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Chapter 10 Let’s Start Talking About It
  SOMETIMES I WONDER what it would be like to go through life without being labeled by my gender. I don’twake up thinking, What am I going to do today as Facebook’s female COO?, but that’s often how I’mreferred to by others. When people talk about a female pilot, a female engineer, or a female race cardriver, the word “female” implies a bit of surprise. Men in the professional world are rarely seenthrough this same gender lens. A Google search for “Facebook’s male CEO” returns this message:

“No results found.”

As Gloria Steinem observed, “Whoever has power takes over the noun—and the norm—while theless powerful get an adjective.”

Since no one wants to be perceived as less powerful, a lot of womenreject the gender identification and insist, “I don’t see myself as a woman; I see myself as a novelist/athlete/professional/fill-in-the-blank.” They are right to do so. No one wants her achievementsmodified. We all just want to be the noun. Yet the world has a way of reminding women that they arewomen, and girls that they are girls.

In between my junior and senior years of high school, I worked as a page in Washington, D.C., formy hometown congressman, William Lehman. The Speaker of the House at the time was thelegendary Massachusetts representative Tip O’Neill, and Congressman Lehman promised to introduceme to him before the summer ended. But as the days ticked by, it didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen.

Then, on the very last day of the session, he made good on his promise. In the hall outside the Housefloor, he pulled me over to meet Speaker O’Neill. I was nervous, but Congressman Lehman put me atease by introducing me in the nicest way possible, telling the Speaker that I had worked hard allsummer. The Speaker looked at me, then reached over and patted my head. He turned to thecongressman and remarked, “She’s pretty.” Then he turned his attention back to me and asked just onequestion: “Are you a pom-pom girl?”

I was crushed. Looking back, I know his words were intended to flatter me, but in the moment, Ifelt belittled. I wanted to be recognized for the work I had done. I reacted defensively. “No,” I replied.

“I study too much for that.” Then a wave of terror struck me for speaking up to the man who was thirdin line for the presidency. But no one seemed to register my curt and not-at-all clever response. TheSpeaker just patted me on the head—again!—and moved along. My congressman beamed.

Even to my teenage self, this sexism seemed retro. The Speaker was born in 1912, eight yearsbefore women were given the right to vote, but by the time I met him in the halls of Congress, societyhad (mostly) evolved. It was obvious that a woman could do anything a man could do. My childhoodwas filled with firsts—Golda Meir in Israel, Geraldine Ferraro on the Mondale ticket, Sandra DayO’Connor on the Supreme Court, Sally Ride in space.

Given all these strides, I headed into college believing that the feminists of the sixties and seventieshad done the hard work of achieving equality for my generation. And yet, if anyone had called me afeminist, I would have quickly corrected that notion. This reaction is prevalent even today accordingto sociologist Marianne Cooper (who also contributed her extraordinary research assistance to thisbook). In her 2011 article, “The New F-Word,” Marianne wrote about college English professorMichele Elam, who observed something strange in her Introduction to Feminist Studies course. Eventhough her students were interested enough in gender equality to take an entire class on the subject,very few “felt comfortable using the word ‘feminism.’ ” And even “fewer identified themselves asfeminists.” As Professor Elam noted, it was as if “being called a feminist was to suspect that some foulepithet had been hurled your way.”

It sounds like a joke: Did you hear the one about the woman taking a feminist studies class who gotangry when someone called her a feminist? But when I was in college, I embraced the samecontradiction. On one hand, I started a group to encourage more women to major in economics andgovernment. On the other hand, I would have denied being in any way, shape, or form a feminist.

None of my college friends thought of themselves as feminists either. It saddens me to admit that wedid not see the backlash against women around us.

We accepted the negative caricature of a bra-burning, humorless, man-hating feminist. She was not someone we wanted to emulate, in part becauseit seemed like she couldn’t get a date. Horrible, I know—the sad irony of rejecting feminism to getmale attention and approval. In our defense, my friends and I truly, if na.vely, believed that the worlddid not need feminists anymore. We mistakenly thought that there was nothing left to fight for.

