Team Dysfunctions Blog — Gender Issues

Bias is alive and well and living in our world

Posted in: Behavior, Diversity, Gender Issues, Select, Women's issues, Workforce Issues  on July 15, 2015

People immediately notice - and react to - gender, race and age.
It was the middle of a sunny afternoon and my ten-year-old daughter and I were walking across a parking lot headed into the grocery store. I noticed a woman sitting in a car we were about to pass, her eyes wide as she looked at us and quickly reached across the passenger seat, locking the door. By the time we passed in front of her car she was sitting bolt upright, staring ahead. It was quite a few years ago, but I think I actually stood and glared at her for a moment. (At least, I wanted to. And probably would today!)Bias is alive and well and living in our world, which is not earth-shattering news to those who experience it every day.If people don’t lock their car doors when you pass (for example) or you think it doesn’t affect you think about these:

  • Who has made your heart beat a little faster when you noticed them approaching your car, or walking down the street toward you?
  • Who caused you to lock your car door or slide your phone onto your lap, holding it in one hand with your thumb on the emergency button?
  • Who has made you think, “Oh, I better be friendly because I don’t want them to think I’m prejudiced.”?
  • In conversation, when have you informed someone, “I have a really good friend who is (black, gay, Muslim, fill in the blank).”
  • Who have you responded positively to simply because they reminded you of somebody you liked, or vice versa?

When we encounter another person we immediately notice three aspects of that person. Most people think it’s their:

  •  Smile or expression
  • Clothes
  • Tone of voice
  • Manner of walking
  • Eye contact or
  • Apparent social status

It’s not.

The first things you notice are their (1) gender, (2) race and (3) age. And, if you’re like the rest of us, you react to that person based on those three characteristics.


A gut reaction, positively or negatively projecting attributes on someone without knowing anything else about them, represents a personal bias. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines bias as “a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.”

NEWSFLASH #1: We all have biases.

NEWSFLASH #2: Biases aren’t good or bad.

They just are; they are a reflection of how we see the world. With no other information they cause us to view some things negatively and some things positively – like interviewing a job applicant JUST because she was from a little town in Canada across the river from where I grew up. (Yes, I really did that!)

It’s how we choose to act on those biases that can be good or bad, especially if we violate laws designed to keep us from discriminating against people. Or, when we unfairly attribute positive (or negative) traits to someone based on our personal bias, and then make decisions based on that. (For the record, the applicant from Canada did not get the job.)

There are proven biases against non-whites and women.Studies abound showing racial and gender bias in hiring and career progression. These are proven biases against people with “ethnic” (as opposed to “white”) sounding names and women: Same resume, different name, different outcome. A study cited in the American Economic Review found that resumes with “white” sounding names were 50% more likely to be called for an interview than those with “African-American” sounding names. (So glad my 17-year-old nephew, DJ, is changing his name from Desquan Jalil to David Joseph.)

Bias isn’t just about race or gender. It’s about age, beliefs, disabilities, education, habits (like smoking), language, money, nationality, physical appearance, politics, religion, salaries, sexual orientation, the neighborhood you came from, weight and anything else that is important to you or is part of your core – usually unconscious – value system. 

FACT: less than 15% of American men are over six feet tall, yet almost 60% of male CEOs in the US are over six feet tall. Do you think those hiring managers consciously considered that? Hardly.

Unconscious – or conscious – biases result in unfounded conclusions which can have detrimental effects, especially in hiring when we overlook a potentially excellent candidate because of a personal bias, or when we quickly move a candidate through to hire just because she reminds us of our favorite aunt, Amelia.

Check out our nine tips to avoid being swayed by a bias!

If you wonder why the woman in the car was so quick to lock her door as my daughter and I were about to walk by – I am white. My daughter is black. It was not the first, the only, or the last time we have had, or will have, a similar experience.

Bias is alive and well and living in our world. Whether you recognize it or not.


To get an entirely UNbiased view of your job applicants and employees use a validated, reliable and objective assessment! Contact us for a free trial! 

Work / life balance. Will we ever stop talking about it?

Posted in: Gender Issues, Men's issues, Women's issues, Workforce Issues  on September 26, 2013

It seems work / life balance (WLB) is still a hot topic.  I know this because I talk to a lot of women. But I also know it because I was in a women’s group discussion about it the other day when a workshop on the topic was referred to as “fluff.”

For younger women it’s hot because they’re still trying to figure it out.  In fact a 2011 Pricewaterhouse Coopers study found that WLB is the number one priority for young women entering the workforce. For women who have been, shall we say, around the world of work for a while it’s hot because they’re sick of talking about it and many have a “WHY-CAN’T-WE-TALK-ABOUT-SOMETHING-ELSE??” mindset.  And undoubtedly some women don’t want to talk about it because they think we shouldn’t have to talk about it.  Maybe because men don’t talk about it, so why should women?

