Recently a male colleague became quite animated and raised his voice in a discussion...and he was thanked for his "passion" on the topic by our male peers.
A few weeks later, in a meeting, I was stressing a point...my voice was not raised, but after being talked over by two of the men I work with, I held my ground and there was no doubt that I was serious. And, rather than being thanked for my concerns, I was told to "calm down, calm down," by one of my male peers. He meant no harm, he is a great guy. But, he did not realize he was treating me differently than our male colleague had been treated.
Of course I have experience with this reaction, as I have had an identical situation with every management team meeting, board meeting, and family dinner with my brothers for over 60 years.
Let's face it, it is just not the same for women. When we become animated, men do not hear "passion" they hear "reprimand." So, as women, we must try at all times to keep our emotions and voice in check; limit our hand gestures; don't sound "shrill." Be careful about how you phrase your arguments. As my mother would say, "Don't scare the boys."
So, I adapted.
And, therefore, like Hillary Clinton, I too can be perceived as cold. I have been accused of not having any feelings. I have been accused of callousness and horrible motivations because I have to control my emotions with such vigilance.
The truth is that it is exhausting to be so constrained when my male counter-parts never have to consider such things. If you are a female it makes your workday so much more taxing when you cannot "come out" as women in the workplace, but instead must keep these boundaries in mind in every conversation or be subjected to the "tsk-tsk" of judgment about your reflexive responses, when men are praised for their commitment.
I have controlled my emotions for so long that appropriate displays of emotion, those others expect and accept in themselves, have become moments of fear and humiliation for me. I am always worried that if I show any feelings I will be perceived as weak, puny, unreliable, girly, lacking in gravitas.
The suppression has fulfilled the prophesy. I struggle to access emotion...so when I do, you best believe it is serious...that I am serious. I am not indulging something trivial when I am adamant and animated; no, I am massively moved. And that alone, given my level of experience, should be reason to stop and listen. But, I know that I will have to lower my voice, speak slowly, wait for the men to stop speaking and sometimes wait for one of them to repeat my idea before it will be heard. I know I cannot speak loudly, I cannot use energy and conviction, I cannot show my hand. I cannot scare the boys.
The following was first published in "Model View Culture" in June 2014. You should subscribe.
Misogyny in the Valley
by Nancy Householder Hauge
(with contributions made by Henry Higgins and Lean In)
“Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man?”
years ago, when I first joined a rapidly-growing-Silicon-Valley
start-up-soon-to-be-very-successful-company, a young female engineer, named
Katie, came to me for some help. She told me she felt uncomfortable with a
situation, but she did not know what to do or say about it.
you noticed that all the servers have been given girls’ names?”she asked me. “Why do you think that is?”
assumed it was like planes, ships and cars. Guys always refer to that stuff
with girls names,” I replied.
she went on. “But did you know that the protocol for starting up a server is
I’ve never heard that,” I said, looking at my watch, wondering when she would
come to the point. I can be slow.
every morning I have to listen to my male colleagues yelling down the hallways,
‘I am mounting Cathy now!’ or ‘I mounted Judy a few minutes ago and she is
purring!’ or ‘Jenny is being a tease and will not let me mount her!’ or maybe
the worst, ‘Katie can I watch while you mount Joan?’”
Oh. Now I saw what she was talking
the group she was talking about. A cluster of offices ran down two sides of a
long hallway, near a big cold room with a raised floor, as server-rooms had to
be in those days.
office was occupied by two or three of the nerdiest-nerds you have ever met.
These were engineers who demanded that they control the servers on which their
work resided, not trusting them to the IT department’s care. These very smart
boys were the most important brains in the company. Recruited from the top
three engineering schools in the nation, their hair was long and unkempt and
they wore jeans, T-shirts and sandals to work in 1984, but when they went to
college in the 70s their pants were too short, they wore pocket-protectors and
they knew how to use slide-rules.
of them never had a date in high school or college. Many worked so many hours
they often slept under their desks at work, did not shower and smelled pretty
ripe on a Friday… and it was pretty clear they still had limited contact with
girls. They were arrogant, contemptuous of anyone without a technical MS,
know-it-alls. Some were geniuses. All were socially inept.
as I sat there picturing these horny, smelly nerds and juxtaposing Katie’s
story of them bragging about “mounting” their high-tech girlfriends, I did what
anyone in my position in 1984 would do.
laughed out loud.
told Katie I would look into it, but I advised Katie to develop a sense of
truth, on that day in 1984 I saw no harm in what was going on.I thought Katie was just being uptight, a
whiner…she was looking for things to complain about and did not understand how
to get along with boys. I assumed she was not as good an engineer as the boys. I
assumed she was one of those malcontent-girl-engineers with dirty hair and too
much political correctness to ever have fun.