I carried this attitude with me when I entered the workforce. I figured if sexism still existed, I wouldjust prove it wrong. I would do my job and do it well. What I didn’t know at the time was thatignoring the issue is a classic survival technique. Within traditional institutions, success has often beencontingent upon a woman not speaking out but fitting in, or more colloquially, being “one of theguys.” The first women to enter corporate America dressed in manly suits with button-down shirts.

One veteran banking executive told me that she wore her hair in a bun for ten years because she didnot want anyone to notice she was a woman. While styles have relaxed, women still worry aboutsticking out too much. I know an engineer at a tech start-up who removes her earrings before going towork so coworkers won’t be reminded that she is—shhh!—not a man.

Early in my career, my gender was rarely noted (except for the occasional client who wanted to fixme up with his son). Manly suits were no longer in fashion, and I neither hid nor emphasizedfemininity. I have never reported directly to a woman—not once in my entire career. There werehigher-level women at the places I worked, but I wasn’t close enough to see how they dealt with thisissue on a daily basis. I was never invited to attend a single meeting that discussed gender, and therewere no special programs for women that I can recall. That all seemed fine. We were fitting in, andthere was no reason to call attention to ourselves.

But while gender was not openly acknowledged, it was still lurking below the surface. I started tosee differences in attitudes toward women. I started noticing how often employees were judged not bytheir objective performance, but by the subjective standard of how well they fit in. Given that thesummer outing at McKinsey was a deep-sea fishing trip and most company dinners ended withwhiskey sipping and cigar smoking, I sometimes struggled to pass the “fitting in” test. One night,encouraged by the male partners, I puffed away on a cigar—just one of the guys. Except that thesmoking nauseated me and I reeked of cigar smoke for days. If that was fitting in, I stuck out.

Others also seemed aware that I was not one of the guys. When I was named the TreasuryDepartment’s chief of staff in 1999, several people remarked to me, “It must have helped that youwere a woman.” It was infuriating. Their intent may not have been malicious, but the implication wasclear: I had not gotten the job on merit. I also figured that for every person pointing out my“advantage” to my face, there were probably a dozen others saying it less politely behind my back. Iconsidered my possible responses. I could explain that the last time I checked there was no affirmativeaction for women at Treasury. I could mention that my credentials lined up with those of the men whohad previously held this position. If there was enough time, I could recount centuries of discriminationagainst women. Or I could just slap the person across the face. I tried all these options at least once.

Okay, not the slap. But of the responses I did try, none of them worked.

It was a no-win situation. I couldn’t deny being a woman; even if I tried, people would still figure itout. And defending myself just made me seem … defensive. My gut and the signals I received fromothers cautioned me that arguing the issue would make me sound like a strident feminist. And I stilldid not want that. I also worried that pointing out the disadvantages women face in the workforcemight be misinterpreted as whining or asking for special treatment. So I ignored the comments. I putmy head down and worked hard.

Then, as the years ticked by, I started seeing female friends and colleagues drop out of theworkforce. Some left by choice. Others left out of frustration, pushed out the door by companies thatdid not allow flexibility and welcomed home by partners who weren’t doing their share of thehousework and child rearing. Others remained but scaled back their ambitions to meet outsizeddemands. I watched as the promise my generation had for female leadership dwindled. By the time Ihad been at Google for a few years, I realized that the problem wasn’t going away. So even though thethought still scared me, I decided it was time to stop putting my head down and to start speaking out.

Fortunately, I had company. In 2005, my colleagues Susan Wojcicki and Marissa Mayer and I allnoticed that the speakers who visited the Google campus were fascinating, notable, and almost alwaysmale. In response, we founded Women@Google and kicked off the new series with luminaries GloriaSteinem and Jane Fonda, who were launching the Women’s Media Center. As a former aerobicsinstructor, I was excited to meet Jane Fonda—and sucked in my stomach the whole time. From what Iknew about the women’s rights movement, I expected Gloria Steinem to be formidable and brilliant,which she was. But she was also charming and funny and warm—the absolute opposite of my childishimage of the humorless feminist.

