Episode 90: "That's What She Said" with Joanne Lipman
Author of “That’s What She Said”: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) and former Editor in Chief of USA Today and Deputy Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal, Joanne Lipman talks with Carol about unconscious bias in the workplace, and how men and women work together in an environment reeling from sexual harassment scandals.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host for today. Today we welcome Joanne Lipman. Joanne is the author of That's What She Said, What Men Need to Know and Women Need to Tell Them About Working Together. She's the former editor in chief of USA Today and was the deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. Hi, Joanne, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.
Joanne Lipman: Hi, Carol. Great to be here.
Carol Fishman Cohen: We're thrilled to have you, and I want to start with talking about, of course, your book, That's What She Said. It couldn't be more timely, but I'm thinking about the timeline here, that the book came out in 2018, and I'm guessing you turned in the manuscript before that, maybe the year before. So tell us when you realized that men being part of the conversation and in the know about all of the discussions about gender bias and unconscious bias was an important thing, and it was going to be important if both men and women were going to function comfortably and effectively in the workplace.
Joanne Lipman: So Carol, you are a hundred percent correct that the book had to be written before 2018. And in fact, I actually started working on it almost four years ago. And the reason I started it is because as I rose up in leadership, I started as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, and I rose through leadership to become the deputy managing editor, then became editor in chief of a business magazine, then went to Gannett as editor-in-chief over there.
As I rose through these leadership positions, I kept being invited to more of these women's leadership conferences. The conferences were great, as somebody who grew up professionally surrounded by men, I felt like there was something missing. And that is, every time I go to one of these conferences, we would have the same discussion over and over again.
We would all talk about the issues that we face at work, and not just the sexual harassment kinds of real severe abuses that we are reading about in the headlines. But the everyday indignities, the being marginalized at work, talked over, interrupted, simply not taken as seriously as the guy in the same job sitting right next to us.
We would talk about this with each other. But what we didn't do is talk to men about it. And as somebody who grew up professionally surrounded by men, all of my mentors were male, and my colleagues were largely male. As a reporter, my sources were largely male. I knew quite a few of really great guys who I felt like they should be part of this conversation.
But we weren't inviting them in and they didn't know how to start. Even if they were interested in it, they just had no idea where to begin. So I really felt like it was time for us to have this gender conversation with men as well as women.
Carol Fishman Cohen: You certainly called it early. And I can tell you myself, I started my career in the eighties and I also had male mentors all the way through who went to bat for me. I felt I didn't experience any gender issues with them, but I was in investment banking and investment management and it was also very male dominated. So I completely relate to what you're saying. Can you talk to us a little bit about what we're seeing now, which is a reaction, I think, to a lot of what's been in the news and the extreme cases that now at lots of companies, they have diversity training or unconscious bias training. And, is it your sense that people go to this rolling their eyes or feeling, "Ah, I've got to go spend an hour doing this," or is it meaningful? Or are some meaningful and some not depending on who's leading it? What is your thought about that?
Joanne Lipman: Sure. So diversity training actually started really more than three decades ago. It was the result at first, of lawsuits in the 1970s, before our time, by women in the media and in banking. And as a result of these lawsuits companies had to start hiring women and they started this diversity training.
Now the problem with diversity training is that it has failed. There's a researcher at Harvard by the name of Frank Dobbin. He looked at thirty years of diversity training at more than 800 companies. And he found that for two groups, women, and black men and women, it actually made things worse. Now there are a variety of reasons why this is the case, but one of them actually turned out to be resentment on the part of the white men who were the primary recipients of the training.
It made them feel bad about themselves. It turns out that was the point. Actually, I spoke to a veteran diversity trainer and he said to me, "Look, when we started doing this, basically our procedure was banging white guys over the head with a two by four and trying to make them feel guilty." That totally backfired. Now more recently we have what's often called unconscious bias training. So unconscious biases, this is a newer concept, this is the concept that all of us, men, women, black, white, no matter who you are, we all have these biases that are buried so deeply inside of us that we don't even realize that they exist.
