Episode 131: Would You Work in a Women-Only Space?

Show transcript: 

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, female-only workspaces are becoming more popular. To fans, they’re a haven for professional women…
 

“What’s happening here is people are feeling comfortable and not drowned out, and like they’re being heard.”

But others aren’t keen on the idea of a male-free environment…

“We're supposed to be championing diversity, and women have done so much to do that. And this felt like we were going a little bit backwards.”

Coming up – the pros and cons of women-only workspaces.


So about a year and a half ago I heard about this female only workspace slash social club that was opening in New York. The founders were two young women, glamourous and well connected. The place was called The Wing. And I remember thinking, wow, what a good idea – a women-only space that looks like it’s beautiful, comfortable, and all about supporting women in their work. You had to apply to get in and like a lot of freelancers I was already using a co-working space, so I never applied. But I liked the idea.

Now The Wing is not the only female co-working space out there – there are quite a few others in cities around the US and abroad as well. What’s different about this space is the amount of investment the two founders have received to grow the business – The Wing is expanding to cities on the west coast and Toronto and London. It doesn’t let men in, even as guests. And the space debuted at a particular moment in the culture.

A moment when a lot of American women were looking forward to the first ever female president. And then they got Donald Trump. The idea of a women-only club and workspace seemed more attractive than ever to a lot of applicants. There’s a waiting list to join.

“So yeah, it’s all color-coded books, as you can see, which is quite beautiful…”

I visited a branch of The Wing in Brooklyn recently and met a member, fellow podcaster Mallory Kasdan. She showed me around the light-filled, pastel-toned office space…complete with mid-century modern furniture and color-coordinated bookshelves packed with books by and for women.

“So this is a little bookcase that doubles as a phone booth. So it’s awesome, you can go in here…and you can talk on the phone…” 

“Oh, and it’s a retro phone, as well…” 

There’s a café and plenty of other amenities as well – showers, a meditation room, a lactation room, a podcast studio…and my personal favorite…

“…the little room where you can get ready, there’s lots of products.”

“Yeah, there are hairdryers, and hair straighteners…”

“Lots of products…sometimes I just put on some hand lotion because I can.”

All these features are pretty appealing, I have to say. Especially if your hair reacts to the weather like mine does.

But for Mallory joining the space wasn’t really about this. She’s a voiceover artist – you’ll have heard her in lots of ads – and she hosts a podcast called the MILK Podcast - stands for Moms I’d Like to Know. When she’s not in a radio studio she spends a lot of time working at home. She joined this workspace for a few reasons.  

“Primarily it was to get out of house, secondarily because it looked beautiful and third, it was to network and use it for what it’s meant to be which is, you meet someone in the bathroom and they say, cute clogs, and you say, thanks, what’s your name, what do you do? It really is like that, I’ve had that conversation with a couple of women. It’s nice. I think people want to connect, especially people who are freelancers…and maybe don’t have an office space to go to where they have those water cooler-y conversations. I think people want that a little bit.”

AMT: “And how does it feel when you’re here, being surrounded by other women?”

“It feels great. I mean I walked outside a few weeks after it opened…there was a guy walking his dog and he was on the phone with his headpiece in, and he was just shouting, like unnecessarily, taking up space in public for no reason. And I felt like that just wouldn’t happen here, people are just aware of eachother. And I’m not saying that all men are loud talkers on the street and take up a lot of space with their phone calls. But that reminded me of why it was nice to not have to deal with that, it has never happened here. I’ve never felt like anyone’s ever irresponsible with their voice or body. It’s just respectful. And that to me is really lovely.”

OK….so that’s not to say women can’t be annoying on their phones too. We undoubtedly can. But Mallory’s getting at something another guest echoed.

You’ve met Leigh Stringer before, in a show I did last year on putting yourself first. Leigh is an architect and an expert on our physical workspaces and how they can work better for us – and how we can get the most out of them. She joined the Washington DC branch of The Wing and this spring she wrote a piece for Slate in which she interviewed women in DC and New York about why they had joined this female-only workspace.

“A lot of people said they were inspired to join something like this after the election, the 2016 election. A lot of people said it was the #MeToo movement, the need to feel safe in an environment that just made them feel like, there would never be any sort of harassment issue right? That's not to say women don't harass women occasionally, but it's not nearly to the level that being in an environment perhaps with all men…A lot of them felt like they, especially in D.C., a lot of people who work for the Defense Department, who work for companies that are all technology companies, that are just all men, and they don't have any community. They're really missing…even in New York, a litigator saying, ‘I really miss having women around me but I work crazy hours I don't have time to do that.’ And you know I hadn't, until, you know, in this one litigator’s case she quit her job and joined The Wing and was trying to re-evaluate, and was just, like, it's just been so nice to be around other women and look at other models of working.”

So for a lot of women, working in a women-only space is about camaraderie. But it’s also about not having to feel like you don’t fit in with the culture. Mallory puts it this way.

“What’s happening here is people are feeling comfortable and not drowned out, and like they’re being heard.”

And she says the current political climate in the US – it’s another reason she’s drawn to the unabashedly feminist vibe at The Wing.

“Just politically and what’s been happening the last couple of years, I think people are really tired and aggravated and angry and scared, and want to fight against what’s happening, against what I see as kind of a terrifying government and culture, and a split culture, and feeling like I have to fight for what I believe is right within that. So I think having said all that, I think this is just a peaceful and lovely place to feel like everyone agrees with you – and maybe that’s a problem right now that we’re having in this country, that we only want to listen to voices that we agree with, and we’re only reading what we want to hear…”

And that’s true for a lot of us. Depending on where you live, you can easily find yourself in a cultural and political bubble – you might well seek it out. And if any of the women at The Wing’s current branches in New York and DC are Trump supporters, they’re not letting on. So for most members, it really does feel like a safe space.

But whether it’s world views or work styles, my next guest isn’t sure we should want complete consensus when we’re at the office.

“In real life you have to speak to lots of people that you don’t necessarily identify with who irritate the hell out of you, and by creating this sort of sanitised environment where we are all in agreement, were all one big happy family, I think that can kind of become a breed a breeding ground for seething resentment, and its unrealistic, the rest of the world isn’t like that. So why would you want to do it nine to five?”

Coming up in a moment.


Amy Rowe is the same age as the founders of The Wing – early 30s. She lives and works in Brighton, in the south of England. She’s the co-founder of a content marketing agency and everyone at her small company works out of a co-working space – complete with its own coffee shop…

“…funky cushions, nice lighting. It’s like you’re walking into an IKEA catalog.”

Her workspace also has plenty of men. I’d corresponded with Amy over Twitter and email before we spoke. So I knew she didn’t love the idea of women-only workspaces.

“No. And I'm prepared for the backlash that might ensue from me saying this, but my reaction was actually disappointment. And there are loads and loads of reasons for this, but very personally I am big on diversity in workspaces. I'm half deaf. I wear hearing aids, so it's something that, as well as my day job I work for a deaf charity, I talk to businesses about how they can improve diversity and how diversity in a business can really help creativity within the workplace. And I just thought, gosh, if we're having workplaces that are female only and no males, I mean what is that doing? Is that creating a sort of cookie cutter generation of workers? And I like working with men, what can I say. I like working with all sorts of different people and I've learnt a lot from doing that. So I felt that this was, first of all I just thought it was a very odd step. We're supposed to be championing diversity, and women have done so much to do that. And this felt like we were going a little bit backwards.”

She is not alone. When I tweeted about this several people got back to me saying the whole idea was retro; not helpful to the cause of equality. Though one man said he understood perfectly.

But what about what many founders of female-only spaces have said…that they’re creating somewhere where it’s easy for women to network and help other women get ahead? This is especially relevant for women entrepreneurs who are often shut out of male-heavy networks.

“I completely agree with creating spaces for women to interact with other women. And as you say if you are a founder it's really important that you are being put in touch or in the same space as women-friendly investors. And we all know that there's a big problem with the money flowing into women-run companies, so that's definitely a problem. I don't think a female-only coworking space is going to solve that problem. I don't think it's necessary. One of the reasons I don't think it's necessary is because I just felt, feel like these places sort of echo the elitism that you find in men only spaces.”

A lot of people agree. Why create a girls’ club when everyone should be striving for equality?

“Let's remember that we've been fighting for a very long time, women, to be at a table with everybody, right? Not to create another one and keep others off, so this just feels very elitist.”

Elitist in more ways than one, she says. These spaces aren’t free. Membership fees at The Wing are $215 a month and while that is relatively cheap rent for a workspace in a major city…

“It feels like it’s only targeted at a certain number of women who already enjoy a good socio-economic status. So it just feels like another club, and I have to say I've enjoyed all the trappings of being, I'm going to be honest, a middle class white woman, right. I have people I can talk to. I had a mentor. I was given all sorts of opportunities. And these are the things that I don't think are being addressed for other women that really need a leg up.”

The Wing is sensitive to this criticism. It’s started a scholarship program to try to diversify its membership from a socio-economic standpoint. It says it has a mixture of women of different ethnic backgrounds and increasingly of different ages as well (although I would say it’s mostly millennials). And you could argue any workspace outside of your living room is an investment.

Amy has said she enjoys working alongside men. But some women jump at the chance to work with other women. My friend Molly joined The Wing a few months ago but when we last spoke she hadn’t had the chance to use it yet because she’d just had her second child. But she emailed me about why she’d joined.

I just really like the company of women but on top of that I think it makes for a better work environment. At my former co-working space (We work) there were so many gross dudes. One guy in particular would walk around one of the common areas I liked to work in and talk loudly on his phone about all the sex he'd had the previous weekend. It was SO GROSS and weirdly aggressive. 

I said to Amy, let’s talk about this aspect of a female-only space: Dumping the bros.

“Okay, so dumping the bros, I mean we'd all like to dump the bros. It's not something I enjoy, I've certainly been in the position where I have been working somewhere and I've been interrupted by the loud braying of an older gentleman talking about his antics on a Saturday night. I mean we've all been there. Nobody enjoys that. But I'd still say that the introduction of female-only workplaces isn't not a solution. I think what is a better solution is making the current situation, the workplaces that we have better environments, and working on sort of creating either some rules, or some code of ethics or, and I don't really have the answer as to how it's done. But there's all sorts of things that can be done to promote women in workplaces and also address the chauvinistic environment. I don’t think it needs to be done with the segregation of women basically, and it kind of reminded me this whole thing of something that was happening in London. And bear with me but there was I think a rise of sexual crime on the tube. And so there was a voice rising to say that we should have female only spaces. Female only carriages. But the obvious backlash, which I agree with, says if we do that we just push women into safe spaces. We put them in again in the role of being the vulnerable party, and I just I just think again this is very like what's happening with female only workplaces. I think we can celebrate and support women without segregating them.”

But what about the women who love female-only spaces, who’ve come from a workplace full of men? They love how relaxed they are compared to a testosterone-filled office, or they love how the place is designed with women in mind, with chairs designed for our bodies, rooms that let us primp if we want to before going to a meeting or just going out for dinner. It feels like a nice change. 

“I’m sure it is a nice change from somewhere like a lawyer's office. Certainly I work in finance so I've experienced more than my fair share of male dominated spaces. I think what would be the most positive outcome of all is the fact that maybe we're going to see a rise in lawyers’ offices, financial institutions, really thinking about the design of their spaces and whether they are catering for women who you know want to have a hairdryer in the washroom and want to have a big mirror so they can they can get ready for an event and make sure they can see everything they're wearing, you know all the kind of stuff that these spaces are providing are important. So it would be a lovely thing if we see a shift in the way buildings and office spaces are designed…”

To accommodate more women workers. But for now, these women-only spaces are fairly few in number, even if they are popping up in more and more cities. And they cater to non-traditional workers to begin with. It’s questionable whether anything that happens there will translate to a corporate workplace.

Finally, I asked Amy, does she see these female spaces that don’t allow men in…as discriminating against men? The Wing’s policy is something the New York City Commission on Human Rights has been looking into.

“I think it is discriminating against men. Although I'm not going to be walking down the street protesting anytime soon, because I feel that it's probably about time that men came across some friction in the workplace, to be to be frank. Ultimately I wouldn't like to see these spaces banned. I don't think there's any point in going down that road. I think the better thing to do would be that workspaces that are male-dominated learnt from some of the practices that are going on in places like The Wing, and make their spaces more inclusive.”

After Amy and I spoke, I asked the same question of Leigh Stringer.

AM-T: “What do you think of the flip side of this…the point of view of, oh my gosh, if men went off and started male-only workspaces, women would be up in arms. This is discriminatory.”

“Well the truth is that they still do have male-only spaces. And you know all kinds of institutions… or maybe they don't advertise it. But they still are. It's funny, I was having a conversation just last week with one of the parents in my kid's class and he is he's gay and he works for the Department of Defense, and he was at Hooters.”

For non-US listeners Hooters is a restaurant chain where scantily clad waitresses are a trademark.

“You know, his team wanted to meet at Hooters, and he's like what's the point of that kind of thing for him? But you know, it was all guys. And that's where they chose to go. And I think even if it's not officially a club, that happens in the workplace even when, I mean this was like two months ago, right? So I think that this need for escape or this need to be in an all- female place, there are just not nearly as many of them as there still are male-only institutions or other sorts of environments that just put you out of your comfort zone.”

And why shouldn’t women have a comfort zone of their own, if they want one? I’d love to try one of these spaces myself.

And Leigh says we shouldn’t underestimate the role harassment and assault play in some women’s decision to work with other women. She writes a lot about the workplace environment. She wondered what the post-Harvey-Weinstein world might mean for the layout of workplaces.

“I was really curious obviously about #MeToo. I was like you know, there's a lot of discussion about policy and HR policy but what about the physical workplace. You know, are there ways that we can create an environment that helps victims of trauma feel better. But also, anyone who's suffered from sexual harassment and other sorts of traumatic events, what does that look like? And a lot of them when they describe them, the benefits, when I talk to experts and those who've counseled a lot of women, a lot of what they said was having a choice about where you go. Having a place that's maybe more open which, I found The Wing and some of the other spaces like it much more open, and not having a predator in the room with you is actually the most helpful sometimes for being productive at work. And so you know these third party or these environments that are only women, there are some just fight or flight responses that are eased and are lowered when people are in them. And I think we need to be respectful of that.”

Leigh Stringer. Thanks to her, Amy Rowe and Mallory Kasdan for being my guests on this show.

As ever, I am curious about what you think. Are you a freelancer or an entrepreneur or anyone else who loves the idea of a female only workspace? Or like Amy Rowe, does it seem backwards to you? I’d love to hear from you. You can post beneath this episode at TheBroadExperience.com, or tweet me at ashleymilnetyte – without the hyphen – or post on the show’s Facebook page.

And I’ll include a photo or two related to this episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

You know all those credits you hear at the end of other podcasts? You won’t hear that here, because it is just me who produces this show from start to finish. If you can support this one-woman production with a donation of any amount, it would be much appreciated. Head over to the support tab at TheBroadExperience.com. And if you can’t, write a review on iTunes instead – I’d love that too.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

Episode 129: Will They Still Like Me? The Power of Negotiation (part 2)

Show transcript: 

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, part two of our show on negotiation.

“I was worried that if I am negotiating on behalf of myself that I will be viewed as pushy or aggressive, or it will somehow make me less likeable.”

A lot of you will know exactly what she’s talking about.

Coming up.  


In the last show you met negotiation trainer Natalie Reynolds. I loved her practical advice and positive attitude. But I always knew that to do a show on this I wanted to talk to a regular person – not just a professional negotiator. I wanted to talk to someone like me. Someone who’s often found negotiating pretty excruciating but was keen to get better at it.

Neda Frayha is just that person. She’s a medical doctor; she works near Baltimore. After finishing her training she worked in academic medicine for almost 8 years – so seeing patients, but also teaching and doing quite a bit of administration as well. Then last year, at age 40, she underwent a big career change. Like the women in my recent show on women in medicine, Neda felt burnt out. She wanted a change of pace. Today, she works one day a week doing primary care, and the other days, she’s the editor of a continuing education podcast for physicians.

It was a big deal to switch things up that much, but Neda says…

“It’s been a very positive life change in so many ways.”

She loves the work. And we’ll come back to her negotiation for that job in a bit.

I wanted to start by going back to her first job offer as a young doctor. She was applying for a role at the same institution where she’d done her training.

AM-T: “So with that very first job, they offer you a job, with a package. Did you just say great, thank you? Or did you attempt to negotiate that?”

“So I did much to my own dismay – not long afterwards and many years afterwards, I did just say great, thank you, when it came to the salary. Part of the reason for that was that one person who was gonna be one of my bosses in the new arrangement – she told me that if I made any more than that starting salary I’d be making more than some of her more her senior people, who I loved and respected as a trainee. So I thought well I can’t make more than they do, they’re my role models. And so that was a huge reason why right off the bat I never even thought to negotiate the salary or any of the benefits, I truly just accepted it.”

She says another reason she didn’t negotiate?  As someone finishing up her residency and taking her first official job, the salary was a huge jump from what she had been on.  

“And I think it’s very easy to say, oh my gosh, this is so much more than I made as a resident, who am I to complain about this?”

AM-T: “You say you later regretted it, and not long afterwards regretted not negotiating, now why? I was gonna ask you, do you think the person who said if you got more you’d be getting more than your teachers, basically, do you think she was dissembling a little bit, I mean why did you regret it?”

“Because I discovered I was behind the eight ball from the very beginning. And now when I give advice to medical residents coming up behind me, I tell people that first salary you make out of training will serve as the foundation for every salary you’ll make afterwards. And so when I started off, with what I learned later to be lower than many of my peers, I had to work so much harder to make up that ground and that led for me to what felt like uncomfortable negotiations later to make even what my peers were earning.”

AM-T: “So even though she had told you that you were earning the top rate…do you think she was lying or what, because I think if it was me I’d have thought the same thing, ‘I can’t possibly earn more than them.’”

“Absolutely. Part of the situation too was that I was staying where I had trained. There’s a certain psyche where if you’re at that same place you went to school to do your training, you’re in that people pleasing mode. More senior people may see you as very junior even though you’re an official attending physician. So I felt that sense of deference to everyone around me.

All these years later I truly don’t think she was lying, I think I was making something comparable to a few people I knew and respected, but they were being savvy in their careers and over the years they negotiated fantastic salaries for themselves. And these things are not really public, we don’t talk about these things. 

So years later, I learned these same people who’d served as the benchmark for my starting salary were hustling and earning more of an income for themselves by careful and thoughtful negotiations, by proving their worth within the organization. And I was just floating along, realizing all of a sudden I’m really behind.”

That thing of realizing what someone else earns, someone on the same level as you – it was a big motivator for me too. Like Neda, I was floating along, assuming everything was fair. It didn’t even occur to me that someone in the same job would be getting paid more. Finding out they were shocked me out of my complacency and had me making calls to ask to have my pay adjusted. Which it was. And after that first incident I was much more aware of that need to keep on top of what others were earning.

In the last show you heard Natalie talk about how important it is for us to do our research before a negotiation. To find out how much others in the same job – or the job we want – are getting paid.

I asked Neda if she’d embarked on this prior to job discussions later in her career. What did she say?  

“In some cases when the person was very close to me or a close friend I would outright ask. I put it in the context of, ‘I’m worried I’m not earning the same as my peers, would you mind giving me a range of where you are?’ And most of the time my close friends would tell me point blank what they earned.

I also worked in a state system, where all salaries were online…and even though those numbers may not be 100 percent accurate and there’s other math that’s not accounted for in that, there’s a very searchable database where you can look people up and can find out what they’re making. And I felt really guilty doing that, I felt sort of shady, like I was being a sneaky person trying to find out what others were making. But when you see people in your own group and your own practice are earning considerably more than you, and there’s no clear reason why…so sometimes there’s rank, so of course a full professor is very different from someone starting out as an assistant professor…but there are other times where you’re doing same work. So it provided me with a lot of very helpful data and it made me feel a little bit better about doing that kind of research.”

 I don’t think we should feel bad looking up other people’s salaries but it can certainly be awkward to ask people face to face. I like the idea of asking people for a range.

So after that first experience where Neda didn’t negotiate she was determined to try later on. Sometimes she backed down too quickly. Even though she was armed with information after her research, the process still wasn’t easy for her.

AM-T: “Now you said that you found negotiation pretty uncomfortable. You told me this in an email and you referred to it just now. How do you feel during a negotiation and do you remember how you tend to phrase things when you’re talking to the person on the other side?”

“I think in terms of how it feels, I had always wanted to very much be liked by everyone around me. And I think it’s served me well in some contexts. I’m a good worker, good colleague. And I was worried that if I was negotiating on behalf of myself I would be viewed as pushy or aggressive or it will make me less likeable. It will diminish their opinion of me. They would think I was demanding too much or that I was being too bold. And so that left me with a really queasy feeling throughout the entire process and it was kind of a constant nausea, like it never really left until the whole process was over.” 

That desire to be liked – it’s one of the biggest things that can trip women up in a negotiation. And we didn’t really address it in the last show. Many of us are still raised to be people pleasers, to put others’ interests before our own – to be happy with what we’ve got. And that can make negotiating feel somehow wrong. But as Natalie said in the last show, if we can just concentrate on our worth – on what we bring to the company or what we can bring to the new job – it helps to concentrate the mind.

Still, let’s not gloss over the fact that the likeability factor plays a big part in a lot of women’s dealings at work. Even if we don’t want it to.


And talking of likeability, the truth is other people – men and women – expect us to be likeable. A couple of years ago I interviewed Sara Laschever. She’s the co-author of two well known books on negotiation, Women Don’t Ask and Ask For It. The tape isn’t great quality so I’m not including a snippet, but in short she says men can be direct and businesslike in a negotiation and that’s fine. But for women that’s harder…she says women need to play up their likeability during a negotiation to get good results.

I talked about this with Natalie last time and she wasn’t so sure that was necessary. But for those of you who are interested, I’ll point you to more reading on this at the end of the show.  

Now Neda will admit she is not that direct in the first place. And she does get nervous. She’s noticed her voice has a slight tremor when she negotiates…

“I know that if I move my hands I can see they’re trembling a little bit, so I’ve learned to keep  my hands folded and in my lap so I don’t reveal that tell.”

AM-T: “Do you remember if you use the conditional tense like ‘I would’ or ‘if we’ – those kinds of things to soften things up?”

“In verbal, in speech, yes. So in the times it’s become a conversation I’d use the conditional with my words and tone of my voice. With writing it’s easier to be more declarative and state things in a very factual way. Because you have the benefit of being able to go back and revise and revise, and instead of saying ‘I would’ you can say ‘I will’ or ‘I can’ so I usually find, and actually maybe that’s a helpful thing for me in the future or for anyone else, is to practice writing it out ahead of time and see how you edit it to make it sound simpler and clearer and more declarative and then use some of that language. Because you have the benefit of going over it a few times while it’s written in front of you.”

Which actually strikes me as a really good idea. Any negotiation expert including Natalie Reynolds will tell you, you have to practice ahead of time to quell some of those nerves and prepare for the unexpected. Writing seems like a great way for some of us to work though the phrasing we’re gonna use in a live negotiation. And it’s true some negotiations do take place over email and you do have more of a chance to perfect your wording that way.

So when Neda did start negotiating for raises, how did it feel?

“Oh, awful. It felt awful. It already feels uncomfortable to ask for something more. It was already a situation that left me feeling a bit queasy before the return offer came…and then when return offer comes and says essentially, no, what you’re asking is way off. Even if it’s not what they mean, even if to them they’re just doing the dance, it made me feel like I had been way off assessing my own worth, and that the organization didn’t value me as much as I thought I should be valued. It was a pretty terrible feeling and then it also makes you feel what you tried to do with the negotiation just didn’t work out.”

 And it IS a dance, of course. They ARE testing you. You just have to remember to stay calm and not back down. There’s a lot more on how to do that in the last show.

So her current job, the one she just landed last year, it was something Neda really wanted. She loved the project, she admired the people. But…

“I was bringing with me a lot of baggage from my previous non-negotiations. So I remembered very clearly the times in the past when I had not advocated for myself and the times I had not negotiated for myself. And I think I felt a little bit sore because of that. Which I guess is something I guess to be mindful of, not to walk into a negotiation angry about past slights. Because your current employers don’t know anything about that and nor should they. But I knew I was carrying that baggage with me. And I wanted also to prove to myself that I could stand my ground or at least advocate for myself. So there was just a little bit of back and forth and in the end I got very close to what I ultimately asked for. What was so uncomfortable for me recently was I really, really liked the people I was working with, I really wanted this deal to work out, I very much felt invested in it emotionally…and speaking of wanting to be liked constantly, I really struggled with, well what if this makes them like me less at this very important juncture?”

But her quiet persistence didn’t hurt their opinion of her. She had time to reflect on it later.

“…as long as the negotiation is based on evidence and data and a collaborative sense of what you bring to the table and ways you can make your team, your boss, your company, your organization better with your particular skills I think you have a real leg to stand on. And I kept reminding myself of even when I felt that constant churning of nausea at requesting something after years of not doing so really.”

She felt she’d finally pulled it off, a successful negotiation.

“When you put all things together it was a huge win/win. I didn’t get quite everything that I asked for, but I felt what I got was extremely reasonable and appropriate and good.”

AM-T:  “It’s interesting, it sounds like – and you’ve become quite a strong advocate for negotiation – is through experience…or did someone sit you down one day and say look Neda, you need to be more pushy, you need to negotiate better? Or was it more from that realization that people around you were being pad more and your righteous indignation because of that?”

“It’s the latter. It’s out of a personal interest from the different experiences I’ve had. And I’ve also learned that even the most extraordinary mentors and sponsors and role models, we may be very fortunate and they may advocate for us in a number of ways, for promotions or opportunities that could help us. But I don’t know of anyone who has been sat down by their boss and told you’re not making enough, we need to advocate for a higher salary for you. And I think part of it is that we don’t talk about it enough, sometimes our managers may not know how much we’re making depending on the organization we’re working for. For all of us if we want to see that kind of growth in our careers and how we’re compensated for our work, no one is going to hand that raise to us on a silver platter. We will always have to be the ones aware of the situation, asking for that opportunity, negotiating on behalf of ourselves. Other people are not doing that for us.”

AM-T: “And I know that there will be a contingent of listeners who think – well, plenty of people will think – women, well nobody I suppose should have to negotiate, companies, organizations, should just pay us what we’re worth.”

“I think that sounds wonderful and there are industries and companies that are doing great work in that area, and I’m so excited for anyone who gets to work for an organization like that. I don’t always think it’s malice or mal intent if someone is underpaid for what they’re worth. I think sometimes it’s lack of knowledge, it’s benign cluelessness. But I think there are many instances when perhaps a person is not getting paid what they’re worth and it’s really up to that person to be aware of that situation and then they can decide for themselves how they feel advocating and negotiating on their own behalf.”

AM-T: “And also, I feel really strongly about this. I think negotiation is a human skill that comes in handy in so many different areas, not just this one area of asking for salary. And we should all be interested in improving that, me included.”

“I agree with you completely. It is sort of like a social skill or a business skill that not all of us are taught. And I believe research has shown that women are better at negotiating on behalf of someone else so if you and I were in a room together and you said, Neda, you need to advocate and negotiate for a raise for Ashley, I would be able to do that much more comfortably than I would if I had to do the same thing for myself. So maybe that’s another tool we can rely on. Let’s pretend we’re talking about a third person, who happens to be ourselves, and see what kind of language and emphasis and enthusiasm you would come up with if you were talking about yourself in the third person. If you were a friend of yours and you wanted to advocate for that third person.”