After the Women@Google event, Gloria invited me to speak at the Women’s Media Center in NewYork. I said yes without hesitating. The day before the talk, I headed to the airport with Kim MaloneScott, who ran the Google publishing teams. Kim is an experienced writer, so I figured she would helpme craft a speech during the long flight. By the time I got through all of my backlogged e-mails, it wasalmost midnight. I turned to Kim for help and saw that she had fallen asleep. Long before Facebookmade it popular, I thought about giving her a poke. But I couldn’t bear to wake her up. Staring at theblank computer screen, I was at a complete loss. I had never spoken about being a woman in publicbefore. Not once. I had no talking points or notes to turn to. Then I realized how striking thiswas … and that I actually had quite a lot to say.

I began my talk the next day by explaining that in business we are taught to fit in, but that I wasstarting to think this might not be the right approach. I said out loud that there are differences betweenmen and women both in their behavior and in the way their behavior is perceived by others. I admittedthat I could see these dynamics playing out in the workforce, and that, in order to fix the problems, weneeded to be able to talk about gender without people thinking we were crying for help, asking forspecial treatment, or about to sue. A lot poured out of me that day. Then I returned to NorthernCalifornia and put the conversation on hold.

In the following four years, I gave two talks on women in the workplace, both behind closed doorsto professional women’s groups at nearby Stanford. Then one day, Pat Mitchell called to tell me thatshe was launching TEDWomen and invited me to speak on social media. I told her I had anothersubject in mind and started pulling together a talk on how women can succeed in the workforce (a talkthat TED later named “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders”). Very quickly, I became excited.

And just as quickly, I learned that no one else shared my excitement. Friends and colleagues—bothmale and female—warned me that making this speech would harm my career by instantly typecastingme as a female COO and not a real business executive. In other words, I wouldn’t be blending in.

I worried they might be right. Speaking at TED would be different from my previous keynotes.

Although I would be addressing a sympathetic room, the talk would be posted on the web, whereanyone could watch, and judge, and criticize.

Inside Facebook, few people noticed my TEDTalk, and those who did responded positively. Butoutside of Facebook, the criticism started to roll in. One of my colleagues from Treasury called to saythat “others”—not him, of course—were wondering why I gave more speeches on women’s issuesthan on Facebook. I had been at the company for two and a half years and given countless speeches onrebuilding marketing around the social graph and exactly one speech on gender. Someone else askedme, “So is this your thing now?”

At the time, I didn’t know how to respond. Now I would say yes. I made this my “thing” becausewe need to disrupt the status quo. Staying quiet and fitting in may have been all the first generations ofwomen who entered corporate America could do; in some cases, it might still be the safest path. Butthis strategy is not paying off for women as a group. Instead, we need to speak out, identify thebarriers that are holding women back, and find solutions.

The response to my TEDTalk showed me that addressing these issues openly can make a difference.

Women forwarded the video to their friends, colleagues, daughters, and sisters. I began receiving e-mails and letters from women all over the world who wanted to share their stories of how they gainedthe courage to reach for more opportunities, sit at more tables, and believe more in themselves.

One of my favorite letters came from Sabeen Virani, a consultant in Dubai and the only woman inan office of more than three hundred employees. She responded to my story about the executive whocould not point me to the women’s bathroom because, as she explained, in her workplace, thewomen’s bathroom did not even exist. Sabeen described how during her first week on the project, theclient took her team out to dinner, but she couldn’t join because the restaurant didn’t allow women.

Talk about not sitting at the table—she couldn’t even get into the restaurant! Some of the men wereopenly hostile to Sabeen. Others just ignored her. But rather than give up and transfer to a friendlieroffice, she decided that she could demonstrate to everyone that women are competent professionals. Inthe end, she won her coworkers over and the client converted a bathroom into a women’s bathroomjust for her. She sent me a photo of her standing in front of a door with a printed sign that read simplyand powerfully “Toilets for women only.”

