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Newsletter Week 40

November 13, 2019

This week, the qualities we think signal leadership are not only gender-biased. They are often associated with poor outcomes. There’s a better way. Plus, a new Nature study describes the gender gap in academic publishing in chemistry. Older workers spend a lot of effort “covering” their real age at work, and it sounds exhausting. Finally, how one company is getting paid for increasing diversity in tech sales.

This Week in D&I In Practice

Some People Get a Pass: Why It is Critical to Broaden Our Definition of Good Leadership (Book Review)

This book takes a strong stand, starting with the title. In his new book Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?, psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic looks at how we evaluate leadership, and concludes that the problem is with how leadership is (or isn’t defined). From the article:

While women face many barriers on the path to leadership, Chamorro-Premuzic argues that the more pressing social problem is how easy it is for incompetent men to become leaders. Changing and specifying the criteria for good leadership, he contends, will result in better workplaces for everyone.

While the “incompetent men” framing is provocative, the title points out a well-known bias dynamic from the other side. It’s well-documented that under-represented groups in the workplace are often held to a higher standard. But that can be a difficult message to get across. As a practitioner, I’ve often found better results by asking, not if someone is being held to a higher standard, but if someone else is being held to a lower standard, or given a “pass”. Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, my former colleague at Stanford, calls this "leniency," and once you start noticing it, you'll see it in surprising places.

Giving someone a pass might look like “oh, he went to MIT, of course he knows this.” Or it might mean not asking tough questions, because a candidate was referred into the company from a trusted source. Whatever the form, letting some people off the hook, even accidentally, can lead to hiring (or promoting, or mentoring) the same sorts of people over and over again. When that happens, it not only undermines your D&I goals but erodes your employees’ trust in the system. Setting relevant, objective criteria for leadership, and ensuring they are fairly applied, will build a stronger organization in the long run.

This Week in News and Research

1. Huge Study Documents Gender Gap in Chemistry Publishing (Nature)

Building on a long line or research about the gender gap around academic publishing, this paper concludes that “subtle” and “complex” bias is baked into the system at every stage. This systematic bias makes it more difficult for women not only to disseminate their research but also to reap the professional rewards that come along with publication.

To dive into the topic of bias in academia, check out this annotated bibliography from LSE’s Impact blog.

2. Older Workers Have a Big Secret: Their Age (Wall Street Journal)

I wouldn’t go so far as to equate age with LGBTQ status, as one quote in the article does. But age discrimination is real. This article talks about the strategies older workers use to seem younger than they are, including changing wardrobes, adopting “young” media habits and not disclosing personal information. It sounds exhausting! Like all kinds of “covering” at work, you have to think that energy could be better directed at creating value for the company...or enjoying life.

3.  Bolstering Tech Diversity Isn’t Just About Coders (BuiltIt)

I love the BuiltIt blog, so I’m happy to see them talking about the issue of diversity in high tech sales. Like coding, sales is a place where people can earn outsized compensation relatively early in their career. Sales is also one of the accepted paths to the C-suite. And yet, at least in enterprise software, sales is dominated by men, often white.

This article describes SV Academy, a sales training program that teaches SaaS sales skills in just 12 weeks. From the article:

The program is free for students but the bar for admittance is high — SV Academy admits less than 3 percent of applicants. Rather than focus on the level of education or years of experience in the tech industry, they give weight to the students they believe will work the hardest. Experienced sales managers from the industry evaluate applicants in a supervised learning environment, looking for a specific set of skills and values that make a successful salesperson. 

The focus on skills and values, rather than education and experience, is a model for other training programs seeking to improve diversity in tech. 

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