3 ways to begin valuing difference

3 ways to value differencesBeing together again after so many years was pure delight. The connection took up as if we were finishing a conversation begun only the day before.

Familiarity is so comforting.


…there’s too much of it and its dark side surfaces: lack of innovation, narrow-minded thinking, ingrained and unquestioned bias, outdated practices, and failure to grow as a person.

Boredom, too.

So what’s the antidote to comfort zones with self-imposed boundaries that have become inflexible?

Training our brains and hearts to accept and appreciate differences.

An increasingly connected world multiplies our contacts with others—some who share our beliefs as well as those who do not. Interacting with people who agree with us and who share similar interests is usually a pleasant experience. Those contacts can become more challenging when they happen with people who see the world differently than we do.

A multitude of contributing factors exist that prompt different points of view:  age, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic and marital status, upbringing, disability, appearance, education, and lifestyle.

Other elements come into play as well in shaping how we approach situations and people, things as simple as what sports teams we root for or which political party we support.

So Many Ways

ways to be different

If ignored or met with intolerance or indifference, these dissimilarities can be divisive, even lethal for career or business success. Blockbuster, Eastman Kodak, and Borders are but a handful of companies where process became habit and values became dogma, resulting in those companies becoming history. Professor Donald Sull calls it active inertia—“an organization’s tendency to follow established patterns of behavior.”

People do the same thing.

I once had a boss who had an imaginary grid on his desktop—financials had a certain resting spot as did staff reports and marketing news. He wore a straw fedora in the summer and a wool one in the winter. He abhorred dissent, uncertainty, and pens with red ink. Mimicking his decision-making and thinking styles assured lovely raises. Alternate points of view, not so much. His department output was reliable but unremarkable. A classic case of active inertia.

3 places to start

There’s three things you can do to begin appreciating differences:

  1. Decide to be open-minded and not automatically reject the unfamiliar.
  2. Challenge yourself to actively seek out new experiences and people.
  3. Embrace the purposeful discomfort that accompanies gaining new experiences, insights, knowledge, and maybe a friend or two.

If acknowledged and taken into consideration, differences make us better. Diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective yields richer and more productive outcomes. Plus it fuels creativity, innovation, and deeper thinking—the ideal solution to unyielding and stifling comfort zones that hold us back from our potential.

All great experiences that engage us have an element of uncertainty at their core. ~Aaron Dignan 


A version of this post first appeared on the Lead Change Group blog | Image source before quote:  morgueFile.com



Getting More Women into Leadership Positions

path to women in leadershipIs your company interested in having higher productivity? Being more innovative? Research data links diversity to these improved results.

Surprised? Curious about where to begin?

Read on!

Companies achieving these beneficial outcomes have embraced diversity of thought, perspective, and opinion in addition to gender and race.

They’ve adopted a whole new mindset in which differences are maximized in pursuit of an “inclusive culture that values and uses the talents of all would-be members.”

In today’s challenging economy, staying competitive in an increasing global marketplace requires cultivating fresh perspectives and you don’t get that by perpetuating an ‘all the same’ leadership model. ~Irene Lang, Honorary Director, Catalyst 

There’s a smorgasbord of differences that prompt a wide range of beliefs and opinions: age, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic and marital status, upbringing, disability, appearance, education, and lifestyle. Managed to maximize, not stifle, input, this variety yields more productive outcomes and fuels creativity and innovation.

If your organization is like most, men hold the majority of your leadership positions. On average, women hold about 11% of corporate leadership positions. Currently only 5.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Having 30% diversity representation is the tipping point for culture change and performance improvement. 

3 things your company can do to increase opportunity

To have 30% (or more!) of your senior leadership team be women, here are three good places to start: 

  1. Establish a sponsorship program
  2. Revisit performance and promotion criteria, and
  3. Assess your culture for practices that hinder diversity.

Powerful impacts of sponsors

Sponsorship programs increase access and to share intellectual capital (the knowledge and wisdom employees contribute). Women at lower management levels often do not have contact with or visibility to senior management. Sponsorship programs close this gap. 