And maybe this doesn’t surprise a lot of you, this fact – and research does bear it out. After all,  women get the message early on that we’re meant to look out for others. So when it comes to negotiating for someone else…

“When we negotiate for them it doesn’t feel selfish. It feels like a natural extension of what we do all the time all day long.”

That word selfish. It goes to the crux of what we’ve talked about on and off over the years on this show. That so many women feel we don’t deserve things. Including money. My take on this is that we should work on overcoming those feelings.  

But some say if asking for money feels selfish to you, use that feeling in a negotiation by flipping it around.

A few years ago I interviewed a giant of negotiation training in the US. Her name is Margaret Neale or Maggie Neale, she teaches at Stanford – and she talked about this advice she gives women. She says if you’re someone who finds it hard to ask for money for yourself, go into that negotiation thinking of the other people in your life. Go in solid in the knowledge that money is going to help others – think about them when you ask – don’t talk about them, but have them in your mind as a motivator. And I think that’s fine if you have a family to support. If you’re single…maybe not so much. But apparently it’s a psychological trick that works well for women who need to focus on others to ask for something for themselves.

For the negotiation geeks among you, I am going to post a bunch of links under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com. I’ll link you to some of Maggie Neale’s videos on negotiation, I will link you to books and chapters of books that could help you. And to some stories I’ve done on this topic in the past.

Thanks to Neda Frayha for being my guest on this show and opening up about her negotiation experiences.

I’d love to know what you think of these two shows, and whether they’ve been helpful. You can email me at ashley at the broad experience dot com or tweet me or post on the show’s Facebook page.

Thanks as ever to those of you who support this one-woman show. To join them with any level of support hit up the support tab at TheBroadExperience.com.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

 

Episode 128: You're Worth It - the Power of Negotiation (part 1)

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time on the show…the art of negotiation. Why it matters and how to do it well.

“Agility is really the skill of the negotiator. Not turning into something you are not, and trying to be a man. Because we’re women, we’re not.”

 Coming up on The Broad Experience.


So a couple of months ago during the shows I did on pay, I asked if you’d like me to do an episode on negotiation. A lot of you said yes. So here it is. Actually there’s so much to say about this that again, I’m dividing the topic into two shows, each with a different guest.

As a business journalist I’ve done a lot of reporting on women and salary negotiation over the last 10 years or so – and it’s always fascinated me. Past studies have shown that women negotiate less than men. That young men right out of college are likelier than women to negotiate that first job offer – meaning their salaries get a bump right out of the gate. There’s also evidence that women who negotiate hard – they get backlash for it. That they’re perceived as just not very nice. All this sounds negative. But there’s plenty of other evidence to show that women are not worse negotiators than men – especially when they negotiate on behalf of someone else. We just tend to find negotiating for ourselves awkward and unpleasant.

And maybe it’ll always feel a bit awkward – but that doesn’t mean it can’t work in our favour.

Today’s guest is Natalie Reynolds. She’s the founder and CEO of Advantage Spring – they’re based in England but they train teams and individuals all over the world to be better negotiators.

And she’s the author of a book called We Have a Deal – how to negotiate with intelligence, flexibility and power.

Natalie trained as a lawyer but ended up having a career in public service in the UK – and her roles involved lots of negotiation.  But she found public service to be really ageist – she was told she’d be brilliant for a job, but was too young to be considered. So she left and joined a big negotiation training firm...

“…but very quickly became disillusioned there because they did teach the ‘ballbreaker’ style of negotiation, it was very two dimensional, very scripted. They treat every client the same. And people are not the same, companies are not the same. So I tried to kind of own my role a little bit by looking at things like gender and negotiation and biases at the negotiation table.

However, despite this being very popular with clients, when I came back from maternity leave they told me, ‘as a business we don’t want to be seen to be doing the woman thing. So we want you to stop talking about gender and diversity.’ So I basically quit, started Advantage Spring, where we train men and women in equal measure. But I am able to still do the woman thing and talk about gender and negotiation, and the very human part of negotiation, which is incredibly important.”

Now you’ve heard me say this on past shows. I believe in negotiating. It gets you more of what you want. But as I told Natalie, since Sheryl Sandberg published Lean In, which advises women to negotiate for more pay, I’ve detected quite a backlash to the whole idea.  

AM-T: “And what I’ve heard from some listeners in Facebook forums is well, why should I negotiate, because women are punished for negotiation. Or more strongly what I hear is, if I negotiate I am having to become more like a man, I’m having to change myself to become more like a man and why should I do that? And I’m hoping you’ll help me convince people that negotiation is a really useful skill that we should all hone. I know I could do with honing my skills, for sure.”

“There are so many things you just said that are relevant to all of this. The first thing you mentioned was something I call social penalty, that women receive more of a backlash when they negotiate. Unfortunately there is a lot of evidence that shows when women negotiate they are penalized for it. However, my advice is then to say to women don’t stop negotiating because of this, do not stop. The best thing you can do is learn how to negotiate as effectively as possible. That is what’s gonna help you. The world is built around being able to negotiate, it’s one of the oldest, most precious and important human skills there is. I say to people negotiation is the most important skill to get what you want, need or deserve. And you cannot rely on people to always have your best interests at heart. Even the people around you might not point out to you, you could have gotten more, you might have been able to do this. So it’s really important that you take ownership of your ability to negotiate and you do it cleverly and with agility. And agility is so important when it comes to negotiation.”

AM-T: “When you say agility what do you mean?”

“So you mentioned many women feel like they have to become like a man to be effective when they negotiate, and I am always giving people advice, please do not think of it like that. The best negotiators are like gymnasts. They are agile, they are flexible, they can recognize a different situation they are in and move between it flexibly. Some negotiations do require us to be tough, to be firm, to stand our ground. Others require us to sit back, listen, to build relationships, to try and understand eachother. Negotiations will look very different – a negotiation could be you and I having a coffee after this recording, downstairs, trying to negotiate when it will go live. It could be as simple as that, it could be at home negotiating who does what it terms of housework, it could be about negotiating a supplier agreement or your salary. And all those things are different, feel different and all require different planning, preparation execution. And so agility is the skill of the negotiator. Not turning into something you are not, and trying to be a man. Because we’re women, we’re not. So let’s play to our strengths. That’s what the best negotiators do.”

Natalie says she wants to demystify negotiation. It frustrates her that it’s come to be associated with aggression.

“That to be a good negotiator you’ve gotta be a ballbreaker – I’ve gotta be aggressive. He or she who shouts the loudest or bangs their fist the hardest will get what they want. It’s simply not true. A large part of what my company does and what I do on an individual basis is challenge that perception. And when we’re teaching both corporations and individuals we show them the error of this approach. You can get what you want in a more sophisticated way, you don’t have to be aggressive or behave in a way like we believe a man should in order to negotiate effectively. There is another way and a way that can garner less backlash. And a lot of what we do when we coach women is show what that other way is. And how it might be difficult at first but there are coping strategies you can adopt, there are methodologies you can implement. And you can get what you want.”

She says getting what you want isn’t about you getting one over on the other person. It’s just like in any relationship – part of it is about looking at things from the other person’s point of view.

“Women are good at seeing the world through the other person’s eyes. That’s not to say we’re all naturally good at it…I think it’s something everyone needs to work at. But even the other evening I was speaking at an event and I gave men and women the advice, when you’re planning for a negotiation sit there and plan from your perspective what you want to achieve and then physically get up, go to the other side of the table. Look back at where you were sitting and be them for a moment. Who are they, what do they want, how do they want it, how does the world now look to them? Because the more you make them feel like they’re winning the more effective you’re gonna be. But then ego kicks in. This is true for men and women. There is this view women are more collaborative, my view is that men and women are all naturally competitive, it’s how human beings have evolved. We’ll always try to win, if we can. And it’s about using that and understanding that, that if you want to win they probably want to win too. So the best negotiators put their ego to one side and think, what’s gonna make them feel happy? What’s gonna make them feel like they got what they needed? And how can I engineer this negotiation so I get what I want and they get what they want too, or at least they get something where they can go back and say ‘guess what, I got this.’ It’s all about process, it’s all about planning, but if you can help them feel like they’ve won you’re gonna get a far better result in the long run.”

You will hear Natalie mention planning again and again. She cannot emphasize this enough. To get a result you’re happy with in any negotiation you must do your research. With a salary negotiation you need to know what others in similar roles are getting paid. You need to take stock of your own achievements so you can talk them up. In short, you have to know your market value.

And this is another thing I wanted to discuss with her – the fact that a lot of women find talking about their worth and their achievements really uncomfortable. I certainly have. We’re often nervous because a lot is riding on this. The whole process just doesn’t feel like ‘us’. But Natalie says that’s no excuse to duck out.

AM-T: “You say in the book, look, just get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. I think that’s really worth talking about.”

“I think a lot of people strive to feel comfortable when they negotiate but I would never advocate that. An element of nerves is useful, it keeps you sharp, it keeps you focused, it keeps you wondering what’s coming next. So I will spend a lot of time with male and female clients getting them to understand why they feel like they do and getting them to own that feeling. I talk a lot about the little voice in the head, a lot at the start at the book, and this idea that we become overwhelmed by feelings of, ‘I just want to get out of here.’ If you can listen to where is this discomfort coming from? What am I afraid of? If you can embrace that discomfort and channel it in a different way, you stay sharp and focused and aware, but because you’ve prepared properly you’re ready to deal with that. You should never want to be so laid back you don’t want to worry about these things. I think nerves and anxiety exist for a reason and if you can harness them properly they will work to your advantage.”

AM-T: “And you also say with this discomfort thing, not only we should not feel comfortable in a negotiation, but when it comes to this business of ‘ooh, that’s not me, it’s not authentic.’ You point out we’re all sorts of different things and different people at all sorts of different times.”

“I talk about the many Natalies I am over the course of a day. I’m a mum to two children, I’m a boss of a team in an office, I’m a friend, I’m a wife. And I’m slightly different in those roles at any one time. I was trying to reason with my son putting on his sun cream this morning, and trying to reason with my son to do that, I was quite different to how I will be later on when I’m negotiating on behalf of an energy client for a supply agreement that’s costing them billions. I will behave differently. I never stop being Natalie, I just turn on a different version of her. In the same way that my husband is quite surprised by how I am in a corporate environment, so I don’t like him coming to see me speak. I can’t stand it because I feel like I’m less able to play Natalie on a stage, because he’s used to seeing Natalie at home. And they’re still Natalie, just slightly different versions of Natalie, there’s nothing inauthentic about that. We don’t go through life robotically behaving the same to everyone at every single moment. So how can we channel that when we negotiate?”

AM-T: “How did you persuade him to put his sun cream on?” 

“Well my mum arrived and he does whatever my mum says. And there’s another lesson. Sometimes you have to bring other people to the negotiation table to help you out.”

AM-T: “And we’d all love to do that in a salary negotiation but that’s the thing. We’re on our own in a salary negotiation. I wanna go back to the voice in our head. This is a huge thing with women. You’ve got that voice saying, ‘I’m not worth that, who do you think you are asking for that? Ooh, you’d better scale that back.’ And it’s…what do you tell people about that because I think feeling like we do not have value, whether it’s monetary value or value as a person, this goes really deep inside women.”

“First of all I’d say to listeners, please don’t think men don’t suffer from it. Some of us are just better at controlling it than others and women do seem to struggle with it, particularly around the self-worth and how we value ourselves. The little voice in the head is an interesting one. So many of us think, oh right, don’t listen to it, it’s telling us negative things so don’t listen to it. And the problem with that approach is if you ignore it in the run up to the negotiation that little voice will rear its head right when you least need it to. Right at crunch time when you need to ask for what you want. And this is the problem, that you can pretend it’s not there and you sit down, open your mouth to give your number to your boss and then it kicks in. And then the little voice says, ‘you’re not worth that, they’re gonna think you’re greedy, don’t be ridiculous, say this instead.’ So you do, you say a lower number, or you say very little and let them take the lead.

Instead I advocate a completely different approach which kind of seems counter intuitive but to me makes perfect sense. Which is, that little voice actually represents our innermost fears, inhibitions and anxieties and also weaknesses in our position or argument. So actually what we should be doing is long before we get to that negotiation table, take a moment a few weeks beforehand to step back and think, how am I feeling about this? What am I dreading them saying to me when I ask for this? What do I think the weaknesses are in my case? What do I think they’re gonna point out is a reason why I don’t deserve this salary? You should start then accessing that voice in your head in advance of the negotiation, because it’s actually a safety mechanism. If you access it before the negotiation you can start to mitigate against what it’s saying.

So if it’s saying to you, well, you can’t prove you’re worth this, what you should then do is go away and build up a business case about why you are worth this. If it says, you can’t prove other people are being paid this, at that point go away and establish what other people are being paid. If it says, what are you gonna do if they say no, go away and start to plan your responses if they say no. So maybe they say no, we don’t think you’re worth this, you then say OK, so what do I have to do within a 3-month period to be able to access that level of salary? So if you can own that voice in advance it helps you be more robust when you get to the negotiation table.”

And speaking of rejection – a lot of us, when we hear no, we immediately pull back. We accept their offer, lamenting that our attempt at negotiation failed. We take that no as final. But Natalie says that is a mistake.   

“How to deal with the no is so important. I talk about perseverance as being one of the most important skills of a negotiator, particularly in relation to salary negotiations by the way. Which is why at end of every talk I do I’ll say how you respond to a no defines you as a negotiator. Most of us hear a no and we go, ‘oh right, sorry, what were you thinking then?’ Or we just completely concede. What we should do when we’re hear a no is go OK, now I’m negotiating, now we’re actually exploring what could be possible. Now they’ve told me they can’t accept that, so what will they accept? The best negotiators hear a no and they view it as an invitation to keep going. What I say to people is when life shuts a door, open it again. It’s a door, that’s how they work, and the point is that in negotiation people will shut doors on you. They’ll tell you they can’t agree to something, they’ll tell you you’re not worth that. And they’re doing it because they are also trying to get the best deal they can for themselves or their boss. And if you can remind yourself of that and go back and try and open the door again, that is what makes you a brilliant negotiator. And opening that door might mean taking someone else with you, it might mean pushing a bit harder on that door or pushing more gently on that door. But it’s about having the resilience and being able to persevere to go back to a no and keep going.”


So perseverance is important in a negotiation. And part of that is not dropping down too much from the amount you’re going for. In her book Natalie gives an example that reminded me a lot of me as a past negotiator. I would bottle at the first sign of a challenge. The example here is about the price of a shirt. So I have a shirt I want to sell; I want 20 pounds for it. A friend spots it, says, gosh, I really like that shirt. I’ll give you 6 pounds. I immediately think, gosh, maybe 20 was too much to ask – and I go, how about 14?

So right there just because the other person surprised me with a low offer, I have dropped way below the number I was aiming for. And my chances of getting close to that 20 pounds are now slim.

“So this goes to my favorite aspect of negotiation, which is anchoring.”

I wasn’t that familiar with the term anchoring. It’s basically when you glom onto that first bit of information you get and base subsequent decisions around it. Just like in the shirt example – that first mention of 6 pounds torpedoed my idea about getting 20. Natalie says too many courses teach that we should let the other party make the first move in a negotiation. I always thought that myself. 

“So many people give people the advice, let them go first in the negotiation so you can see what they might be willing to give you, and it’s rubbish. It’s absolute rubbish. That first number they give you is in no way an indication of what they’re ultimately willing to give you. What it is, is them giving you a number to test you to see the best they can get from you. And then because of anchoring, which is essentially the phenomenon whereby we become overly influenced by the first piece of information presented to us when we make a decision, we anchor to that first proposal. We fixate on it. We think about it. We wonder why have they said that, have I misunderstood things, why have they gone so low? Maybe they’re right and I’m wrong. And we doubt ourselves and then we adjust our opening position to more closely match theirs.”

And then we’re on the back foot. She always tells her clients that the power of going first cannot be overstated.

“Saying that, you don’t always have to always make sure you go first and if you don’t, it’s the end of the world. So we get people coming to us and saying, ‘so in this negotiation scenario I MUST put my number out first’…and I go, ideally yes, if you can, but we don’t always have the confidence or the scenario that allows us to go first. The beauty of anchoring is that it’s about the awareness of the phenomenon – be aware the first number put on the table can disproportionately affect what we respond with.

So the best thing you can do is, if they go first and it’s far lower than you anticipated, take a deep breath, thank them for that proposal, and say ‘thank you for that proposal, but for the following reasons my proposal is this much.’ The reason that’s important is the more you can talk about what you want, the more likely you are to get it. The more you focus on what they want, the likelier you are to end up closer to their number. So re-anchoring has been proven to be just as powerful as anchoring. So in the shirt scenario they’ve offered me six, I was thinking 20. The worst thing I can then do is then say is ‘oh God, OK right, well I’ll give them 14. How’s 14?’’ The best thing I can do is hold my nerve, take a deep breath, thank them for that 6 pound proposal but say, look, it’s actually a really high quality shirt, I’m looking for 20. Start then bringing it back to you, anchoring to what you want from your perspective.”

AM-T: “When you’re saying ‘thank you very much, I’d like to propose X,’ would it be a mistake to say why I think I’m worth X, in a salary negotiation?”

“No, I don’t think so. I think in the same way that if we were pitching for resources for a project we would outline why we think the project is worthy of those resources, we need to get more comfortable with talking about why we are worth what we are worth, and actually I have a new VP of North America starting today and she is a very big advocate of this advice. You know, you need to view yourself in the same way you would if you were negotiating for anyone else.

So you need to draw up a business case of what have you achieved in the last six months, what have you generated. What have you delivered for the team as a whole? And you need to talk about that. You shouldn't be embarrassed about talking about what you're worth, but what we do is we get we get shy or we get overwhelmed or we get embarrassed or we get, you know, just full of dread about the idea of communicating why we think we're worth what we’re worth. Which is why objective preparation beforehand is so powerful, because you could even just present them with a business case – ‘and just to back up where I'm coming from, this is a list of my achievements over the last 12 months.’ And hand something over to them physically.”

AM-T: “These are the targets I've hit, or whatever happened to be?”

“Absolutely, you know, we need to get more comfortable with that whole process. We need to own it, you know, effective negotiation is about the ownership of a conversation and you can either get in the driver's seat and steer it or you can sit in the passenger seat and try and reach the steering wheel but you’re never really going to reach it. And in the salary situation, advance preparation, advance outlining of your achievements or your expertise or your experience or your education is of incredible value. If you don’t point out what you’re worth and why, then who else is gonna do it for you?”

So again, preparation is vital. But what if the other person is difficult, belligerent even? It can happen sometimes. Natalie says when she preps for a negotiation she always starts by preparing for the situation she least wants.

“So I will often imagine going into a large corporation, sitting down and them saying, ‘right Natalie before we begin, just to be clear, we don’t like you, we don’t like your product, we don’t like your training courses and we never want to work with you again.’ And I force myself to think about that. That level of hideousness. So I can then start to think, and what would I say to that? How would I deal with that? Because if you can start to think about and embrace that worst case scenario and how you would respond, anything after that starts to feel far better.

The other thing I would say is that if someone is being particularly rude or aggressive to you or refusing to move or undermining you, please remind yourself that that kind of behavior is often exhibited for a reason. Either because they want to make themselves feel more powerful or because they feel intimidated by you or because they actually don’t have that much room for maneuver and they feel disempowered by that. Or there’s a weakness in their position or they think you’re more powerful than they are and they’re trying to de-stabilise you by behaving in that way. You know most of the people we negotiate with who are rude or aggressive or underminers, they don’t behave like that all the time. They don't go home to their friends and families and behave like that, they’re just normal people often. So you’ve got to ask yourself, why are they now choosing to behave like this? Now, with me. And sometimes just reminding yourself of that can be quite empowering.”

And she has several tips in the book about how to deal with that kind of behavior if it arises.

But what about dealing with a more common situation where the employer makes you an offer first, and it’s far below your expectations. Another thing any negotiator should do before the interview – is know your walk-away point i.e. the number you absolutely must get or you’ll walk away from the offer. So say you’re going for a job and you want 80 thousand pounds, ideally – but you’ve decided you could walk away with 75 thousand – no less. Only you will know this in your particular situation after you’ve done your research on the market and your place in it. 

But you’ve got your number…and then the other party offers you something that seems ridiculously low. It shocks you and again it can be hard not to start to move down to meet it. But, Natalie says…

“The best negotiators would go, okay, so before I before I let you know what it was I'm going to ask for I'd be really keen to understand why this is so low. You know actually get them to start to explain themselves. But again all the time understanding that you still need to be able to stand your ground. Don’t be swayed by what they're saying necessarily, because if you've done your research, if you know your worth, if you feel confident, you should be understanding where you want to end up.

So it's about understanding that the power of anchoring is real, it exists. It can negatively impact where you end up if you become overly swayed by it, but it's always about thinking, right, what do I want? Why do I need it, what am I going to ask for, and then actually getting that number out there. So you might say to someone, ‘that's very low, for the following reasons I was going to ask for X, so we do have a gap - how are we going to bridge that gap?’ And make it a shared problem, make it a conversation rather than a kind of a battle mentality. And of course go beyond the price. That's the other thing: what else do you want from that salary package and what else matters to you? And bring that to the table as well.”

Whether it’s more vacation or working from home 2 days a week or something else.

Now just quickly here I want to acknowledge something else I’ve heard women say about the whole idea of going back and forth over a new salary.

AM-T: “What about women who say ‘look, companies should just pay everyone fairly. I shouldn’t have to negotiate.’”

“If only life were like that, that's my simple response to that. You know in an ideal world life would be like that. I mean interestingly we're doing a research project with a company who are removing salary negotiations. I can't mention the name of the business yet until the research is completed, but they're exploring whether or not removing traditional salary negotiation processes will actually help in creating a flat structure and make people feel empowered and we’re working with them to see if that is actually the case or whether actually removing salary negotiations disempowers people, people start to feel resentful like they're not valued, like they're not able to put forward their case for why they are worth what they're worth. Yes, so very interesting. But yeah, in an ideal world fairness would prevail and you know we would all be given what we deserve. My point is, and I talk about this in the book and on every session I ever run, that fairness is actually subjective of course. And what's fair to the business owner or to the hiring manager with finite resources is often very different to the employee who has certain expectations and a lifestyle they want to maintain. You know fairness isn't universal, we'd like to think it is, but on a very simple level often what's fair to a buyer is not fair to a seller.”

So for everyone who is gonna negotiate…something to bear in mind about your choice of words. Again, this is a trap I know I’ve fallen into.  

AM-T: “You also talk about the language that we use when we negotiate, and sticking to clear, non-waffly language. You say there can be a tendency to use words like, ‘I was thinking of something in the region of X.’”

“I'm really glad you brought this up because earlier in this recording I actually caught myself using some of this language. And actually I would like people to take from that that the lesson is, never get complacent. Because this isn't a negotiation I haven't planned for it, so I've allowed that language to slip into my vocabulary. So I said earlier on, I am looking for 20. You shouldn't say that. You should say, my price is. So I always say that when you're negotiating for something that's important to you, don’t say you're looking for or hoping for. Because then all they hear is you don't expect to get it.”

AM-T: “So what do you say, ‘I’d like’ or ‘I want?’”

“My proposal is. There’s a difference between me saying, I'm looking for around about 20,000, and me saying ‘my proposal is 20,000’ and here's why. Same message, different impact. Completely different method of delivery. So it's about being clear about what you're asking for. I also use the example of ‘roundabout’ and ‘somewhere in the region of.’  If you're asking for somewhere in the region of 20,000 they're going to hear 15,000. People hear what they want to hear. We look for what we want to look for. You know I talk about biases in negotiation.  You know we bring all these biases to the negotiation table and confirmation biases is a really important one, but so is, if you ask for ‘round about 20,000’, they hear the lower end of that. Which is why we also say don't use a range. If you say, I'm looking for 15 to 20,000, they hear 15,000 if that's what it works in their interest to hear, they hear 15. And then you've got a hell of a job to get them up to 20. I mean interestingly there is research to suggest that sometimes ranges can be helpful, but as a general rule I think you need to be clear, you need to be concise, you need to be specific. You need to own that conversation, and it's not about demanding it, it's not about going, ‘I need 20,000 and I am refusing to budge!’ It's about saying, ‘for the following reasons my proposal is 20,000.’ Of course the clever negotiator will have built in wriggle room to that. They will be opening ambitiously but credibly, so that they can then actually drop down a little bit, but they're actually only then dropping down to what they wanted anyway.”

Towards the end of our conversation we talked a bit about books we’d read on negotiation. One of the most famous of recent years – that really got people talking about the idea that women negotiate less than men and that that hurts us long-term…is Women Don’t Ask.

AM-T: “You mention Women Don’t Ask, I actually haven’t read that one but I’m a big fan of Ask For It, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever’s second book, which is all about the way women are perceived when they negotiate and how to get around that. And they would say, it may sound icky, but women probably have to smile more, we have to play up the pleasant in these interactions. Do you balk at that or do you agree?”

“It's difficult because in the same way I wouldn't tell women to play up to stereotypes of how men negotiate or we think men negotiate, because not all men are aggressive when they negotiate by any stretch, I also feel a little bit uncomfortable about kind of saying, ‘Ladies behave in that kind of way to get what you want.’ I think we all have to be the best versions of what we can be of ourselves and actually the same is true for anyone, not just women.

You know some people that you negotiate with are going to respond better to smiles and questions and talking about where they've been on holiday…it's about understanding people. And this is really the real focus of everything I teach. Negotiation is about people and people are all different.”

AM-T: “Thank you so much for doing this. Is there any anything you'd like to say that you haven't said that you think is particularly important for women to bear in mind that you want to go away with?”

“I mean I've said to you at the start that I am a big one for demystifying and making things simple and I'd like really like listeners to leave with a toolkit. So just very quickly, the four steps of brilliant salary negotiation are as follows. I call it ‘the reap approach’ because you reap what you sow in relation to salary negotiation.

So the first part is R, which is research. Do your research, know the marketplace and know your worth and know what other people in similar roles are paid. See the world through their eyes. What does your employer want to achieve, are they looking to boost their market share or are they looking to increase more sales? Understand what they want and start to think about things from their perspective.

Then you need to establish. E is establish. Establish boundaries. What will you accept, what won't you accept? Establish what else matters to you. So is it vacation? Is it access to different projects, is it time abroad? And establish what you're going to start by asking for and what your walk away points are going to be. Then it's the Ask. So this is about being aware of anchoring. Think about the power of anchoring and if you can't go first just make sure that you stick to your plan, that you ask for what you plan to ask for. It's also about making sure you're not the person who goes into a negotiation with your opening proposal, a rough idea of where you want to get to and no plan as to how to bridge that gap. Plan multiple proposals in advance, don’t just wait for them to respond and then come up with something. Instead have all your different requests planned out, every step you might make mapped out.

And then P is persevere. How are you going to respond if they say no? What questions are you going to ask? Learn how to become more resilient. Use breathing, use rehearsal, use friends and family to practice with, but persevere. You might get a ‘no’ straightaway but the best negotiators will go back. Try and keep that conversation going. I used the example earlier on, let's say you say, Natalie, I can’t pay that, you don’t yet have that level of experience. My response shouldn’t be oh, okay, thanks anyway. Instead my response should be, ‘thank you for that. So I am very ambitious and I do want to access that level of salary, so I would be really grateful for you to outline if not now, in writing after this meeting, the steps I need to take within a defined period to be able to get that, and if we can’t talk about money now I'd be really keen to discuss vacation days or whether or not I could maybe work on a project in a different part of the of business to increase my exposure.”

Got all that? If not, I have your back – you can find a transcript of this whole conversation at TheBroadExperience.com. Just head over to the page for this episode.