Why were those girl engineers so whiny and
in retrospect, it might have been because of people like me.
like me, who did not see much harm….no, it was worse than that… people like me,
who saw charm in the misogynistic
hijinks of young men.
by George Bernard Shaw’s poster boy for chauvinism, Henry Higgins, I wondered,
“Why can’t these girls be more like the boys?”
can’t they nut-up, develop a thicker skin and a cooler sense of humor? Why do
they look for mistreatment everywhere? The boys are just having fun. Get along,
do your job. We need to keep those boys happy, ya’ know.We need to do anything we can to keep the
nerdy-brain-trust-happy. And if I confront them, they might bolt over to
another company where the culture is still cool and not full of rules about
behavior. So, Katie, can you just take a chill-pill and get with the program a
a dumb-ass I was.
so sorry, Katie. I was a wrong-headed young woman, raised with four brothers,
living in the male-dominated high-tech world and addicted to trying to make the
boys like and accept me. Could someone reach back 30 years and put a sock in my
things, and I, have really changed over the past 30 years, right? Isn’t that a
relief? At least we don’t have those boys clubs of the 1980s to contend with
What do you mean you “have a sock for me to
The 21st Century
2011 I was consulting to a Silicon Valley start-up seeking a bunch of Ruby on
Rails developers. The CTO was panicked about finding the right team. I
understood his concerns, although I had never seen so many qualifiers attached
to screening candidates. As the recruiting team and I tried to fill a pipeline
with qualified developers, we had to submit the names to the entire engineering
team so they could check out the candidates’ GitHub accounts.
engineers called it “GetHumped.” Over and over we submitted woman engineers,
and over and over they were rejected, supposedly based upon the “quality” of
their code submitted to GitHub. Or, they didn’t have code posted on GitHub at
all. But what I would hear the engineers say is, “Can’t ‘get humped’, can’t get
to the 21st century version of “mounting Cathy.”
I confronted the CTO with the remarkable rejection rate of women, he said, “I
can tell you this because you are a consultant and not really ‘HR,’ but… I have
a cool team with a good culture and I just do not see woman on that team, ok?
None of the women I went to school with were enough like the guys to fit in.”
a bit stunned that one of the millennial generation could be so 1984 in his attitude.
But, I was paid to advise, not preach.So, I sat the CTO and his CEO co-founder down and said, “Boys, let me
tell you how the deposition that is in your future is going to go.”
explained that the consistent elimination of female candidates was going to come
back to bite them. I explained that their product was used by women 95% of the
time and a few women on the product team would be a good thing.
thought about my “advice.” Then they agreed among themselves that they could
not tamper with the chemistry of the current team, that female engineers would
make the boys uncomfortable, that women just
wouldn’t fit in. They were disappointed that I did not “get it.” They
expected more of me because I was part of the culture of Silicon Valley in the
1980s, where we did not have so many “PC” rules.
the desperate-for-male-approval-Nancy of 1984 would have fit in fine, but
apparently Nancy in 2014 no longer fit in…. they ended my contract.
there it was, 30 years later the lament: “Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a
“Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Woman?”
in Sheryl Sandberg’s disappointing book, Lean
In, she recounts speaking to a group of graduate students. She was
impressed by the “thoughtful” questions the male students asked. The men were focused
on business model and operational questions. They asked questions about how to
run a company.
was less impressed by the questions from the young women, questions such as;
“Did you feel guilty leaving Google?” “Were you concerned about going to your
company’s biggest competitor?” “Did you think about commitments you had to the
people you left behind?”
was disappointed in the lack of “thoughtfulness” and focus in the women’s
questions. She wondered why they did not ask the same valuable questions as the men.