It was also enormously gratifying that men reacted positively to the talk too. Dr. John Probasco ofthe Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told me that my story about women being morereluctant than men to raise their hands rang true for him so he decided to do away with the old hand-raising system during rounds. Instead, he started calling on male and female students evenly. Hequickly realized that the women knew the answers just as well—or even better—than the men. In oneday he increased female participation. By making one small change to his behavior, he changed amuch larger dynamic.

Major changes can result from these kinds of “nudge techniques,” small interventions thatencourage people to behave in slightly different ways at critical moments.

The simple act of talkingopenly about behavioral patterns makes the subconscious conscious. For example, Google has anunusual system where engineers nominate themselves for promotions, and the company found thatmen nominated themselves more quickly than women. The Google management team shared this dataopenly with the female employees, and women’s self-nomination rates rose significantly, reachingroughly the same rates as men’s.

All the feedback from TED convinced me that I should keep speaking up and encouraging others todo the same. It is essential to breaking the logjam. Talking can transform minds, which can transformbehaviors, which can transform institutions.

I know it isn’t easy. Anyone who brings up gender in the workplace is wading into deep and muddywaters. The subject itself presents a paradox, forcing us to acknowledge differences while trying toachieve the goal of being treated the same. Women, especially those at junior levels, worry that raisinggender issues makes them appear unprofessional or as if they are blaming others. I have listened towomen vent frustration over being undervalued and even demeaned on a daily basis at work. When Iask if they have aired any of these complaints to their superiors, they’ve responded, “Oh no! Icouldn’t.” There is so much fear that speaking up will make the situation worse or even result in beingpenalized or fired. It seems safer to bear the injustice.

For men, raising this subject can be even harder. A male friend who runs a large organization onceconfided in me, “It’s easier to talk about your sex life in public than to talk about gender.” The factthat he wouldn’t go on record with this quote shows he meant it. Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone,told me that he showed my TEDTalk to his senior management team because he shares my belief thatwomen sometimes hold themselves back. He also believed this message was easier to hear from awoman than a man. His point is valid. If a man had delivered the same message or even gently pointedout that women might be taking actions that limited their options, he would have been pilloried.

Shutting down discussion is self-defeating and impedes progress. We need to talk and listen anddebate and refute and instruct and learn and evolve. And since the majority of managers are men, weneed them to feel comfortable addressing these issues directly with female employees. When a womansits on the side of a room, a man needs to be able to wave her over to the table and explain why so shewill know to sit at the table the next time.

Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express, is a leader on this front. Ken openly acknowledges thatin meetings, both men and women are more likely to interrupt a woman and give credit to a man foran idea first proposed by a woman. When he witnesses either of these behaviors, he stops the meetingto point it out. Coming from the top, this really makes employees think twice. A more junior woman(or man) can also intervene in the situation when a female colleague has been interrupted. She cangently but firmly tell the group, “Before we move on, I’d like to hear what [senior woman] had tosay.” This action not only benefits the senior woman but can raise the stature of the junior woman aswell, since speaking up for someone else displays both confidence and a communal spirit. The juniorwoman comes across as both competent and nice.

At Facebook, I teach managers to encourage women to talk about their plans to have children andhelp them continue to reach for opportunities. I give men the option of quoting me if the words don’tfeel right coming out of their mouths. Still, this approach is a bit of a crutch and it does not translate toother companies. It would be preferable if everyone had permission to talk about this subject bothpublicly and behind closed office doors.

One stumbling block is that many people believe that the workplace is largely a meritocracy, whichmeans we look at individuals, not groups, and determine that differences in outcomes must be basedon merit, not gender. Men at the top are often unaware of the benefits they enjoy simply becausethey’re men, and this can make them blind to the disadvantages associated with being a woman.

Women lower down also believe that men at the top are entitled to be there, so they try to play by therules and work harder to advance rather than raise questions or voice concerns about the possibility ofbias. As a result, everyone becomes complicit in perpetuating an unjust system.

At the same time, we must be careful not to inject gender into every discussion. I know a male CEOwho is enormously dedicated to hiring and promoting women. When a female employee kicked off anegotiation by insisting that she should have a higher title and was underleveled because she was awoman, it immediately put him on the defense. She was speaking her truth, but in this case, her truthwas an accusation with legal ramifications. As soon as she framed the issue in those terms, the CEOhad no choice but to put their friendly talks on hold and call in HR. It might have served her better toexplain how she was contributing to the company and ask for the promotion first.