Yet we still talk about it.  Even when we talk about not wanting to talk about it.  And we will probably continue to talk about it for a long time because it’s not going to go away.  Because as long as we have home and we have work the issue of balancing our two worlds is here to stay.  In my mind that moves it into “an-issue-that-affects-my-life” and that is not “fluff.”

Perhaps instead of not talking about it altogether, we should think about changing the conversation. Instead of looking at this as a “woman’s” issue, we should realize that it is an issue that affects women as well as men and our work places as well.  Maybe it’s just an “issue.”  In a March 2013 issue of US News fifty percent of men admitted to struggling with WLB, and fifty-six percent of women agreed.  

Doesn’t look like a woman’s issue to me.  But if it’s not an issue at all it sure affects a lot of people.  

Four thoughts about work / life balance that might change the conversation:

  1. We all have to deal with issues of balance.   Gender aside, everyone has to deal with needing to leave work early for doctor’s appointments (our own, our kids’ or our parents’).  All of us would prefer at times to be home when we have to be at work, or prefer to be at work when we have to be at home.  There are times when all of us think we work too many hours and don’t have enough time for ourselves or we don’t have enough time to get the work done. While WLB does not mean equal parts work and equal parts home, it does mean that something, somewhere always has to give.  We just can’t do it all.
  2. Gender stereotypes contribute to misunderstandings regarding WLB.  In our society when a child is sick it is usually the mother who stays home.  We hear more about the moms who turn down promotions or leave work early so they don’t miss their kids’ soccer games.  Does that mean men don’t do it?  Of course not.  Since this behavior is less acceptable for men they don’t necessarily tell people about it.  The stereotype that this is what women do prevents men from being able to deal with the career effects when they decide to forego a promotion or check out early every Thursday for a soccer game.  Heck, the US Census Bureau (quoted in the NY Times blog) even considers the mother as the “designated parent” and refers to it as “childcare” when mom is absent and only the father is there.  A stay-at-home-dad is actually considered to be providing “childcare.”  Apparently that saying, “It’s not babysitting if you’re the dad” is not actually true.
  3. Imbalance in any area of our life creates stress.  And stress contributes to illness.  Eighty-three percent of US employees admit to feeling stressed out.  Stress causes cardiovascular problems.  It kills brain cells, affects our memories, impacts our decision-making abilities and contributes to diabetes.  It is estimated that seventy-five to ninety percent of health care treatments are directly or indirectly related to stress.  Chronic, negative stress is not good for us, and the effects of stress are not for women only.
  4. Stress creates problems at work.  It’s no surprise that stressed out employees are less productive; less focused.   They are more fatigued and distracted, which explains why the risk of injury for stressed out workers is thirty-seven percent higher than it is for non-stressed employees.  They put in the time but don’t get as much done, which likely causes more stress and keeps the WLB cycle of imbalance going.

The work / life balance issue is real.  Even if you have figured it out in your life, a lot of people haven’t and they could probably use your help figuring it out.  The issue is here to stay so we might as well accept that we’re going to keep talking about it.  But let’s try to change the conversation; accept that it is an issue, and that it affects all of us.  Then we can acknowledge how it affects us – women, men, employers, work groups, businesses.  Only then will the conversation of what we can do about it be meaningful for everyone involved.  

Or, at least, everyone who still wants to talk about it.


Hiring? No personality test needed … ?

Posted in: Develop, Diversity, Gender Issues, Team Dysfunctions, Women's issues, Workforce Issues  on August 8, 2011

“What we’re really looking for is a nice looking female to sell for us.”


Didn’t that kind of hiring go out with the collapse of Pan Am?

Apparently not – since a business owner just said that to me.

“Sex and the working girl” was cited in a recent synergize! survey as one of several challenges that women in the workforce face that men do not face. Others high on the list included work / life balance (number one at 34% of respondents), being taken seriously, pay inequities and gender stereotypes.

synergize! is excited to launch The Women’s Center to help women in the workforce deal with these unique challenges. (I mean, c’mon … can you imagine somebody saying, “What we’re really looking for is a nice looking guy who can sell for us.”)

Ummmm … I don’t think so.

The Women’s Center consists of programs designed for women to help them develop their potential, deal with their unique challenges and enjoy the support of other women in the process.  On August 23rd we will introduce the following programs and services:

  1. Peer Accountability Groups
  2. Individual one-on-one coaching
  3. The Kee to Your Future Mentor Program (a partnership with the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which will be officially launched at the October 6, 2011, Professional Women’s Forum)
  4. Our four steps to success process to develop stellar employees

Please be our guest for lunch on the 23rd to learn more about these exciting programs.  Or, if you’re not close enough to come for lunch, I hope you’ll contact us to learn how The Women’s Center can be a resource for you or for the women on your team.

  • August 23, 2011
  • 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • FREE lunch
  • The Hampton Inn, Greenfield Road, Lancaster, PA

The event is free but you must register to attend.  Just contact us and we’ll add you to the list!