Sheryl totally missed the point of the women’s questions. The men asked “how
to” questions, because Sheryl’s level of professional and financial success
gives her gravitas and credibility in their minds. The women asked values and
relationship-based questions, trying to determine if Sheryl shared their values
and ethics before they would take her advice. Because, regardless of her
financial success, Sheryl would not have gravitas until she scaled those
hurdles among women. In my experience, young women are no less interested in
the “hows” of learning, but they are far more rigorous in qualifying the “who,”
before taking advice.
behaviors in corporate America were set by men, based upon how men use their
brains and how they interact. Women do not readily fit into the corporate
culture created by men, which values only the standards set by them. Alternate
models of workplace skills are not yet understood and appreciated. Prevailing
thought has always assumed that stereotypical male work behaviors are
empirically proven to be winning behaviors.
perpetuates that antiquated myth throughout her entire tiresome book. She holds
men up as her only model for success and continuously compares any differing
behavior from women as “heartbreaking.” Sheryl is so enamored of the male
behavior she indulges in a book-long version of what the character, Jenna
Maroney of “30 Rock” calls “back door bragging:”
Jenna:“Backdoor bragging is sneaking something
wonderful about yourself in everyday conversation. Like when I tell people it's
hard for me to watch American Idol ‘cause I have perfect pitch.”
continually explains that she went through life embarrassed by her “bossiness,”
when in fact, she is back-door bragging. And we are all supposed to think,
“Wow, she ‘takes charge’ just like a man! Isn’t it just awful she had to be
embarrassed about being so great?”
in tech often “take charge” in a competition of dominance. They rush to see who
can solve the problem fastest and then rush to see who can find the flaws in
that solution fastest. Often, when men in a tech workplace are in an animated
discussion, one of them is likely to stand up in an unconscious attempt to physically
dominate. After the first one stands, they will all stand in order to avoid
looking up at any other male in the room.Soon the whole meeting is taking place at six feet in the air. That
makes it pretty tough for a five-foot-tall woman to participate without
standing on a chair.
must also be hard to thoroughly think through a problem when you are so intent
on maintaining dominance.
how about “taking charge” like a woman?
years ago I was part of Ruckus, a
social media company whose value proposition was downloading music and movies
legally into dorm rooms. During the summer of 2005 we had 18 college interns
working with us. We had a variety of projects for them to do, most of which
were focused on making the site sticky and expanding the subscriber rate.
one project, we decided to split them up by gender and asked both the boys and
the girls to solve the same problem: How to get more students to subscribe. We
gave them two hours to brainstorm and then present their ideas.
boys solved the issue in about 10 minutes. They placed a flip chart outside of
their conference room that read:“Invest
more in on-campus marketing. Invest more in branding.”
the boys went to shoot hoops for the next 110 minutes. The boys’ answer was
focused on exactly what the senior team had concluded and we were pretty
pleased with what we had taught these guys over the summer.
girls took the entire two hours and then asked to see me privately.I went to the conference room where they had
been working. The white boards and flip charts were covered in ideas with
cross-outs and edits in every color pen. It was clear that this had been an
girls were at the front of the room and they seemed a bit nervous. I understood
why - it was clear they had been all over the place in their ideas. I was
feeling pretty sorry for the girls and their lack of clear understanding
compared to the boys…. when one of the girls said, “Nancy, we know why the site
is failing. But we are not sure management will be willing to solve the
me,” I said, a little put off.
site needs erotica,” one said.
site just does not have enough sex on it,” said another.
part of our commitment to the schools we sold to was that we would not serve up
porn. I was disappointed that the girls did not remember that and was sad they
had wasted 2 hours. But they went on: “We don’t mean porn. We mean erotica. For
example, European movies have much more sex in the context of the stories they
tell. European content would be attractive to educators. And girls like sex in
movies.Management has to secure a
volume of erotica that appeals to young women and market it appropriately.”
there a bit astonished. I looked around the room and now saw the covered white
boards and flip charts in a different light.
boys had served up the answer that would please management and they took pride
in their expedience. The girls worked long, quietly and hard on something that
would not just validate management but also actually solve the problem. And
they took huge risk of self-exposure by talking about how girls like explicit
sex in movies.
The Temple of Male Behavior
credible workplace role models for behavior other than the male behaviors
Sheryl proselytizes, women are left trying to emulate them, and risk abandoning
some of the best parts of themselves when they leave for work in the morning.
young women interns at Ruckus worked in a very different way. As I explored
their notes, I noticed that ideas were expanded upon, not abandoned. Challenges
were identified, but the male language so often heard in Silicon Valley
conference rooms - “Well, let me tell you what the problem with that idea is….”
- was not in the room.These young women,
without men to define the “appropriate business behavior,” used different
behaviors and came up with a startling and valuable solution.They showed many of the
values that exist outside of dominance-based leadership: strategic thinking,
intuition, nurturing and relationship building, values-based decision-making
and acceptance of other’s input.
need space to be themselves at work.
Until people who have created their success by worshipping at the temple of
male behavior, like Sheryl Sandberg, learn to value alternate behaviors, the
working world will remain a foreign and hostile culture to women. And if we do
not continuously work to build corporate cultures where there is room for other
behaviors, women will be cast from or abandoned in a world not of our making,
where we continuously “just do not fit in,” but where we still must go to earn
I laughed out loud in 1984.30 years later I am not laughing so much.