Notes a Harvard Business Review article about promotion rates and gender, “Sponsors go beyond giving feedback and advice; they advocate for their mentees and help them gain visibility in the company. They fight to get their protégés to the next level.”

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist and expert on gender and workplace issues, frames it more bluntly, “Sponsors not only promote their charges, they also protect, prepare, and push them.”

Unconscious preferences and performance

No company wants to think they practice gender (or any kind of) bias, but doing so is a more prevalent practice than most realize.

Research from Catalyst shows that “most people are not aware of how stereotyping automatically influences their thinking and, therefore, believe that their perceptions are based on objective observations.”  These unconscious preferences find their way into performance evaluation criteria. Often when people think leader, they think male and thus attribute masculine tendencies—aggressiveness, winning, task-oriented, etc.—to performance requirements.

Research shows that women’s performance reviews are more likely to contain critical feedback, especially if they exhibit behaviors more commonly expected of men. Consider promotion practices and preferences in your organization:

  • Are male leaders praised for being competitive and assertive, while female leaders who behave similarly are labeled bossy?
  • Do men hold the majority of line positions while women fill many staff ones?

Simply acknowledging that these unconscious biases exist has been shown to reduce their impact.

Unwritten rules of culture

Culture is the sum of a company’s “values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes.” Embedded practices that devalue differences can hamper performance, discourage women candidates from applying, deter current female employees from seeking promotions, and undermine efforts at inclusion. Some areas to review if you have concerns about your culture: 

  1. Think about how frequently sports are referenced in general discussion or incorporated into work activities.
  2. Look at how flexible your time off policies are.
  3. Consider how people who use those policies are viewed.
  4. Reflect on how frequently women or minorities are interrupted in meetings.

3 things women can do

If you’re a woman working at a company dedicated to increasing the number of women on their executive team, there’s a few things you can do to position yourself for advancement:

  • Confidently share your thoughts and ideas in meetings.
  • Use productivity tools to maximize your performance and stay organized.
  • Tactfully call out stereotypes and unconscious bias (like when a man makes the same suggestion in a meeting that you just made and is hailed a hero when your idea was greeted with silence).

Forward-thinking companies seeking an edge in global markets embrace differences to utilize all the talents a diverse workforce brings.



Changing Stereotypes about Family Time Off

changing stereotypesEarlier this year, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy took three days of paternity leave when his first child was born.

Many sports announcers and fans soundly criticized his decision because it resulted in him having to miss two baseball games. 

Why would such a simple decision create such an uproar?

Because Daniel played against commonly-held gender stereotypes:  that it’s women, not men, who take time off for children and family.

Stereotypes are generalized assumptions made about a person, thing, or group. Unconscious bias happens when we apply those assumptions without thinking—something that we all do.

Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth:  we all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. ~Annie Murphy Paul, author

A study into how resumes are evaluated is a classic example of unconscious bias in action. Raters were given resumes of both men and women candidates to assess. The content of each resume was identical. The only difference was in the name, and marital and parental status of the applicant.

What was the result? Men with children were rated as the most desirable candidates. They were seen as being most responsible. Married women with children were ranked least desirable because the evaluators believed that they would be the most likely ones to sacrifice work for family. 

This simple research points out that dealing with unconscious bias is tricky stuff because sometimes we’re not even aware of what we’re doing.

However, with some conscious effort, we can become aware of our predispositions to judge others without knowing or thinking about it.

Becoming aware of stereotypes

If you are a male leader who deals with workplace family time off issues, ask yourself:

  • Do I view men who take time off for family reasons as less committed and less masculine?
  • Do I see all men as breadwinners and all women as caretakers?

If you are a female leader who deals with workplace family time off issues, ask yourself:

  • Am I reluctant to take family leave because I fear the negative consequences of lost prestige, promotion, and pay?
  • Am I equally supportive of both men and women who take family leave time?

If you are an employer, ask:

  • Do our performance evaluations penalize men and women who take family time by rating them as non-team players who are not willing to do what it takes?
  • Are women with children less likely to be considered for promotions because of a fear that they will need time off?
  • How open are we to introducing a work-from-home option?

