages. By learning more about your team members and sharing more about yourself, you’ll find things you have in common, regardless of gender differences. When that happens, you can relate to each other, even if it’s just in small things, like a shared interest in running or cooking. At Techstars, every employee takes and shares a personality assessment. This helps people understand each other and find things they may have in common. It can also shift the focus from gender to other traits.
“Connect with people simply by caring about who they are and taking the time to learn about their lives.”
Be real. Don’t project an infallible image. You may have kids at home, for example. If so, share your desire to spend time with them. When you make mistakes, admit them. Present yourself authentically to be relatable. This gives your reports permission to talk about and prioritize other parts of their lives, and admit their own mistakes. Get to know your female team members to build stronger connections – not to satisfy your curiosity, or to make assumptions about an individual’s ability to travel or to cope if you promote that person to a more demanding job.
Don’t make assumptions about why your female employees choose to work, or base hiring decisions on outmoded gender biases.
Women choose to work for different reasons. Three-quarters of married women in the United States choose to work, only slightly fewer women than those without partners. Don’t assume she merely earns a “second income,” and therefore needs less salary than a male counterpart. Just pay her what she’s worth – no games. Likewise, don’t assume she will have kids and stop working, because less than 20% of working women make that choice. Many women remove engagement rings upon entering the office, and otherwise hide their marriage plans. Others suffer unfairly during downsizing because decision-makers believe the impact of losing a job lands more lightly on a woman than a man – who “must be” his family’s primary breadwinner. Don’t tolerate that sort of workplace discrimination.
“Don’t let an employee’s life event, such as marriage, change your perception of her commitment to the job.”
A woman’s marital or family status should never factor into hiring decisions. In job interviews, don’t ask what a woman’s husband does in a thinly veiled attempt to draw conclusions about what you should pay her, or question whether she’ll be available to work overtime or travel. Curiosity and interest in people’s lives outside work should not extend to queries for judging or making assumptions about a woman’s salary requirements or her ability to do the job. Don’t ask, “Who takes care of your children?” Child care arrangements remain entirely within the purview of the woman and her family.
Proactively support female employees’ return to the workplace after maternity leave.
Most women who have children and take maternity leave intend to come back to their jobs. Nevertheless, this transition, especially with a first child, carries a high risk of attrition if you handle it poorly. When a woman returns from leave, she experiences an emotional transition. She leaves behind a baby that has demanded her full attention, and she feels guilty, in many cases. You only exacerbate her stress when she returns to find you have no plan for her re-entry into meaningful work, and that someone else has “borrowed” her office or taken over her best projects.
“Take maximum leave when you are a new parent, and encourage everyone on your team to do the same, regardless of gender.”
As her boss, prepare for her arrival. Get her office ready. Make sure she feels needed, include her in meetings, and re-integrate her into important projects from day one. According to her preferences, help her stay connected during her leave by sending updates and scheduling calls. Make sure she has private, equipped and locked places for lactation, and the time to do it. Too few workplaces manage lactation needs adequately, forcing women to make up fake meetings, so they have time to get to a private place, pump milk and return to their desks. Encourage men to take paternity leave, and if/when you have children, do so yourself to set the example.
Keep a woman’s family demands in mind when scheduling travel and meetings – morning or evening.
Fair or not, most working women retain primary caregiver duties when they have children. Most husbands will fill in, but they may need notice. A good boss recognizes that women with young children may manage a very tight schedule. Their commute home to relieve a nanny or get a child from day care likely has little wiggle room. These women can work hard and also raise a family, but they have to manage their time almost perfectly to do so. Last-minute requests to attend late meetings can throw a working mom’s day into chaos, particularly if she is a single parent.
“As long as the work is getting done, a good boss will focus on the work product itself, and not on when or where the work is happening.”
This doesn’t mean women can’t attend meetings before or after standard work hours, or go on overnight trips. But they need time to make arrangements. When employers change schedules with little notice, it hits women who do shift work (and whose partners may, too) especially hard. Learn about women’s outside work demands and needs. Give them as much work flexibility as possible. Let them work where and when they like, including part-time if necessary, and assess performance, not face time.
Don’t make female employees fight harassment alone.
