When Google employee James Damore sent out an internal memo questioning his company’s diversity policies, he likely didn’t expect that it would go viral. It did. In its wake, a firestorm of discussion emerged in Silicon Valley and beyond—one that still rages today. Whether you agree with James’ assessment of gender bias and diversity in the workplace or not, one thing we can all agree on is that it brought renewed focus to a timely topic, one that should be just as important to men as it is to women.
It’s a topic I’ve come to know well during the span of my 35-year career in the tech industry, and one that I recently had a chance to reflect on during an interview I gave to Society for Women Engineers (SWE). During that time, my personal journey has taken me from a man not aware of my unconscious bias extended toward women, to one who now serves as their full-on diversity partner. It’s a journey I’m hoping more men will take.
Becoming an advocate for women
For me, that journey began back in the 90’s. I was a young manager at the time, fairly new to management in fact. I had been trying to promote women in my organization and because of my efforts, received an invitation to the HP Technical Women’s Conference in Silicon Valley. I was one of only two men in attendance.
During the event, I’d sit in a room with what seemed like 5,000 women and listen to speakers talk about unconscious bias. I watched in amazement as every woman in the room universally agreed that it was a problem. I had never thought about it before—how my unconscious bias toward women could actually be contributing to the problem. That idea and many of the other issues the speakers spoke about weren’t even on my radar. It was a wake-up call.
That realization is just as relevant today as it was back in the 90’s. Consider a 2012 study (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012) designed to examine how applicants were evaluated for a lab manager position. Faculty were presented identical applications for the position, the only difference being that candidates were given obvious male or female names. Despite having the same qualifications, both male and female faculty routinely rated female student candidates lower than their male counterparts. The female applicants were seen as less hirable and offered lower salaries. The study revealed what many of us already know—there’s a clear unconscious bias against women in the workplace.
What I learned about unconscious bias from that conference I attended all those years ago stayed with me throughout my career. It helped transform me into an active and full-on diversity partner with women. What’s more, I make it my goal to ensure other managers and emerging leaders can attend similar conferences in the hopes that they too will have the same experience and transformation.
Turning awareness into action
The experience alone is not enough. Being aware of unconscious bias is certainly the first step in helping to overcome it, but for that awareness to make any real difference it has to lead to tangible action. In other words, men have to become allies with and advocates for women, whether in engineering or any other profession.
What can you do to be an ally for women in the workplace?
1. Uncover your hidden biases about gender diversity in the workplace.
You don’t have to attend a conference like I did to find out if you have an unconscious bias toward women. All you need to do is take a quick and easy online Implicit Association Test (IAT), such as the Gender-Career or Gender-Science IAT.
2. Watch a video on techniques for ending sexism in the workplace.
In just a short 10-minute time span, you can watch a video that will tell you about 5 easy things you can do today to promote diversity in the workplace. Watch “5 Ways Men Can Help End Sexism”.
A diversity action plan is a written plan of the actions you personally intend to take to promote gender equity and diversity in the workplace. My plan involves a number of different things. As a manager, I am vigilant in assigning new projects or tasks based on skill, but also with a mindset toward providing growth opportunities for women engineers. I look for ways to help them grow and gain higher visibility.
I also actively go through my data on employee pay equity once a year. I examine job category, employee gender, where they work, how much they make, etc. to make sure that all employees are paid equitably and that we have a good female-male split. If adjustments need to be made, we determine how best to do that. And, I try and make sure that all engineers, women and men, are set for success with good work/life balance.
One of the great tools we have to promote work/life balance for our employees at Keysight is the Hidden Valley Elementary K-3 school, built on Keysight’s land in Santa Rosa, California. Parents at the Santa Rosa site have the flexibility to join their kids for lunch, participate in school activities, or even help out in the classroom during the day. It’s been key in ensuring our engineers feel that they can have both a family and career.
Another critical part of my personal action plan is serving as a member of the Keysight - Society of Women Engineers Enterprise Program (KSWEEP). KSWEEP is an organization within Keysight designed to support the efforts of the Society for Women Engineers (SWE). We do this by sponsoring employees to attend SWE conferences and providing communities, networking, professional development and outreach opportunities throughout the year. We also sponsor local activities and recently helped SWE expand its global footprint into Penang, Malaysia.
And, because I feel strongly that it’s the responsibility of male senior and executive leaders to help the next generation of male engineers learn about gender equality and diversity issues, I’ve made it my goal to find ways to actively encourage those leaders to take up that role and become part of the solution. One solution I found was to bring one of my top male engineering managers to last year’s SWE conference.
Those actions are all part for my personal action plan. Your plan might look quite different. You could choose to:
- Talk with your female colleagues and really listen to what they might convey and offer about their gender-related experiences in the workplace. Seek opportunities where you gain such access.
- Ensure female colleagues have equal time to speak at meetings and be sure to share information equally with female and male colleagues. Minimize mansplaining.
- Make sure female colleagues get included and invited to informal work gatherings.
- Demonstrate your commitment to gender equity to your colleagues. Take corrective action when you notice gender inequities and bias. Your silence otherwise makes it acceptable.
- Nominate women for awards, honors and work positions, when and where applicable.
- Start a work committee designed to encourage men too to act as an ally for gender equity in the workplace. If one already exists, volunteer to help.
- Recognize that women often have disproportionate responsibilities for child and elderly parent care. Turn that awareness into action by supporting a work/life balance and doing things like planning meetings with consideration for your teams personal/family schedules.
Find your voice
Whatever you chose to include in your personal action plan, the point is to do something. Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution. It’s a journey we can all take together, and one that promises to positively transform not only the workplace, but society in general.
You can start on your own personal journey by sharing this blog post with your colleagues. Use it to open up a discussion on gender bias and diversity. As I did all those years ago, you may just find yourself really seeing the issue for the first time, and deciding to become an active diversity partner for women in your workplace.