How to Collaborate Like a Girl
Gender bias in the workplace finally catches up with me
It’s definitely not my first time at the mansplaining rodeo.
I've had my work co-opted by others who’ve taken the credit on a few occasions, and once even had my entire portfolio stolen by some dude who foolishly tried to pass it off as his own in a job interview, where it just so happened I knew the hiring manager.
But this week was a first. Perhaps a career pinnacle.
This time I finally had a man actually present my own work back to me, explaining the strategy I’d developed, process I’d created, and the workshop I’d designed as though it would have been the first time I’d ever heard these (damn good) ideas.
In a weird way, I don’t blame him–not precisely–but rather the rest of my team who simply shrugged it off, ignoring multiple opportunities to set the record straight on my behalf, their British discomfort with confrontation apparently outweighing the value of my contributions.
Yet somehow, I found myself feeling as ashamed as I was frustrated. Was my work not good enough? Was his better? Was he more qualified? What could I have done to improve? What am I doing wrong?
Somehow, even 20 years of experience, with half of them as a leader and director is still not sufficiently convincing evidence to quell those impostor-y thoughts.
Well fuck that.
Women’s achievements often get wrapped up into a “we” of team, having been taught that stepping up to an “I” is immodest and ungenerous.
We deflect and demure from owning our contributions. We distribute the wealth of our impact evenly amongst collaborators. But what we’re really doing is diminishing our value and ultimately damaging ourselves, inside and out.
It won’t surprise you even a little bit that there’s an overwhelming amount of research irrefutably confirming this hypothesis.
For more than a decade, researchers Michelle C. Haynes and Madeline E. Heilman have been publishing the results of their ongoing studies demonstrating the ways women neither take nor receive due credit for their work in mixed-gender collaborations.
Their studies revealed some deeply nefarious biases. Unless their role was explicitly stated, women’s contributions to a project’s overall success was perceived as less influential and men were generally assumed to have taken a leadership position.
While it’s no secret that women can be quite competitive, interestingly their research indicated that attributing credit in all-female collaborative settings was not an issue.
But wait, there’s more. Heilman continues:
In her dissertation research, Dr. Julie Chen, a former psychology NYU doctoral student of mine, demonstrated that when women did not involve others in decision-making about the use of organizational resources, evaluators assigned them lower performance ratings than men. Evaluators also recommended that those women receive lower salary increases, fewer promotions, and more limited opportunities for participation on high-profile projects.
- via Quartz
So what’s a gal to do? In her dissertation, published in 2016, Harvard economist Heather Sarsons has a great idea: work alone.
In Sarsons’s study, Gender Differences in Recognition for Group Work, she evaluated data across 40 years of records in the ‘publish or perish’ field of economics (so goes any academic arena, really) suggesting that while women may have published as much as men, they were twice as likely to be denied set-for-life tenure positions. However, women who authored solo research achieved the same level of success as their male counterparts.
While this week’s situation is sadly re-affirming, my decision to pursue life as an independent consultant was already due in part to feeling the limitations of my growth with two male founders who’ve lately been filling any opportunity gaps with their (male, forty-something) mates.
I guess that’s the trick of glass ceilings. You don’t know it’s there until you get close enough to see the cracks.
But I’ll smash that ceiling on my own time. Right now, I’m just heading for the emergency exit.
Of course, going solo opens us up to a whole other host of gender biases. Yay.
Over breakfast awhile back, I’d asked a dear friend for advice on shaping up my CV in preparation for freelance life. In short, she recommended that I write it like an asshole.
Which, as the research suggests, means write like a man.
Before anyone accuses me of plaguing society with any “neoliberal, Beyoncé feminist cancer,” let’s just have a look at the facts.
Studying gender bias among STEM faculty, Skidmore College social psychologist Corinne Moss-Racusin conducted an experiment evaluating two identical resumés, one belonging to ‘John’ and the other to ‘Jennifer.’ Maybe you can guess what happened, but if not:
"John was more likely to be hired. Those that were willing to hire Jennifer offered her, on average, $4,000 less per year (13 percent) than John. They were also less willing to take the time to mentor Jennifer." -via Payscale.com
Just in case you thought otherwise, women are not immune to unconscious bias; in fact, female hiring managers in the study were just as likely to have found John to be the more qualified candidate.
So what does it mean to write like a man, anyway? And what about that points to what might be perceived (by some) to be standard asshole behavior?
Well, based on what we already know about the problems of distinguishing ourselves in a collaborative effort, one issue might be that women tend to describe their accomplishments at too high a level, or worse, to bury them in summary statements. (Guilty as charged.)
According to data scientist and linguist Kieran Snyder, who analyzed 1,100 technology resumes, including 512 from men and 588 from women, "91% of the men include bulleted verb statements that describe their achievements on the job, but only 36% of women do.”
Apparently, “extraneous details,” like distinctions and extracurricular interests are doing more harm than good. Snyder’s research shows that while women’s resumés contain about 80% more words than men’s, they fail to get straight to the point of highlighting impact and results. Numbers, people! Let’s see those numbers!
And them's the breaks, as my grandma might've said.
"The resume gap reflects differences in how they present themselves, not in their experience or credentials,” writes Snyder.
If bullet-izing my CV is what it takes to make it more bulletproof, then I’m game to play shoot-‘em-up.
Yes, I’m looking forward to breaking out on my own, but it’s largely because I'll have more flexibility to choose my collaborators. And if sharing credit means collaborating like a girl, then assholes need not apply.
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