Even today, mentioning gender in work situations often makes people visibly uncomfortable. Totheir credit, many institutions have worked hard to sensitize people to these issues, especially sexualharassment. But while human resources seminars can raise consciousness and help protect employees,they have also raised the specter of legal action, which can create real barriers to these conversations.

The federal and state laws that are designed to protect employees against discrimination specify onlythat an employer cannot make decisions based on certain protected characteristics such as gender,pregnancy, and age. But companies usually take the policy a step further and teach managers not toask anything related to these areas. Anyone making even a benign inquiry such as “Are you married?”

or “Do you have kids?” can later be accused of basing a personnel decision on this information. As aresult, a manager who is trying to help a female employee by pointing out a gender-driven styledifference could be charged with discrimination for doing so.

The first time I asked a prospective employee if she was considering having children soon, Iunderstood that doing so could expose me and my company to legal risk. Unlike many women, I wasin a position to evaluate that risk and chose to take it. The laws that protect women and minorities andpeople with disabilities, among others, from discrimination are essential, and I am not suggesting theybe circumvented. But I have also witnessed firsthand how they can have a chilling effect on discourse,sometimes even to the detriment of the people they are designed to defend. I don’t have a solution tothis dilemma and will leave it to public policy and legal experts to solve. I do think this is worth someserious attention so we can find a way to deal with these issues in a way that protects but doesn’tsuppress.

Most people would agree that gender bias exists … in others. We, however, would never be swayedby such superficial and unenlightened opinions. Except we are. Our preconceived notions aboutmasculinity and femininity influence how we interact with and evaluate colleagues in the workplace.

A 2012 study found that when evaluating identical résumés for a lab manager position from a malestudent and a female student, scientists of both sexes gave better marks to the male applicant. Eventhough the students had the same qualifications and experience, the scientists deemed the femalestudent less competent and offered her a lower starting salary and less mentoring.

Other studies of jobapplicants, candidates for scholarships, and musicians auditioning for orchestras have come to thesame conclusion: gender bias influences how we view performance and typically raises ourassessment of men while lowering our assessment of women.

Even today, gender-blind evaluationsstill result in better outcomes for women.

Unfortunately, most jobs require face-to-face interviews.

All of us, myself included, are biased, whether we admit it or not. And thinking that we areobjective can actually make this even worse, creating what social scientists call a “bias blind spot.”

This blind spot causes people to be too confident about their own powers of objectivity so that theyfail to correct for bias.

When evaluating identically described male and female candidates for the jobof police chief, respondents who claimed to be the most impartial actually exhibited more bias in favorof male candidates. This is not just counterproductive but deeply dangerous. Evaluators in that samestudy actually shifted hiring criteria to give men an advantage. When a male applicant possessed astrong educational record, that quality was considered critical to the success of a police chief. Butwhen a male applicant possessed a weaker educational record, that quality was rated as less important.

This favoritism was not shown to female applicants. If anything, the reverse happened. When awoman possessed a particular skill, ability, or background, that quality tended to carry less weight.

The infuriating takeaway from this study is that “merit” can be manipulated to justify discrimination.

Social scientists are uncovering new examples of bias all the time. In 2012, a series of studiescompared men in more “modern” marriages (whose wives worked outside the home full-time) to menin more “traditional” marriages (whose wives worked at home). The researchers wanted to determineif a man’s home arrangement affected his professional behavior. It did. Compared to men in modernmarriages, men in more traditional marriages viewed the presence of women in the workforce lessfavorably. They also denied promotions to qualified female employees more often and were morelikely to think that companies with a higher percentage of female employees ran less smoothly. Theresearchers speculated that men in traditional marriages are not overtly hostile toward women butinstead are “benevolent sexists”—holding positive yet outdated views about women.

(Another term Ihave heard is “nice guy misogynists.”) These men might even believe that women have superiorstrengths in certain areas like moral reasoning, which makes them better equipped to raise children—and perhaps less equipped to succeed in business.

