1.) What causes women to acquiesce in the workplace?

Cover of Glass Walls

Of the six gender bias barriers Dr. Leanne Dzubinski and I discuss in Glass Walls, acquiescence is the last. It may be a consequence of all the other barriers—male privilege, disproportionate constraints, insufficient support, devaluation, and hostility—that women experience at work. Instead of fighting a system that is setup for them to fail, women acquiesce. And it is a very rationale choice. No individual woman can win when fighting patriarchal work environments alone.  Acquiescence consists of work-life conflict, self-blame, self-silencing and self-limited aspirations. Each of these is often framed as individual women’s choices, such when a woman must figure out how to maintain her career with a new baby or when a woman chooses not to try for that big promotion. This framing leads to pressure on the woman to accept these inequities as justified and to find her own way to manage them. But they are actually derived from workplaces that are setup to retain male control and power. The cause is not a failing of an individual woman, it is the male-normed system.

2.) What are the top strategies for men to fight against gender bias?

The place for men to start is to learn about gender bias. Learn how to identify it. Then avoid behaviors that marginalize women. The next strategy is to call it out when you see it within your own workplace. For example, if you are in a meeting, and your female colleague is being “hepeated” (when a man repeats a woman’s idea and he gets the credit), redirect the conversation back to her and note that it was her idea: “Melanie just said that. Let’s hear more about what she thinks.” Keep in mind that women are often not in the room when bias or discrimination happens. If you are part of a hiring or promotional conversation, be sure to call out if women are being overlooked or held to different standards than male candidates. Like if a woman is considered “too young” for a certain position, ask if a man of the same age would be considered too young and redirect the conversation to the candidates’ skills. In Glass Walls, we offer lots more strategies for men to fight gender bias, whether those men are leaders or colleagues.

3.) What can women do to shatter the glass walls of their workplace?

Women should know that they are not responsible for fixing a male-normed system all on their own. As mentioned, it’s not a fight individual women can win. We all—leaders, allies, men, and women— have a role to play in shattering the glass walls of gender bias. And we all must work together to advance gender equity and inclusion. That said, there are some steps women can take to improve their own situation. First, women should depersonalize any bias they experience. This can be hard because bias often feels personal. But it is not. It is happening to so many of us women. Second, women should focus on building a support network of individuals inside and outside their organization.  This quote from one of my dissertation participants is so true: “It is really important that you have a group of people that you can talk to, get advice from, believe in, understand, and who understand you.”  Third, be persistent. Recognize that there will be roadblocks. Not everything comes easily. Changes may be small and seem slow but that is often how progress is made. Perhaps you had a conversation with a male colleague who regularly talks over you, and you helped him understand how his behavior keeps you from doing your job. If your colleague was receptive to your feedback, consider that a win. Last, have alternatives. Some workplaces are just plain toxic, and the only good solution is to leave your role. Think about your options, like a new role in a different department, a job in a new organization, or even working for yourself. There are lots of jobs, lots of opportunities. Make positive change where you can in your present workplace, but don’t let one person or workplace block your personal fulfillment and advancement.

Amy Diehl is the Chief Information Officer at Wilson College, a Gender Equity Researcher, and author of Glass Walls: Shattering the Six Gender Bias Barriers Still Holding Women Back at Work https://amy-diehl.com Follow Amy on Twitter @amydiehl