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Gender Diversity and the Perception Dilemma

Jan. 29, 2020

Does our gender really impact how we're perceived in the workplace? In this episode of the Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast, Food Processing and Influential Women in Manufacturing's Erin Hallstrom talks to Charli Matthews and Cieana Detloff of Empowering Women in Industry about moving past gender-based perceptions. 

In episode 2 of the Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce Podcast, I dig into the results of the 2019 Influential Women in Manufacturing Career Development and Gender Diversity survey a little deeper in talking with with Charli Matthews and Cieana Detloff of Empowering Women in Industry. The following is an excerpt of the podcast.

Erin Hallstrom: On today’s episode, we’re going to dig a little deeper into a topic we talked about in the first episode, and that topic is gender impression and how it impacts our careers. Charli, Cieana, welcome.

Charli Matthews: Thank you so much for having us.

Cieana Detloff: Yeah, we’re excited to be here.

EH: Like I was saying in the intro, I absolutely loved the event. I think I’ve spoken about everything I learned throughout the event - it was in September, and I’ve probably spoken about it and referred to it so more times than I even can count anymore, so definitely for all of our listeners if you haven’t heard of Empowering Women in Industry, definitely check them out.

CM: Thank you so much.

EH: And thank you for taking the time today. I know one of the things that came up during the conference and the content that you ladies cover in Empowering Women in Industry is along the same lines as what we do with IWIM. So, one of the anecdotal responses we received with our gender diversity survey spoke to how often women feel they need to prove themselves, or that their expertise is called into question more often than their male counterparts. My first question to both of you is have you experienced this yourself in your career, and a follow up if you want to answer is why do you think women feel this struggle?

CM: Well, I did find that very fascinating in the survey that you did. It seems to be that women are the ones that are trying to prove themselves. There were very little, as far as percentage, for men who say that, and it made me think are we really trying to prove ourselves or is it that we’re seeking something else? And what I think is that we’re looking for that approval. You asked did I experience that in my career? Looking at it, I never thought I have to prove myself. I just tried to work until I got that approval or respect that I wanted. And so, I think a lot of it is that perception that we need to please and we need to have someone’s approval therefore to be worthy or that our work is valid.

CD: Right, and kind of piggy backing off of what Charli said, I found it interesting that the IWIM report mentioned that leadership tracks are really for hand-selected people, and most of them are men. So, I feel like that sort of subconsciously pushes women to feel like they have to prove ourselves worthy to be seen as potential leaders in our companies so that we then get selected to be trained to come up through our organizations. So, I think that’s one of the reasons that has motivated Charli to found this initiative for Empowering Women in Industry, especially with the content where we can work together to show, how do we acknowledge our own skills, and how do we communicate that value to the members in our organizations that can help support and advocate for us? So, I would say that some level of feeling that we have to prove ourselves is probably healthy, but not at the expense of demeaning or belittling ourselves. I think it’s really important that we try to find healthy motivations as we move through our careers.

CM: Yeah, I’ll just say one more thing about that. The work that you do, it speaks for itself, so we don’t necessarily have to prove it, we just have to do the work. The other thing that this made me think about was asking permission. You feel like part of that approval is are we doing something right? That we need permission to excel. Even in some of my writings I’ve found, am I still asking for permission here? And when you know that you’re doing the right work, I think you can be proud of that and you’re not seeking that approval or to prove to move forward. But I know that there’s also the element of people trying to voice that they don’t have to review their work. So, a lot of the times we get a call and someone is presenting an idea, but then they say “Well, let me ask your manager or someone else to verify what you’ve said.” So, I know that that happens, and maybe that’s the mindset of proving, but I think if we just know that our work is correct and valid then that kind of goes away.

EH: Right. When I'd said earlier I refer back to the conference, this particular anecdotal evidence, when this came across in the survey, I recalled that one of the speakers, and unfortunately, I’m blanking on her name, worked in the heavy equipment, construction and had to be able to maneuver the equipment and she was the only woman in a group of men and she in her presentation had mentioned that there was kind of that feeling that everyone thought she was going to kind of pony up to the piece of equipment, the machinery and knock it over, like so many people before her had, and she just did the hair-pin turns quickly, tightly and succinctly because she had a lifetime background in her family and she knew what she was doing. So, in seeing this particular response in our survey, it made me think of that. She spoke in her presentation about the  people waiting for her to go up, like ‘yeah, she’s not going to be able to do it.’

CM: I think we need to show them. So, not necessarily prove to them, but we just need to show them. So, specifically, that reminded me of Gina Simpson, who was at our conference and gave an example of that, and just said “okay, let me just show these guys that I know how to run this equipment.” And I think that just that one change of word really tells the story of okay, we can do this. I don’t have to prove it to you for my worth, but I’ll show you I can do it, and therefore you can count on me.

EH: Right, and I think that is such a great point on the showing and not proving, and I applaud I think that’s great, and I think that’s something all of us can tuck away and remember that I need to show not prove. So, thank you Charli.

CM: It just came to me.

EH: So, something along the lines of the proving, and I think that seeking approval, so along the lines that we’ve seen or talked about a lot more is the likability  factor. Specifically, if a leader comes across as friendly or likable. Unfortunately, it also seems to come into question with women more than anything. I can think of numerous CEOs that have been called out that she wasn’t very likable, she wasn’t very sweet. So, my question to both of you are what is your opinion on this likability factor and do you feel that there’s merit to it? And why do you think this likability is such a big deal when it comes to women and women leaders.

CM: I love this question. For one, it’s real. I grew up in sales, and they teach you to be somebody that they know, like and trust. So, I don’t believe it’s just a women’s issue. I believe it’s something people struggle with and especially people who are in leadership and trying to make a difference.

So, I think that you do have to be liked, I don’t think that you need to have your value and believing whether you’re doing a good job or not tied to whether you’re liked. But, I think you have to know that you are being judged, you are being challenged in a way that people are going to want to work with you versus they think you’re sweet or not, but are you doing a good job at what you do? Are you reasonable to work with?

So, that likability and defining that for ourselves I think is very important, but I definitely think it’s a challenge for both men and women. If they want to be successful, they do have to be liked, but I would say that women grow up and our society tells us to please people, so it’s a little bit harder for us to understand what that means as we grow. I would also say that I’ve found that men are very competitive with each other in nature, women are, too, we’ll get to that I’m sure, but it’s not that we want to be liked by others in this male industry that I’ve found. It’s more like, okay this person knows what they’re doing, and therefore I like them.

So, I think we just need to redefine what likability means for women in the industry, and say, okay, is she good to work with? Is she getting results? Therefore I like her. Not, is she pretty and sweet? And therefore I like her.

CD: Yeah, that’s excellent, Charlie, and I’d like to add to that that if you’re going to define the factors that make someone likable, let’s then make the equitable from women to men. So, let’s start evaluating managers and leaders of all gender identities according to the same standards. Right? So, if you’re going to talk about likability factor with a male leader versus a female leader, shouldn’t we be measuring them to the same standard? So, I think creating that equitable factor is really important, and I think that’s going to come about as part of our culture shift.

Listen to the full podcast on your favorite podcast app (look for Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce) or stream it straight from this page.

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