Thanks so much to Natalie Reynolds for meeting me in London last month. She is CEO of negotiation consulting firm Advantage Spring and author of the book We Have a Deal.

Next time…after some early disappointments, a reluctant negotiator presses ahead.

“So there was just a little bit of back and forth and in the end I got very close to what I ultimately asked for.”

Look out for that episode soon. And let me know what you think of this one in the meantime.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.  See you next time.

Episode 127: Resilience

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…

“Even if his father had lived I think I still would have worked this hard, because I think it’s important first of all for me to have my own identity, I feel like I have a calling and a purpose in the work that I do, but I also think it’s good for a boy to see his mother go to work.”

Coming up, resilience in life and the workplace.


So as you know this show is usually built around a particular theme, and I find guests who can speak to that theme. But sometimes I’ll do the reverse. I’ll meet someone or hear someone speak at an event and she’s so compelling I want to build a show just around her. That was the case with Dana Canedy.

I heard Dana speak earlier this spring at an event for women journalists. She gave a great talk where she imparted some of her hard-won wisdom about careers and how to stick it out in the workplace over time. She’s had more ups and downs in her life than most of us have probably had. She was the first person in her family to go to college; she realized her dream of becoming a journalist and spent years at a top newspaper, The New York Times. She also lost her fiancé in Iraq in 2006. Their baby son was just six months old.

She wrote about her fiancé First Sergeant Charles Monroe King, and that searing loss in a book called A Journal for Jordan – that’s their son’s name. She wrote to process her grief and to have a memoir for Jordan to read when he was older.

That book is now being made into a movie with Denzel Washington slated to direct. Her son is 12 years old and Dana left her job at the New York Times last year to become the administrator of the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes. We met in her office soon after this year’s winners were announced.

“I’m the first woman, the first person of color and the youngest person in the history of the Pulitzers to be in this role. And the Pulitzers have been around for 102 years so for more than a century it’s always been run by older, white men. So we just announced the winners last Monday, that’s the first time it’s ever been done by a woman or a person or color. So that feels kinda cool.”

This was her first free-ish week after weeks spent reading and judging all the entries. I started by asking her about something she’d said when I’d heard her speak at that event back in March. 

AM-T: “One thing that struck me close to the beginning of your talk, you said, ‘You have to empower yourself. You will be underestimated and misunderstood. It’s not personal. Do it anyway.’”

“Well, I think there are gonna be challenges in any life or any career, personal or professional, and it takes a while to do this but you have to be comfortable rolling with the punches. When something comes at you, you have to find the wherewithal to respond to it, whether it’s being passed over for a promotion or a personal tragedy like I had in my life. So it’s really important to find the fortitude not only to endure it but also to get back to place of comfort and joy eventually. It’s not an easy thing to do. And I’m able to say that because right now I’m in a relatively good place in my life, but having overcome those things, when you’re in the middle of them it feels horrible, just horrible. But you have no other choice other than to figure out what is my support system, what do I need to get through this, who are my advocates, what can I do to empower myself and what don’t I have any control of? And once you figure all that out it’ll empower you to act in a way that’ll help you with your circumstances…but the number one thing to realize when you’re trying to empower yourself, things that seem overwhelming and they’re never gonna end, I promise you they will. Life is cyclical. And when you feel stuck you’re really not. You may be stuck in the moment, but things change.”

She says you need good people around you all the time – people who can bolster you or offer counsel and advice during your worst times as well as the better ones. She’d only been back at work after maternity leave for two weeks when Charles was killed.

“Ugh…uh…it’s still, after all this time, really hard to talk about. But he…he was blown up in a Humvee with one month left to go before his tour of duty was over. Everybody – so that’s a whole different kind of having a village than in the normal course of your life. Anyone who reached out to me I would accept that because I needed all the help I could get. I had a six-month old baby and my life had taken this horrible turn, but in a general sense, your community, your village if you will are the people you can count on. In my case some were reporters, other folks, women who were foreign correspondents or done work I’d really admired became part of my village, my sister, you have to have that, a group of people you can rely on…nobody can do this alone.”

Dana grew up in a big family in Mississippi, the eldest of five kids.

AM-T: “Your dad was in the army, and your mum was a homemaker, right? So how did you get into journalism?”

“I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old. I believe very deeply that God just gave me this talent for writing and I was supposed to be doing just what I am doing with it. I can’t even tell you, through God’s grace I’ve been able to build a career writing as journalist and advocating for journalists through my role heading the Pulitzer Prize Organization. So it’s just something that’s always been a part of me. And my teachers in junior high and high school saw I had an interest in reading and writing and English and they encouraged me to pursue that as a career and I did.”

She has always loved her work – even when the people around her sometimes made things difficult. But she was so determined to succeed she didn’t let them get her down. She says try not to focus on the negative stuff, whatever it is. She’s had her share of weird situations and offensive comments, and she’ll talk about that more in a minute. But at the end of the day she believes…

“Excellence trumps everything. If you are all about the work and really producing at a high level you will get noticed. I am a black woman who came to New York in a newsroom that was overwhelmingly white, the most competitive newsroom in the world, and I was able to rise to the top there. So really anyone can do it by having a strong work ethic, really doing excellent, excellent work over time and building good will, and then once that happens it’s the foundation for everything else. You can’t really complain, you can’t really achieve, you can’t really expect to be promoted until you’ve done the work, consistently for years – there are no short cuts to that.”

That said, she says there’s no getting away from the fact it may take you longer to get where you want to go.

“…especially if you’re a woman and a woman of color it may take twice as long. And that is so painful and so incredibly frustrating but you can never show it. I’m not advocating don’t stand up for yourself. But I’m saying you have to go in with a positive attitude every day and say, what can I accomplish today? And sometimes that’s hard and sometimes it isn’t.”

I wondered if it took her longer.

“Oh gosh yes, no question about it, absolutely…it took me longer to get there and then longer to achieve the things I wanted to achieve when I was there, yes. But so what? Now I’m running the Pulitzer Prizes. And I wrote a book and it’s gonna be a movie and I accomplished a lot at the Times.”

So what? I heard her say that a few times during our conversation. Yes, she hit roadblocks. But overall she’s delighted about where she’s been and where she is now. And she WAS overlooked at times. Quite literally, at least once.

I asked if she could share an anecdote…

“Oh gosh, there are so many of them I wouldn’t know what to choose…whether it’s being in the headquarters of a Fortune 100 company to interview the CEO and I’m the only one in the lobby, and the receptionist came out three times looking for the New York Times reporter and walked back into the office. Because she literally didn’t see me. She thought, this cannot be her. She walked out the third time and I thought, this poor woman’s gonna wear herself out if I don’t say, ‘I think I’m who you’re looking for.’ So whether it’s something like that that’s a little thing, or people have made comments that are inappropriate, sometimes I’ve addressed them and sometimes I’ve just let them go. It depends on your mood of the day, who it is that says it, if you have the energy, if you’re tired, or how big a deal it is. And I don’t think I’d want to reveal too many specifics but there have been some really bad, painful moments, and in some cases it involved going into the office of someone really senior and saying, we have to deal with this. And other times I thought OK, I’m going to file this away as a mental note about something someone said, keep it in mind but not react. That’s the other thing – no matter what you’re feeling you can always give yourself time to react. You don’t have to react in the moment. You can walk away, you can call someone and get advice, you can wait until you’ve calmed down or you can react in the moment. But if you do that make sure you can do it in a calm, professional way.”

And that is easier said than done. But Dana says it is vital. Because otherwise the situation can backfire on you.  

“What I always say, and I saw someone really have a meltdown in the newsroom once…is you can start out right and end wrong, meaning something can happen to you where you’re the victim but depending on how you handle it, all people may remember is how you inappropriately handled something. So even when something happens to you, you have to handle it in such a way where you maintain the high ground.”

She told me a cautionary tale from her years in the newsroom.

“There was a male reporter who was known for yelling at people so much I think his nose bled one time, he was yelling at someone so loud – he was known for this but because he was a superstar they let him get away with it for a while, years in fact. A very junior level editor was editing him…he was on the phone in one of our bureaus at the time, and whatever he said to her, which was inappropriate, set her off and she was screaming, shaking at the top of her lungs. And everyone in the newsroom stopped to watch this. No one to this day remembers what he did or said…they remember her reaction. So that’s an example of starting out right and ending wrong. She ended up reprimanded just as he was, when she didn’t have to put herself in that position.

When something is painful walk away, go to the bathroom and have a cry if you like…whatever it takes. But never lose the high ground, never lose your sense of self and professionalism. Because particularly when you’re a woman and a woman of color in my case, people will remember that.”

AM-T: “Yeah, you talked about emotions and handling emotions at the office. And you said, there’s nothing wrong with crying at work.” 

“Yes, in my last role at the New York Times I had a senior role in personnel, so people would come to me for career advice all the time and I’d say without exaggeration I probably had 50 people cry in my office in the last four years there. And luckily the office was situated so their back was to the door and no one could see, and I always had tissues, always had candy…but I used to say to people and I say to my son, crying is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of pain and can be very cleansing. However, when you’re a woman at work there are many negative connotations to crying, so I would say don’t do it if you can avoid it, go to bathroom and have a good cry, not publicly if you can avoid it, but if you can’t [avoid it] so what, live with it, don’t put too much weight on that. But I’m not at all suggesting people shouldn’t feel whatever they feel or they should shove it down…it’s just that your coping mechanisms often have to be private. A chat with a girlfriend, a walk around the block, a cry in the bathroom, whatever. But when you are confronting the situation, when you’re dealing with it, you have to have conviction, confidence, and you have to speak in a clear way about what you’re trying to communicate even if you’re faking those things.”

AM-T: “It’s interesting, I was speaking to someone once, we were talking about crying in the workplace and she pointed out that men will very often not cry in the workplace but they will get incredibly angry. And she said that’s just emotion coming out in a different way…you had a great story about a guy losing it in your office and how you reacted. I think herbal tea was involved.”

“Oh, yes. I think I have so many people drinking tea now. He was my boss, and he would come in and throw phones and kick desks and curse, and I loved my job and I thought, this guy is not stealing my joy. So I‘d come in on a Monday morning with fresh flowers on my desk, and one day he came in and he was just ranting, going crazy. And I fixed myself a cup of hot mint tea and the louder he got the more I sat back in that chair and took a sip, and he looked at me like a toddler, throwing a tantrum, ‘don’t you see me kicking and screaming?’ And it completely changed the power dynamic. Because he wanted a reaction out of me and he wasn’t getting it. So now I tell people all the time the more upset someone gets the calmer you should become. And in that way you change the dynamic of what’s happening in the room. You can even say to people, including your boss, listen, clearly you need to gather yourself, I’ll give you a minute and I’ll come back.” 

We will be back in a moment.


The same irascible boss who screamed and swore in Dana’s office that time, he asked her to work on a big breaking story once just as she was about to fly off to be with her mother, who was about to have a biopsy. He knew she had that trip planned. Dana said no – and he was OK with that. She says she’d put in years at the paper by then. He knew she’d worked 37 days straight during another huge story. She says doing her time has given her some leeway – in more ways than one.   

“I was once painting my nails in the New York Times office and a twenty-something reporter came in and she looked beside herself that I was doing this. And I looked at her and said, well you can’t. You have a good 20 years before you can be seen with a bottle of nail polish, but I have worked through hurricanes, a space shuttle explosion, the presidential re-count, murder cases, you name it, I’ve been an editor, they know what I do and how long I’ve been doing this, so if I need to touch up my nails I’m gonna do that. I would never have done that in my 20s and 30s…they get to know about your personality and your quirks. I was known at the Times as the girly girl, but that was after 20 years of delivering.”

And she says to help her deliver she often had mentors and also sponsors along the way – those people who put their reputations on the line by recommending you for various projects. But she says as an employee…

“You have to earn that. People used to walk into my office and say, will you mentor me? And I thought, why do you want me to mentor you, and the answer was because they thought I could do something for them, right? But I chose to mentor only the people I saw were doing the work, could use the guidance, not because they saw me as I was a stepping stone to get them to something else. People who would say hey, could you read the rough draft of my story, and tell me what you think, how could I make this better? That would get my attention more than someone coming into my office and saying, can you mentor me?”

AM-T: “Which not everyone necessarily understands, right, because people, they’re told they need a mentor, and they start looking around, and asking people…”

“Yes. But someone can become your mentor without you saying, can you mentor me? Just going in and asking about the work, or asking how did you get to where you are? Or listen, I made a mistake, what would you have done differently? To the extent that the person you’re asking those things of is receptive, they’re becoming your mentor without you even asking. The people I considered my mentors throughout my career, I don’t think I ever said, would you be my mentor. They just were.”

One skill she picked up along the way largely on her own – negotiation. This is a bit of a teaser for the next show, but Dana is adamant that we should do it.  

“Whenever someone offers you to job and they put the compensation package in front of you they never expect for you to take it. They always expect that that’s the start of a negotiation. So ask for at least 25% more than they offer you, and if you end up with 10 percent more you’re still ahead of the game. On occasion they won’t budge, and you’ll end up taking the package and that’s fine. But I think women and people of color are so grateful, their inclination is to just take these jobs. No, don’t do that. Push for more.”

AM-T: “And when did you start doing that. Were you good at it from the get-go?”

“No, no. And then what happens is you find out people are making more money than you and that motivates you to do it. I’d say in last ten years I’ve become better at it. But you can’t expect the answer will be yes, and you can’t be offended if it doesn’t work out in terms of getting more compensation. But I’d say more than half the time you will get what you asked for or something that was better than what was put on the table.”

Like more vacation time or the ability to work from home some days. We will talk much more about this in the next show.

Dana has been a single parent for 12 years now. And in her case, that means being prepared for emergencies. Really prepared. It also means not letting on at work when things go wrong at home.

AM-T: “You touched on this idea of how much do women talk about their families and kids at work…which can be quite controversial…I think you said that you have layers of backup, right?”

“Yes. So when you say talk about family and kids, it depends about how you talk about them. If you’re talking about lack of daycare or complaining about the nanny didn’t turn up…that’s one thing. If you’re saying hey, look at my kid’s birthday party, that’s something else. There’s nothing wrong with sharing who we are. We shouldn’t hide that we’re human beings and we have lives. If you were going skydiving you’d show those pictures off so why not show you spent the weekend at your kid’s football game?

But it’s different when you’re talking about the logistics of managing being a working parent. And this is true whether you’re a man or a woman, though it mostly falls to women, I believe. But I didn’t ever want to give my employer an excuse to discount me, so the things I didn’t talk about ever were if my nanny was late or didn’t show up or if I had some childcare issue. And one of the things I did, and I could afford to do this, a lot of women couldn’t, was I had a backup nanny. So I had a primary nanny, and he had a backup nanny if the primary nanny couldn’t be there. Because I didn’t want a group of senior people in a room without me whispering: you know, we’d love to promote her but she’s always having childcare issues, or her work habits are inconsistent. So you have an obligation I believe to take care of all that – to make sure when you’re there you are present as an employee. Now the employer has an obligation I think to make sure there are reasonable accommodations for working parents, maternity, paternity leave, etc. but when you’re there to work your time is theirs, that’s what they’re paying you for, and I believe in that.”

AM-T: “What does your son think of what you do?”

“He thinks it’s pretty cool…he’s proud, and even if his father had lived I think I still would have worked this hard, because I think it’s important first of all for me to have my own identity, and I think I have a calling and a purpose in the work that I do, but I also think it’s good for a boy to see his mother go to work. It’s good for him to learn a work ethic from me…he’s seen me go to work when I have the flu, unfortunately he’s seen me miss a few of his basketball games, I go to as many as I can. He’s seen me come back exhausted, come back and just fall on the couch. I think that’s good, it teaches him about work ethic. We also have balance though, we take some cool vacations, we laugh a lot. But I do think it’s not gonna be unusual to Jordan, my son, for a woman to be in a position of authority when he is in the workforce, because he will have seen that his whole life.”

AM-T: “Yeah, it’s interesting, I was reading one of the notes your fiancé left for his son, and he talked about being…being a good man and he did talk about being a provider. And of course you are the provider but you would have been a joint provider anyway.”

So…our plan was to do this together, obviously. Because his father died in combat a good portion of Jordan’s college will be paid for, and I tell him, ‘Your father is still taking care of you. He’s still contributing.’ I don’t mind being the primary provider, that’s OK, it’s an honor. He took care of us in the ways that he could. And whether it’s providing for my son financially, for his needs, or providing for him mentally, emotionally, I was gonna do that anyway, I’m his mother, and I’m very much a mama bear, I love him to death, he’s the best part of my life. So it’s an honor to take care of him. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Finally, one thing I took away when I first heard Dana speak was how much she enjoys mentoring other people and generally encouraging young women just starting out. She does it as much as she can. 

“There’s a news literacy program and I invited a school of girls in for the Pulitzer announcement last week, and before that I did a Skype session with thousands of students across the country. I wanted them to know I’m accessible, I’m no different than you, I started out in the same place as you, so you can do it. That cost me nothing, it gave me great joy and God willing I was able to reach someone who maybe got more confidence because of that, or during a difficult period later in their career they’ll remember that I said something. If it touched someone that would mean a lot to me. Why not help eachother out?”

AM-T: “Yeah, you said that was one of the most meaningful things to you now.”

“Oh my gosh, I’ve done it my whole career. Or at least during the last 20-something years.

Before that I was just figuring out what I was meant to be doing every day. But I think it’s important, it really is. And believe me, when you extend yourself to people you get more out of it than they do.”

Dana Canedy.

She heads up the Pulitzer Prizes and she’s the author of A Journal for Jordan, an adaptation of which will be coming to a movie theater near you sometime in the next couple of years.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. As ever I love to hear from you. You can find me at ashley at TheBroadExperience.com or tweet me or find me via the show’s Facebook page. I will be posting show notes and a transcript of this episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

Thanks so much to those of you who sustain this show with a monthly donation – I am really grateful for your ongoing contributions. And thanks to those of you who’ve given one-off donations as well. If you can donate as much as 50 dollars I will send you the official Broad Experience T-shirt – ladies cut – and a little button to go with it. Details at the support tab on the website.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

Episode 126: The Hell of Networking

Show transcript: 

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This week I’m re-releasing a show I first put out almost exactly four years ago and women and networking, and women's attitude to networking. And how we can get better at it if we so desire. 

And I have to say I still don’t love going into a room full of strangers at a conference or event and starting a conversation. But networking is about much more than that, as you’ll hear in the episode.  

Also, a technical note, back then I wasn’t yet mic-ing myself when I asked my questions so you will hear my questions are a little off-mic.

I hope you enjoy the episode – as always, get in touch if you have anything to add. You’ll hear from me again at the end of the show.  

OK so here’s me back in 2014:

This time on the show…the horrors – and delights – of networking. We read this an important part of our careers…but a lot of women can’t stand the idea.

“We think of networking as, I’m going to meet this person so that they will do something for me. And I think that is toxic on so many levels.”

Coming up.


Back when I had a regular job I basically didn’t do any networking. I rarely went to after-work events where I might meet new people in my industry because I thought hey, I’m busy, I’m tired, I’d rather do something else at the end of the day. I saw it as a chore, not something that could potentially help me. And frankly the whole idea of networking seemed more like schmoozing. And I wasn’t comfortable with that.

Then I started working for myself.

And I began to go to lots of events, because I needed to meet people - but I’d be lying if I said I looked forward to these occasions. I hated walking up to total strangers with a nervous smile plastered to my face.

In this show we’re going to talk about how to get over the dread of networking and why you should bother. And we’ll meet a star networker whose contacts list has – she claims – kept her in work and helped out a lot of other people too.

First I sat down with Kimerbly Weisul. She’s had a long career in business journalism and she’s the co-founder of the site One Thing New, a startup she describes as re-booting women’s content.

I began by saying that from what I could work out, at least some of women’s discomfort with networking has to do with how we feel about other people…

“I do think women set great store by their relationships and when I put this out there on my Facebook page the responses I got were along the lines of it’s icky, it’s fake – it all has to do with how we value our relationships and I think a lot of women see networking as using someone.”

“Absolutely, well I think here are two reasons why women potentially hate networking more than men. One, in a business setting, you are very likely to be networking with men, so that right there socially is uncomfortable. Because socially men are the ones who approach us, we don’t just go up to men and start asking them about their lives. And we often don’t want to. It’s much more comfortable even if I’m in a professional setting to approach a group of women, right, but a lot of time you’re at event where that is not possible. The other reason is the way we frame it – we think of networking as, I’m going to meet this person so they can do something for me. And I think that is toxic on so many levels…I think if you’re not a natural extrovert it’s really, really hard to think of it as I’m going to meet some new people.”

Even people who consider themselves mostly extrovert can quail at the thought of a roomful of strangers. Dorie Clark agrees with Kimberly that we need to simplify the idea of networking. She’s the author of the book ‘Reinventing You’. She also blogs for Forbes and Harvard Business Review. I confessed to her I have a problem with the word networking – it kind of makes me cringe.

“Yeah, networking and personal brand are like the two most loaded phrases in the business world right now. But you know, it’s about…it’s about meeting people. I think if you ask most people would you like to have a circle of interesting people you know they would probably say yes. People turn it in their heads into something scary they don’t want to do and it’s really unfortunate.”

It’s unfortunate she says because it’s how you find out about opportunities, and meet or cement relationships with people who can help you.

Research shows women do not make these career contacts at the same rate men do – they simply do less networking. It’s one of the reasons cited for the absence of women in companies’ higher ranks.

For years Kimberly Weisul dreaded walking into a room where she didn’t know anybody. She went to networking events purely out of duty. Until a male colleague gave her a tip – and she discovered how to work a room.

“The natural inclination at a networking event is to find the person who is by themselves…go early, because then they’ll talk to you…”

Cling to them for dear life…

“Right. And that doesn’t work well because then you’re stuck talking to them for the whole night and then it’s just as hard to extricate yourself as it was to start talking to them in the first place. So what you need to do is find groups of two and introduce yourself to people in a group…and I said no, that’s rude, they’re already talking to someone, they don’t want to talk to me. And he pointed out to me you don’t talk to any group of two, you don’t interrupt people canoodling in a corner. But you can tell through body language…and the thing about introducing yourself to two people, one, you have twice as good a chance of having an interesting conversation…and it’s easier to leave if you need to leave. And if you look at it from their point of view, they’re talking to eachother, either they know eachother well and they know they should be talking to someone else and happy to see you, or they don’t know eachother well and they’re worried they’re not going to meet anyone else all night and they’re happy to see you,… so either way they are happy to have you join their group. Which I completely did not understand. And then I tried it and could not believe how well it worked.”

She says that night she approached eight groups of two, and every conversation went well. She felt like a new woman.

“So now I feel like I want to go to another one, which is totally new to me. 

No, yeah, I’m definitely going to try that because I, I suppose I’ve always been that person who would look out for one person but nowadays you go to these events and that one person seems to be in an intimate relationship with their phone.

 “Exactly. And they’d probably rather talk to you but you don’t feel comfortable interrupting them…”

It’s so awkward. 

“It’s got to be awkward for them too, they’re at a networking event and they’re staring at their phone…you sort of feel like you’re doing a public service by talking to them, yet it’s easier to talk to groups of two.”

Still, she says, that’s no reason you shouldn’t approach the phone scroller – in all likelihood that phone is their security blanket and they’re just waiting to start an actual conversation with a real human.

But what about why you’re making these approaches in the first place? Dorie Clark says too many people see networking as an opportunity to sell their services – which she says is a mistake.  She says networking is not just about you. And this is something I’d hardly thought about before. Networking is a two-way street. Dorie says you have to think about how you can help the other person. She says when you’re meeting peers, that’s fairly easy. But it can be tricky when the person you want to connect with is a lot more senior than you.

She admits she screwed this up once.

“So a few years ago I was a speaker at a technology conference, and by surprise I ran into a really successful author who was the keynote speaker at the conference. At the time my book hadn’t come out, I was a speaker, but not at his level. I was leading a breakout session, no one had realistically heard of me. And so I was so surprised and really unprepared for meeting him that I handed him my card and said oh, I really love your work, if you’re in Boston let’s get together…and that’s fine, that’s perfectly nice, but it didn’t give him a compelling reason to reach out to me and so he didn’t. And I’m not really surprised. Because what I’ve learned subsequently is you need to do a better job. If someone is much higher than you in status – and I don’t mean that in terms of your generalized worth as a human being, but I just mean he’s got a lot more people out there who want to meet him than wanted to meet me at that point in my life, you’ve got to find a way to break through the clutter. And ‘Hey, if you’re in Boston let’s have coffee,’ is not going to cut it.”

She didn’t know he’d be at the conference. If she had she could have done some research on him and seen what she could offer in return for him helping her in some way …

“What I would like to posit for people is you can offer them something, but it’s a little bit of a trick. It’s a puzzle, it’s a challenge, and the challenge is that you have to figure out what you can offer them. They’re not going to tell you because they probably don’t know. But if you can figure out what you can offer them, that is your way through the gate.”

Thinking hard about what YOU can offer the other person – that’s something Mary Kopczynski is also a big believer in. She is CEO of 8 of 9 Consulting – so named because she’s the 8th of nine children. The firm helps financial services companies handle changes in US law that affect their business. But she came to this area via a winding path.

After college, Mary worked for the Christian non-profit WorldVision. But after 10 years of fundraising, she was ready for a change. She decided if she acquired both a law degree and a PhD, the world would be her oyster. The degree took 5 years to complete. While she studied she applied for summer jobs…mostly what she calls ‘save the world’ jobs…

“The truth is I couldn’t get a job. I have over 300 rejection letters from every non profit, Amnesty International, I’d offered to be a free intern, the only place that would hire me was financial services industry – and so I got a job as an intern, I had never taken a class, I knew nothing about banking. And I was assigned to the area of CDOs and fixed income derivatives and credit default swaps in the summer of 2007 when Bear Stearns went down.”

She started learning about those securities just as the financial system was beginning its meltdown in large part thanks to them. She was learning a lot, but she was still holding out for a save-the-world job when she graduated. In 2009 she finally did…but by that point…

“I didn’t believe in the nonprofit business model, I didn’t want to be a banker, I didn’t want to be a lawyer…so I realized I had no idea what I was gonna do. So I went back to Seattle for one week, and emailed all my friends, my friends’ parents, my high school English teacher, because of course I was still in touch with all of them…and said I’m going to be here for one week, I’m going to sit in a coffee shop and I would like you to sign up for time slots and I would like to hear what you do for a living, how you got to that position and what you like and dislike about your industry.” 

Mary had always been pretty outgoing and she loved meeting people – so she thought, why not find out more about their lives and maybe get some ideas for her own? One of the people she met with that week? Bill Gates’s dad, William Gates Senior. It turns out Mary’s father had been to law school with him decades earlier. He was so disgusted that his daughter didn’t intend to use her law degree he begged his old classmate to give her a talking to. But she says he was just one person she spoke to. She listened to scores of people that week.

“I realized my whole network was already super-powerful in itself…of course he was one connector, but all of the friends’ parents, and the high school English teacher who had alumni who were now running companies…immediately I was just meeting CEOs… and so I traveled around the States and I met with the CEO of one of the largest metals recycling facilities in north America…I put on a hard hat and got a tour of the metals recycling plant to see if there was something I could do for metals recycling. So it was very experimental but learned a lot. And the key is I’m still in touch with every single one of them.”

No, she didn’t go into metals recycling. But she says that’s not the point. All those people she connected with during that time have expanded her network. She’s landed clients through them and she’s also done her best to help a lot of them out. And she says something I have never heard anyone else say about making connections.

“It’s funny, people think it’s the weirdest advice but I really have found the most powerful compliment you can give someone is that they were memorable…and so I find that I’ll go to a conference and everyone will LinkedIn you within the next day and it’s absolutely forgettable. What is great is getting email out of the blue saying hey, I met you 6 months ago…it’s more endearing. And this goes for so many different things. When I was doing career search I really wanted to learn about the US Trade Representative…which is an agency in Washington DC. And I looked at who was running it and I did a search and discovered he had once spoken at Rutgers and I went to Rutgers for law school. And I didn’t go to his event or anything.”

So she didn’t know this guy. Had never met him or heard him speak – she just knew through online research that he’d spoken once at her university. And this is where being bold comes in handy.

“I wrote him and I said you’re probably not going to remember me in any way at all, but you spoke at Rutgers and I wondered if you’d be interested in telling me about your experience as a trade lawyer. And the head of this entire agency totally took time out of his day to tell me what it was like to be a trade lawyer…”

On the phone, in person?

“That one happened to be on the phone – and for the record, go for in person. But it’s funny because I’ve kept a relationship alive with him too. It’s much more flattering than people realize. So don’t stress out. If you’re like oh no, I missed the window - you can reach out to people 4 years later. It’s a compliment.”

It’s generally more of a guy thing to exhibit the kind of chutzpah Mary did and go for a cold approach. And Mary says she knows plenty of women don’t go out of their way to make connections even at work – they say, I don’t have time for this kind of extra-curricular activity…and they’re so guy-focused anyway…

“I think guys are more into the golf scene and doing these traditional late night drinks. And I can stay out with the best of them, no doubt, but I do see how many women just feel obligated that they are not number one in their family and they have other people that are more important they need to focus on. And I think that’s great but I think there’s a lot of everyday things – like take lunch, take a 20 minute lunch and force yourself to walk out to the local park with a friend at the same time.”

She says it’s worth doing these things to cement your office relationships and just to be in the know about what’s going on at work.

And she says there’s another reason to keep up your relationships both inside and outside your company.

“I was once given the advice that you never know who your boss is going to be. And it’s really funny because I was once an intern at this giant investment bank. And there was somebody who worked there that was just not interested in meeting anybody outside his circle. Well of course the crisis hits and he’s freaking out and he’s looking for a job. Well guess who now runs a company doing regulatory change management and could totally use his skillset?”
 

Yes, that was Mary. The intern was now in charge of her own operation. After all those meetings and investigation of industries she decided to start her own consulting company serving the financial services industry she’d known so little about a few years earlier.

“It had to be very humbling that he came to work for his former intern. But the truth of the matter is do not underestimate the people around you.”

“Don’t be snobbish about either the age difference or the experience difference or what you perceive the experience difference to be…”

“Critical. I had someone that was meeting me for career advice and this was in my early days and I was like, oh, she’s like 21, she’s not going to be able to help me, it’s just a waste of my time to go and give her career advice. We talked, it was great, and then later I had a project come up that had to do with Muslim-American relations, and she was the absolute lynchpin to every single mosque in all of New Jersey. And I thought wow, never ever underestimate what the smallest relationship can mean to you. It’s never about who someone is right now, it’s about who they’re going to be.”

Mary Kopczynski of 8 of 9 Consulting. She says her network is 4,000-strong and on average she interacts with 250 to 300 people a month.

Two things we didn’t cover in this podcast – other than how to have as much energy as Mary - were the usefulness or not of online networking and women’s-only networking groups. I’m going to get to those in a blog post over the next few days, so check out TheBroadExperience.com for that.

OK, so here I am again in 2018. One thing I’ve come to believe during the last few years is that if I go to a networking event it’s OK if I come away from that event just having had a good, substantive conversation with a couple of people. I don’t put too much pressure on myself to work the room. Also, I will never be able to maintain a massive network like Mary but little things that have happened to me since I made this show have reiterated that it’s so worth keeping even loosely in touch with people from past work lives. You never know when your paths may cross again and one or both of you might benefit.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time.

As usual I’ll be posting show notes under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com. And if you enjoy the show and you haven’t reviewed it yet on iTunes or Apple Podcasts as they’re calling themselves now – please do. It all helps the podcast come to more people’s notice.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time

Episode 125: Saying No to Office Housework

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…ever been asked to do a bit of office housework?

“There was a time when I was asked to order lunch and I just said, I’d rather John ordered lunch as I’m already in charge of meals at home.”

Great comeback. But it’s not always easy to push back on those requests.  

Coming up…why women and particularly women of color end up doing so much extra-curricular work, and what we can do about it.


Ruchika Tulshyan lives in Seattle, one of several cities she’s lived in over the years.

“I was born and brought up in Singapore, and I identify as a Singaporean. My parents were immigrants from India so you know, I speak the language, I also identify as Indian.”

She went to university in the UK, spent a little time working in India and Singapore, and later moved to the US. She’s in her early 30s, married with a little boy. She’s a journalist and a professor, and an author – her book is called The Diversity Advantage – Fixing Gender Inequality in the Workplace.

And over the years Ruchika has found herself involved in tasks at work that aren’t strictly speaking anything to do with what she was hired for. They’re more administrative tasks, extra stuff she’s been asked to take on to help out, to make sure things run properly. And you might say well look, who doesn’t end up doing stuff at work that isn’t in their job description? It’s called mucking in, everyone does it.

Well, maybe not everyone.

Ruchika recently wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review called Women of Color Get Asked to Do More Office Housework. Here’s How They Can Say No. I asked her when she first noticed these requests.

“Where I really started feeling it was when I was a woman in technology, where I was asked to do some things that were not at all part of my job description. I was hired as a content strategist, as a manager, and within the first week of my job there was this big conference the organization was putting on, and I was expected to be there, to help set up, and tear everything down, and be part of everything. It was sold as ‘all hands on deck,’ but I couldn’t help thinking all the people doing the all hands on deck work were largely women.”

Ruchika’s experience is borne out by research.

Joan Williams is a big name in the women and work space – she’s a professor at the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Her research has shown that women and people of color (both sexes) are more likely to do these kinds of unsung but necessary tasks than anyone else. They also report having less access than white men to top assignments.

People expect women to be helpful and focused on others – they also, according to Williams, expect women to say ‘yes’ to this stuff more than men. Which we often do because we don’t want to be labeled difficult. And all sorts of racial stereotypes can play in here too.

Ruchika says she wanted to write her article because when we talk about women and work we don’t distinguish enough between the experiences of women of color and white women.

“Even in other work that I’ve done, so when I’ve interviewed Asian women or Asian American women, they’re expected to defer and be submissive and always say yes, and do all the hard work but not really have leadership capabilities. And I’ve had women tell me this and show me performance review examples where these sorts of words and this sort of terminology was used. And I’ve had multiple African-American women over the years who’ve told me instances of being called angry black women or being perceived in that way, or receiving feedback that would call them aggressive, or difficult to work with. So just talking to women of color about the stereotypes that exist beyond being women, I think that’s an extra layer we don’t see nearly enough being written about, being talked about.”

AM-T: “What would you say are some of the most common examples of this office housework? I mean the one I think about most often is the being in a meeting and being asked to order lunch.”

“Oh, definitely. So I’m also interested in breaking down the stereotype of what office housework is. So yes, there are typical, common examples such as being asked and expected to order lunch or load the dishwasher or do a little cleanup after a meeting, rearrange the chairs or whatever it is. So there’s actual, physical office housework you can equate to housework you’d do at home. But there’s office housework that goes beyond that and that’s why sometimes…after this article I got a lot of feedback from men and women saying no, I’ve never been asked to order lunch, or a man would say, well I’ve never witnessed a woman being asked to order lunch. And I think the dynamics at every organization are very different. So in academia, which is a path I’m increasingly familiar with, it depends on the institution but it’ll be rare that a female professor of color will be asked to load the dishwasher or order lunch. But where you really see it play out is sitting on academic committees which do not lead to promotion. Which would not lead to tenure track.”

There’s research in this area too. A study by two female academics showed that women professors do more work on committees than male professors do, but they do less research – and new research in your area of study, that’s what can turn a professor into a star. So the men are doing more of the work that can boost their academic careers.  

The women are doing more of the every day stuff.

 “This is the work the organization needs to keep chugging along. So I want to clarify that office housework, yes it equates to tasks you could equate with housework you could do at home, but also to tasks you wouldn’t equate to actual housework. So mentoring for hours a week but never having that reflected in a performance review or never having that be considered when it comes to time for promotion. And women are disproportionately expected to do the heavy lifting when it comes to this kind of work.”

AM-T: “So what can people do about it? How can you elegantly refuse a request or sort of push back an assumption that you’re gonna be the person to do whatever it is?”

“Yeah, so one thing I really wanted to put out there right away, is that I don’t at all think it’s the woman and woman of color’s job to figure this one out. It’s always tricky and that’s why I wrote my book in the first place, I think a lot of the existing literature, including things like Lean In, focus on expecting and asking women to change their behavior, so negotiating better, leaning in, etc. and I think a lot of the way we’ll really see changes that are quantifiable and that will change the way organizations operate is when people in leadership positions, who are overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly and white, turn around and say, this is a problem, and here's how I’m going to change it.”

Obviously that would be great. And I’m going to post an article by Joan Williams that has recommendations for managers and executives on just this topic, under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com But in the meantime there are some tools at your disposal.

“Having a very, very strong refusal in place and saying…I was hired to do this and I don’t think that’s gonna be helpful, or it’s going to take time away from the work that is really important to this organization. Collecting data, right…so evidence of what you’re asked to do, what does office housework really look like?”

In her piece she talks about a woman who keeps a list of all the revenue-generating tasks she’s responsible for as well as all the other, non-revenue generating expectations that are put on her. She also created lists for the men at her same level at her company, and took them to her boss. That made it easier for her say, look, I’m already doing X and Y…those are important to the organization…I don’t have time to take on zee. Or even zed.

“By the way not only was that really useful for that. But I see men do this more often than women. Is make a list of all the work you actually are doing. I learned this from working in tech. I had a male boss who was extremely supportive, and he would ask me on a regular basis to list of the work I was doing, positive, revenue generating work too. And I got into the habit from that role where every couple of weeks I’d sit down and list…here’s what I was able to do, to accomplish. So I think that’s super important anyway, any time you’re making a case, for promotion or whatever it is, that then gives you that leg up when you’re being asked to do those things that are not necessarily relevant to those amazing, glamourous things you are responsible for that you are achieving.”

Or even the unglamorous things that are still a big, important part of your job. Also, if you’re racking up office housework tasks, Ruchika says start keeping a record of how often it happens. It’s much harder for a manager to think of you as petty or difficult for declining to take notes at a meeting IF you have a record of the number of meetings you’ve already taken notes at. That’s his or her opportunity to set up a rotation for taking the meeting minutes.

AMT: “Just going back to the first point you made, and saying look, I was hired to do X, and I can’t do Y… I can’t imagine saying that and I’m in my 40s, I think it’s really tricky, it’s a fine line, a difficult communication, it’s going to depend on the person you’re speaking to, and what your relationship with them. Unfortunately, women do have to soften things…and just baldly stating, I was hired to do this…I can’t do that…I can see that not working for a lot of people…especially in certain countries.”

“Yeah absolutely, and for me, personally, depending on the situation, certainly earlier in my career I couldn’t go up to someone and say I was hired to do this, and it would take time away from that. But what I’ve found to work for me, and bear in mind I was born and brought up outside the United States, so being here in the US and the very sort of open culture and where the direct in many ways culture is new to me. I grew up in Asia, which is very different and where hierarchy by both age and gender really exists. So in the past what I’ve used here in the US to really good success has been, ‘I’m working on this very important project and I am worried I won’t have the bandwidth to be helpful for this situation.’”

So turn it around and in womanly fashion make it about your concern for the project. She says the way you push back has to be authentic to you, and this way feels very her.

“I do speak in a way that’s a little more, um, ‘I’m worried this won’t work out’ or ‘I’m not sure that’s right for me’. And that’s just authentically who I am. And I’m sure we could have a whole different episode about how women are perceived when we speak, but that seemed to work for me.”

So for another view, here’s Jen Yip…she’s been on the show before, in episode 57, Women, Work, and Stress. And she responded to a post about this topic on the Facebook page…she left me a voice memo afterwards talking about how she came to handle these requests. She says she got this a lot earlier in her career in tech. Then she started thinking of ways to push back.

“It required finesse and increasing confidence over time. I did not want to be tagged difficult or not a team player.

Prime examples were…ordering lunch, scheduling meetings, booking conference rooms, sending out meeting recap notes even if they were not my meetings. Often as the only woman in the room or on the phone I was asked to do these things. It was like reverse conditioning to break the assumption and habits.

My go to response—this would be best handled by ‘insert name here’ who owns this project or meeting or agenda. If they need support, insert appropriate resource here, can probably assist.

 I realized saying this unapologetically and in a way that is not asking for permission was critically important. Being affirmative made a big difference in not only delivering the message but also setting perception. There was rarely a second or third instance where I was assumed or asked to take on administrative chores.”

OK so that method worked for Jen – though as she points out, it took some years to feel comfortable saying that stuff.

But of course there are other options. Ruchika says she’s not exactly Ms. Humourous in her daily life, but if humor’s your thing, it can be a great way of deflecting expectations.

“There was a time when I was asked to order lunch and I just said, I’d rather John ordered lunch as I’m already in charge of meals at home. And sort of shrugging it off, laughing it off.”

Humor also tends to puncture any tension and it keeps everyone on side.

“I know humor in somewhere like the UK or Australia and a few other countries would really resonate well and would probably be seen in a very positive way. In the US from my observation I think it’s very industry and organization specific.”

I agree. And humor in email in America? Sarcastic Brits, Irish and Aussies should stay away unless you know the person well.

Ruchika says it may seem obvious, but you might just want to confer with a bunch of colleagues.

“In those situations having a sort of board of directors, allies, who you can turn to and say, what do you think, how can I respond to this? I mean some of the women I interviewed literally talked about having these conversations with women and getting feedback. I mean we need to understand how egregious and widespread this problem is. It’s ridiculous to me that women have to go the extra mile to cultivate a network to practice saying no and yet when I mention this and when I wrote the article for Forbes years ago, and now when I mention it, women immediately say, ‘that’s a great idea, I think I’m gonna do that.’ So if we’re talking about gender inequity there are the large, huge issues, like pay inequity, difficulty to get promoted, etc. but a lot of these seemingly innocuous discrimination and things that happen, I think that’s also very much to blame. And we don’t talk about these issues nearly enough.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you about how you handle any expectations to take on work that doesn’t lead to glory and may keep you away from the stuff that would get you promoted. Particularly if you’re a woman of colour.

Send me a voice memo so I can include you and your tips in an upcoming show – or you can email me or tweet me post on the Facebook page. I love including listeners in the show.

Thanks to Ruchika Tulshyan for being my guest on this show. I will post show notes and a transcript under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

 

 

Episode 124: Fair Pay, part 2: Transparency Matters

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, part two of our show on women and pay.

“You know people often don’t enjoy this conversation and they hope their employer will just give them a nice raise without them having to raise it.”

In the first show we talked about the origins of the pay gap – in the US at least it starts at the age of 14. Yasemin Besen-Cassino and I discussed the fact that even that most common of teenage jobs, babysitting, pays boys more than girls.

And we met Lydia Frank from Payscale.com, which works with employers and employees on all things compensation.

So to dive back in with Lydia on the topic of pay transparency, I wanted to know if this whole code of silence around what people earn – is that gonna go away in an era when young women in particular seem less willing to put up with the status quo at work?

“I’d say millennials especially, younger generations, have way different expectations around transparency than previous generations. Historically it has been you don’t talk about these things, you don’t ask somebody about what they make, it’s rude, right? It’s impolite. But I think we’ve raised a generation of people to question authority and have taught them to be independent thinkers, raised them in the age of the internet. When you can get access to anything, you can ask Google any question. It’s a different world and there’s a different expectation for the types of data and information that should be available and at your fingertips.”

That said, employers haven’t necessarily caught up. Payscale does a lot of surveys and in a recent one on employers…

“We actually saw that more of them were targeting higher transparency, but we saw when we specifically dug in around pay equity that very few of them, I think 30 something percent, were planning to do any kind of pay equity study.”

So they seem like they’re not really looking at their own houses too carefully…if they’re not willing to research how they pay women and minorities. And by the way in the US there are different equal pay days for women of different races. So today – the day I’m releasing this show – it’s April 10th, which is all women’s equal pay day. But Asian women’s equal pay day actually occurs in February because their pay gap is smaller and African-American and Latinas’ equal pay days come in August and November respectively. Because their pay gaps are much bigger than that overall gap.

Lydia says more companies would do well to talk to employees and job candidates about how they pay, why various positions command certain salaries…and how they compare to the market rate…

“Those things can come to light whether you’re being more transparent and sharing pay ranges for example, or it can come to light as employees start to be more transparent with eachother.”

And as a company, you might want to concentrate on the former – foster trust and open up. Lydia says sometimes employees’ desire to uncover the truth can create awkwardness…

“You know, employees creating a spreadsheet and putting everybody’s salary data on it to share data, while well intentioned, there might be real reasons that people are paid differently in the same job. Whether it’s years of experience or different locations, there are legitimate reasons that have to do with labor markets and talent markets that employers might be paying two people differently…”

I went to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website to read more about the Equal Pay Act. And sure enough the text states that men and women must be paid equally for equal work BUT there’s also a line that reads: "Pay differentials are permitted when they are based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or a factor other than sex. These are known as "affirmative defenses" and it is the employer's burden to prove that they apply."

Now it seems to me there’s a lot of leeway there, a lot of possible factors that an employer could claim were the reason they’re paying a man more than a woman doing the same job, for example. But they do have to prove to the person who asks that one or more of those is the reason why that other person is better paid. 

Lydia says if a company chooses to stay quiet about its pay practices there’s not much managers can do to stop employees asking around about what their colleagues earn…

“From a legal perspective in the US, you can’t actually discourage employees from talking to eachother about pay – if they come and ask you what someone else makes you don’t have to tell them but you can’t tell them not to ask that person.”

Still, I know from hearing from some of you that many managers do not relish the idea of employees talking to eachother about pay. And they don’t take kindly to being probed on this stuff themselves—especially if you’re asking why you’re paid less than a co-worker. It makes them uncomfortable and often defensive.

But being more open about pay – even if it’s just publishing pay ranges for different positions -  could benefit everyone. Because it turns out more of us think we’re underpaid than actually are. In a 2015 survey Payscale found most people quit a job over compensation – they want more money and are convinced they’re underpaid. But when they dug in, they found just under half of those people who said they were underpaid actually were earning less than their peers in similar roles.

Lydia says as a company you don’t have to suddenly start publishing everyone’s salary for all to see. But at least start sharing salary ranges.

“Giving employees some idea of what that range is and where they fall in that range definitely helps them understand more where they stand essentially. And I think that’s what people are looking for, is just to get a sense of why they’re paid the way they’re paid and how that compares to others doing similar work.”

And she says as an employee, before you jump to conclusions about why you’re paid less than someone else in the same job…

“…I think it’s worth asking questions, to say hey I just want to understand better, I know this person is making more than I’m making, can you help me understand how I can get to that level. Is there something in his background or skill set I could work on…was the market different when you hired him versus me? That can happen too with companies, depending on how the market is looking for a job when they hire a new person they may end up paying that person more than existing workers, and not think about adjusting that pay for existing workers. But I think it’s perfectly fair for existing workers to poke a bit and say hey, I’ve been keeping on top of the value of my position in the market and it seems like it’s really gone up and I’d just like to have a conversation about my compensation.”


So there’s transparency at individual companies, and there’s transparency on a wider scale. Early this year Iceland introduced a law that puts the onus on employers to pay men and women fairly for the same work – and to prove they’re doing it. It seems to be the first of its kind in the world. Here’s a bit more detail from the website Nordic Information on Gender:

"[T]he employer must determine which work tasks each position entails and then assign a value. The salary must be decided based on the position and not the person carrying out the work. The idea is that this will eliminate salary discrimination.

And every three years Icelandic firms have to show the government that they’re paying men and women equally for equal work – or they could get fined.

I made a call to Iceland to find out more about hopes for the new law, and I spoke to a longtime expert on women’s lives. She told me Iceland has had a strong women’s movement for more than 100 years. I’ll let her introduce herself because my Icelandic is a little spotty.

“Thorgerdur Einarsdottir, and I’m a professor of gender studies at the University of Iceland.”

 Thorgerdur points out that like a lot of other countries, Iceland has had an equal pay law for decades. It just hasn’t worked. It went into effect in 1961…

“The parliamentarians were so optimistic back then they believed it would take 6 years to eliminate the gender pay gap. So they gave the employers 6 years to fulfill the requirements of the law.”

So politicians thought by 1967 there would be no gender pay gap. Of course it’s never gone away.

This new law on equal pay – where employers have to prove they’re doing it rather than women fighting to get it - was first proposed several years ago but passed last year, when 48% of those in parliament were women.

I asked Thorgerdur about the relationship between men and women in Iceland. Would most men – even in private – say they’re on board with the law? Are they true believers in gender equality?

“Yes, I think the majority of men in Iceland would say they agree with this and they’re for gender equality. Not all would claim to be feminists but that group is growing, certainly. And that depends on many things…for example, the long standing women’s movement in Iceland has been very visible. We’ve had these women’s days off, you might have heard of, in 1975 the first time.”

On October 24th 1975 90 percent of women in Iceland went on strike for a day – it became known as the women’s day off. They stopped doing housework, tending to their kids, and working at their jobs – they wanted to show how valuable women’s work IS and protest unequal pay between men and women. As a result, many industries all but shut down – flights didn’t take off because flight attendants weren’t at work, many schools closed, newspapers weren’t printed. Men had to take their kids to work – and sausages reportedly sold out at the shops as dads clamored for an easy dinner. 

On the same day in 2016 women walked out of their jobs at 2.38p.m. – to protest an average 30% pay gap between men and women.

“So I think men in Iceland are used to the claims of women and accept it and support it to a certain extent. But at the same time we’ve had a rather polarized debate in Iceland. The public debate has been rather polarized. Maybe that’s because of the strong women’s movement. You mobilize the resistance when women raise their voices.”

Many employers have complained the new law puts too big a burden on them. And it does require work: they have to analyze positions, record a lot of data.

Thorgerdur says this law is a start – it provides employers with a toolkit to make setting wages more transparent.

But she says here’s the problem. So many women in Iceland – as in other countries – work in areas dominated by women, like nursing or teaching. Areas that pay less simply because they’ve long been seen as women’s work. In other words the pay structure reflects gender bias.  

“The new law does not require that we re-evaluate job classification systems, per se.”

So she says it won’t do anything to help all those nurses and teachers and retail workers whose jobs pay less because theirs is a female-dominated profession.

“I don’t want to be too pessimistic, it’s just that we can see the shortcomings and it depends on how it will be applied. So we’re only starting this process.”

She is beginning a joint research project on just how the new gender pay law will pan out and how it’ll compare with pay equality laws in other Scandinavian countries.

But as in all things to do with women and pay…so much of it goes deeper than official mandates. We talked about this in the first part of this show, but pay is often related to how the world sees men and women and their roles. And how elastic both sexes are willing to be about those roles. Thorgerdur says it’s not just gendered jobs. Take the parental leave situation in Iceland, for example. Like some other Scandinavian countries, Iceland insists that both halves of a couple take a set portion of leave…

“We have nine months altogether, three for the mother, three for the father and three which they can share, and the mother takes more or less six months for example.”

So the man in a heterosexual couple almost never takes more than the 3 months he has to take. He’s back to work as soon as he can. The woman usually takes the shared quota all on her own.

“So you can see from that we still have the same traditional gender relations as in other countries.”

She says it’s these stereotypes about who does what that need to change to allow for greater equality.


To end the show I want to come back to the topic of negotiation, which we touched on in part one.

I asked Lydia Frank to comment on something I’ve seen women express in opinion pieces and heard some of my listeners talk about as well.

Which is this: why should women have to negotiate at all to get paid what they deserve? If it’s known women often find negotiating uncomfortable – and that we may harm our standing in the other person’s eyes by asking for more money…why should we be put in a position where we are going to be disadvantaged? Where a man will often do better than us? Why can’t organizations just name a price per position – just as the new Icelandic law states – and not budge from that? This will be your salary and there’s no wiggle room. Lydia says Ellen Pao had a non-negotiation policy when she was CEO of Reddit. And Pao admitted that part of it was about evening the playing field for women.

But Lydia isn’t sure banning negotiation is a good idea. 

In some ways I favor it, in some ways I think you want to ensure the employees feel empowered to argue for more compensation in terms of the value they bring to the organization. So you don’t want to like shut that down completely because that then puts all the trust in an organization that they’re always gonna do the right thing by their employees. And I don’t think that’s the case. You hope most will, but you’ve seen plenty of cases especially around the #MeToo campaign you mentioned earlier, that organizations knew about bad behavior and did not protect employees in the way they should have. So I hate the idea of taking away that power to negotiate from any individual.”

She says we should treat negotiation like a discipline.

“…and make sure you’re staying on top of your market value and understanding what it is and how it’s changing over time. People often don’t enjoy this conversation and hope their organization is gonna give them a nice raise without them having to raise it. But if you don’t actively manage your earning potential in the way you actively manage your budget or your finances, it’s not necessarily going to just manage itself in a way that is gonna lead to your best potential earning potential.”

And I mentioned this during the first part of this show but if you’re interested in an episode on negotiation please hit me up. I’ll do it if I hear from enough of you.

And just as I was putting the finishing touches on this show a listener sent me a piece of good news out of Washington DC – a US federal appeals court just ruled that employers can’t use previous salary to justify paying a man more than a woman. This is a step forward because so often women go into a new job coming from a lower salary than their male colleagues in the same job and employers have been able to say, but we used her previous salary to decide what to offer her. That is no longer allowed.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. Thanks to Thorgerdur Einarsdottir and Lydia Frank for being my guests on this show.

I’m always open to feedback – you can find me on Twitter at ashleymilnetyte – without the hyphen, on email via the website or just hit reply on the bi-monthly newsletter if you get that. you can sign up for it at TheBroadExperience.com.

Talking of women and pay, thanks so much to those of you have donated to this one-woman show in the last few weeks. If you’d like to join them just head to the support tab at TheBroadExperience.com

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

Episode 123: Fair Pay, part 1: It Begins with Babysitting

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…probing the pay gap. Which starts a lot earlier than you might think. 

“For 12 and 13-year-olds we don't have a wage gap but once they hit 14 we see the first emergence of the first wage gap.” 

And you might assume the best educated among us would command a decent raise. But… 

“Female MBAs who were asking for raises just as much as their male counterparts got the raise far less often.”

Women and the fight for equal pay, coming up on the Broad Experience.


So as I record this show Equal Pay Day is less than a week away. It’s on April 10th this year. This is the day when women’s earning supposedly catch up with what men earned last year. It symbolizes the pay gap between men and women. In the US women earn on average about 80 cents for every dollar a man does. But of course there are plenty of variations depending on the woman and the job, and we’ll get into some of that.  

Women’s pay is a big topic so I’m splitting it into two shows – this one and a short show I’ll release next week.

In these shows we’re gonna talk about women receiving equal pay for equal work, why pay transparency can be so hard to come by, the so-called motherhood penalty and a lot more.

But first, I want to introduce you to someone who thinks about the gender pay gap from a bit of a different perspective.

