Why Companies Today Should Care About The “Little Things”

By The Band of Sisters: Dawn Hudson, Angelique Bellmer Krembs, Katie Lacey, Lori Tauber Marcus, Cie Nicholson, and Mitzi Short

A woman walks into a conference room for a meeting. Already at the table are two men, deep into a discussion of last night’s football game. As more men enter, they join the sports talk. She’s not a football fan. She waits patiently for the conversation to turn to business.

Colleagues are talking about a new, plum assignment that has come open. When a woman’s name is mentioned, a man says: “Oh, she can’t take it. She has two little kids.”

The lingering of gender bias in the corporate world—conscious or not—remains.

In too many workplaces, men continue to dominate discussions, meetings, and executive offices. They allow assumptions about women to permeate decisions around promotions and hiring. They give themselves and each other the benefit of the doubt while holding women to higher, often impossible, standards and for women of color, the bar is set even higher.

Why should companies care?

Culture is what informs everything else you’re building. We know because we’ve seen the power of culture. We are six women who “grew up” at PepsiCo. It was a great place to work that encouraged learning, personal development, being innovative and trying new things. We were given permission to fail in pursuit of success. It was also a culture of constant improvement with a real dedication to diversity and helping that talent be successful. 

The data is clear: In the business world, barriers to inclusion are barriers to success. And while progress has been made for representation, inclusion is another story. We believe there needs to be a new workplace conversation.

We are asking companies and workers at every level in their careers, to confront and dismantle everyday gender bias. These are not the #metoo moments. These are the “little things.” The micro-offenses; the small, awkward, or uncomfortable moments that slow build until an unwelcome environment takes hold and affects productivity and success.

But all the burden should not be on women to solve this problem. We see three audiences involved in these situations: women who want to make changes in their own work experiences; leaders (both men and women) who want to create inclusive workplaces; and witnesses—those who would like to be allies to women in the workplace.

And the good news is, micro-offenses can be solved with micro improvements. 

Here’s an easy place to start: 

Address Bad Assumptions. Far too often, women lose opportunities because of bad assumptions. “Oh, Jane won’t want that job. There’s too much travel.” Or “She can’t take the promotion. She has young kids.” In the post-COVID world, the assumption may be: she won’t want to come back to the office. She’ll prefer to work from home. Assumptions are ways that women are stopped before they start. Don’t assume; ask. 

Ensure Invitations. Wherever colleagues are gathering, work is happening. Ensure that women are invited not just to official meetings but also to the unofficial meetings – at the gym, the bar, the golf game, the lunch run. When women aren’t invited, they miss the chance to share and connect. 

Enforce Chore Equity. Pay attention to lower-skill chores and who is asked to handle them. In a meeting, who is asked to take notes? Who is asked to plan the office birthday party? Who unwraps the breakfast bagel platter? Make sure chores are spread around evenly. Don’t pretend you’re asking the woman because she has such great handwriting. 

Hear Everyone. Whether it’s a live meeting or a Zoom call, insist on a culture in which all voices are heard. What’s more, pay attention to how ideas are raised and discussed. 

Watch Out for Awk-Work. When it’s not a #MeToo moment, but it’s not “nothing” either, it’s Awk-Work. These are the little things that build to create an unwelcome work environment. Don’t say girl when you mean woman (ex. “Did you meet the new girl in accounting?”) Don’t engage in faux chivalry, such as apologizing when cursing in front of a woman. Don’t pay compliments that aren’t work-related. 

We must make the final push for change. We are not here to attack. We are here to spark new conversations that will lead to the behavioral changes necessary to bring about more diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultures.

The authors founded The Band of Sisters, a consultancy focused on creating an inclusive culture and elevating women. More of their advice can be found in their new book ‘You Should Smile More – How to Dismantle Gender Bias in the Workplace‘.

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