“The best leaders challenge the status quo and seek out the visionary thinking and broad perspectives that foster opportunity and growth,” says Gordon Nixon, President and CEO, RBC. “We have a responsibility to tackle the complex challenges that create barriers, limit creativity, and blind us to the possibilities of our talent and our organizations.”

Ready to change some assumptions at your organization about taking time off for family? Where will you start?




The beauty and power of differences


power of differencesHubby returned home from running errands and excitedly told me about the new screens that had been installed on the gas pumps—screens that played music and TV shows.

“What a great concept,” he gushed. “Now I don’t have to just stand there anymore.”

Had hubby participated in the University of Virginia time alone study, I know he would have been in the 58% of participants who said being alone with their thoughts was difficult.

5 ways to lead from the head and the heart


lead with head and heartI’ve long believed that the options we face in life, love, and leadership aren’t limited to either/or choices. What I see is a bountiful array of both head and heart opportunities.

What do you see?

One area where someone’s either/or or both/and orientation shows up in stark head or heart contrast is in how they work with others—whether it’s at the office, home, in the community—in producing results.

Time to stop believing the worst

unconditional positive regardHis written words were cutting, cold, and cruel.

“It’s obvious she’s trying to pull a fast one. Does she think I’m stupid? Some kind of wimp? Tell her she’s finished writing for us. We don’t work with devious people.”

My crime? Emailing the wrong file. I’d been in a hurry and carelessly attached an article that had been published earlier elsewhere. Negligent? Absolutely. Conniving? No way.

The business case for women getting an MBA

Today’s guest contributor is Frances Kweller, entrepreneur and founder of Kweller Prep, a learning incubator specializing in advanced test preparation in New York City.


women getting an MBAIdeas are nothing. Execution is everything. 

While women may have many ideas for starting their own businesses, or for improving an existing business, the problem is that far too few of us can execute those ideas.

To succeed in business requires more than just a brilliant idea, or even the courage to execute the idea. It requires a specific skill set. As obvious as that sounds, too often women do not appreciate the value of an MBA degree.

According to data collected by the Graduate Management Admission Council in 2011, women (23%) are nearly twice as likely as men (13%) to have considered pursuing any kind of master’s program, but men (61%) were much more likely than women (47%) to have considered an MBA. 

5 reasons an MBA is a good bet for women

Investing in your employees’ health

Today’s guest contributor is Marsha Friedman, a 24-year veteran of the public relations industry and the CEO of EMSI P.R., a top public relations firm. Marsha is the author of Celebritize Yourself. You can hear her on her weekly Blog Talk Radio Show, EMSI’s PR Insider or connect with her on Twitter. Her insight on investing in the health and well-being of her employees resonates with me. Coming off a summer of surgeries makes me wish I’d made a similar investment in myself a long time ago!


invest in employee healthThe culture at my company has always been health-conscious—maybe because I’ve developed so many natural health-marketing plans over the years.

I’ve found that when you make healthy choices easily available and make them fun, people get interested.

So the “office supplies” in our kitchen include jumbo jars of vitamin C and Echinacea. Activities have included afternoon juicing pick-me-ups and a 10-day “fast” challenge. That was a real bond-building experience of nutritious algae shakes and supplements. 

10.3.14 First Friday Favs


powerI’m fascinated with power. Have been since a boss misused his in describing a colleague as a colorful butterfly and me as a soft and round Aunt Polly. I’m a woman on a mission to rehabilitate our views of power. As I’m writing a book about power, the last month was filled with going through past notes and research about it.

May these seven posts pique your interest in positive power!

Feedback, fear and stinky cheese

Barry was speechless, first with shock and then with anger, as he read the email from his boss.

See below. Here’s input from Kevin on how you handled the project team meeting today. Get it fixed. Fast.

Thought you should know my reactions to the productivity project team meeting this morning. Don’t know why but Barry led it. Barry was disorganized and unprepared. His answers to questions from finance totally missed the mark.

coachingKevin was Barry’s peer. They were both managers in the operating division of the company where they worked. They’d joined the company on the same day, went through the same onboarding classes, had attended several leadership development off sites together, and occasionally met for lunch. They weren’t best buddies nor were they total strangers.