In all likelihood, men who share this attitude areunaware of how their conscious and unconscious beliefs hurt their female colleagues.

Another bias arises from our tendency to want to work with people who are like us. Innovisor, aconsulting firm, conducted research in twenty-nine countries and found that when men and womenselect a colleague to collaborate with, both were significantly more likely to choose someone of thesame gender.

Yet diverse groups often perform better.

Armed with this information, managersshould take a more active role in mixing and matching when assigning teams. Or, at the very least,managers should point out this tendency to give employees the motivation to shake things up.

My own attempts to point out gender bias have generated more than my fair share of eye rollingfrom others. At best, people are open to scrutinizing themselves and considering their blind spots; atworst, they become defensive and angry. One common instance of bias crops up during jobperformance evaluations. When reviewing a woman, the reviewer will often voice the concern, “Whileshe’s really good at her job, she’s just not as well liked by her peers.” When I hear language like that, Ibring up the Heidi/Howard study and how success and likeability are negatively correlated for women.

I ask the evaluator to consider the possibility that this successful female may be paying a gender-basedpenalty. Usually people find the study credible, nodding their heads in agreement, but then bristle atthe suggestion that this might be influencing the reaction of their management team. They will furtherdefend their position by arguing that it cannot be gender related because—aha!—both men andwomen have problems with that particular female executive. But the success and likeability penalty isimposed by both men and women. Women perpetuate this bias as well.

Of course, not every woman deserves to be well liked. Some women are disliked for behaviors thatthey would do well to change. In a perfect world, they would receive constructive feedback and theopportunity to make those changes. Still, calling attention to this bias forces people to think aboutwhether there is a real problem or a perception problem. The goal is to give women something mentend to receive automatically—the benefit of the doubt.

In turn, women might also want to give their bosses the benefit of the doubt. Cynthia Hogan servedas chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee under then-senator Joe Biden before leaving in1996 after her first child was born. Her plan was to return to the workforce a few years later. But whenher second child was born prematurely, those plans changed. A full twelve years later, Vice President–Elect Biden called Cynthia to ask her to join his staff as chief legal counsel in the White House. “Myfirst reaction was that I no longer owned any clothes other than yoga pants!” Cynthia said. But herlarger concern was whether she could manage the long hours in the White House and still see herfamily. She put it beautifully: “I knew that whether this would work depended on two men. So first Iasked my husband if he could step in and take on more of the responsibility for the kids. He said, ‘Ofcourse, it’s your turn.’ And then I told the Vice President–elect that I really wanted to have dinnerwith my kids most nights. And his response was, ‘Well, you have a phone and I can call you when Ineed you after dinnertime.’ ”

Cynthia believes that the lesson of her story is “Don’t be afraid to ask,” even if it seems like a longshot. Being offered a senior job, especially after being at home for so long, presented a greatopportunity. Many women would have accepted it without even trying to carve out the time theyneeded for their families. Others would have turned it down, assuming that having dinner at homemost nights was not negotiable. Being forthright led to opportunity.

Every job will demand some sacrifice. The key is to avoid unnecessary sacrifice. This is especiallyhard since our work culture values complete dedication. We worry that even mentioning otherpriorities makes us less valuable employees. I have faced this too. As I described, once I had children,I changed my working hours to be home for dinner. But only fairly recently did I start talking aboutthis change. And while the impact of my actually leaving work early was negligible, admitting that Iwent home at five thirty turned out to be kind of a big deal.

I first openly discussed my office hours at the launch of Facebook Women, an in-house resourcegroup. The initial meeting, run by Lori Goler and Facebook’s head of engineering, Mike Schroepfer,was open to any Facebook employee, including men. During the Q&A, I was asked the (inevitable)question about how I balanced my job and family. I talked about leaving work to have dinner with mychildren and then getting back online after they went to bed. I said that I was sharing my schedulebecause I wanted to encourage others to personalize their schedules too. Even though I had planned inadvance to discuss this, I felt nervous. Years of conditioning had taught me never to suggest that I wasdoing anything other than giving 100 percent to my job. It was scary to think that someone, evenpeople working for me, might doubt my diligence or dedication. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. A fewpeople at Facebook thanked me for mentioning it, but that was it.

