Dawn Hudson, Angelique Bellmer Krembs, Katie Lacey, Lori Tauber Marcus, Cie Nicholson and Mitzi Short call themselves The Band of Sisters. They are six C-suite women that met over a few decades at PepsiCo and now have a collective resume that spans 29 industries. They want to start a new workplace conversation about Inclusive Culture.
Below, on behalf of The Band of Sisters, Angelique shares 5 key insights from their new book, You Should Smile More: How to Dismantle Gender Bias in the Workplace. Listen to the audio version—read by Angelique—in the Next Big Idea App.
1. Please don’t tell me when to smile.
Widely known as a meme, “You Should Smile More” (or less!) is a classic example of well-intentioned feedback that women receive that reflects the narrow band of acceptable warmth women are allowed to express. You might be surprised how often men missed the irony in the title of our book, and said, “Yes you should smile more—that is good advice.”
Other examples like “She’s too emotional” and “She’s not a good fit” speak to the lazy language and vague feedback that keeps women on a tightrope between being assertive but not aggressive, and speaking up without being shrill. That balancing act is exhausting! Let’s give women more room to be themselves and not create an unfair contest between likeability and competence.
2. If you wouldn’t say it to a man, don’t say it to a woman.
Once you know to look for it, you’ll see gendered language everywhere. Be aware of the little words that diminish a woman’s presence, or imply that the female gender is less than. For example, calling a woman a girl in the workplace, as in Did you meet the new girl in accounting? Unless she is 12, this undermines her belonging. Would you say Did you meet the new boy in accounting?
“Once you know to look for it, you’ll see gendered language everywhere.”
Think twice about diminishing phrases like So easy my mom can understand. We probably all know now that “Throw like a girl” is negative, yet “Man up” is positive. Don’t get us started on bossy and pushy. Words matter! Rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it to or about a man, don’t say it about a woman.
3. Allow diverse leaders to be diverse.
To unlock the power of diverse teams and true diversity of thought, we need to make room for more styles of leadership. We should not keep trying to fit the status quo. When evaluating candidates for a team, think about whether this person is a culture add vs a culture fit. When giving (or hearing) feedback, any notes on style over substance should be questioned for specific connections to impact—how does that behavior impact my results? Is it a difference that makes a difference?
“I was once told, in order to reach the next level, I needed to be seen breaking glass. I didn’t have the perspective or language at the time to question that feedback and ask how that style difference made a difference in my impact. In hindsight, I believe there were not enough leaders who behaved like me, and I was challenging the status quo of what a leader could be.”
4. Don’t be a bias bystander.
If you witness a microaggression against someone, don’t be a bias bystander—become an upstander! Anyone in the room, male or female, at any level, can be a leader of inclusive culture. An easy place to start is simply paying attention to who gets credit for an idea in a meeting. We call this frequent phenomenon “Great Idea Greg.” This is easy for witnesses and bosses to prioritize because not feeling their ideas are heard and valued is a top reason why women disengage in the workplace.
“Anyone in the room, male or female, at any level, can be a leader of inclusive culture.”
5. Help women feel their full value.
If you are a boss thinking about hiring and promotions, know that the research shows women often screen themselves out, and are not as often judged positively on their potential vs results. This shows up in the data of female executives getting promoted, and female founders getting funding. Women are also less likely than men to gain sponsors—which are even more important than mentors in getting to the top jobs.
As girls, many of us were coached to put our heads down and work hard and wait to be noticed while the boys were taught to puff out their chests and boast. As women, we need to be prepared to ask for what we deserve. As leaders, if we value diversity at the top, we need to act consciously to make sure access is equal.
To listen to the audio version read by co-author Angelique Bellmer Krembs, download the Next Big Idea App today: