So, I just finished Sheryl Sandberg’s book: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead. I loved it. As a fellow “career-loving parent”, I felt Sandberg hit the nail on the head in exposing what many women experience 5-10 years into their career – subtle messages that maybe its “just too hard” to keep on the career path; that maybe we should “step back” a bit; and that perhaps our focus should tilt to more personal pursuits (children, aging parents, and the like). These messages, which admittedly are provided to be supportive and understanding to women, can have the absolute opposite career effect.
As a labor attorney for employers, the message also hits home with respect to the traditional harassment and discrimination training attorneys like me provide to our clients. While this training should still deal with overt discrimination, could it be that such implicit bias is one of the causes for so few women participating in the boardroom? The cause of many women “opting out” and leaving the workforce altogether? If so, what can employers do?
Sandberg has advice to start.
First, training managers with respect to the “hidden biases” they may have – so that they are aware and can address them in their evaluations and relationships with subordinates – is crucial. Psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald describe these “hidden biases of good people” as “blindspots.” And, research has shown that even simple awareness regarding such blindspots can change behaviors.
Second, as Sandberg pointed out, managers are conditioned to avoid discussing an employee’s personal life, particularly with opposite sex subordinates. While a fine line must be toed on this subject (sorry, I am an employment attorney!), Sandberg’s suggestion of confronting the issue head-on – with the message that you can have both work and a family – is worth considering, especially for companies that are experiencing a talent drain from women leaving for “greener pastures.”
Sandberg wrote Lean In “to encourage women to dream big, forge a path through the obstacles, and achieve their full potential.” However, employers that utilize the teachings and research in her book can equally benefit: if you groom your employees to be stars, those stars will take your company to the next level – happy news to employers everywhere.