Recently my son saw the movie, "Up in the Air" and commented, "Oh, my God, Mom, they made a movie about your life, I mean, you are George Clooney. Ya' know without the upgrades or the affair with the hot chick."
Yep, that about sums up my career, serial terminator without the perks.
I did not choose to be a professional terminator (or as some of my colleagues have taken to call me "The Haugennator"). It just turns out that I am good at delivering hard messages.
To be fair, I do not deliver hard messages much these days. My consulting business has moved me from delivering the message, to preparing others to deliver the message. Sometimes I am called in to prepare folks to receive the message and often I am asked to stick around and help them process the message. My work can be complicated.
This is not a bad business. Helping people do the hard stuff well is a fine way to make a living. And it is a skill that is in demand. As a matter of fact, it never ceases to amaze me how remarkably bad most executives are at firing employees. Again, in fairness, it is not their fault. No one teaches this stuff. You have to learn by trial and error. I have had my trials and made my errors, so my clients call me in to help them avoid the big messy mistakes.
The biggest mistake an executive ever makes is to lose sight of dignity...that of the person they have to let go... and their own.
Here are my rules for firing someone with dignity:
1.Understand your role. Your job is not just to end someone’s employment. Your job is to sever the employment relationship in a way that reflects well upon the brand of your company. (It never reflects well on the brand when people are clumsily treated during a termination.) Your job is to deliver the message and help this person start the process of moving away from the relationship without regretting the relationship.
2.Get to the damn point. You do not have to channel Donald Trump, but please do not beat around the bush thinking that small talk will soften the blow. Do not delay the inevitable. I have seen managers trump up conversation for 45 minutes before they dropped the hammer. It is a very tough segue from hearing about their spouses torn rotator cuff, their daughter's ballet triumph or how their son is screwing up their freshman year in college, to a termination conversation. Nut-up and start the conversation immediately. Delaying is both disrespectful and excruciating. It is best to jump in, "Hi, Fred, I am sorry, but this is a bad day, I have to end your employment with XYZ Inc."
3.Do not go into a long list of the reasons or their failures. I mean really, they just lost their job. Spending 25 minutes in a self-justifying litany of where they screwed up doesn't help anyone. And it might be logical that their job was eliminated due to budget cuts, but as one person told me, “that makes it even more humiliating, you know, to discover just how little value I was.” So, save the big explanations. They cannot hear it anyway...they are already thinking of other things, they are dreading telling their significant other, they are calculating how long their savings will last and they are trying to remember if they have a full bottle of vodka at home. How they screwed up is not significant today. Even if they ask, don't go there. Explain that the decision has been made and rehashing the past won't undo it. I know, I know, some state laws or company policies require that every reason for a termination is documented up the wazoo and so you will have to go through that process. My rule still holds up. Go over the reasons in summary and stay focused on the fact that the decision is made and is final. Your job is to get this person to accept the reality so they can start moving on with their life.
4.This is not about you. No one cares how hard this is for you, how tough your job is or how much you will miss this person. The focus is on the person who has just lost their job. Stay focused on them. When you get home tonight you can whine and lament about your tough day to those that love you. But for now, remember that you are doing your job... and from the fired employee's perspective; the job you are lucky to have.
5.Don't offer help you cannot follow through on or make promises you will not keep. If you could not imagine recommending this person to another employer, do not offer to do so. Do not suggest that this person call you "If they need anything”. Do not ever give this person a false hope of help that will not be forthcoming. False promises will screw up the real plans they need to make to move forward and they will make you look like an insensitive ass. If you think that you know where this person should go next, if you have introductions you would be willing to make, if you would like to personally recommend this person to your network...be prepared with all of this information going in. Have a list prepared, or offer to add them to your LinkedIn network or offer them a selection of times that you would be willing to meet with them off-site to discuss the help you are willing to provide. Make it specific and time bound.
6.Be prepared before the conversation. Unless you are terminating someone for bringing a weapon to work, you have the time to prepare. If you are offering a package, have it with you. Don’t ask them to wait until next week for details, or come back in a few days to discuss it. When they get home their family is going to ask questions and they will need answers. For heaven’s sake, do your homework!