And they come out and affect our behavior in ways that we may not even be sure about, that we may not recognize. So this unconscious bias training, now it's intended to show us what our unconscious biases are and to give us strategies to interrupt those biases. The pro of that training on the plus side is it's a little bit guilt-free right, because we're all biased. We all have a problem. So we're not just beating up on the white guys. We all have this.
But the problem I see with unconscious bias training is that a lot of companies use it as a crutch. You go through an hour or two or three of unconscious bias training, and companies wash their hands of all of this and say, "Okay, we're done. We're all trained." And that's simply not the case. There's some research that shows that the impact of unconscious bias training lasts for maybe a few hours or a few days, but not beyond that.
So you really need to have culture change, policy change, strategy change. It's a multifaceted issue, biases, and we have to constantly be vigilant, and we have to make more changes than simply any kind of training.
Carol Fishman Cohen: So that of course leads us to the next question, which is, what is the best way for companies to educate employees on gender discrimination topics, whether they're intentional or not intentional?
Joanne Lipman: So there are a variety of ways. In That's What She Said, I was really focused on finding solutions. In fact, most of the people I interviewed, and I did spend three years interviewing people, most of the people I interviewed were men who were trying to make a difference. I asked them about what strategies they had created or come across that worked for them.
So number one, first and foremost is that any sort of cultural change must come from the top. It has to be the leader. In too many companies, and I do quite a bit of corporate speaking at organizations, and in too many companies, it's the HR department that is in charge of changing the culture. Now, that will never, ever work. I've met some amazing diversity and inclusion professionals in HR, but they alone don't set the tone. It really is set at the top. So I always say the CEO and the CFO need to own diversity and need to be held accountable for it.
There's a couple of reasons for this. One is, first of all, every piece of research tells us and shows us that when you have diversity in your organization, you're actually more successful. So you are more financially successful, your employees are happier, employee groups are actually more creative and better at problem solving when we have diverse voices in there. So every piece of research tells you that if you want to be successful, that it needs to be paramount for you, diversity.
But the other issue is, the reason I say CFO, is because it has to do with financial results as well. And so if these individuals, CEO, CFO are not held accountable for this, if they see it as somebody else's problem, it's just simply not going to happen. And then there's individual things that organizations can do, and that individuals can do. And we can talk about some of those. In That's What She Said, I actually have a cheat sheet in the back of the book. And in the paperback, I have two cheat sheets in the back of the book. One specifically for individuals, things you can do to close the gender gap. And one for organizations which are proven methods that some organizations have employed to close the gap.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Ah, okay. I have the hard cover. So now I need to get the paper back for the additional cheat sheet. So I'm glad to hear about those. I want to get into some detail about that in a little bit, but practically, how does this manifest itself in the workplace? What if you're a guy who's a hugger, or what if you're a woman who's a hugger or, can people hug when they see each other if they know each other pretty well? Or is that kind of off limits? And what are the new protocols in the wake of the #MeToo world and the 'That's What She Said' world?
Joanne Lipman: Yeah. This is a great question. I hear this all the time. And first of all, I am a hugger. Here's the thing, we hear some extremes. We hear that there are some men who say, "Oh, I'm never going to hire a woman." "I'm not going to ride the elevator alone with a woman." "I'm not going to mentor a woman." I have no patience for this. I was on a panel the other day where this question came up from a man in the audience and a fellow panelist, a woman, looked at him and said, "Tell me something, are you a sexual predator? Because if you're not, get in the damn elevator." But you do hear from men who say, wait a second, I think the rules have changed. So if in doubt, ask. This is the best time. I actually think there's never been a better time to actually talk about what are the issues that women do face at work. And it's a great way, women welcome that conversation.
So as for instance not long ago, I met a business associate, a guy I haven't seen in quite a while, but who I go back years with, and we hadn't seen each other for a while. We met for a drink, I walked into the restaurant and he gave me a hug and he immediately pulled back and said, "Uh-oh, is that ok?" And, I laughed. I said, "Look, it's totally fine," cause I'm a hugger, as we know. I said, "It's totally fine, but you know what? I'm glad you asked because it's fine with me. But maybe for the next woman, it's not fine." So there's nothing wrong. You can't lose. There's nothing wrong with asking the question.