Yasemin Besen-Cassino grew up in Turkey, but today she’s a sociology professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Her research has always focused on gender and work. And one day several years ago she was sitting in a coffee shop in New York, thinking about the pay gap and some of the theories behind it… And as she sat there sipping her skim latte, she began to notice something…

“In the coffee shop I was surrounded by you know kids and teenagers who were working, and in that moment it occurred to me that a substantial portion of our workforce are teenage workers and we just don't study them.”

Research on the pay gap had always focused on working adults. But in America lots of teenagers work as well – some kids start as young as twelve. As she looked at the young workforce in the café, Yasemin wondered, is there any difference in what teenage boys and girls are being paid?  Or is everything fair and equal?

So she began to study teenagers’ wages. And she didn’t just want to look at people in their mid-late teens, she wanted to look at tweens as well.

“…and that's what I found –  for 12 and 13-year-olds we don't have a wage gap but once they hit 14 we see the first emergence of the first wage gap.”

AM-T: “So what is happening at 14?”

“Well at 14 I think a lot of jobs are becoming available, more employee-type jobs or retail jobs, service sector jobs. And at 14 boys quickly move into them and girls kind of stay in freelance jobs.”

AM-T: “And when you say freelance jobs, what do you mean?”

“Mostly babysitting. But also snow shoveling and doing yard work. Working for mom and dad.”

OK, but why are teenage girls staying in those less formal jobs around the neighborhood while boys are moving on?

“I think that is an interesting question. We're not so sure why that is. But I think they take advantage of the available things on the market. But it is not to say that’s the only source of the wage gap even within freelance jobs. We see a lot of gender inequality between boys and girls. Girls are just getting paid less for their freelance work.”

AM-T: “Well yeah talk about that a little bit. Let’s take that example of babysitting. Because I have a feeling many of my listeners, their first job will have been as a babysitter.”

“Oh, absolutely. Many girls work as babysitters. But today there are a lot of boys who do as well, and boy babysitters are actually in demand, especially babysitting for smaller boys and doing sports with them or being just older brother figures for them. But if we compare their wages, girls are paid much less for their work. When they negotiate they tend to be turned down more, but they also do more care work and more unpaid work. They stay after their shift to talk to the mothers, they come in a little bit early to talk to parents and they have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses. They buy work sheets for the children and in their free time, I've seen a lot of babysitters who study math so they can teach the children.”

AM-T: “Wow, so typically dedicated female workers.”

“Oh absolutely. And I've spoken to some male babysitters as well and their experience seems to be vastly different. They don't have any unpaid hours, their time is respected. They don't have any unpaid expenses and parents are more likely to negotiate with them. They respect their time and they give them more money.”

How much more? She spoke to teenagers in the New York/New Jersey area and she says most of the girls got paid in the $10 an hour range. The boys – they got closer to $15 an hour.

AM-T: “That is so interesting.”

“I found that very puzzling that most of the time mothers did the negotiating with the babysitters. But even they had biases about what to pay men and women.”

But if you think about it, it’s not that surprising. We all marinate in the same societal broth and society has entrenched views about what women should be and how we should act. We absorb those views as well. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere but if you’re interested in learning more about women’s bias against women there’s a great podcast on this by the BBC show Analysis. I’ll post a link to the episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

Back to the parents who were reluctant to pay teenage girls as much as boys for their services, Yasemin says that points to another long-held belief about women…

“It goes to our assumptions about how much we value women's time especially when it comes to care work. You know, these young babysitters should really care about the child so why do they ask for money? It's almost like love and care is in opposition to money.”

Whereas they probably don’t expect the same caring instincts from a guy. They understand that for him, it’s a job. And they reward him accordingly.

“And it is interesting, a lot of the male babysitters I talked to were talking about how the parents saw them. They were respected more. They were seen as more entrepreneurial because they started their babysitting business, whereas the girls were just, you know, individual girls just doing babysitting. So even the social meaning attributed to the same job was different.”

I wondered if the boys themselves noticed these differences…

“For some things they did notice. And when I asked some of the questions they thought they were ridiculous questions, like for example I asked them, do they cook for the family or do they run errands? And they thought this was incredibly strange because they never did those things before. Whereas almost all the female babysitters said at some point they ran errands, they cook for the family.”

Again, we’re conforming to female stereotypes here – we’re hardworking, we want to please, we enjoy helping people. And employers love it. Why wouldn’t they?

But Yasemin didn’t just look at neighborhood jobs like babysitting. Quite a few teens and young adults work in retail part-time. And Yasemin found some differences here too. Male and female teens are drawn to brands that reflect what they feel is their persona. They already like the brand’s look, and they want to be associated with it. But she says there’s a difference in how men and women progress at these stores. For one thing, there’s the pressure to keep up the look – to represent the brand on the shop floor. To wear the clothes, use the right makeup.

“Young women are getting in a lot of debt to be able to get the jobs they want and keep the jobs they want, and they are told, ‘You are here for the brands, you care for the clothes. Why do you need a raise?”

She says the attitude managers had with young women was basically, you’re lucky to be here in the first place. And she found young women have another issue to contend with. Many are told they’re good with people, and put into jobs on the shop floor. Jobs that involve a lot of customer contact…

“Most of the time they ended up being shouted at.”

Because customers, you know, we can be…difficult. The guys were more likely to be funneled into jobs with less people contact, and better prospects of promotion. She says a lot of the young women she spoke to became demoralized.

“It's all about the language and the little messages we give young people when we tell them you know, you're so good with people. Are they really hearing a positive message? I mean a lot of the women were hearing, ‘you're not good for management’ or ‘you're not good with money,’ if you're just good with people.”

Yasemin contends all this has a long-term effect. She spent time both interviewing teens and looking at data that tracks young people’s lives. There’s this study called the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It follows American teenagers into their adult years. 

“We could see the teenagers, the female teenagers who worked as teens. When they get to be 29 and 30 there is the cost of being a girl and there's a cost of being a working girl. So they did make a lot less. Approximately $2,000 a year less than their male counterparts.”

Yasemin says being a working teenage girl contributes to that wage gap.

AM-T: “Why is it that that early work experience has this effect? How do its tentacles reach out over the years, how does that manifest itself? Why are they earning less?”

“Well that's an interesting question. And I was interested in how it happens and one of the reasons I could come up with was as we go to work we don't just learn about the world of work or how to go to work or time management or work ethic, but we also internalize the gender dynamics of the workplace and the problems of the workplace. And I think one of the things that we teach young women from an early age is that their time is not valued, that when they negotiate they're not going to be paid more. And it was discouraging to talk to all these young women, who were wonderful, but they had this learned helplessness of when I ask for more pay, I'm not going to get it.”

AM-T: “And when, because that’s not something I asked you earlier, taking babysitting as an example, had the women asked for more pay? I’m curious how many 14, 15- year-old girls do try and negotiate?”

“Oh, a lot of them did negotiate and after a while they asked for more pay. But they were really surprised and discouraged that they didn't get it. And many of them, there were different reasons why they were turned down. But many of them have this idea that oh if I ask for money I'm just not going to get it. Some of them had even unpaid hours. Most of them talked about the fact that they worked for people they knew. So usually we find jobs through our networks. But knowing the person that you work for it, it makes it harder to ask for more money.”

AM-T: “Absolutely, yeah, it’s very awkward.”

“It is very awkward and many of them talked about this awkwardness of they just didn't know how to talk about money or there wasn't the culture of talking about money. And for some of them it wasn't even the negotiating, they didn't know the starting point. And there was this lack of information, especially about freelance jobs, about how much to ask for.”

A lot of you probably started your work lives babysitting OR you’re a parent of a teenager who babysits. Or you hire local teens to babysit your kids. Does this ring bells for you? While I was making this show I came across a few articles from 2016 about a North Carolina mother who posted on Facebook that she likes to ask teenagers their hourly rate and the girls usually reply, ‘whatever you want to pay me is fine.’ She went on to say that this was NOT OK and that young women needed to learn to negotiate, including her own daughter.

But who’s teaching them these skills? Not schools and usually not parents either. But someone’s talking to the boys about how to set up their babysitting businesses, as they think of them, or encouraging them to move into the more formal workforce at 14. Maybe because we still think of men as the providers, we still socialize boys to expect that’ll be their role? That’s one theory I have. And maybe this is part of the same thing, but I think this goes deep into the area of money as a discussion topic with girls vs. boys – studies still show parents are more likely to talk about money with their sons than their daughters, and that helps normalize money for young men.

Which is perhaps why male babysitters…

 “…even though there were very few of them they magically knew how much to ask for and they felt more comfortable talking to each other about money, and asking about money, and going into the job interview. They just knew how much male babysitters got paid, whereas even though there were so many female babysitters, they just didn't know.” 

Yasemin Besen-Cassino. Her latest book is The Cost of Being a Girl.

But listen, I am a big believer in the power of negotiation and I’d hate this discussion about teenagers to put off anyone who’s already wary of negotiating. Yes, we know some studies show women are penalized for negotiating because we’re bucking the stereotype of the nice, pliant woman when we ask for more money. There’ll be a bit more on that later in the show. I don’t care. I negotiate anyway. There are ways to do it that work – take it from someone who really hated the thought of it and became better at it – and it is so satisfying when you take part in a successful negotiation. I haven’t ever done a full show on this partly because in the past few years this topic has taken off and there are loads of articles you can find about it online.

But if you’d like an episode of The Broad Experience on negotiation let me know – if enough of you hit me up I’ll do it. Negotiation is such a useful skill in so many areas of life – it is not just about asking for money.

In a minute…why pay transparency should matter to employer and employee…

“When people better understand why they’re paid the way they’re paid, we’ve found they’re more likely to stay at their employers longer.”

Don’t go away.


So one thing I’m going to say right off the bat is that I’m not going to do a deep dive into all the reasons for the pay gap in these two shows. There are great resources online and other podcasts that talk about that in depth – I particularly recommend a recent episode of the Harvard Business Review podcast Women at Work. The episode is called Mind the (Wage) Gap.

But to talk in broad strokes for a minute – the number we hear a lot – and I’m taking a US number here because that’s where I live – is that women earn on average about 80 percent of what men do. So 80 cents on every man’s dollar. That number, what economists call the uncontrolled pay gap, is calculated by looking at all working women and all working men in all jobs, and some of what contributes to that – women doing so-called gendered jobs – jobs that pay less because they’re female-dominated, women working fewer hours than men, and the fact that so few women are in positions of power. And there may be a good dollop of plain old discrimination but we can’t measure that. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

But let’s talk about the so-called controlled pay gap for a minute. That’s when you look specifically at the pay of men and women doing equal work.

“…that gap is a lot smaller when you control for job title, location, years of experience, skills, all those things that might impact pay, rightfully so, the gap shrinks.”

That’s Lydia Frank, a vice president with Seattle-based Payscale. They do lots of research on everything related to compensation.

“We’re trying really to help companies understand how to pay their people and to help individuals understand what they’re worth in the current market.”

So what Lydia said just then is that when you look at men and women doing equal work the pay gap is far smaller – but it is still there. And…

“The gap actually increases every step up the ladder. It’s smallest for individual contributors but it actually gets bigger for those in management, at a director, at an executive level…and

it’s also bigger in specific industries, so oil and gas for example has a 7% gap, finance also has a relatively large gap, and that’s for men and women working in the same jobs.”

Now some of you may know the work of Harvard researcher Claudia Goldin – and she’s featured in that HBR podcast I just mentioned. She’s devoted years to studying the pay gap and she’s found one big issue contributing to it is flexibility, or the lack of it. She says employers reward long hours and face time. And women still carry most of the caregiving responsibilities in their partnerships.  They tend to work fewer hours than men. She says women in industries with more flexible hours, where they have the leeway to just get the work done but don’t necessarily have to be in an office between 9 and 6  - their wage gaps are a lot smaller.

Which leads us to the topic of motherhood.

And as some of you raised with me in a discussion about pay on Facebook, there is a motherhood penalty. Payscale has done some research on that.

“That’s something we looked at a couple of years ago to better understand what was happening – we saw what’s been shown in other studies, which was women with children made less, not only than women without children but also we saw for men, when they had children they made slightly more than men who didn’t have children, so there was that daddy bonus, mommy penalty effect going on.”

Great…

“I think one argument around that tends to be, oh, mothers often make less because they have to take more time off, or they choose to take time off to care for children, they don’t work as many hours, right. That tends to be a common argument. We did dig into that a little bit and we asked both men and women how often they were taking off time from work in order to take care of family responsibilities. And we saw when we compared the women and men taking the most time off, men did not see an impact to their compensation for taking time away for family, but women did.”

So the more often a woman told them she prioritized family over work, the larger the pay gap became – even when compared to men who said they prioritize work over family just as often.

And it seems to me this is just plain old prejudice – the idea that women are less dedicated to work if they have kids. But men are just as dedicated. It’s a mindset thing and I think it’ll only change over time if much larger numbers of men – including bosses – get and take parental leave and split those home responsibilities equally. Cos that’s the only way men are going to be seen differently. As we talked about in a recent show society has a little trouble catching up to where men and women are themselves. It takes a long time for views to change.

Another topic that came up with some of you on Facebook was pay transparency. Why is there a silence around who earns what, and why do we feel like we’re engaging in subterfuge just trying to work out how much our peers earn so we can be paid fairly?

I said to Lydia, you know, the #MeToo movement has raised a lot of women’s voices and not just on sexual harassment and assault. Women are more willing now to challenge their employers on lots of things – including pay. But are companies willing to talk?  

“You know we talk about pay transparency here at Payscale quite a lot. I think often people and organizations fear that transparency means all or nothing, it means everybody knows what everybody makes or you know only what’s on your paycheck. And we really feel like there’s several steps along the way, that it’s really a spectrum. So there are opportunities for organizations to be a bit more transparent. We really do believe that fosters trust with employees, when people better understand why they are paid the way they are paid, we’ve found they’re likelier to stay at their employers longer, and to be highly satisfied.

Their research also found that understanding the pay process, feeling like it was fair…that has more of an effect on people’s intent to stay in a job than being paid at or above market rate.

“Which is startling in some ways, you’d think oh, the more money you throw at someone the more they’ll be loyal to the company, right, if they’re making good money, but that was not as impactful around those engagement metrics for employees as really feeling like they understood the process and feeling it was fair and transparent.”

She says as for women’s recently unleashed frustration – really a boiling over of years of frustration at the inequities of working life. 

“I do think it’s all interconnected. When we are seeing a disparity around pay and men and women so much of it, that big 80-something cents on the dollar we’ve been talking about, it has to do with the fact women aren’t in power, they’re not CEOs of companies most often, they’re not founders in great numbers, they’re not getting funding when they do try to found companies.”

She says when Equal Pay Day arrives this year her company is naming it Equal Power Day, because so much of the pay gap is down to women having less powerful roles.

But even then, as Lydia said earlier, the data shows that as women become more powerful and earn more, the pay gap with men doing the same work actually widens. Instead of two or three percent…

“What we found is for C-level women it was more like 6 or 7 percent. The gap grew up every stage. And part of that could be that if women typically get less in terms of raises then over time that starts to accumulate, or it could be that when you get to those big powerful positions that there is just even more bias coming into play, whether conscious or unconscious.”

She says it’s tough to completely dissect that without doing more research. But listen to this. A couple of years ago Payscale did a survey that looked at who was asking for raises, and if they got the raise or not. And if they didn’t ask, why didn’t they ask. 31 thousand people took part in this survey. 


“And one of the things we saw that was really interesting was when we looked at it by degree level, and female MBAs who were asking for raises just as much as their male counterparts got the raise far less often.”

Yup. 48 percent of women with MBAs got the raise they asked for. 61 percent of male MBAs got their raise. 

“And you’d think of anyone of any degree level, an MBA, they’re taught to negotiate, right, that’s a key part of MBA curriculum. And the fact that women so often were seeing poor results around receiving a raise if they asked for it was definitely interesting, because we weren’t seeing that same impact across other degree levels.”

AM-T: “I mean that really does suggest it’s just plain old bias at play there, right?

“Yeah, I mean we can’t say for sure, because there’s more study that would have to go into that, but it certainly points that way.”

Now I know I have plenty of listeners with MBAs. When you hear this what do you think? Does this reflect your experience – have you had more difficulty getting the raise you want as you’ve climbed the career ladder, or not at all? What do you think lies behind these figures?  

Lydia says the difficultly highly educated women seem to have negotiating as they progress – it could lead to the disparities that exist right at the top.

“You know, we think about who typically is gonna rise to a CEO position, it’s often somebody with an MBA, right? So the fact that female CEOs are seeing lower pay than their male counterparts is not terribly surprising given that female MBAs in general tend to not get raises when they ask to the same degree their male peers do. And part of it could be the industry, we did see that certain industries, finance was a big one, that tend to be male dominated, tend to have the largest controlled pay gaps between men and women…there are so few female CEOs it’s difficult, but if you dug into it by industry and the disparity in pay between the male and female CEOs to try and see if industries have an impact on that gap, that would be interesting too.”

AM-T: “Yeah.”

“We just have to get more women in the CEO position so there’s enough data!”

In next week’s show we’ll talk more about pay transparency – how to get it and how not to go about getting it. And we’ll pay a visit to Iceland, where a new gender pay law just went into effect.

“Men in Iceland are used to the claims of women and accept it and support it in many ways, but at the same time we’ve had a rather polarized debate. Maybe that’s because of the strong women’s movement. You mobilize the resistance when women raise their voices.”

That’s coming up next time. If you enjoy the show please share it with your friends – send them a link to the website so they can have a look around.

Talking of which, as usual you’ll find show notes and a transcript under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

I will see you next week for part two. Until then, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

Episode 122: Leading in Faith

Show transcript:

Hi everyone, Ashley here.

While I work on putting a few new shows together I’m re-releasing one of my favorites this week.

I first released this show just after Easter and Passover three years ago. In it I talk to three women faith leaders – one Jewish, two Christian. There is so much these women have in common with the rest of us who do not work in faith roles – but there are a few unique situations as well.

And a quick note on my use of the term ‘dog collar’ for the clerical collar that vicars and ministers wear. My husband said I should have used the more formal ‘clerical collar.’ But growing up in England, I never heard that term, I only ever heard people talk about dog-collars, including my uncle, who was himself an Archdeacon.

I’ll give you a quick update about all three women at the end. But now, here’s the show. 


Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time on the show, what does it mean to be a woman in a religious role?

“…as soon as I sort of heard the criticism of this young female rabbi, the first thing that I thought of was, ‘I don’t think that that would necessarily be the way that people addressed a male counterpart.”

How to react when people regard your pastoral body as public possession…

“I was walking across the sanctuary and I head this young woman, a congregant, call out, ‘Those jeans make your butt look great!’”

And the perils of preaching when female…

“When I want to make eye contact across the room and connect with people I find myself looking at men – and older men – as if I need them to approve of what I’m saying.” 

Coming up – in the wake of Easter and Passover, three women share their experiences of religious life


None of the women on today’s show imagined they’d end up where they are now.

My first guest is Rabbi Danielle Leshaw. About 20 years ago she was a student at university in Arizona and her campus rabbi and his wife suggested she might want to become a rabbi when she grew up. Today she’s executive director of Hillel, the Jewish campus organization at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Rabbi Danielle studied at rabbinical school in Philadelphia. Back then the thought of being any kind of leader was still intimidating, and the years of study loomed ahead…so was there a moment when she knew this was the right path?

 

“There were more moments of doubt, there were more moments where I wondered if this was the right choice. You know, year 3, year 4, you’re sort of slogging through it all and you think when is this ever going to end? Am I actually good at this? Can I really lead a community? Am I providing a source of comfort or strength to people in need? Am I role model? Do I have what it takes, essentially? I think those are the questions you ask yourself in the dark moments or rabbinical school. And I know that I’m not alone in having experienced that.”

And she says the whole being a woman thing – it hasn’t been a problem in her work. She’s part of Judaism’s Reconstructionist Movement. It’s been ordaining women rabbis since the ‘70s…

“I wouldn’t say that gender has never been an issue through my career as a rabbi but overwhelming it hasn’t been. I haven’t had struggles that I feel acutely because I am a woman. I have had struggles, professional struggles and challenges, for sure, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that they are because I am a women or any...well there are moments when I think that perhaps my struggle was a little bit greater because I was a woman. But no, I’m not, I just haven’t had those experiences.”

Still, she says…there is one area where she is quite conscious of her gender. And that is appearance and demeanor. She says women rabbis have to be more conscious of how they carry themselves than male rabbis. She says as a woman you can’t appear too passionate…you can’t walk around too ‘blissed out on God’ as she put it. You have to keep those instincts in check.

“And while I might want to be an incredibly charismatic, spiritually inspiring rabbi I also know that I have to balance that with being very organized and very professional and well put together and that one can’t supersede the other whereas I do think, and I have witnessed that there are men in the rabbinate in our field who don’t necessarily need to be as concerned with issues of professionalism, issues of presenting themselves in particular. I think that as in most circumstances of male privilege, there is a pass.”

She had an example of someone she knows who isn’t getting a pass…

“I was overhearing a conversation about a young female rabbi who had stepped into a synagogue community - very excited, very enthusiastic, eager to change, eager to inspire. And she wanted to inspire people in prayer and in worship and in a very high elevated, spiritual experience. I’ve spoken to her, I can tell from her social media posts, from everything that she is trying to do to change and excite a community. And people are very quick to criticize her and say things like, ‘She’s trying too hard, and she needs to calm down, and this isn’t her place, and she’s moving too quickly to change the dynamic of the community.’ And as soon as I heard the criticism of this young female rabbi, the first thing that I thought of was, ‘I don’t think that that would necessarily the way that people addressed a male counterpart. I don’t think that if a young male rabbi had come into that community with the same energy and the same enthusiasm and the same inspiration for himself and his community that he would be met with quite the same resistance. And so I think that there is this expectation that we take it slow and we’re really methodical and we think through everything really carefully before we make any changes in a community, or in a style of worship, and I think that men in their spiritual experiences and fervor and inspiration and wanting to be a light to other people are allowed to do that more easily and more readily.”

And she says other things are a bit easier for male rabbis too. One of those things? Aging.

“As female rabbis get older their opportunities for employment diminish, which is not the case for male rabbis. And so I definitely think about that, and I know that other female rabbis are thinking about that as well – that we may not be as employable as we get older, which is trend for all women, so now what does it look like for us while our male counterparts are sort of able to be seen as the wise old sage who goes into their 70s and 80s and is still hirable and welcome to serve.”

She doesn’t think this stuff gets talked about much in Jewish communities; it wasn’t something that was discussed when she was at rabbinical school either. She says she knows it’s hard to envisage the future…

“Or even, it’s hard in your 30s to think about life in your 70s, but should rabbinical associations have conversations with their membership about what career choices look like as you age and how can you remain vital to a community? I’m not sure those conversations are even happening. So I would think that issues of aging and gender and affect are issues that we need to talk a little bit more about so that we can be more effective leaders of our communities.”

She aspires to be a wise old sage herself.

Rebecca Anderson comes from a different religious tradition – one that was less accepting of women leaders than Rabbi Danielle’s.

“My dad was and is a pastor. Now he’s pastor in a United Methodist Church, which is a mainline protestant denomination. But we grew up in what a lot of people would describe as fundamentalist or evangelical churches. And I loved it. I always loved church, and the stuff of church, potlucks and singing with people. But starting really early that theology did not jive with me. Like when I was 12 or 13 I started to have questions about that more conservative theology.”

So she slipped into adult life with what she says was a toehold in church. She graduated from college and spent her twenties doing a bunch of different things: she worked in theater, she worked on a farm, she did some stand-up comedy, she ran an after-school program at a Jewish day school…

“And a friend who was not religious, who I didn’t think I’d ever talk about my faith with said to me if I were someone like you I would check out this church. And she had all the details wrong but I went. So I was like in for a penny in for a pound. I went on Mother’s Day, they acknowledged single people in their welcome, they acknowledged people who wanted to be mothers but aren’t, they acknowledged that being the daughter of a mother can be difficult. They named all these things that I’d never heard named in church. The music was awesome, the preaching was smart and creative. There was an attention to aesthetic detail that I had not experienced in my Calvinist upbringing. And the way I talk about it is I heard the faith like in a vernacular that I could understand. So I started going to that church right away. I went one Sunday and I just kept going.”

The pastors there were a married couple – the husband was associate pastor. His wife was head pastor.

“So I’m kind of sitting in the pews there, watching her do her thing, listening to another beautiful sermon and you know my twenties were...to say they were eclectic is an understatement. And I didn’t have a career path. I felt like I was all over the map. I felt like I didn’t really start things, I didn’t do all those things you were supposed to do. I didn’t get my financial house in order, I didn’t start my career, I didn’t get a partner. All these things, and everything felt disconnected and I’m watching this woman do her thing and I thought, ‘Oh, this is my skill set. This is what all this adds up to, this sort of winding path.’ And now I sort of feel like this is only thing I can do. I have a lot of skills, but this is a job that allows me to do so much of what I love, whether it’s gardening, or public speaking, or hanging out with kids, or teaching music or making meals, or being involved in social justice. I remember thinking if someone wants to show me another job where I can do all that, great. But for now, this seems like it.”

That couple had been to the University of Chicago Divinity School and Rebecca ended up following in their footsteps. Afterwards she worked at a small Methodist church in Chicago. Then she got a job in the suburbs at an inter-denominational church.

She says one of the things she’s found interesting and sometimes challenging about her role is the attitude other people have to her body. She says it’s an ongoing topic of discussion among her and her female colleagues.

“There’s this way that, people feel, congregants I should say, people in the congregation, feel free, just feel free to talk about our bodies in this way. That’s too sweeping a statement, but I’ll say what I mean, I mean at my previous church I remember walking across the sanctuary, it was a pretty casual place so I was wearing jeans or something. I know I was wearing jeans because I was walking across the sanctuary and I heard this young woman, a congregant, call out from across the sanctuary “Those jeans make your butt look great!” And I was like “uh…good, great!” But also, I guess people walk that way to each other I guess it was the nature of that church it was very casual, but it did strike me as something a mentor had said to me a couple years earlier, he was my teaching Pastor, he said, ‘Oh you have to deal with body and dress in a way I will never understand in this job.’ He said you know people, we were talking about the way people commented on his looks, “you’re a nice looking guy”, but he said I can’t begin to understand the way people talk about your body and feel like they have the right to. One thing I experience here, this is an older congregation and on more than one occasion I’ve had a very lovely older guy, I’m talking octogenarians, say, “We never get to see you with your hair down.” And I think, get to? Get to? What do you mean? It wasn’t in the job description, I think my hair down looks sloppy when I wear a robe. So I always wear it up at church.”

And talking of robes, when Rebecca first arrived at this church she says she resisted wearing the traditional minister’s robe. She told a female mentor of hers she thought the congregation should get used to seeing a regular female body in the pulpit – she didn’t want to be swathed in a billowing garment. But her mentor pushed back.

“She convinced me so thoroughly when she said, ‘Your people are used to seeing women in everyday clothes, what they are not used to seeing is women in the authority of the robe. You need to wear it because it is your authority in this position, and that is a symbol in their culture, in the culture of this church, not the culture of this community, that is a symbol in their culture of authority. It’s important for them to see you in that robe.’ [Snaps her fingers.] Done.”

She’s been happily robed ever since.

Her divinity school class was mostly male, especially by the time they all graduated. But given women have made up the bulk of believers for centuries, why aren’t there more women pastors – I wondered is the authority of the office unattractive?

“I mean that’s a question I have about myself in general professionally is whether I am willing to put myself out for what I have long called “the big girl job”, and for me that’s about owning my own authority as an adult, as a professional, as a pretty skilled pastor. I bring a lot of skills to the job and I think, I think there have been a lot of times in my life when I have been reluctant to own that authority and I’m still not entirely sure what that’s about, so if it’s true for me, I’ve managed to kind of blow past that and do what I’m called to in this work and in this job, I would assume that yes, it’s true for other people as well.”