If a woman feels harassed or bullied, sexually or otherwise, assume she was. Don’t try to minimize it by suggesting the offender meant nothing. As a female employee’s boss, intervene on her behalf. Use your judgment in how to respond, depending on the severity of the incident. In minor cases, consider using humor to disarm a situation, with a phrase like, “Don’t let HR hear you say that.” If a person gets drunk and out of order at a holiday party, lead them away. Enlist the help of your peers. If the person you need to correct outranks you, get the support of senior leaders.
“When you do things as a group, responsibility gets diffused and the risk of retribution is lower.”
If you have reservations about speaking up on a woman’s behalf, discuss it with the woman involved. Listen to her, and don’t make excuses or apologize on behalf of the firm. Give women good advice about dealing with potentially negative situations. For example, if a male boss invites her out for a drink after work to discuss a project or her career, don’t tell her to go along with it if she feels uncomfortable. As a boss, set the tone among your group. Say positive things about women in appropriate, nonsexual ways.
Offer high-performing female employees raises before they ask.
Acknowledge that women prove far less willing to ask for promotions and raises than men. This has little to do with confidence and more to do with male reactions. For whatever cultural reasons, men’s aggressive salary negotiations and demands for raises and promotions meet with more sympathy than women’s. Women are more likely to have job offers revoked if they negotiate than men. Women spend far more time crafting their requests for more pay, and they pour time and angst into arguments that men might make off the cuff. Instead of waiting for deserving women to ask for raises or promotions, offer them. This relieves them of the burden, and makes them more loyal.
Be an equal-opportunity critic.
As long as a tough but honest boss treats everyone the same and does not resort to abuse, disrespect or bullying, he or she can accelerate a woman’s career. Where a boss treats a woman gently but yells at the men and demands higher standards of them, women suffer. Bosses may challenge everything you say, shout, do eye-rolls, even make you cry – but if their criticism has merit, treat their challenging nature and high standards as an opportunity to toughen up and learn.
“Women have six times as much prolactin (the hormone that generates tears) as men do, and are 4.5 times as likely to cry at work.”
Owing to biology, women are far more likely than men to cry – at work, or otherwise. As a boss, don’t comfort a woman who cries at work or ask her if she’s OK. Leave the room and give her time. Ask hard questions of women, as you do men, but cater to their best ways of working. For example, don’t demand that women speak from the hip. Men generally feel more comfortable speaking extemporaneously than women do. Get a female employee’s best work by giving her time to prepare her responses. Give women your honest assessment of their performance, especially work that you appreciate. Women tend to rate their managers’ opinions of them lower than their male counterparts do. Disabuse them of this notion, where it is warranted.
Encourage women employees to take risks and seize opportunities.
Don’t just recognize your women employees’ good work. Describe each woman’s potential in specific terms, to give her encouragement to go after challenging future opportunities. Look for stretch roles and rotational assignments that can build her skills. Regularly talk about her future in one-to-one meetings. Get to know her career goals, and then discuss those goals and work with her to create a flexible development plan to achieve them. Look for learning opportunities that build promotion-related skills and experience among your women reports to help them achieve their career aspirations.
“If you’d like to see her apply for a promotion, even if she’s not 100% qualified on paper, encourage her to do so.”
Don’t buy into the myth that women have less confidence than men. Women may be more reluctant to apply for positions in which they lack some of the qualifications – at least, on paper – because traditionally, they experience greater scrutiny than men. Indeed, according to studies, woman’s perceived confidence can become a liability if they can’t also project an equal level of “care for others.” At every opportunity, share positive feedback – your own observations, and those of others. This works to help the women who report to you understand that others perceive them as assets – as opposed to simply telling a woman she should act more confidently, which could cause her to question how others see her.
Avoid complimenting women on their style of dress or youthful appearance. Offer praise and recognition for superior work and performance instead. Describe each employee’s skills and potential precisely, as close to when you observe it, hear about it, or recognize it as possible. Don’t engage in benevolent sexism. Avoid condescending language, like, “Good for you.” Avoid taking personal credit for a woman’s high performance or accomplishments.
About the Author
Former CEO of The Princeton Review Kate Eberle Walker is a Harvard Business School graduate and current CEO of PresenceLearning, which offers special K-12 education online.
After thoroughly reading “The Good Boss: Nine Ways Every Manager Can Support Women at Work” by Kate Eberle Walker, I can provide you with a comprehensive review of the book.
“The Good Boss” is a practical guide for managers who want to support their female employees in the workplace. The book offers nine strategies that managers can use to create a more inclusive and equitable work environment, with a particular focus on women’s needs and challenges. The author, Kate Eberle Walker, is an expert in gender and workplace dynamics, and she provides real-world examples and case studies to illustrate each strategy.