And I do believe that It's really important not to close down those channels of communication, also for men who are in positions of authority. I hear from them too saying "What do I do?" "I can't mentor women because it looks bad." "What if I'm like taking her out for a drink or, it just doesn't look good?" And what my answer to that is, there are so many ways that you can have a mentoring relationship, which is basically just creating a better connection or even friendship. And there are so many ways that you can do that, to have developed social ties that don't have to do with going out drinking or playing golf.
As an example, I'll use one from my own life again, which is, when I was a young reporter, before I got married, I had a boss, a fantastic male boss, and he used to say to me, "Look, my wife and I would like to take you on a date to dinner." And so that becomes like a couples thing. When I got a little older, I had a different boss, I was married, I had kids, he had kids. And we would get together for family outings. So there were things that he did with the guys that I was not part of, he had a poker game with the guys. I was not part of that. But the guys were not part of our family outings or when we would take our kids to the movies together.
So there are so many variations. We have to be a little bit more creative than just drinking and golf.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I like the creativity. Those are great examples. Joanne, can you tell us a little bit more about how you had hundreds of conversations with men in the research for your book, what did men talk to you about and what were they most worried about? What were they excited about where they could make a difference?
Joanne Lipman: Yeah. So I would say what surprised me I think the most, because I would ask these men, I would generally start the conversation by saying, "Tell me what perplexes or confuses you about the women who you work with."
And I was really surprised at how many said, "I'm afraid she'll cry." And now it is true biologically speaking, women, particularly young women do cry more often than older men. But what these men were saying is they were in positions of authority and they were afraid that they would inadvertently hurt her feelings and say something that would make her cry.
But here's the thing. The research actually shows us that when women do cry at work, it is not because our feelings are hurt. It is because we're pissed off, we're furious, we're frustrated, but the men don't know that. So there's this disconnect in communication. And in fact, we see that in surveys of executive men, there was one survey that I believe is done by Catalyst, and they asked men what might be a barrier to you being an advocate for women's equality in the workplace, and 74% of those men cited fear. It was fear of loss of status, fear of what other men might say, but also fear of saying the wrong thing. They are literally afraid they're going to say the wrong thing to us and we will bite their heads off.
So I think that the fear factor plays an outsize role in us really coming together to discuss and come up with solutions to the issues.
Carol Fishman Cohen: So hold that thought, because I want to ask you a follow-up, but I also want to remind those of you who have just tuned in that you're listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch. This is your host, Carol Fishman Cohen, and I'm speaking with Joanne Lipman, author of That's What She Said.
Joanne, following up on what we were just discussing, do you think there's a generational element to this at all? And what about men who are junior to the women instead of senior?
Joanne Lipman: So first of all, yes, to the generational question. I see an enormous difference when I'm speaking to groups between those who are very young, particularly women who are recent college grads in their first jobs, and those who like you and I, who we would call more seasoned.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yep, that's me.
Joanne Lipman: Women who started work, I would say, in the eighties, like pre-Anita Hill, are much more tolerant of crap. We put up with a lot. And I think because when we entered the workplace in the 1980s, it was a man's world and that's just the world it was. So we were not trying to change that world, we were simply trying to get into that world. And we were thrilled to be there. So we were not trying to change the world. Unfortunately, I think that's also a reason why women's gains have actually eroded in recent years. We were not activists. Most of us were not activists. And so when I speak to these younger women who are just out of college, the younger women will say, they have no patience for any of this.
They're furious. They're like the angriest generation I've ever seen. They're furious. And they're also a little bit angry at us. They're like, "Why did you put up with this?" "Why?" And, What's the matter with you that you didn't fix it already?" So there's a real generational divide there.But I'm actually encouraged by the anger of the young women. Because they really are activists. They really do want to change things, and young men also seem much more likely to want to be part of the solution.
