“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve suggested an idea in a meeting, had it ignored or rejected, and then watched as a man suggested the same idea ten minutes later to great praise.” Over the past six months, I’ve had nearly a dozen professional women say something along these lines to me.
Anytime I write an article on this topic, there are certain women who deny any such problem. They usually work in one of the industries to which women gravitate, such as pharmaceuticals or consumer financial services.
But in industries such as science, engineering, consulting and investment banking, time after time women complain privately that they cannot get their voices heard.
Am I suggesting that certain industries are biased against women? Yes, I am.
Such bias is both subtle and pervasive. Even in these industries, leading companies have policies against discrimination. The leaders feel they are bending over backwards to accommodate women.
But you can’t be fair when 70-90% of your leadership team is male. Men and women are different, and if you allow most of the leaders in your firm to be male, then the culture of your organization will develop a subtle bias against women.
Every month or two, I give a speech about bringing out talent in other people. When I do, a few women nearly always come up to me afterwards and explain privately how they cannot get their voices heard. Most of these women are highly articulate; only a systemic flaw could stop such a person from communicating effectively.
When these women talk about this problem, they nearly always use similar language, even though they work in many different industries and geographies: I come up with an idea first, but no one buys it until a man says it.
Of course, this implies that the men in the room are either deliberately ignoring the woman, or that they are brain-dead stupid. How can you not recognize that ten minutes ago you thought an idea was stupid, and now you think it is brilliant?
My guess is that the men would say the two ideas were not the same, that Jenny’s idea wasn’t workable, but that Bill’s idea was a bit different and was right on target.
This is nonsense.
It is critically important to bring out the talent in every person across your organization. I know with 100% certainty that many women feel they are systematically marginalized and minimized. Such a perception translates to an inexcusable waste of talent.
I’m not an expert in bias, organizational behavior or even HR. I cannot tell you the precise reasons this happens, or chronicle accurately the cascading effects of having it so deeply disturb many highly talented professional women.
I can only tell you to listen. If you don’t believe me, ASK the women in your organization whether they have ever felt it difficult to have their voices be heard. Ask whether they have ever felt marginalized or minimized. Don’t just ask whether you have ever made them feel that way, because you will be putting a colleague in a professionally uncomfortable situation (i.e. boss asks subordinate to criticize boss). Ask whether they have had this sort of experience anywhere across your organization.
Don’t just ask once. Keep asking. Make it easy for women to report such experiences in a confidential manner. Your goal isn’t to create a culture of he-said, she-said. It is to raise the level of understanding that women are being marginalized, and that this is utterly unacceptable.
This article was written by Bruce Kasanoff from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.