- Understand the Unique Challenges Women Face in the Workplace: The book begins by highlighting the unique challenges that women face in the workplace, such as gender bias, stereotyping, and lack of representation in leadership positions. Walker provides evidence-based research to demonstrate the magnitude of these challenges and why they matter.
- Practice Conscious Inclusion: Walker emphasizes the importance of conscious inclusion, which involves intentionally creating a work environment that values and supports all employees, regardless of their gender or background. She provides practical tips for managers to create a more inclusive culture, such as using inclusive language and actively seeking out diverse perspectives.
- Foster Open Communication: Walker stresses the importance of open and honest communication in the workplace, particularly for women who may face more obstacles in expressing their ideas and opinions. She suggests that managers should create a safe and supportive space for employees to share their thoughts and feedback.
- Provide Sponsorship and Mentorship: One of the most valuable strategies that managers can use to support women in the workplace is to provide sponsorship and mentorship. Walker explains how managers can identify and develop high-potential female employees, and provide them with the resources and support they need to advance their careers.
- Address Unconscious Bias: Unconscious bias can be a major obstacle for women in the workplace, as it can influence hiring decisions, performance evaluations, and opportunities for advancement. Walker provides practical strategies for managers to recognize and address their own biases, such as using blind hiring practices and seeking out diverse perspectives.
- Support Work-Life Balance: Women are still disproportionately responsible for caregiving responsibilities, and this can create conflicts with work responsibilities. Walker suggests that managers should support employees in balancing their work and personal lives, such as by providing flexible work arrangements and parental leave policies.
- Create a Culture of Accountability: To create a more equitable workplace, managers must hold themselves and their employees accountable for their actions and behaviors. Walker provides strategies for managers to create a culture of accountability, such as by setting clear expectations and goals, and providing regular feedback and coaching.
- Prioritize Employee Well-Being: Employee well-being is a critical aspect of a healthy and productive workplace, and managers should prioritize the well-being of all employees, particularly women who may be more likely to experience burnout and stress. Walker suggests that managers should provide resources and support for employee well-being, such as mental health resources and wellness programs.
- Lead by Example: Finally, Walker emphasizes the importance of leaders leading by example and modeling the behaviors and values that they want to see in their employees. She provides strategies for managers to demonstrate their commitment to gender equality and inclusivity, such as by participating in diversity and inclusion initiatives and advocating for policies that support women in the workplace.
The book is divided into nine chapters, each focusing on one rule that managers can follow to help the women on their team. The rules are:
- Be someone she can relate to
- Don’t ask “What does your husband do?”
- Don’t sit in her chair
- Watch the clock
- Speak up so that she doesn’t have to
- Don’t make her ask twice
- Be an equal opportunity asshole
- Tell her that you see her potential
- Change the game
Each chapter explains the rationale behind the rule, provides examples of how to apply it, and offers a checklist of action items for managers to implement. The author also includes anecdotes from other CEOs and leaders who have successfully supported women in their organizations.
- The book provides practical, actionable strategies for managers to promote gender equality in the workplace.
- The author draws on a wealth of research and case studies to support her recommendations.
- The book is accessible and easy to understand, making it a valuable resource for managers at all levels.
- Some of the strategies may be more relevant to managers in certain industries or organizational cultures.
- The book does not provide a comprehensive overview of the broader social and economic factors that impact gender inequality in the workplace.
- Managers should prioritize creating a culture of respect and inclusivity in the workplace.
- Managers should empower women’s voices and provide opportunities for them to contribute to decision-making processes.
- Managers should be aware of their own biases and work to overcome them.
- Managers should provide flexible work arrangements and support work-life balance for women.
- Managers should establish mentorship and sponsorship programs to support women’s career advancement.
- Managers should address the “leaky pipeline” phenomenon and provide support for mothers who may face challenges in balancing work and family responsibilities.
In conclusion, “The Good Boss” is an essential read for any manager who wants to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace for their female employees. The book provides practical strategies and real-world examples for managers to support women in the workplace, and it emphasizes the importance of conscious inclusion, open communication, sponsorship and mentorship, addressing unconscious bias, supporting work-life balance, creating a culture of accountability, prioritizing employee well-being, and leading by example. By following the nine strategies outlined in this book, managers can create a work environment that values and supports all employees, regardless of their gender or background.