To the second part of your question, I hear from young people who do say that they want to be able to change the world, but they're the junior person, what do they do?
And to them, to men, as well as women, I hear this from both. And to both, I always say, "The most important thing you can do is build alliances." Have allies at work, both people of your generation, but also sympatico people who are more senior to you. It's not necessarily your boss. it could be somebody in another department.
It could be someone who doesn't even work in your company, but generally what you want is within your organization, you want to have some allies so that you can back each other up. One of the items on my cheat sheet that I love, one of the strategies is called 'brag buddies,' which is the idea that women actually came up with this idea but women and men can both do it. Which is: I tell you my awesome achievements, and you tell me your awesome achievements, and then we both go to the boss and brag about the other one, right? The idea being you need somebody who's going to back you up, and that can also work in meetings where we know that women, the research shows us women are interrupted three times more frequently than men are. I feel like anyone, a young person, a junior person, or a senior person should be empowered to say, "Hey, wait a second, Carol was speaking. I would love to hear her finish." And the same goes by the way for women in particular whose voices aren't heard and then whose ideas are appropriated by men.
Now this happens all the time.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. I love the phrase.
Joanne Lipman: How often has this happened to you and to listeners where you say something in a meeting and nobody seems to hear it. It's like crickets. And then two minutes later, some guy repeats exactly what you just said. And everybody turns to him and they're like, "Hey Bob, great idea you had, Bob." And that's actually where the title of the book came from, That's What She Said. That actually is, that's happened to me a million times. I used to think it was just me, but it turns out it's all women.There's research on this. Women's voices are just not heard. And very often the guy who's repeating her idea thinks it is his idea because he didn't consciously hear her speaking.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I want to talk a little bit more and more to get into a little bit more about some of these best practices for culture change. And I have to thank you because recently on NBC News, you talked about returning professional internship programs, or returnships as they are becoming known, as one of the best strategies for gender parity in the workforce.
Thank you for mentioning iRelaunch on national television. And also you write about iRelaunch and you mentioned us in the That's What She Said book in the Invisible Women chapter. Here at iRelaunch, we live and breathe return to work programs every day. But I wanted to know from your perspective where you're looking at it more broadly, how did returnships get onto your list of top strategies? And can you talk about some of the other top strategies for cultural change?
Joanne Lipman: I put returnships at the top of my list when I talked to organizations. Anyone who has an internship program should be able to have a returnship program as well. And this, okay, I'm so excited about returnships because this is one of the very, very few areas where in the last year or two, we've actually seen movement.
We often talk about what's happened since the #MeToo movement exploded. It's now been a year and a half. I get very frustrated because I feel like there's been a lot of talk, not enough action. Returnships is one area where there has been action. You know this better than anyone, that the concept started with Goldman Sachs back in 2008, actually they trademarked the name, I believe, returnships.
Carol Fishman Cohen: They did.
Joanne Lipman: Which is why you say return to work programs. But at the time when I was researching the book, there weren't that many companies that were offering returnships. But your own research has been tremendously helpful. You're the ones who shared with me that you're now tracking something like 50 programs, 38 of them created in just the last two years. I think that's tremendous progress. By some estimates, there are more than 3 million women, highly educated women, who are trying to go back to work.
And they have all of the energy and the passion, the life experience, they will hit the ground running no matter what. And they are so eager and excited about going back to work. And they have been invisible to employers. And it is one of my great frustrations. I have kids now, and most of my friends, actually, I was the only one of the very few of my friends who did not dial back at work. Most of my friends either went part-time, or maybe left the workforce for a while. So I've seen firsthand the pain and suffering of these incredibly brilliant women with these advanced degrees who can't get a foot in the door. And what a shame for employers.