For her that big-girl job is leading a church – she says she knows she’s meant to do that. But like a lot of us she wishes someone would just pick her to do that job. What intimidates her is the hoops you have to jump through, the interviews – she says she knows she’s undermined herself in interviews before. Then there’s becoming more of an expert on church finances, which any church leader needs to be. And she says some of it comes down to not wanting to pretend to be someone she’s not to get that job. She’s still grappling with it all.

I asked what her parents think of her career now and she says they’re really proud of her, despite their different politics and theologies. Sometimes her dad asks her for advice. She says she’s conducted some tough funerals, and she finds inspiration and comfort in the Book of Common Prayer.

“My dad knew I had done at least one extremely difficult gigantic funeral and when it came time for him to do a funeral for someone who he did not know who had committed suicide, he got in touch with me to say, “Hey I know you did this service, what kind of resources do you have because I am just at a loss.” My dad’s been pastoring for, man, like 30 plus years, so it’s not like he’s short on experience or knowhow, but I never expected to be able to offer my father resources to very practically help him do his job, so that’s been an interesting dynamic and I find it very, it’s mutual, so my folks are over the moon.”

Rebecca Anderson.


Appearance came up in these interviews a lot more than I expected it to. And before I even began the next interview at St. James’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan I found the Reverend Adrian Dannhauser looking at a website called Beauty Tips for Ministers. And I will come out and say it: she was fashionably dressed in black pedal-pusher pants or trousers, short-sleeved black top with dog collar, and she had a colorful floral-design shawl thrown around her shoulders. Her hair was in a ponytail.

She was reading a British article about appropriate style for lady vicars…

AM-T: “Oh look at this, the Vicar Wears Prada…”

“…and I think with this article, she’s calling someone out and saying this is what not to do, but the point is, it’s possible to look too sexy.”

Who knew?

When she was younger Adrian wanted to be a psychologist or psychiatrist – she thought she’d use Christianity a lot in her work.

AM-T: “OK, so you didn’t come to this late…you were very interested in leading a Christian life and doing that through your work when you were 18.”

“Yes, that was idea at time and then I got a C+ in freshman chemistry. But yes. I grew up with my faith being of central importance to me. I never thought I would be an ordained minister. I grew up in a very fundamentalist, conservative, Christian tradition. Southern Baptist. And the theology – sometimes my head and my heart did not meet.  And I struggled a little bit, but the Holy Spirit was always very real for me, the experience of Jesus, the joy of the lord. All those things were dear to my heart, and that’s what has seen me through.” 

Still, after college she was far from pursuing her current career. She ended up going to law school in her twenties.

“And I actually enjoyed law school. I love all kinds of school. I enjoyed practicing law. I was at a Wall Street firm, I was a junior associate, slogging through, long hours. But I have to say I was probably one of the happiest people in my department.”

AM-T: Wow, and you don’t hear that all that often…from overworked associates.

“Yeah, and maybe that has to do with disposition and faith – and the rest of my personal life being pretty strong, I have a wonderful husband, very supportive.  But here’s something interesting - when I let everyone know I was going to be leaving my firm and going to seminary I got several other associates saying I’m so jealous, I wish I knew what I wanted to do.”

But she says it’s tough for most people to drop that golden handshake. These big law firms pay first year associates as much as $160 thousand a year. Adrian stayed until she’d paid off her law school loans and saved up enough to go to Yale Divinity School.

Adrian’s a bit of an outlier in the Episcopal Church. When you look at the numbers almost as many women as men are ordained these days, so no problems with taking on authority here, apparently. But Adrian’s in her thirties. That makes her a lot younger than most career changers who become Episcopal priests in their late 40s, 50s or older – and many priests being ordained today are in that age group.

In the Church of England it’s the same story – the clergy is still mostly male but so many women are being ordained the numbers will probably tip in the future. The Episcopal Church already ordains female bishops. The Church of England has voted to start doing that. And both churches are concerned about their congregations – they are aging fast.

After she graduated from divinity school Adrian began a two-year fellowship at St. James’s on Madison Avenue…

“But this is a very vital, vibrant, healthy church, with a lot of children and families and a lot of young adults which goes against that trend of a greying congregation. So it’s also a wonderful place to start my ordained ministry…”

Adrian’s own boss, the rector of St. James’s, is a woman. Adrian says she’s an inspiring example.

AM-T: Do you think it’s easier being a woman in leadership in the church than it is at a big Wall Street law firm?

“I’m not sure. The church is still running behind. There are plenty of folks out there who don’t want woman in a position of high authority. I will say, my experience, I’m not getting paid anything like I was and not going to work anywhere close to what I was working. I mean generally it’s about 50 hours a week and that’s perfect. Unless someone dies or is in crisis…and it might be more. And you’ll have some time in the summer when it’s slow. But I think the balance is easier to strike, especially as a parent.”

She and her husband have a little girl who’s 6.

AM-T: “You were talking about authority, there are people who don’t want to see women in that role…where do you feel you had the most power…the ability to do things…the ability to make things happen, here or at the firm?”

“One place where I’ve found authority is around mission work and in particular human trafficking. I chair a task force against human trafficking for the Episcopal diocese of New York. This is a place where the hierarchy and the structure of our church is very helpful. Because I can get out a message to thousands of Episcopalians to call their legislators in support of state legislation that ended up passing this past Monday.”

She says being there at the press conference with her dog collar on – yes, she felt authoritative, she knew she’d brought about some change for good, and it felt fantastic.

But it hasn’t always been easy. She’s had her share of uncomfortable experiences. During her training she worked at a hospital.

“I’ll tell you the story, it still makes my skin crawl. I was serving as hospital chaplain – I don’t strike folks as what they would expect. Lots of times they expect a middle-aged man who is white and perhaps balding. So I was in the hospital…”

And this interaction took place in the hallway. A patient she knew was being pushed along on a stretcher. She stopped to say hello.

“…and this man who was pushing it had this quizzical look, like, ‘Who are you?’ And I said well, I’m a hospital chaplain. And he looked me over, and he said, ‘Wow, you’re a shapely chaplain.’ And it was like – instantaneous – I tried to defuse the situation and I said, ‘Well, we come in all shapes and sizes.’ And there was nervous laughter and the encounter was over and they had moved on down the hall. And I thought to myself, wow, what a reaction, if I’d had maybe ten seconds to think or an opportunity to go back and um, say something different, I wish I would. I was disappointed with him but also just reflecting how I’ve been conditioned, to smooth things over.”

And there’s something else she’s noticed about her conditioning – her upbringing in the south, as a woman, and the religion she was raised in, which doesn’t ordain women…

“…something I found when I would preach and still even now when I want to make eye contact across the room and connect with people, I find myself looking at men and older men as if I need them to approve of what I’m saying.”

She has been working on that. Her fellowship at this church is coming to an end and she has a new position, a promotion, at a church in midtown Manhattan – she’ll begin that job this summer.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. I’ll be posting some show notes and photos of my guests under this episode at The Broad Experience.com.

Thanks so much to April Laissle – she conducted the interview with Rabbi Danielle Leshaw at the University of Ohio.

OK, so here I am again in 2018. Since those interviews three years ago Danielle and Rebecca have switched jobs along with Adrian. Danielle is now senior educator with Hillel International, based in Pittsburgh. Rebecca is co-pastor at Gilead Church in Chicago, and Adrian is associate rector at the Church of the Incarnation in Manhattan. I will link you to more information about each of them and photos of all three under this episode at The Broad Experience dot com.

I always love hearing from you so feel free to get in touch with me via the website or on Twitter – I’m @ashleymilnetyte – no hyphen.

Thanks for listening. See you next time.

 

 

 

 

Episode 121: A Book of Her Own

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…why don’t more women turn their expertise into a book?

Writing a book is deep work and it’s so hard to carve out time, and we know women are still shouldering the bulk of domestic duties. The only way I was able to finish my book in the end was to go away from my family, I just left them.”

 Coming up, women as writers and readers of business books.


My second ever job in London was in publishing. The office was a handsome 18th century building; there were occasional mice and no air conditioning in the summer. There were a lot of women though.

Alison Jones started her career in publishing in England right around the same time, but she stuck with it. After many years in editorial jobs, she became director of innovation strategy at publisher Palgrave Macmillan – basically, her mandate was to work out how to keep selling content in a world that increasingly expects to get it for free. Then the company decided to move all its arms to London, where Alison did not want to live. She’d been thinking a lot about the future, and decided it was time for a change.

“And I thought publishing is broken, it’s not a viable model in the modern world. So I re-trained as a business coach…and it was hilarious because as soon as I started working with people all they wanted to talk about was publishing their book.”

Her coaching clients were all business people and they all seemed to have a book in them. So Alison decided to start her own company – Practical Inspiration Publishing.

“I partner with businesses to help them publish intelligently. A publisher just takes your manuscript and publishes the book typically, and they’re invested in selling as many copies as possible as that’s how they make their money. And I’m much more invested in making the book work for the business. Because when the business succeeds, when the two are aligned really beautifully we can make the book succeed and vice versa.”

She tends to work with businesses that offer services rather than products – so one of her clients is a customer service consultant, she has a guy who runs an outdoors school, a yoga teacher…

“I have an HR consultant, a menopause coach.”

AM-T: “A menopause coach, I didn’t know that such a thing existed, that sounds brilliant!”

“Well exactly and that’s part of her thing, let’ talk more about this. She runs a 10 day challenge, she goes into organizations, ‘this is what’s happening to your senior women, and if you’re not dealing with it properly you’re not gonna get as much out of them as you could and you’re gonna have people leaving and not performing well,’ so let’s talk about it because the problem is nobody talks about it.”

I feel a future show coming on.

Anyway, Alison loves her new gig, complete with challenges.

“The shift is, content isn’t scare any more, what’s scarce is attention. So the power balance has shifted from the author who has something valuable to impart to the reader, to the reader who has a plethora of stuff to look at and has to decide where they’re gonna put their attention. So what you’re doing as a business author is making a stake for that attention.”

One of the ways Alison helps them do that is through her podcast, the Extraordinary Business Book Club. She interviews the author of a new business book every week.  She talks to men and women but she says it’s harder to find women.

A couple of years ago she wrote a piece in the Guardian that I read at the time. In it she considered why books about business are so much more likely to be written by men than women. She said unless more women wrote business books, we’d never shake the perception that business is a man’s game. And women readers would continue to lack role models.

AM-T: “Is this still true from your vantage point in early 2018?”

“Do you know it’s funny, I went and looked at the research I did then, and this isn’t extensive, exhaustive research…but I did a snapshot, when I wrote that article in February 2016 I had a look at the Amazon bestseller list for business books and in the top 20 business books on Amazon, 17 were written by men and of the other three, two of them were about de-cluttering.  Two of them were by Marie Kondo.”

And today, two years on? Alison says not much has changed.

“And in the top 20 business books, 19 were by men and the one woman was writing on self-care…and it made me laugh, laugh or cry, somebody described her as Marie Kondo for the mind, and I thought there we are, we’re still in our box.”

Alison was looking at Amazon.co.uk. When I looked at Amazon.com recently there were a few books at the top of the business category by women who were not Marie Kondo. But it’s true the vast majority were written by men. And looking at some of the titles, it made me wonder…

AM-T: “Who decides what is a business book? For instance, Lean In, would you call Lean In a business book or a self-help book?”

“Well, and this is part of the problem, the boundaries are very porous, and particularly these days because you can put books in a number of different categories on Amazon, and because frankly there are so many books being produced, there’s a bit of a vogue for books that cross genres, it’s getting more and more difficult to classify them.

GoodReads has done a lot of research on this, one person will tag a book self-help and another will tag it business…it’s difficult, if you’re a bookseller you have to decide which classification you’re gonna put it in, but given so few of us buy books at bookshops these days, we go on Amazon and it can be in multiple categories, so it’s become less and less important really. It’s interesting though, and we’re generalizing because if you don’t generalize you won’t ever say anything, but the books that tend to make the bestseller lists in the business classification by women tend to be either on the self-help side of things or specifically about women in business, which I think is interesting. It’s relatively rare to just find a straightforward business book on a topic that doesn’t say oh, it’s by a woman and it’s addressing the female side of things.”

She’s totally right, but I’d never really thought about it that way before. Even though since Lean In was published in 2013 I’ve received a torrent of pitches from PR people about this or that female author’s new book on being a successful woman in the workplace.

“The downside of it…it’s great we’re having this conversation, some of those books are fantastic, I’m a huge fan of Lean In, there’s definitely a place for them, but if we get to the point where we assume if a woman’s writing a business book, the gender defines it, then we’ve lost a bit of a battle there, haven’t we? We should be able to just write about a topic and it not necessarily be aimed at women. I worry we’re ghettoizing ourselves somehow.”

AM-T: “When you discuss this with others in your industry, and I presume you do, what do they say?”

“It’s interesting, there’s sort of a cultural blindness. Most publishers would strenuously deny there’s any bias going on, the ones I’ve talked to do. But it’s interesting, do you know the Catherine Nicholls experience? It’s a novel so it’s slightly different, but it’s just fascinating…she submitted a proposal to agents for her novel, to 50 agents…I think she had two people ask for the manuscript, take her up on it, and she got some really quite patronizing responses back, something about her character not being feisty enough, and whenever you see the word feisty you’re like, mmm, there’s a gender thing going on here, somehow. So she did an experiment, she created a pseudonym, George somebody…she sent it off again to 50 agents, mostly new but there was a little bit of overlap with the old ones. And this time she had 17 requests for the manuscript – and one person who’d rejected her first time round asked for the manuscript when it came from George. Same cover letter, same proposal. Just incredible. I mean that could be a freak but it sounds a bit suspicious, doesn’t it? And what was interesting as well was she said even those who rejected her provided warmer, fuller letters of rejection.”

AM-T: “That is fascinating…but as you were speaking, something I thought about, this idea of well, can’t women just write a book about business just as men do? But the flip side of that is – I mean part of the reason I started the show is that women have such different experiences in the workplace and corporate life than men do, for the most part. And I think when women are writing, many of them are motivated because they want to help their fellow woman. And they acknowledge we have to try different things to succeed, in many cases.”

“But I think what we need is a campaign to get more men to read more books written by women. The ghetto principal here is we know most books by women are read by women. And again, GoodReads did some really interesting stuff on this. It’s not just business books, again. In 2014 they looked at their stats and of the 50 titles most read by men, 90% of them were written by men…and they did the corollary and it was the same – the 50 most read titles by women readers, 90% of those were written by women, and I wonder how much of that understanding, even if it’s just subconscious understanding of how the market operates, is driving publishers when making those commissioning selections. Because if you’ve got a business market that is primarily male, then it’s commercial suicide to put out a book on a topic by a woman when you could put one out by a bloke.”

AM-T: “What do we know about the readers of business books, of the top 20 business books? Are women reading these books to the same extent men are?”

“No, no. We know almost nothing about the purchases, because that’s Amazon’s proprietary information and they don’t share it with anybody. Fair enough. Where we do have insight is places like GoodReads where people are recommending books. And there it’s pretty clear that – and that’s what I was taking about earlier, the way people classify books. There are books that a bloke would classify as a business book that a woman would classify as self-help, but it’s the same book. So it’s quite hard to get a sense of it. And I don’t know whether it’s because men prefer not to think of themselves as needing help, I don’t know, there’s probably loads going on underneath that, or that women prefer not to think of themselves as business book readers, I don’t know.”

And what about women as business book writers? It’s hard to do a complete tally of all the business books out there by women and men. But it seems fewer women want to showcase their expertise in a book. Why?

“Well, you are begging the question there in a sense because it could be that women don’t write as much as men, or that they aren’t published as frequently as men, or they’re not bought and not appearing in the Amazon bestseller list. There’s a number of different places this could fall down. But I think there is something at that ‘choosing to write a book’ moment. It seems to be more fraught for women. I talk to a lot of people and I coach men and women. There’s imposter syndrome and fear with men and women but it seems to be stronger as a rule with women, standing up and being counted as the expert, naming yourself as the expert, naming yourself as the authority in your area seems to be a bigger deal generally for women than it is for men. And that’s reflected in the workplace too. A woman is much less likely to apply for a job if she doesn’t fulfill all the criteria than a man is.”

AM-T: “And, I mean you talked about this in your Guardian piece 2 years ago, this idea of ‘who am I to write a book?’”

“Which almost everyone feels but it’s somehow more crippling to women. The other thing that is very real is time and focus. Writing a book is deep work and it’s so hard to carve out time, and we know women are still shouldering the bulk of domestic duties. The only way I was able to finish my book in the end was to go away from my family, I just left them. I went to an Airbnb cottage and just wrote and ate and slept and ran and my husband was like, go, do it, come back. I just could not do it while I was at home, because there was always something needing doing and it’s incredibly distracting. And I don’t know whether that’s just me. I don’t think it’s just me. I think women generally tend to have about 15 tabs running in their brain at any one time, and sitting down and writing their book feels selfish somehow. I mean I felt guilty leaving my family and going away and doing this work. I did it but I had to sort of fight the guilt.”

And when women do complete a book, they may be more reluctant than male authors to publicize it.  Coming up in a minute.


So Alison is a big proponent of men reading more books by women just so they can get a peek into our world, how things look from our perspective. After all we live in a man’s world for the most part. It’s like with this podcast. I have some male listeners and I love having them but they’re definitely in the minority. And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised…

AM-T: “You put women in the title of something or make clear it’s about women, and you are most unlikely to get anything other than a small male audience.”

“Yeah, absolutely. My podcast is the Extraordinary Business Book Club and one of the reasons it’s extraordinary is that it is gender balanced. So I alternate male/female guests which is harder than it sounds and should be, for all the reasons we discussed – it’s absolutely baked into the principals, premise and structure of the show and what’s good is, well I probably still have more women than men in my community, but there are lots of men who listen. And I hope they are getting blind…I am pretty sure they don’t listen on alternate weeks, they haven’t sussed that they only get a bloke every other week, so hopefully by consistently delivering that 50/50 balance of men and women I’m achieving in my own little way something to forward gender parity.”

AM-T: “I’m still thinking of who reads what, and why, and it seems to me a lot of women are drawn to business books written by other women.”

“Yes, I think that’s true and the GoodReads research tends to build that out as well. You go for a role model, someone you can relate to, and one of the powerful things about a book is you grow to almost know the author and like them and trust them. And maybe we feel we have a head start on that if it’s written by a woman.”

AM-T: “I presume you’ve read a lot of business books written by women?”

“Yeah, of course, I’ve read some terrific books by women. If anyone wants any recommendations…one of my all-time favorites is Angela Duckworth, [she wrote] Grit, which is fabulous. Bernadette Jiwa is wonderful as well, she’s Australian, she writes beautifully short readable books, they’re not women’s books, they’re just books about business and marketing and so on…she just writes them beautifully, she blogs at the Art of Storytelling, I think that’s right. Who else? Oh, Dorie Clark is fabulous as well. She writes stuff on the new economy, if you like.”

Dorie Clark has been a guest on this show twice and her newest book is called Entrepreneurial You. And if you want to check out Bernadette Jiwa’s site, which I did, it’s actually TheStoryofTelling.com. I’ll link you to her and the other authors Alison’s mentioned today under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

And then I asked Alison how easy she found it to book illustrious female guests when they had a new book out.  I told her I’d always wanted to get Anne-Marie Slaughter on this show, but she is tough to book for anyone who isn’t a national network. So I hadn’t managed to get her. Alison hadn’t either. 

“And maybe that’s worth a conversation. I find it harder to get the top women writers to say yes to an invitation to the show. That’s in itself interesting. There’s very few times when I’ve written to a man inviting him onto the show and he’s turned me down. It has happened but not often. Or just not responded. It’s happened more – not often, but significantly more times, I mean Sheryl Sandberg was one of my first targets, and I got a polite note from her assistant saying she’s too busy. And I completely get that, and I do wonder if it’s about women being more frugal about their time or less concerned about their platform. It’s hard to know, again, what’s behind that, but I’ve definitely noticed a more rigorous vetting, and a quicker rejection from top women.”

AM-T: “That’s really interesting. And hearing about that, the first thing that comes to mind for me is maybe they’re saying no because the more important they are the more they think maybe a smaller show isn’t worth their time, but if the men authors are saying yes maybe that does point to something else. Maybe it points to their assistant protecting them because of the women prioritizing the rest of their life, family stuff.”

“Yeah. That’s my feeling because I have had some really big male names on the show, and fewer really big women. So it’s interesting and it’s frustrating.”

Before we wrapped up, I wanted to ask Alison about her profession – publishing – and what was going on under the surface. I used to work for a publisher in London and the office had far more women than men.

AM-T: “I worked in publishing at the start of my career and publishing tends to be pretty female dominated. But at least from what I’ve been told by listeners who work in publishing now, it is still largely male at the top. Have you found that as well where you’ve worked?”

“Oh, that’s absolutely right. It’s sort of funny except it’s not at all funny. When I worked at Oxford University Press some wag put up a cartoon outside the office, it was a Punch cartoon, it said – ‘a good hierarchy needs a good foundation of women at the bottom,’ and that is still how it works in an awful lot of companies. You tend to get a lot of women in the lower level jobs, editorial assistants, publicity, marketing, almost exclusively populated by women, and then men in the higher-level support functions…finance, tech. HR is still women-dominated, and on the boards too, it’s massively dominated by men, and the salary survey done each year shows the disparity. It’s not unique to us but it’s no better in publishing than anywhere else, and it should be, because you should be getting these people coming through to the senior leadership positions. I mean there are a few brilliant examples of women leaders in publishing and probably more than many industries but it’s still way, way off parity.”

And even though Alison was a senior leader herself, she did choose to leave the business and strike out on her own.

AM-T: “How does it feel now? I mean obviously everything is so different when you’re running your own business, but does it feel freeing, does it feel nice to be your own boss?”

“Yes, I mean it’s terribly stressful of course but all roles that matter are stressful, and this is stress of my own choosing. So it’s a very different quality of stress and I love it. It was very frustrating trying to do innovation in a big company, in a disrupted industry, very, very risk averse, and then to be able to turn on a sixpence, and do something new and try it out is so liberating and so exhilarating – yes, I think I’m probably unemployable now.”

AM-T: “I wonder the same thing about myself.”

“Which is fine, I’m good with that.”

 Alison Jones. She’s the host of the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast and the author of a brand new book of her own. It’s called ‘This Book Means Business – clever ways to plan and write a book that works harder for your business.’

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. As usual I am always glad to hear from you. You can email me, tweet me at ashleymilnetyte or hit reply on the newsletter if you’re a subscriber to that. And if not, you can sign up via TheBroadExperience.com.

And if you have 2 minutes to write a quick review of the show on iTunes I would really appreciate it.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

Bonus episode: Femininity and Power

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…

“What is always interesting to me is the difference culturally in how different cultures view femininity…and I think Anglo-Saxon cultures do not like, embrace, or value femininity.”

That’s Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, who starred in the last show, Does Your Partner Support Your Success? And I told you at the end I was gonna feature her again in an extra episode this week because we got into an exchange at the end of our interview about cultural differences around masculinity and femininity. And if you spend most of your time in the US like I do, it can be easy to forget attitudes can be quite different in other parts of the world. 

And just for some context, at one point you’ll hear me refer to this New York Times article about French actress Catherine Deneuve – she and many other prominent Frenchwoman wrote an open letter earlier this year saying the #MeToo movement had gone too far, that it threatened sexual freedom. 

So with this first question to Avivah I’m kind of continuing from where I left off at the end of the last episode, where we were talking about relationships between 2-career couples.

AM-T: “You’re of European lineage, you grew up in Canada, but you’ve lived in Europe for decades, still do. Do you notice any difference in heterosexual couples say in Europe and North America or is it pretty much across the board, everything you said [in the last episode]?”

“Well it is quite different, I think I’m partly influenced by the 3 decades I spent in France where women have a very different style, especially in their personal lives, they stay much more feminine. And I think the Anglo-Saxon world, which is very masculine in culture, tends to also masculinize its women…and particularly at work. We are encouraged to become as much like men as we can without a sex change. And that colors our personal relationships, right? It’s not such a healthy thing at home. And I do find Latin women with all their charms and wiles and elegance and clothing and prioritizing of coupling, of the couple, it is an education in how to keep these – a different approach to this. Maybe that’ll be a future book…not just ‘Bringing up Bebe´, but keeping your couple hot at home is something the French devote much more attention to.”

AM-T: “That’s so interesting. I’m thinking about it in particular because there’s been some controversy here about some writing in the New York Times about the #MeToo movement. Catherine Deneuve and some others wrote this piece…we don’t want to get too much in that but there was some focus in several pieces on the feminine French woman… but I also know quite a few women in France seem be quite fed up with the sexual harassment they have to put up with…and I have to say in Latin America in particular there’s so much domestic violence, so I think there’s a really ugly side to this.”

“Yeah, and I’m not… there’s always an ugly side, it’s not like there’s no domestic violence in Anglo-Saxon countries right, I’m not sure the statistics are so dramatically different between countries. I think what is always interesting to me is the difference culturally in how different cultures view femininity as a whole…and I think Anglo-Saxon cultures do not like, embrace, or value femininity – and both men and women are raised to discount it, underplay it and not embrace it. Men in Anglo-Saxon cultures are hugely shut down, any feminine side to them, any emotional side…they’re not supposed to cry, they’re supposed to become big and muscly and strong…they even walk I think in a particular way. I don’t think men in Latin countries, even ones we think of as very macho, are educated in the same way, right? There’s a different level of emotionality allowed among men in some of these cultures. And the way they enjoy and embrace and adore women in all their forms, I think there’s a much wider spectrum of what femininity can look like. And you can get some very powerful women and they’re not turned off by the power, even when it’s enveloped in a very feminine…those are not contradictory terms in a lot of Latin cultures. Whereas I think when you get powerful women in Anglo-Saxon countries they tend to sound a lot like their male colleagues – it’s much more similar, so we lose something of our human spectrum. I tend to like men and women who are allowed the full spectrum of what being human looks like, whether it’s intensely masculine or intensely feminine, I think it’s the spectrum that’s delightful.”

AM-T: “Does that mean in France, I’m curious, that there is less derision for – there was this ad here a couple of years ago that asked all these kids what it looked like to run like a girl. And it was playing off this idea that doing something like a girl is just bad and pathetic. And boys and girls internalize that very early…I’m curious, is that any different in France or not really? You’re talking about French men having more of a feminine sensibility, being allowed to have one. Does that mean there’s less dismissal and derision of all things feminine and being a woman?”

“I think so, and when you see the countries that have been run by women, they’re not necessarily the Anglo-Saxon countries, right? So this notion of women in power, you can see in recent elections just how uncomfortable it makes people. When will it come? It’s not there yet. All those debates, remember, are women powerful enough to be president? Do they cry?  Women are too emotional…all that stuff is such BS and yet it’s ever present in everyone’s minds, and yes I do think Latin countries have a different attitude to women in power…you see it in a lot of countries, right, in Africa, in unexpected places – that doesn’t mean those cultures don’t have terrible histories of how they treat women, the world over there’s still a horrendous abuse of women but I think there’s also an upside to different cultural approaches to the masculine feminine issues.”

AM-T: “There hasn’t been a French premier who’s female thus far, has there? And we did have Mrs. Thatcher in the UK for quite a long time…though you might argue she was quite masculine, I don’t know.”