7.If the person gets emotional, let them. One of the worst mistakes you can make is not letting the person express their emotions. If you appear too cool or too distanced it will just make them more upset. So, let them be upset. You need to be empathetic, but don’t ever say, “I know how you feel.” Say, “I know this is upsetting, take the time you need to compose yourself.” Stop talking and sit quietly. Have tissues nearby (yes, even if you are delivering this message to a man). Understand that no one wants to be emotional, it is probably not in his or her immediate control, and it will pass in a few minutes. Sometimes people express the emotions they are feeling as anger. That, too, will pass if you wait a few minutes. Don't match anger with anger. When the volume gets turned up, match it with compassion at the same pitch.
8.Imagine you had to rely on this person for a reference based on this experience together. If you keep in mind that all fortunes can change and you never know in what capacity you might run into this person again, it will go a long way toward keeping you focused on maintaining everyone’s dignity.
There are all sorts of other HR rules and regulations that you will think about. Every company had it’s own rules on references, for example. There are forms and releases and all of that good garbage you will have to address. But you will have an easier time getting to all of that “administrivia” if you remember the key points above. Do your homework, get to the point, be brief, stay focused on them, only offer help if you mean it, let them be upset and remember that they might show up in your life again.
In an eye-opening survey conducted several months ago by the Boston Consulting Group, a leading business think tank, three out of four top executives from 68 countries said they planned to increase research and development spending this year. Fewer than half of the 940 respondents, however, thought the increases would produce the necessary profit or competitive advantage to justify the expenditures. Why such a disconnect? Perhaps it’s because they’re spending too much of their money on the wrong things: technology, rather than Twinkies. My experience tells me that the rapidity with which an enterprise creates value is directly related to how well it stocks the company kitchen. The lower the nutritional value of the food choices, the greater the intellectual property produced. I have spent time in a variety of industries: software, hardware, compression technology, storage technology, outsourced manufacturing and digital media. What they all have in common is this: They all run on junk food. During my career, I have spent hundreds of all-night sessions alongside my entrepreneurial colleagues as we prepared for market launches, product launches, term sheets, due diligence reviews, tape outs, quarterly results, auditors and IPOs. I don’t remember ever ordering in anything nutritious when the heat was on. When engineers, scientists and technologists have to stay up all night, they don’t reach for No-Doz they reach for Cheetos. It’s always a sign of decline when a company slows down on junk food purchases. Many CEOs and CFOs deny the value of the kitchen. It is an easy expense to control or cut when money gets tight. It seems like no big deal. People can bring food in or buy their drinks from a vending machine. They will understand that investors don’t want the company “wasting” its limited resources buying snacks for the staff. But the purpose of junk food is not just to give the team a little blood sugar bump at 3:00 pm. When you stop supplying fun food, morale and productivity decline. As soon as your supply of Twizzlers and Diet Coke runs out, so do your people. They leave the office to go home or go out to eat. And when people leave, even for a short lunch break, you can lose the rhythm … the hum of execution … to say nothing of that esprit d’corps that comes with foraging for Pop Tarts at 2:00 am or the creativity that accompanies your third Red Bull and fourth bag of Nacho flavored Doritos in an hour. I once worked for a start-up computing company that grew to $7 billion in annual revenue during my stint. In the early years we brought in doughnuts every morning. As time went on the doughnut bill got to be pretty outrageous. So we cut back to doughnuts only on Wednesday mornings. Funny thing, our product launches began to stretch out. We were not moving as fast as we once had. When I asked the vice president of engineering what had happened, he said, “You cut back the doughnuts! My guys used to get in here by 8:00 am every day to get their favorite doughnut before it was gone. Now they come in around 9:00. I have 600 engineers in this organization and I lost about 600 man hours per day because you stopped the doughnuts!” Why should junk food have this effect? Can a doughnut really motivate folks to come to work earlier? Sure. It’s simple: People eat stuff at work they would never be caught dead buying and never allow themselves at home. It is compensation for long hours. And wholesome food really doesn’t cut it. No one goes to the community kitchen to fix themselves a salad and then go back to work. People do not bond over broccoli spears and cottage cheese. When you go to the kitchen at work it’s to find something fat or fun or naughty and a colleague to share it with. Forget fresh fruit; it is the forbidden fruit that cranks up the volume among entrepreneurial enterprises. Junk food in the kitchen is designed to keep your most important asset at work. Do I really promote enticing employees to spend too many hours at work and eat junk food to boot? You bet. Junk food is the enabler of an unbalanced lifestyle and an unbalanced lifestyle is crucial to success, especially at start-up companies. Maybe we can seek balance and nutrition after the company starts producing $500 million in annual revenues. Until then, pass the Pork Rinds and Beef Jerky (I’m on Atkins).