So the fact that employers are now waking up to this and offering these returnships is great. Also, the one other thing is when I started writing the book, I did see that a lot of the returnship programs, there were some skepticism. They didn't always lead to jobs, whereas more recently, the percentage figures have been much higher, like 80% or above of people getting jobs, either at the employer where they did the returnship or at a similar employer.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. so first of all, the numbers with the 50 programs, those are US-based programs. If you look globally, I think I didn't even talk beyond the US-based programs. If you look globally, we see over 90 paid corporate return to work programs that we've been tracking. And the 3 million, so you can track through Bureau of Labor Statistics micro data, the number of educated mothers of prime working age who are not in the labor force, and it's about 2.7 million, and about 80% of them are interested in returning to work. Then you have those women who don't have kids, or men and women who take career breaks for reasons that have nothing to do with childcare, it could be elder care or pursuing your personal goals.
And you do have this very big, consistent pool. And as far as that hiring rate, we co-lead an initiative with the Society of Women Engineers called the STEM reentry task force. We now have 25 global companies involved and almost 400 people have gone through the individual programs that have been created by each one of these companies like United Technologies Re-empower Program, Johnson and Johnson Re-ignite, or IBM Tech Re-Entry. And 85% of them on average have been hired.
So the numbers are consistent and they're high, and these programs are working and that's one of the reasons we see them proliferating.
Joanne Lipman: And that's one of the things I love about these returnship programs and the work that you guys are doing, because it is something where we're seeing steady improvement. And just those return to work statistics, those percentages, I think, are much higher than they were when these programs first started. So all of this to me is a great sign. I think part of it also is we are in a period of low unemployment. My hope is that the economy right now is chugging along, my hope is that these programs are not a casualty if the economy slows down.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yep. We've been around since 2007 and we rode all the way into the recession and all the way out again, and we've always been encouraged by having more and more companies come on as clients, even when there are hiring freezes going on, because we think companies are forward-looking. So, I'm optimistic that even though we're in a full employment economy right now, yes indeed, what you're saying is that these programs will have taken hold and established themselves in the same way as entry level university internship programs. And they will continue to run even with the ebbs and flows of the economy.
Joanne Lipman: They make so much sense. When you think about how highly qualified these people are, yes, it's men as well as women. And when you think about how highly qualified these people are, in That's What She Said, I tell the story of my college roommate, who's a Yale and Harvard educated lawyer, who took time off to raise her children. And how she couldn't even get an email returned and how hard it was for her.
But when she did get her foot in the door they immediately realized her value. I really believe that's the case for so many thousands, hundreds of thousands of these women and men who are trying to return to work.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Let me just ask you about some very specific parts of your book. One thing I read was you talk about the case of a transgender doctor who originally was Barbara Barres and then became Ben Barres after his gender transition. So he was really in a position to experience firsthand how he would be perceived, first as a woman, and then as a man. And I have a quote here that you reported an unknowing audience member heard him present and made the comment to a colleague, "Ben Barres' work is much better than his sister Barbara's," not knowing it was the same person. So I wanted to know if you could comment on that conversation, and what you learned from him.
Joanne Lipman: I use that as an example in a chapter on the respect gap. There is a voluminous research that looks at how people treat men versus women. And there is a documented respect gap. If you put a man and a woman in the same job, same title, same responsibility, the man actually will have more influence and power than the woman does. And we see this in all spheres. But I then sought out transgender professionals, because they are the ones who have experienced both sides of the divide. And it works both ways.
So Ben Barres, he's the one who you were just referring to, he transitioned in middle age, after already establishing a successful academic career. It was so fascinating that he said, "When you transition, everything changes." And yet one of the most astonishing, noticeable changes for him was that as a man, he commanded instant respect. And that was not something he had experienced in his earlier life.
But we saw the reverse too. There is a mathematician by the name of Joan Roughgarden. Joan Roughgarden similarly transitioned in middle age. So Joan Roughgarden was born as Jonathan Roughgarden, was a mathematician who transitioned in mid-career. Joan Roughgarden talks about how after her transition, when she disagreed or argued a mathematical concept with a colleague, she would be accused of not understanding the math. Something that never happened to her earlier.
So we've seen this kind of go both ways.