“Well, she was certainly an adaptive female who took on a lot of masculine traits in order to be seen as competent and prime ministerial… so, and if you look at the governments, the French have had more gender-balanced governments than some of our Anglo-Saxon countries right, except Canada, Canada has been shifting recently, and it’s not always a direct line between these things – but yeah, the cultural norms are very deep, and I certainly learned a lot about femininity and power from living 3 decades in France, it’s a very different model.”

I know I have some listeners in France and also in Central and South America. Do you agree with Avivah? Can women more easily be powerful and feminine at the same time? Do look at the Anglo-Saxon countries and think our women leaders look and act like men? I’d love to hear from you.

And poor Theresa May didn’t even get a mention did she? The current female PM of a very Anglo-Saxon country. Although for how much longer?

I’ll also post some information about levels of violence against women in Latin America on the website – it does make for pretty grim reading.

That’s the end of this mini-show. To support The Broad Experience please donate any amount you like at TheBroadExperience.com/support. Thanks so much to all of you who have already done this, especially if you’re a monthly sustainer of the show. I so appreciate it.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. See you next time. 

Episode 120: Does Your Partner Support Your Success?

Show transcript:

 Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…two career couples are everywhere. It’s the norm in much of the western world. But does each half truly support the other?

“I'm hearing that more and more, that not only is there a reluctance or a discomfort when women are making more than men in a relationship but it's actually hurting relationships.”

But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised…

“The 20th century was the rise of women, the 21st century is the adaptation of everybody else to that rise…companies, countries, and men, and it’s gonna be a little complicated, right? It’s gonna take a few more generations. People who keep thinking that this is gonna happen in one generation, no way.”

Coming up, how careers and relationships intertwine.   


A few months ago I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review with this provocative title: If You Can’t Find a Spouse Who Supports Your Career, Stay Single. When I got in a discussion with some of you about this on Facebook recently – and you were all women…your responses varied from, well of course…to ‘support can mean a lot of different things’ to ‘men just see it as a given that women will support THEIR careers.’

And as I was starting to work on this show, one of you introduced me to my first guest.

AM-T: “So just to kick off, tell me for the record, tell me your name and what you do.”

“Diane Reichenberger, and I’m the CP global vice president for Mattel.”

CP stands for consumer products and Mattel is the toy company that gave us Barbie, among other many other brands.

Diane is based in LA, she’s 57, and she mentors a lot of younger women at the company.

And she says it’s a common theme among her highly educated, ambitious mentees that their boyfriends are…not exactly celebrating their progress. She says one young woman she mentored was dating a guy who was in the military – he’d been in Iraq…she waited for him, they talked about marriage…

“And when he returned after I think two tours they moved in together. Her career continued to grow and bloom, she was growing exponentially, and he shared with her that he did not want to get married until he made more money than she did.”

Diane was stunned. For one thing this woman had supported her boyfriend for years while he was abroad. But yes, the woman was earning more – and Diane says that was gonna be the case for some time, given he was starting from scratch after leaving the military.  

“And she had a very good job at this point making quite a bit of money for someone her age because she was so good, and we had promoted her several times. So it really got me thinking about is this something that's common or is this something that you know is somewhat unusual? So as I've been working with many young women and mentoring them, we mostly talk about careers, but certainly their personal life comes into it as they're thinking about and advocating the start, navigating the start of a family. And I'm hearing that more and more, that not only is there a reluctance or a discomfort when women are making more than men in a relationship but it's actually hurting relationships.”

That particular couple – they ended up breaking up. And she’s heard plenty of other stories like that from her mentees. And some newer survey data shows younger millennial men have more traditional views about women staying home than a previous generation did.

But data on this topic can be contradictory. I just saw a survey from the website Fairygodboss about money in heterosexual relationships. According to that survey, the vast majority of women and men said they WOULD choose to be in a long-term relationship with someone who earned a lot more then they did. But when the question was flipped – would you choose to be in a long-term relationship with someone who earns a lot LESS than you? 80% of men said sure, only 51 percent of women did.

There was an interesting piece in Refinery 29 last year about millennial women’s discomfort with being the main breadwinner in their relationships. On the other hand, some of you told me you earn more than your husband or boyfriend – and that it’s fine, or great. One listener said it did feel like a lot of pressure, being the main earner, but that she and her husband were true partners, each bringing different strengths to the relationship. A few of you said it had taken some getting used to, this dynamic, but that it was working well for your family. Someone else said she loved earning more and her boyfriend was happy because he loved his low-paying job.

Talking of support, Diane is the main breadwinner in her partnership…

“I am actually married to a woman. And it is amazing, and I love her very much and she has a job but not a full time job, so she is in the entertainment industry and she works on TV sets, and so consequently she has hiatus from time to time that she has time off to really do a lot of projects around the house. And overall though she is the one taking care of the household. I work longer hours and full time and travel, and she does the grocery shopping, she does the cooking. She packs my lunch every day. She makes wonderful dinners. We have a dog, we have no children. She takes care of the dog, who's a senior dog. But she also does all the cleaning, she does the house maintenance, and we have a very nurturing and loving relationship."

AM-T: “It does sound fantastic, but you truly do have a wife, she’s your wife, but you also have a traditional wife – the person who looks after everything outside of work.”

“Yeah, it's amazing [laughs]. I’m quite happy about it. I know. My mother often says to me, Well, what would you do if you and Sharon weren't together? I was like, I would have to hire full time staff, I would have to have a house cleaner and a cook and a car mechanic, a handyman. So yeah, I feel very fortunate. And it's just a really nice balance for the two of us. And she's doing what she loves and she likes what she does in her career. But also she loves to be home and she really wants to contribute in a way that's meaningful for our family to be healthy and happy. I never feel guilty for my success and for what I need to do for my job. And it takes the stress completely out of any of those moments. I feel really grateful.”

But what about couples who both work fulltime?  Studies suggest that in many same sex couples, there’s a more equitable division of labor at home than there is in heterosexual couples. The study I looked at online was by the Families and Work Institute from 2015. And what they found was that among male and female couples, gender, income and hours worked predicted who did more stereotypically ‘male’ chores vs. ‘female’ chores at home, including childcare. And in same-sex couples they found that income and hours worked…those weren’t reliable guarantees of how each half of the couple spent his or her time at home. It was notable how much more likely same-sex couples were to share routine childcare and sick childcare – in male/female working couples the woman was much likelier to be the one spending most time with kids.

I corresponded with a listener in England about this. She’s in her late twenties and she told me she and her wife share pretty much everything at home. And she said they are equally supportive of eachother’s careers. She told me each of them had talked about moving abroad for the other’s job.

Diane says among the female, dual-earner couples in her life…

“I will say what I love about a lot of these relationships is just the care and nurture with which, how they're conducting their lives, especially with women…we in general tend to be more caretakers, nurturers, and so consequently when you're in a healthy relationship with another woman at least the women that I know, there is a lot more give and take and a lot more flexibility. And there's not the competition or the threat and the worry that you're being perceived as weaker than or not enough or not as good because the other person is successful. I think it's kind of like how you operate even in the workplace when you set your ego aside, and it's really about all of you rising together and everyone doing well and the collaborative team environment and really complementing and being excited about your colleagues or your team members who are successful and growing, I mean when everyone's doing well everyone's happier and it’s a much more pleasant environment to work in and to live in.”

Coming up, how do you achieve that kind of equilibrium in a partnership…and why flattery is so important – both at work, and at home.


Avivah Wittenberg- Cox is a Canadian who’s spent most of her adult life in Europe. She lived in Paris for 30 years, now she’s based in London. She runs a company called 20 First. It works with businesses to get their leadership teams more balanced, gender-wise. She’s been on the show a couple of times before, and our conversations have always been stimulating. The first time was in episode 41, Stop Fixing Women, Start Fixing Companies.

Her latest book is a bit of a departure from her usual theme of gender in business. It’s called Late Love – Mating in Maturity.

Avivah married in her late 20s, and had her first child at 30. She and her husband both had successful careers. But in her forties, she began to feel restless and unfulfilled. At 50, she left her marriage. 5 years later she is re-married and living in a new country. Her experience got her thinking and writing about how dual-career couples weather the years together – how their relationships change over time, who supports whom, and in what way.

AM-T: “Before the book came out you wrote this piece in the Harvard Business Review and the title is, ‘If you can’t find a spouse who supports your career stay single’…talk about that for a minute, it was total clickbait for me.”

“Well I didn’t write that title, it’s actually less prescriptive than it sounds, it’s simply something I’ve noticed. For all the successful career women I’ve tracked, as I watch their careers evolve I’ve noticed that was the choice they ended up with in life – either their partners were really excited by their success and helped them and were full partners in applauding and championing them. The other kind of partner some of them had were a little bit more challenged by their success or resented a little bit the limelight their wives enjoyed. Those were the types of, the kinds of partners and marriages that ended up breaking up. So it’s not that I’m telling women to check all this out before they hitch up – and it’s very hard to predict, even the men involved I think don’t necessarily know how they’re going to react if their wives hit the bigtime.”

AM-T: “When you were researching the book, you mention in this piece in particular that you were talking to women of various different ages. Because one of the things I was going to ask you is, is this just relevant to people who are in their 50s, who are like you, who did things the ‘right ‘way, the way women are told we’re supposed to do it…have kids young, while you’re still fertile…is this only relevant to people who have done that and are now looking around them in their 50s or 60s, or are there younger women you met who are facing some of the things you faced?”

“Well I think we all face it, right, whether or not you’re going to transition through relationships or make your relationship stick is always a question no matter where you are in life; part of the book is about learning to transition better through relationships, how to leave well,  how to love better the next time around, you learn from every relationship, that you can grow and get deeper and get more of what you and other person need in your next relationship…it’s mostly a book that explores and validates the whole idea that transitioning emotionally in our personal lives might become a little more common, as it is in our professional lives. We used to stick to one career or employer for many decades. That has changed quite dramatically. I think we might see a parallel evolution in our emotional lives and on the partner front, although I note that despite what the media keeps saying, among the educated, divorce rates have plummeted over the last 30 years, and what the book is pointing out is that the only increase in divorce is in this age group of the 50s and 60s…and I do think most women do choose if they can to stay pretty committed during the childrearing years because that’s what priority is, to get those kids whole and healthy and grown. But then the choice becomes a little bit more, what’s good for me?”

She says in her own marriage her former husband was supportive of her career…

“...in all ways he thought he could be and was raised to be. I do think there’s a slightly threatening element which is largely unconscious for I think many of the men I interviewed…is when the dinner party chatter starts focusing on the wife’s career or the wife’s themes…I also work in gender issues which is a hot-button topic at any dinner party, and people can understandably get tired of that, and I do think that we are – my husband was very focused on the family and wanted to draw more attention to the family at a time when kids were growing up and leaving and it was time to re-focus on the couple, and we didn’t do that well enough in my mind and he wasn’t as interested in exploring those opportunities I was. So. And what I’ve heard, I think these boomer men were raised with a very different set of expectations…to work hard, to be bread winners, to be responsible co-parents, but they have not been raised to be emotionally open, sensitive, intimate and sharing and I think in our later years when we are mating in maturity I think that’s what a lot of older women are yearning for – deeper, broader, more intimate.”

AM-T: “You do talk actually about – you were at a dinner party with 8 women, 35 to 74, one had a promotion in another country, had really struggled to get her husband to join her, another, had decided to save her marriage she had to take a sabbatical and go back to school because she didn’t think the marriage had room for two careers, and there were other stories like that…so maybe this is still happening across the board with younger couples?”

“Yeah, well the whole dual career issue is absolutely fraught, right, especially with a corporate world that’s asking more and more and more of its people, and you throw a few kids into the mix, and two corporate careers in parallel are almost impossible. My next HBR blog is about different models of family careers that will work better than these two competitive, parallel tracks. But I think you have to be clearer than most couples are about how are we gonnna manage two successful careers, what are the terms of engagement, what kind of support do we need from eachother, what kind of timings do we want, what kind of parents do we want to be? What are the rules of engagement? And to make them as explicit as possible so there aren’t misunderstandings. Because I think very commonly – I teach an MBA class in France – what struck me was all these kids, who are an average age 28, come from traditional families, parents, so bread earner father, caretaker mother for 80% of them, all of them expect to be in dual career couples with two kids. And that’s not that easy to design successfully…and some of I think, what I’m pointing to later, what happens in the 50s is that resentments that have built up over decades sometimes come out much later.

It’s fine, you park priorities for a while, you focus in on work and career and getting children raised, but then it’s absolutely the quality of the couple underlying those decades that then comes to roost in your later years.”

AM-T: “It was interesting you mentioned your class, I was going to say, I think a lot of us think guys in their 20s…they’re so enlightened, they’re going to be totally supportive partners and on board with a truly egalitarian relationship but that isn’t…studies don’t necessarily support that view, which I’m always depressed to read.”

“Yeah, no, I think the issue is women want to marry up, men are still willing to marry down. Women tend to have a different point of view, they want a spouse and partner who’s at least as successful and intelligent as them…and the fact that we still tend to marry men slightly older than us almost across the board, which gives them what seems to be an infinitesimal advantage at the beginning, but over time that grows…if he’s a few years older than you are, often when children come he’ll be a bit higher paid, then the choice of who should take the lead is often a financial one, and then you give it to the guy because he’s earning a little bit more, and then and then and then…it keeps accumulating over life, and you just have to watch that kind of thing. Also on all the parenting studies we see, in countries like in the UK where parental leave is starting to replace maternity leave, men are encouraged to take as much time as they like, the pickup has been low among men in part because the world hasn’t caught up with men and women. The laws, company policies, today it’s still easier for women to take flexibility at work and not get career-punished for it…we’ve made some progress in flexibility around women and maternity leave. What we can’t say is men are condoned and allowed to take their parental leave…that usually signals you’re not that committed to the work – that’s the way their boomer bosses still interpret it. So we’re still catching up. The beginning, I mean I’ve always said the 20th century was the rise of women, the 21st century is the adaptation of everybody else to that rise…companies, countries, and men, and it’s gonna be a little complicated, right? It’s gonna take a few more generations. People who keep thinking that this is gonna happen in one generation, no way. Men are going to take generations, as it took women generations to get these new models into our minds and we’re not entirely there yet. It will be the same for men. We’re in a massive shift in what does masculinity mean, what is it to be a good man, I think young men are confused, women aren’t always helping them to understand…so yeah, we’ve got a lot of work still to do.”

I told Avivah about my conversation with Diane Reichenberger, and the stories she was hearing from her mentees – that many of their boyfriends were reluctant to commit to a woman who earned more than they did.

“That’s a harsh reality too many women forget about men. The issue for men isn’t what women think of them, it’s how other men react to them. And other men would react negatively to someone who earns less than his wife, they’d joke, make him uncomfortable, make him feel small, and if that’s how you start you can imagine how as women’s careers get increasingly successful, how it’s gonna end, right – if he’s uncomfortable with your bigger salary in your twenties, he’s gonna be even more uncomfortable in his 30s, 40s, 50s…”

AM-T: “I’m curious, you have a son in his twenties, do you know how he feels about all this?”

“Yeah, well I do think our sons are especially well educated in this matter. He’s enlightened and I count on his ability to manage strong, intelligent women, it’s certainly what he’s looking for and I don’t think he’d have an issue with a differential in pay…but you know, he’s a very competitive young man so again, maybe it’s stronger than we think, right?

Towards the end of her book Avivah lists some strategies she recommends for couples to try. And this kind of underlines her assertion that there are parallels between our work lives and our personal lives.

She says as partners we need to use vision, active listening and feedback (which she also calls flattery).

“Most of us do this at work all the time. We know how to build teams and motivate people, we just never use those same leadership skills at home. All I’m suggesting is do the same thing you’d do with your team, right – build a vision, align on what it is, do you share it, is everyone bought into the vision, how far forward is that vision gonna take you…and I think for couples it’s good to go a little further than they usually do, not just the next two or three years but the next two or three decades is an interesting conversation to have. The whole active listening thing is really important for both men and women. When you look at research you see women don’t feel heard, and men don’t feel appreciated. So that’s what these two points are – active listening is for women, sit down, listen to your partner carefully, give them time and attention, look them in the eyes, put phones and children away, have regular appointments where you can be really heard…active listening means you have a structured conversation where you feedback what you heard, to check if that’s actually what the person said, which remarkably it often isn’t. People hear their partners often though a veil of interpretation. So this structured listening can be very helpful; and feedback - when partners don’t feel appreciated they get very demotivated just like people on your team do – flattery, feedback, positive admiration, stroking, and lots of it is wonderful at work and very under-utilized by managers, and it’s even better at home, people just want to be worshipped, adored and admired…do it. It’s free and it saves you a lifetime of frustrated partners who don’t feel you’re properly seeing them.”

AM-T: “I think you said something like 5 times as many positive things as quote, constructive comments, in other words negative comments.”

“I think you see this in couples unfortunately. Any couple goes through frustrations and disappointments with the other half, living with another human being is always an adaptive process. And too often and with women particularly, when we don’t feel appreciated we can become pretty passive aggressive…we can start complaining, rolling our eyes, criticizing and turning very negative. And men often react to that by stonewalling and shutting down a bit. That’s a pattern you see in too many couples, right? When actually a little more serious sitting down and asking for what you want, which is difficult for a lot of women, we have not been raised to ask for what we want, is a much better way out of that kind of pattern. As soon as we get into negative patterns they tend to escalate pretty fast and you dig yourself into ruts. One of the joys of late love is that you begin to understand your own patterns and how you co-create patterns with another human being you live with, and how to become much more intentional about shifting out of them if you need to.”

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox.

I’m gonna be releasing a mini-show next week, an extra that sprang from my conversation with Avivah. It’s about the cultural differences around masculinity and femininity. This from a woman who lived in France till just recently. It really got me thinking but it was too off-topic to include in this episode.

Before we go, I want to tell you about a compelling new podcast series I think you’ll enjoy. It’s personal and raw and a lot of it happens on a ship at the bottom of the world.

It’s called This is our Time, and the first season takes you on a journey to Antarctica. Lots of women scientists together on that ship for three weeks…facing questions about climate change…about leadership, and about themselves.

And at one point in episode 7, an advocate for the oceans, a well known man, comes aboard to give a talk. And one of the women hits him up with a question about the barriers female scientists face…

“So we talk a lot here about the need for women to play bigger roles, to have strong voices, and we have trained ourselves. We take sustainability, climate change seriously. What do you think needs to happen to see more women out there, like, so what's your take on this? What do you want for your daughter?"

And he doesn’t really answer her. Instead he veers off into a story…

“So we arrived in the Maldives and we started this swim…” [fade down under trax]

a story about how self-belief will get you where you want to go.

He screwed up.

But amazingly…he admitted it.

“I think I did the complete wrong thing…and didn't properly acknowledge, you know, some of the very serious glass ceilings impacting women in science.”

If you want to hear the rest of this story, or start at the beginning of this 8-episode serialized storytelling podcast, search for This is Our Time podcast...you can find it in Apple Podcasts, or in RadioPublic, if you’re an Android user.

And you can subscribe to my show in those places as well.

Please keep telling your friends about The Broad Experience and ask them to subscribe – independent podcasters need all your support to build our listenership. It truly does make a difference.

You can follow me on Twitter at ashleymilnetyte – without the hyphen – sign up for the bi-monthly newsletter at TheBroadExperience.com and join the discussions we have on the show’s Facebook page.

If you have an idea for a show, get in touch with me at Ashley at TheBroadExperience.com. A lot of great show ideas have come from you.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

Episode 30: Women in Academia

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time we look at life in academia. To an outsider being a professor can look very attractive – the interaction with the students, all those enlightened colleagues, the flexibility, long holidays. But, of course, it’s more complicated than that. It turns out being a successful academic is much more of a man’s game, even today.

“The idea of being a scholar, a true scholar, is very much predicated upon a traditional male model of a professor thinking lofty thoughts and having a stay-at-home wife who takes care of all of those sort of mundane, ordinary details.”

Coming up on The Broad Experience.


Recently I’ve been intrigued by a few little things friends and listeners happened to mention about their jobs in academia – information that made me want do delve further into life in the ivory tower. But before I got to the personal stories I wanted to get some statistics. So I called John Curtis. He’s director of research and public policy for the American Association of University Professors. He says the state of women in academia today isn’t as advanced as it should be… 

“They’re more likely to be in part time faculty positions rather than full time faculty positions, if they’re in a full time faculty positions they’re more likely to be in one that is not on the tenure track, in other words one that does not lead to a permanent position. And if they do get into one of those tenure track positions, the percentage of women faculty who achieve tenure is lower than that for men.”

About 35 percent of women have tenure versus 48 percent of men. This might not be so surprising, but he says there’s been a 40-year push to get women academics on an equal footing with their male colleagues. He has a daughter who’s studying science at college…and the sheer number of women students, he says, is partly why this matters.

“Women are now the majority, in fact a large majority of the student population in colleges and universities and they also earn the majority of the degrees at all levels, including at the doctoral level. So we have reached a point where we can’t say there aren’t enough women out there who have attended college or have completed advanced degrees to bring them into the faculty, that really we need to have a faculty that matches the diversity certainly in terms of gender the student population.”

He says if young women at university are seeing more women as adjuncts than full professors, the circle has a good chance of perpetuating itself.   

The reasons behind all this are varied. I talked to Aeron Haynie about some of them. She’s an associate professor of English and director for the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of New Mexico.  She loves her job, loves teaching… with the students, but she says there’s no doubt one reason academic life is harder for women is because women often have babies – and academia has been slow to adjust to this fact. When she had her daughter ten years ago she was working at a university in the Midwest…

“There was no official maternity leave, which meant in order to take any paid time off I needed to accumulate sick days, it works out OK for me, I had my baby in March and was able to take the semester off with accumulated sick days, but that’s because I had worked for years. I delivered my daughter the day before my 40th birthday. So waiting until one has tenure and has accumulated sick days worked for me but for may women it’s biologically not practical to go that route.”

Then there’s the question of how much goes into an academic career – more than I realized, it’s one of those jobs where you could always be working and still feel you’re not getting enough done.

“One of the things I don’t think a lot of people understand is that we spend a lot of time working hard, but only part of our work is valued, meaning will help us get jobs, help us get raises. So we’re spending a lot of time working but always with that sick, anxiety-provoking feeling that we’re not doing our real work.”

The real work, she says, is getting your research published and getting grants to fund it in the first place – things that make you look good on the outside and get you recognized within the academic community. She says it all adds up, and a lot of women don’t have the energy to do everything it takes to be a star academic, because of all the other work they do….

“To be successful that requires an incredible amount of concentration, right? So you have your teaching and your committee work and all these other things, but in order to really be successful and get jobs, raises and get grants, you have to have publications and you have to be able to concentrate and that requires a lot of time free from any other thoughts. And that means you can’t be thinking about taking the kids to the doctor, you can’t be thinking about how dirty the house is, and that’s where I think the idea of being a scholar, a true scholar, is very much predicated upon a traditional male model of a professor thinking lofty thoughts and having a stay-at-home wife, a stay-at-home mom, who takes care of all of those sort of mundane, ordinary details.”

She says it’s extremely difficult to do both.  That stereotype of the absent-minded professor? Perhaps he could be absent-minded because he had someone at home dealing with the practical stuff.

In case you’re wondering about some of that other work professors do, there’s some interesting research on how male and female academics spend their time. Men, it turns out are much more protective of their research time than women – and remember conducting research in your field is really what gets you recognized and promoted. In one study, male associate professors spent 37 percent of their time on research, whereas women spent 25 percent. Men also spent less time on mentoring, meetings, and being on committees than women…this is what academics call service work – things that are helpful for the community as a whole.

Kate Clancy is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She also writes a blog for Scientific American. She says this kind of work can put women in a bind…

“And there’s this way where in order to have authority and in order to be taken seriously, women have this double-edged sword, on the one hand if we don’t play along we can be out grouped. So if we don’t do that cleaning up of the fridge or taking on that extra service requirement we’re far more likely to be seen as bad team players than if it were a man to refuse those things. But then if you do play along then you get on that second tier, it’s a complete lose/lose situation, if you’re that easygoing person who agrees to pick up the mop then you’re also a second class citizen because you’re a mother – you’re mothering or taking care of everyone else. I just had a phone meeting with a collaborator before this interview.  And we were talking about this and what she said was you only have two options when you’re a female PI.”

PI stands for principal investigator, someone who’s heading a scientific project….

“You either are the asshole or the mother. There is no way to be anywhere in between. Because if you try to sort of mitigate the two and be somewhere in the middle it’s just too messy, people don’t know how to respond to it. So if you want to not do all the maternal stuff you have to be a jerk.” 

Kate loves a lot about her job…she says her department is friendly to women and mothers, and she has a young daughter so she likes the flexibility of being able to leave early to pick her up from school and finishing her work later.  She also has a ton of freedom to pursue the research she loves. But one thing she doesn’t like about the sciences as a whole is that they can be rather unfriendly to women.

Now let me give you some background to what we’re going to talk about next, because it gets pretty serious. If any of you work in the sciences or follow scientific blogs, you may know the story of a woman called Danielle Lee. She’s a biologist, she’s African-American, she teaches at the University of Oklahoma and she also blogs for Scientific American as ‘the urban scientist’. Earlier this fall she was asked by an editor at a small online science publication to write something for him for free. She refused – politely – saying couldn’t work for nothing, and he called her an urban whore. She responded in a video online and the story began to escalate. It became about the way women in science, particularly women of color, can be treated by their male colleagues. A lot of the follow-up writing was about sexual harassment.  And here’s what I took away from the many comments I read from women in the sciences who said they’d been sexually harassed – not assaulted, simply made to feel very uncomfortable…they felt they couldn’t say anything because the person doing the harassing was the one person who could help them in their career. More than at a regular organization it seems in academia…there’s often a single person who’s your ticket to the next level of success.

Back to Kate Clancy.  Recently she and some colleagues conducted a survey of scientists from all disciplines who had spent any time at a field site for their work. The researchers asked participants if they’d ever encountered any kind of sexual harassment. The results shocked them and really changed their thinking about the scientific community they’re a part of. Most survey respondents were women – about 77 percent of the total. 60 percent of respondents reported sexual harassment. 20 percent reported sexual assault. 

“So these are to my mind, regardless of how you try to think about how the sample might be biased in terms of who decided to do it, those are enormous numbers, and devastating numbers. And then the stories that accompany them with the interviews are equally devastating. To me the main way in which it was devastating was not just the actual experience of being harassed or assaulted…as a woman you come to expect some of this could happen to you some day. It’s the follow up, that re-victimization, when a woman doesn’t know what to do because it’s your own PI  - who do you report an assault to when it’s your boss? What do you do when that’s the person who raped you, or what do you do if you go back to your university, you withstand an entire field season of psychological abuse, you have things thrown at you, you have your food taken away, you’re not allowed to use the bathroom. You finally go home to your university and you find that there is actually no reporting mechanism for abuse or assault or harassment at your university…and when you finally talk to HR they say you’re a graduate student, you’re not technically an employee, so they can’t help you.”

Which, she says, has happened. It may seem crazy that things like this are going on in the 21st century and in the US – or at least it does to me. She says what made it hard for many of the people involved was they felt they couldn’t say anything…even though technically a field site is considered a university space where university rules apply…

“But people don’t treat it that way. And some of the interviewees reported that one of the first things they were told when they first arrived to the field was what happens here, stays here. A lot of people exploited those times to have affairs, so they’d have an affair with somebody there, a fellow researcher or somebody who lived nearby, and they’d say, ‘What happens here stays here’. And that very clear sense that you are not to talk about what happens in the field once you leave the field, creates a real senses there is no safe reporting structure if something bad happens.” 