A few years later, producer Dyllan McGee interviewed me for her Makers video series. We spokeon a wide range of subjects, including my daily work schedule. The video was posted to the web andwas instantly the subject of heated debate. Thanks to social media (serves me right), everyone had anopinion about my leaving the office at five thirty. I got flowers with an anonymous thank-you note.

Mike Callahan, Yahoo’s general counsel at the time, told me that several of the more senior women inhis legal department said my admission struck a chord and they were going to follow my example.

Author Ken Auletta said that I could not have gotten more headlines if I had murdered someone withan ax. While I was glad to jump-start the discussion, all the attention gave me this weird feeling thatsomeone was going to object and fire me. I had to reassure myself that this was absurd. Still, theclamor made me realize how incredibly hard it would be for someone in a less-senior position to askfor or admit to this schedule. We have a long way to go before flextime is accepted in mostworkplaces. It will only happen if we keep raising the issue.

The discussions may be difficult, but the positives are many. We cannot change what we areunaware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.

Even a well-established institution like Harvard Business School (HBS) can evolve rapidly whenissues are addressed head-on. Historically at HBS, American male students have academicallyoutperformed both female and international students. When Nitin Nohria was appointed dean in 2010,he made it his mission to close this gap. He began by appointing Youngme Moon as senior associatedean of the MBA program, the first woman to hold that position in the school’s century-plus history.

He also created a new position for Robin Ely, an expert on gender and diversity.

Associate Dean Moon, working with Professor Frances Frei, spent the first year rigorouslyexamining the school’s culture. They visited each classroom and discussed the challenges women andinternational students faced. Then they used that knowledge to create what Dean Nohria calls “a levelof mindfulness.” Without calling for major overhauls, they tackled the soft stuff—small adjustmentsstudents could make immediately, like paying more attention to the language they used in class. Theylaid out a new, communal definition of leadership: “Leadership is about making others better as aresult of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” They held studentsresponsible for the impact their behavior had on others. Those who violated that principle, or evenhosted an event where that principle was violated, were held accountable. The second year, HBSintroduced small group projects to encourage collaboration between classmates who would notnaturally work together. They also added a year-long field course, which plays to the strengths ofstudents who are less comfortable contributing in front of large classes.

By commencement, the performance gap had virtually disappeared. Men, women, and internationalstudents were represented proportionally in the honors awarded. There was another benefit too. In aresult many considered surprising, overall student satisfaction went up, not just for the female andinternational students, but for American males as well. By creating a more equal environment,everyone was happier. And all of this was accomplished in just two short years.

Social gains are never handed out. They must be seized. Leaders of the women’s movement—fromSusan B. Anthony to Jane Addams to Alice Paul to Bella Abzug to Flo Kennedy to so many others—spoke out loudly and bravely to demand the rights that we now have. Their courage changed ourculture and our laws to the benefit of us all. Looking back, it made no sense for my college friends andme to distance ourselves from the hard-won achievements of earlier feminists. We should havecheered their efforts. Instead, we lowered our voices, thinking the battle was over, and with thisreticence we hurt ourselves.

Now I proudly call myself a feminist. If Tip O’Neill were alive today, I might even tell him that I’ma pom-pom girl for feminism. I hope more women, and men, will join me in accepting thisdistinguished label. Currently, only 24 percent of women in the United States say that they considerthemselves feminists. Yet when offered a more specific definition of feminism—“A feminist issomeone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”—the percentage ofwomen who agree rises to 65 percent.

That’s a big move in the right direction.

Semantics can be important, but I don’t think progress turns on our willingness to apply a label toourselves. I do think progress turns on our willingness to speak up about the impact gender has on us.

We can no longer pretend that biases do not exist, nor can we talk around them. And as HarvardBusiness School has demonstrated, the result of creating a more equal environment will not just bebetter performance for our organizations, but quite likely greater happiness for all.


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