Meanwhile … I think I’ll go look for a nice looking guy to sell for me ...

Gentleman, Start your business

Posted in: Diversity, Gender Issues, Workforce Issues  on July 19, 2011

There it was. Right on the side of the road, right by a bus stop.

A big yellow sign from Lamar Advertising with a checkered flag that said, “Gentleman, start your business.” 

Gentleman, start your business?? 

I know this is from the “Gentlemen, start your engines” days when race car drivers were all men.  But where has Lamar advertising been?

Looking at the most recent facts from 2009:

  • Female-owned businesses have grown at a higher rate than male-owned businesses for the last ten years
  • 30% of US businesses – that would be 10.1 million – are owned by women
  • Women-owned businesses employ 13 million workers
  • 20% of firms with revenue over $1 million are owned by women
  • Women are responsible for over 80% of US spending

I’ll bet if they tried, Lamar Advertising could have come up with an equally creative slogan that didn’t overlook the group of business owners that is responsible for $1.9 trillion of revenue in the US annually.

This advertisement may be a perfect example of the Good Old Boy‘s mentality that women in business come up against frequently, which goes hand-in-hand with being taken seriously, cited in a recent survey as the second greatest challenge women face in the workplace that men do not.  (The greatest challenge?  Work-life balance.)

Women’s reality is that we’ll never be able to get past some of that “Gentleman, start your business” mind-set, which is certainly not to say all men are like that.  (And, for the record, my best mentors and best bosses have been men.)  The men who do not share that way of thinking should believe us when we say that there really are still some chauvinists out there. 

Women in business who have experienced the GOB‘s should understand that in spite of how limiting their viewpoint is, the only limits we really have on our personal success are the ones we place on ourselves.   (And that, of course, is true for women or men.)  Whether our boss takes us seriously or not we’re the ones responsible for our careers. 

Because of the unique challenges women face in the workforce synergize! is developing some new programs for women in business. 

  1. Starting in the fall we will offer two women’s accountability groups – one for women who are new to the workforce and one for business owners.  We hope to expand this to other groups in the spring.
  2. synergize! will partner with the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce to provide the Kee to Your Future mentor program for women over the age of 30.  This will be introduced at the Professional Women’s Forum in October.

Women face unique challenges in the workforce.  Not worse than those that men face, just different.  Women have a long way to go when it comes to pay equity or a voice in upper management.  There is more pressure on women to maintain the home front as well as the office.  Perhaps those are reasons why so many women are starting businesses today?  As a business owner my only ceiling is self-imposed and I set my own schedule.

So, go ahead, women … start your businesses. 

And Contact us to learn more about the upcoming women’s programs at synergize!

The Secret Handshake

Posted in: Gender Issues, Team Dysfunctions, Workforce Issues  on August 13, 2010

The company that prompted the Green is the New Pink blog entry (see June archives) now brings us the Secret Handshake.

My best friend, “Anne” (name changed), happens to work for this company – a very BIG company – that is just clueless. I love it when she goes to meetings because she always comes back with some totally “I-CAN’T-BELIEVE-ANYBODY-WOULD-BE-THAT-STUPID” stories.

Anne and eight other people showed up for a manager’s meeting last week.  Let me rephrase that: Anne and eight men showed up for a manager’s meeting last week.  She was, literally, surrounded by men (who all happened to wear khaki pants and black polo shirts in response to the “business casual” dress code.  She didn’t get the memo and showed up in black slacks and a colorful shirt.)

As they were greeting each other and most people had sat down one newcomer to the meeting shook hands with every man around the table, SKIPPED OVER my friend, whose arm was outstretched to shake his hand, finished shaking hands with everyone else, then came back and gave Anne a Teacup, Hand-in-Hand shake accompanied by a condescending, “Hello, Anne, and how are you?”

The Teacup, Hand-in-Hand shake occurs when the person cups his hand in the process of shaking yours, avoiding contact with the palms; then grasps your hand with his other hand at the same time.

Done by a friend at your grandmother’s funeral it’s one thing. According to the handshake etiquette-icians when it’s done under less personal circumstances it means:

  1. The person is hiding something.
  2. False sincerity.
  3. An invasion of intimacy.

At a business meeting it is simply condescending and arrogant.

For those of you who haven’t read the Green is the New Pink entry, this company was just found guilty of sexual discrimination in a class action suit that will cost them $250 million dollars, plus $22.5 million to make changes to their policies and procedures in order to prevent future discrimination.


How energized do you think Anne feels working with this group and for this company?   She feels quite energized … so energized she has started taking graduate classes and looks forward to a time in the very near future when she can embark on an entirely new career path.

Want to energize your workforce?  Want to keep them engaged?  Treat them with dignity and respect.

And for goodness sake, DON’T treat the women differently than you treat the men.

Or vice versa.

If gender relationships in the workplace interest YOU – contact synergize! for information about our Gender Differences training!

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