Carol Fishman Cohen: This is not exactly the same thing, but the situation reminds me of a quote that Vivian Rabin and I came across when we were co-authoring Back on the Career Track, which came out way back in 2007, so this was 2004 to 2005, we were doing this research. And the Pulitzer Prize nominated reporter, Ann Crittendon wrote in her book, which was one of the books we read for our research, it was called The Price of Motherhood, and she recounted that a few years after she had resigned from the New York Times to spend more time with her child, she ran into someone who said, "Didn't you use to be Ann Crittendon?" Like you were that person, and now you're not because we associate so much of our identity with who we are as a professional. That when we're a non-professional, if we're in some sort of a career break, a caregiving role, for example, then we don't have that authority, male or female. It's actually probably worse for men in that situation.
Joanne Lipman: It's actually really hard, because think about anytime you go to a new place, basically people say, you introduce yourself by name and
the first question they say, "Oh, what do you do?" And it's really hard for people who are in a career break, really difficult. But it also reminds me of another thing that happens most frequently to women is, and we all do this by the way, this is another piece of our unconscious bias. Think about when you go to an event, you meet a couple or you go to a business gathering and you meet a man and a woman.
Who do you talk to first? Who do you listen to? Almost always people will address the man as opposed to the woman. And it's funny, or it can be excruciating, but you see this constantly. I've had to actually adjust my own behavior. I talk about in That's What She Said, a business meeting I had, I'd been talking to these two executives on the telephone about a potential deal. We'd all been speaking on the phone, and then we met in person. As the two of them were walking toward me, I immediately went to shake the man's hand first, assuming that he was the more senior person. But in reality, I didn't know, I had no idea. But we do that constantly. That's happened to me.
I also talk about that in That's What She Said vis-a-vis doctors. Female doctors have this issue constantly where they walk in, and I've heard from multiple women, senior physicians who say they walk in a hospital, they've got a male medical student who is trailing them to watch them work, and the patient will say, "I don't want to talk to you (to the woman), I want to talk to the real doctor" and point to the medical student.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I've heard that female doctors do not get acknowledged as 'doctor,' they're called by their first name more often as opposed to the men.
So I just switched to a female internship, shows what's on my mind. I just switched to a female internist and she said, "In our practice, it's casual, we call each other by our first name, that's fine." And I said, "Absolutely not." And I told her about this. I said, "I'm always going to call you doctor." Because I have a thing about it, wanting to make sure I'm acknowledging her profession. I said "I'm not calling my male doctor by his first name. So I'm not calling you by your first name either."
Joanne Lipman: Right? Exactly.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, we're running out of time and I'm just loving this conversation.
Joanne, I just want to ask you a question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something we have already talked about today?
Joanne Lipman: Let's see. Obviously buy and read That's What She Said.
Actually, one piece of advice I do give to people who are readers is to share it with someone else, share it with a man. And I do think it's really important that the bigger picture piece of advice here would be to start that conversation. Whether you're a man or a woman, There's nothing more important right now than opening the channels of communication so that we all can feel comfortable.
I found that statistic I mentioned before, 74% of men said they're too afraid to talk about this issue, and they're afraid they're going to say the wrong thing. My goal in all of this, truly, is to take away the fear, to remove the awkwardness from the conversation, because that's going to be the way we will solve, this is how we can close the gender gap, we have to understand that this is an issue for all of us and that it's okay for all of us to talk about it. And we need to make that a comfortable conversation. So open those channels of communication.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you, and that's really important for relaunchers who are coming back into a brand new work environment now than what we might have left if you took a career break five or ten or even more years ago. So thank you. How can people find out more about your work?
Joanne Lipman: The book is available wherever you buy your books, online, Amazon, bookstores. And I have a website, JoanneLipman.com where I'll update with new findings and articles and other new information.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you spell that out?
Joanne Lipman: Yeah, that's fine. Yeah. Joanne Lipman, J O A N N E L I P M A N dot com, joannelipman, all one word .com.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. Joanne, thanks for joining us today.
Joanne Lipman: Thank you for having me.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break.
I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch, go to iRelaunch.com. And if you like this podcast, be sure to rate it on iTunes and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.
Thanks for joining us.