She says there’s always less sexual harassment when the rules of an organization are very clear. She says universities need to be a lot clearer on this – especially as the sciences are trying to attract more women.

“You know my collaborators and I, you know how I was saying before, we are forever changed, I mean we can’t un-know this information that we know and we have to carry that with us for the rest of our lives that there are some horrible things our very own colleagues do…that they do under the auspices of science, and that a lot of science that is published that comes out of field sites, not just in anthropology but across all these disciplines we looked at in this survey…all this published research is done on the backs of these mostly young, female graduate students, who are being harassed and abused. And I think that’s the devastating part for me, that this thing that I love…and this is something a lot of the interviewees talked about too, that they feel such grief over the loss of their innocence…they way they’re changed by the experience, by the loss of the science they got to do, by the loss of the scientist they could be. Because a lot of them left, right? A lot of the people who are harassed are likely to leave, at least so far from our preliminary analyses, and even if they stay they’re going to change what they’re doing to stay away from the person who’s been hurting them. So that means cutting off an avenue of something they probably were really passionate and excited about. So I think telling these stores gives these women a chance to heal and it flips the problem we’ve been having where the science has been done on their backs. And it’s time to flip it and actually prioritize the people over the science.”

Kate Clancy. She and her colleagues are still analyzing the data they collected from that survey, they’re going to submit a draft of their study by the end of this year. They hope it’ll be published in an academic journal in 2014.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. You can comment on this episode at The Broad Experience dot com or on the show’s Facebook page.  I’ll be posting a lot of links to things I’ve mentioned today on the website under this episode.

This is the 30th episode of The Broad Experience. You can support what I’m doing by in a big way by following up on the sponsor offers I mention during the show – by doing so you’re making it far more likely I’ll continue to get sponsorship going forward.

And if you like what you hear please write a quick review on iTunes – the more reviews I get the likelier it is the show will be found by other people who don’t know about it yet.

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I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte, thanks for listening.

 

Episode 119: Women in Medicine are Burning Out

Show transcript: 

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…a lot of us have at least one female doctor. In some ways, their working lives sound quite familiar.

“I think we look at other women and we judge ourselves on how they’re doing. So we see this little iceberg of their lives and we say, are we doing as good a job as they are?”

But the job has challenges most of us won’t have to face at work…

“You don't necessarily show that emotion. And so that's how I carried on most of the time. And most of the time that worked, you know 90 percent of the time that worked, and then every so often terrible things happen and you react to it.”


At the end of 2016 I did an episode on burnout – and the reaction seemed to show this is a problem a lot of you have experienced.

And over the last year or so I’ve heard from a few doctors saying look, burnout is a HUGE problem for women physicians. Depending on which study you look at, women doctors are burning out at twice the rate of men, and that can’t be good for any of us. A Harvard study has also shown elderly hospital patients do better under the care of women doctors – but is that because women are throwing so much of themselves into that care it’s leaving them spent?

In this show we’re going to talk about burnout and lack of empathy in a profession that on the surface seems to be all about it. We’re going to talk about how women judge one another’s success, and how they can help eachother.

Robin Devine is my first guest. She lives in Columbus, Ohio. She’s in her mid-forties with two teenage sons and a husband. (We had a few technical difficulties during the interview so ended up speaking on Skype.) 

After her medical residency Robin did a fellowship in sports medicine. She was athletic herself and thought, maybe this’ll be my career.

“But I got about halfway through it and thought, I don't want to see people for ankle sprains for the rest of my life. I want to experience kind of the continuity and that whole patient experience where you treat people from cradle to grave. The whole shebang.”

She wanted to develop relationships with her patients over years. And she thought being a family doctor, with somewhat regular hours – would allow a bit more time for other things…

“Medicine often is, not just a job, it's not just a career, it's a life. And you have to be happy and I knew that I would not be happy if I couldn't do the other parts of living, which was having a family and having interests outside of work.”

AM-T: “Well yeah, tell me about that. I was going to ask you when you met your husband and how much you thought about the intersection of work and life before you had kids.”

“Hmmm. So I met my husband, I used to be a runner in high school and college and I met him playing ultimate Frisbee. And we dated for about five years and we ended up getting married the last year my residency. And you know, I had friends who during residency had babies and I remember I was very driven then and I couldn't imagine, I couldn't understand in my brain, in my mindset at the time, why someone would want to take a break from this thing they’d work so hard for to start their family then. It was a very ignorant mental model that I had. But that's kind of the frame of mind I was in at the time.”

But once she got married, she felt quite differently. She didn’t want to wait to have kids. And

her first job in a family practice looked pretty good to a 30-year-old on the cusp of her career. She joined a practice with another female doctor who worked with her husband – he was a lawyer, and he ran the office.

“One of the reasons I took the job was they had a lot of kids and they were very much encouraging. They thought in order to be a family doctor you have to have perspective, and we really encourage you to have a family. We provide maternity leave.”

Which was great. Because she got pregnant quite quickly. Things were going well.

“And I was pregnant, about 25 weeks pregnant, and I started having pre-term contractions, and I went to the doctor and he said, ‘you know this happens a lot with physicians because you're on your feet all day long. You need to you need to cut back because your cervix is shortening.’ And at that time many years ago there wasn't the treatments that they have now to stop that. And so he said, you need to go to a part time, that either means half the patients or half a day.”

So she called her bosses on her way home…explained the situation, told them she needed to go part time. And as she remembers it they seemed supportive, the wife maybe more so.

So that was on a Friday – she’d had about 18 patients scheduled for the following Monday. So she goes into the office on Monday morning, expecting to see maybe nine patients on her new schedule.

“And when I went into the office they had moved every single patient into the morning, so I had 18 patients in half the time.”

AM-T: “Whoa.” 

“[Laughs] And I I'm like, there must be a mistake. And so I went up to the office manager, which was her husband, and said what is going on? You know, I'm supposed to be part time. And he looked at me and he said, ‘We all know you're going to end up on bed rest. So we're trying to get these patients seen before you go.’ And I didn't really feel like there was anything I could do. It was a little bit surreal, I couldn't believe he was saying this to me. And so I went and saw the patients. And by the time I got done at one in the afternoon, because I was running around, I was contracting every four or five minutes and I was just a wreck because I thought I'm going to have a baby at 26 weeks. So I called my doctor and he said, ‘get in here.’ And he took one look at me, because I was sobbing and crying by the time I got there, and he said, ‘you're done.’ He said this didn't work. You're on bed rest. So I spent ten and a half weeks on bed rest and had him just around 37 weeks.”

And though she did return to the practice after having her son, she quickly realized the relationship with that couple wasn’t going to work long-term.

Her next job lasted almost 12 years. She became a partner in another family practice with two male doctors, both older than her. She learned a lot, got on well with her partners, and thoroughly enjoyed her patients. She says the financial arrangement wasn’t ideal, though. She took a big financial hit because she had another child during this time. And at one point her partners made clear to Robin that they thought it was only fair the practice should pay them more, since they had stay at home wives to support, and her husband had a job. She says there were definitely double standards, but this was largely a positive period in her career.

But when she got in touch with me in 2016, she was feeling overwhelmed. She had left that practice and gone into academia, joining the faculty at a big hospital, also in Columbus – she still saw patients, but she taught as well.

AM-T: “When you moved into that job you said, ‘I thought I’d hit the jackpot. A salary that was set across the system and a female boss.’ But it wasn’t quite that simple, right?”

“No. I sat in the first interview, my first interview is with three female faculty and they sold me 30 seconds in, and I wasn't even convinced that I wanted the job. I went into the interview thinking I don't need this, I don't need to be here. And so I wasn't even nervous, but I thought, wow, I want to work with other women who have families and juggle this and do this, because they're going to understand, and I’m not gonna have to live up to…you know in my practice that I was in, both of my partners had children and stay at home wives. And so you know I'm not sure they ever really put any of their expectations on me. But my inner expectation was that I had to work as hard as they did. And if a kid was sick or something happened, my first thought would always be, well what would they do in this situation? And I could do no less than that because I was a physician and I needed…you know that was that is kind of the measure I think that I was holding myself up to. And so I thought it would be a lot different in joining this practice with a lot of women in it.”

AM-T: “And?”

“It wasn't. I worked with a bunch of fantastic human beings and physicians there, some of the most brilliant people I know, and caring and selfless. But the work life balance was insane. For me. It didn't work in my lifestyle. And I think when you work, especially women, I think you look at other women and we judge ourselves based on how they're doing. And so we see this little iceberg of their lives and we say, oh, are we doing as good a job as they are?

And so I really struggled in that job because number one I'm kind of an introvert. Even though I am chatty. Teaching is a lot of you being in front of people all day long and being in groups, and that was not necessarily filling my cup per se. And I was just overworked – and then I felt bad about myself because I thought, all these other women are doing this. They're doing this and they're thriving, and they were here before I was. So why can't I do this?

And it wasn't until, we were at a graduation dinner and I was with some of my colleagues and I was with this woman I really respect, and she's a fantastic physician and she has kids and a husband, and she is very athletic. And I thought, oh, she does this all the way I should be doing it. And we were having this discussion about the food and she mentioned that, ‘oh, we don't cook except on the weekends. We have carry out and frozen food all week long because we can't fit that into our lives.’

And I realized that, hey, not everybody's doing this as well as I think they are.”

But for a long time that feeling – that she just wasn’t doing things as well as she could be – it dominated her thinking.

“I mean I was working on average 60, 70 hours a week. And really putting myself out there. And I think if I had felt that I was doing this fantastic job and I was succeeding, I might have been OK with that. But I got to the point where I felt like I was doing nothing well. I wasn't a good wife. I wasn't a good mom. I wasn’t a good physician. I wasn't a good teacher. And I felt like I had 20 balls in the air and at any moment they were all going to come crashing down.”

Then that started to happen.

A few years ago her husband started bleeding from a place none of us want to see blood – a gastrointestinal bleed, they call it. At first, he was diagnosed with ulcers. But then further tests came back and they showed that he had lymphoma. It was a slow growing form of the cancer, but still…stage 4. He was 48.

“I was completely caught off guard by it. I just, in retrospect the signs were there but I had no idea. And I was, I was probably in the throes of burnout at the time, and really had no reserve. And so it really shook my world I would say.”

So she has two young boys to care for and keep cheerful for. A husband she wants to be an advocate for. And a job that is sapping her. At first she only told her boss what was going on at home…

“And I wasn't real comfortable with anybody else. We were in a huge program with lots of residents and faculty and staff and I wasn't in a place where I could really deal with those questions on a daily basis: How is he? What's going on? So initially I was very, very closed off about it and still very much struggling as far as motivation and work.”

But despite that, asking for time off just didn’t feel right.

“We were all spread very thin and very kind of stressed out. And so I felt like asking for time off when my husband had treatment was a big burden on everybody else and some of that may have been my internal, again, measurement of what I should be living up to. But you know initially my husband had to have weekly chemotherapy treatments, and luckily they were very benign and he didn't have severe adverse reactions from them. But they had to give him some medicine that made him sedated and so he couldn't drive himself. And so initially I said to my work, I'm going to go to the first two or three and see how he does. And so I went back afterwards and I said, he can't even stay awake out of the parking lot. And I really felt like that was my role, that I had to be the one to be there, and it wasn't a responsibility. It was this was what I was called to do. You know I do this every day for people who I don't even know. And I felt like I need to use my skills to help my husband, and to be there for him and to advocate for him. And so I went back and said, I need all this time off. And it was it was not denied. They rearranged my schedule, but I never really had any conversation after that about my needs or you know, ‘how is he?,’ any of that. And you know I think a lot of that is because everybody was struggling or working very hard. And I think it's hard for you to have empathy for somebody else when you are not looking forward to having to cover their shift or take on their responsibilities when you don't have any extra room.”

AM-T: It's so interesting because you know from the outside we see medicine as, well, an empathy job. And it seems like there isn't necessarily always empathy for each other for those who are called to do that job.”

“I think that's often very true, and that's a culture that we as physicians propagate. We are conditioned to put the patient first. If I could give you a penny for every time I heard, ‘the patient comes first’ I would be much richer than I that I am as a physician. And I think that one of the ways that we also cope with some of the really horrible things that we see is to compartmentalize. And so with those two things, that institutional culture of the patient comes first and the high stress that goes along with it…I think that is something that we could do a lot better in medicine.”

AM-T: “What’s happened since then with your husband’s health and everything?”

“So he is doing quite well now. He had a recurrence last year. So he has a form that is incurable, but it is slow growing. So we're hoping that it will be a couple, many years maybe before he has another issue with this. He just had some scans and everything was normal. So that's good. And I think that was really a turning point for me. And it was also about the time when I read the article that Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote about women having it all. And it was very, it was just an aha moment for me. And so I really at that point made a vow to change and to really think about what is important in my life.”

As she said when she wrote to me, and she was still in the middle of all this, “I’ve finally realized this career I have forged for myself means nothing if I can't be there for my family--especially in the area of health and illness.”

 “And you know I go back to that time when I told you that my colleagues were having babies and I couldn't understand why they were doing that at that point in their lives. Because I never realized at that point in my life how important my family would be to me. And so you know I had to really re-evaluate what I wanted out of life and what I wanted out of medicine. And so I'm in a much better place now. I think that medicine as an institution has a lot more work to do because I think we lose out on a lot of very talented people who take really good care of patients but can't do it all.”

She says during her husband’s illness and her worst period of burnout, she realized she was distancing herself too much from patients and their illnesses, compartmentalizing too much… so she could cope with everything.  

She decided it was time to change gears.

“I am still teaching in the residency. And so I see patients with residents but I don't carry my own what we call patient panel. And so that was really hard to give up some of my patients I had been seeing for 17, 18 years, and I had to say goodbye to them and that was really tough. But I didn't feel like I was necessarily the best person to take care of them at that point. And so I am working there, and then also working part time at the same health care system overseeing academic research. And so for me that’s a way for me to affect change at a much higher level, more of a bird’s eye view than a street level view.”

AM-T: “And it's funny because although you said part time, it doesn't seem that part time to me because you're pretty much… you're working except for, was it Friday afternoon and Monday mornings?”

“Yes. And it's Friday afternoon, right? And I've been working. It is much less than it was before and when I choose to work extra it's usually for something I'm very passionate about. And so you know, I normally don't work Friday afternoons but I had a couple conference calls because they were projects I was really passionate about. And so I ask myself every day now, is what you're spending time on moving you towards your goals? And that's really a reminder for me. Is this important? Should you be doing this? And what I did this afternoon certainly was and so that fills my cup and I think that's what keeps you from being burned out is, you have to get that positive energy back in. And I think that's what's hard for a lot of women is we give, give, give, and we judge ourselves, but we don't always fill ourselves back up.”

In a minute…there are some unique stressors in a medical career.

“You have to look at patients and say, ‘are you going to be the next one to sue me?’ Even though that's not a realistic way to look at things. But you feel just so betrayed in a way.” 

That’s coming up next. Don’t go anywhere.


My next guest is also based in the Midwest. Heather Anaya grew up in Indiana, the oldest of five kids. Today she lives and works in Iowa, another rural state. Her ambition started early.

“I wanted to be a doctor when I was four years old on my first day of preschool.”

For years she assumed she’d be a pediatrician – she’d always loved kids. But during her training she found herself drawn to the world of obstetrics and gynecology.

“It's interesting because the body is so different during pregnancy, it has to respond to support this pregnancy and it changes in so many ways that the physiology and all the things you learn about the human body in medical school kind of go out the window in some ways because everything is so new to adapt to pregnancy. And I just found that fascinating, just what the human body can do. And when women are pregnant it's just a great time in their life to really make a difference in their health care.”

Heather ended up specializing in high-risk pregnancies – she’s known as a maternal fetal medicine specialist. So she witnesses a lot of joy, but there’s heartbreak too.

“Right off the bat I just want to say I didn’t go into the specialty thinking it would be all rainbows and puppy dogs. And I knew there would be heavy issues and very sad things. But I was drawn to that because I feel my personality and my training, I’m a great doctor to assume that role. So I went in eyes wide open. But at a certain time it does wear on you; my days generally involve taking care of women who are very sick. So maybe that have issues with high blood pressure or diabetes or heart problems, very severe heart problems, or babies who are very ill, so have trouble growing or have birth defects that’ll be impactful life long…there’s lots of situations that come up on a daily basis and you can only compartmentalize so much until it starts affecting you and wearing on you.”

Recently a mother died after giving birth – she had complications from a liver disease. Heather says she was an older mom; she had several children already. She says it’s horrific when a mother dies. But she sees it as her job to stay strong for the patient’s family and also the team she’s working with, many of whom are younger. When that mother died Heather says it took her a week to really process what had happened; she broke down one day when she was at home with her family.

She says she was raised to be tough.

“I played men's soccer in high school. I mean I was tough. Yeah you do, you go on. Bad things happen but you fix them or you know, you power through. You don't necessarily show that emotion. And so that's how I carried on most of the time. And most of that time that worked, you know 90 percent of the time that worked, and then every so often terrible things happen and you react to it.”

She’s been reacting a bit more lately. She had kids in her late 30s. She and her husband have a girl and a boy, they’re four and two now.

“I'll have to say when I had my children…I become way more emotional about patient situations, about things in general, and I think that's a good thing. I've seen that change in myself. I've had a few patients, one in particular that I still keep in contact with. She's just amazing but she had to make a very difficult decision for her baby. Her baby had a very, very severe heart defect and she decided, her and her family decided that they weren't going to have all these extensive heart surgeries, they were going to have comfort care and be with the baby until she passed away. And this is a little bit on the fringe because most people say, just do all the surgeries and just make that happen. And she honestly made the decision, just such a selfless decision. I just was in awe of her. But anyway I could not see her without crying. I cried with her so much. I still get a Christmas card from her every year and I cry when I see the card.”

She says the female physicians she knows – a lot of them are struggling. Not only do they pour themselves into patient care and identify with their women patients. She says it’s often a woman doctor who’ll get asked to take on that extra patient, and usually she says yes. Or maybe a colleague is having a problem at work and they need to talk – they come to her. Or there’s a committee that needs chairing - yup, again, it’s often a female doctor who’s asked to do it. The difficulty so many of us have setting boundaries, she says it’s huge with women in medicine. And home situations can play in too. She says studies show…

“…women, working women physicians often have working male or working partners or husbands or wives, and men physicians often are the sole breadwinner of the family, which has its own stresses of course. But we have a lot of work and home responsibilities that come into play, and so I think those are the issues that are starting to come up for women physicians in all of this comes together to seeing more patients and the way insurance works now, more production. And yet we still want to relate to these patients and so there's a lot of psychological attachment and empathy and anyway, it drains our resources.”

It can even bring on despair. She says the burnout rate is bad enough. But there’s more disturbing news.

“Unfortunately the suicide rate in physicians is increasing. And for women physicians that proportion is higher which is a very, very sad statistic.”

She says it’s hard for over-burdened doctors to take a career break, to step away from the workforce for whatever reason…

“If you even leave for less than a year, or you leave for a year, it’s actually very difficult to get back both financially and academically because you have to go through these re-training processes…”

It’s quite an impediment. Something else that stops doctors from leaning out – at least American ones – debt.

“I have paid quite an exorbitant amount of money to go for med school tuition and I and for undergrad, for all of my schooling. And so I have a huge student loan debt that I need to repay over many years because it's quite a huge amount of money and that that keeps me, well number one in a in a job where I can have a salary that can repay that. I mean it's more than our mortgage every month to pay back my student loan payment so that…I couldn't just decide you know what, I'm not going to do medicine, I'm going to do something else, because I would really not be able to pay back those loans. Even now it's definitely a stretch to pay those back.”

AM-T: “Do you mind telling people how much it is and what you have to pay back every month?

“No, it's over three hundred thousand dollars. I think $350,000 when I came out of training and then every month that's about 4000 dollars a month to repay the student loan debt.”

She says she has about another ten years of payments before she’s free of that debt.

Another stress factor is litigation. Obviously when something goes wrong in a medical situation it can be devastating to the patient and their family. Heather says her field of obstetrics and fetal medicine…it has the highest rate of litigation of any medical field. She and her colleagues treat high-risk patients and things don’t always turn out well. But getting sued was a shock.

“It was awful. I mean I can't even explain the feeling because you've spent your whole life, I feel like I've spent my whole life preparing for this career and being the best physician that I can be. And yet someone is…you read this, whatever they bring you, the paperwork they bring you when they're serving you with your papers, and about all these awful things in lawyer speak. But it's horrible and it's demoralizing. And you have to go back to work and you have to look at patients and say, ‘are you going to be the next one to sue me?’ Even though that's not a realistic way to look at things. But you feel just so betrayed in a way.”

That said, Heather says she’d tell her kids to be doctors. She says you can do so much good for someone else. But she would like to spend more time with them. A typical week for her could be 65 hours – it involves everything from ultrasounds and C-sections, to teaching, administration, and travel to rural parts of the state where her expertise is needed. She says she tries to maintain some balance by working out – every single morning. She runs or does yoga.

“So regardless of what time I have to be at the hospital I wake up earlier to do that before  my kids wake up, and I really make sure that I spend quality time with my kids and my husband, especially at night. Or today for instance I'm going to be in the hospital for about 30 hours, and so my I went with my nanny to pick up my kid from preschool just to see her for about 30 minutes, and then we picked her up, she dropped me back off at the hospital. And it was just even a few minutes to be with the kids. But that was that was really special. So I really try to maximize that time especially because my husband, his current role he travels a lot during the week so he may be gone in another state Monday through Thursday.”

AM-T: “I mean you mentioned your nanny when we first spoke, and you said you definitely couldn’t do this without her.”

“No. She's amazing. She is practically my other daughter at this point and she is amazing. So I was very fortunate to have her in our lives.” 

AM-T: “What’s her name?”

“Her name is Kayla.”

But Heather’s hours will drop by close to half later this year.  Just like Robin Devine, she has found her way to what looks like a saner existence. Her husband’s job asked him to move to Chicago this summer. They’re doing it. Heather has secured a new position there with better hours, but still good pay.

"Because I still love medicine. Despite all these challenges that keep popping up it's still an amazing specialty, an amazing career. But I'm able to have more time with my family and have...you know, I don't want to look back and realize that my kids grew up at night and I missed a lot of that."

AM-T: “But Heather, is this the only answer for other physicians like you? Is the only answer for people on the cusp of burnout to scale back? Is there no other way to make it an easier life?”

“I think there are other ways. And going part time or going, I'm calling it semi part-time, has been cited as a looming issue for medicine in general and access to care, so it's going to get some recognition at some point if even that's to say, we don't have enough physicians to take care of patients.”

She says talking to other women is at least part of the solution. She’s part of a Facebook group for physician moms, and that may seem small, but it’s been really helpful – conferring with some of those women helped her land her new job, on her terms.

“It’s an outlet for physicians to give ideas and be like, hey, this is what my schedule looks like, even like how to negotiate. So I've had mentors and friends talk about, you know what do we do to negotiate this particular job and hours. And it's not even about the about money so much as it's about time. And that was my sticking point too, is I want the time.”

And speaking of time, while I was putting this show together I heard from a young doctor-in-training in Australia. She also brought up burnout, and she said, ‘I feel medicine lends itself quite well to job sharing but the attitude is, ‘it’s never worked before.’ But she told me, “I feel it hasn’t worked before because it hasn’t been tried before.”

And here’s a final word from Robin Devine. She says stick up for your colleagues, because you never know when you’ll need them to stick up for you…

“You know if somebody says I can't come to that meeting any more, and my kids are sick, we aren't always our best selves in those moments. And so I think really advocating for our colleagues and for change in the system. You know, why is the job that we do still based on a 1950s physician whose wife stays home?”

Thanks to Doctors Robin Devine and Heather Anaya for being my guests on this longer than usual episode.

And if there’s ever something you hear in a show and you want to re-visit it, I post transcripts of every episode on the website. Just find the show you want at TheBroadExperience.com, look in the show notes and click on the link to the transcript.

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I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

Episode 118: A Year for Women?

Show transcript:

Welcome to the Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…workplace harassment is no longer something we’re whispering about. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, women’s voices are getting louder and more confident. So will

2018 be a new dawn for women in the workplace?

 “You know one of the things I’ve heard said is, well, we just need more women in leadership. But just having a woman there doesn’t mean she’s going to be any more deft and skilled in knowing how to deal with a harassment situation.”

“I’m a big fan of all this discomfort men are feeling right now. Any change requires discomfort, and this isn’t a bad thing. I think as women we need to be careful not to care too much that there’s some discomfort among men.”

Coming up…two women on whether 2018 could really be a turning point for women at work.


I met Anne Libby several years ago at an event in New York and we’ve been pen pals ever since. Anne grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and though she’s based in New York she still spends a lot of time in Chicago.

She has her own coaching and consulting business that helps people become better managers.

Which is something Anne never could have imagined when she graduated from the University of Chicago in the ‘80s. She had studied behavioral science. She thought she might become a psychologist or psychiatrist…

“I worked in a lab for a couple of years at the university after college and decided that was not gonna be my jam, and I got a job in banking.”

Something she fell into when someone she’d worked for previously said, why don’t you be my assistant for a while? Before a year was up she’d been moved from Chicago to New York. She spent 9 years with that bank, mostly working on turnaround situations, where a business area needed to be fixed up. With her background in behavioral science it turned out this was a great fit…

“The changes that needed to be made were in people’s behavior, they needed to be managed better. So I got a lot of experience managing people, managing managers, and developing people into people managers as well.”

She’s had her consulting business for about ten years now. She also puts out a monthly newsletter called On Management. I wanted to talk to Anne for this first show of the year because she has spent many years living and thinking about workplace and gender dynamics.

AM-T: “So I saw you for lunch in December, and we talked about this time that we’re in…and I feel with everything that’s come in the wake of the Weinstein allegations and the #MeToo movement, it does feel like a different era to me now. Does it to you?”

“Well, [sigh] I guess what I’d say especially since we had that conversation, I think the word people have hooked on here, reckoning, that is a great word for what’s happening now. The word means to make a calculation, a navigation, it means to identify where you are. We are doing a great job now of identifying where we really are.”

She says the scales are falling from people’s eyes about the sheer extent of harassment in the workplace…

“I’d never thought about the housekeeping staff at hotels possibly thinking they’re in danger while they’re doing their job – so the fact that someone like me who thinks they’re on top of the workplace, right, hadn’t thought about that before is sort of a testament to where we were…”

Her own experience of harassment began early in her career.

“What I didn’t say earlier in my description of leaving the lab was that it was what we’d call today an extremely hostile environment, and it was hostile specifically to women, despite the fact there were many of us there. People made comments about my body, about a whole range of things, there are things I’ve blocked out about that. A woman I used to work for at the time now runs a major lab at a university, let’s just leave it at that. And she’s in her early 60s at this point I believe. And I had a conversation with her a year or so ago and she said you know Anne, I still say something you taught me to say back then. And I was like really? What is it? And she said, ‘Is that my body you’re talking about?’ She runs the place and she’s getting some forms of harassment there. People are talking about her body and she is an esteemed professor in her sixties. So has everything changed? I think if I were to call her up she’d say no, not everything has changed.”

Still Anne says when she quit that lab in the 80s, the phrase ‘hostile work environment’ didn’t exist. Now we all know what that means. Which is a big leap.

“I think changes will be tectonic, we’ve had another movement of a tectonic plate and things are gonna settle out and we’ll say, OK, where are we here? I can guarantee you people are still being harassed in companies today and I think it’s dangerous to think everything has changed.”

AM-T: “I completely agree and I didn’t mean to suggest everything had changed… we’re at the beginning of the new year and I wonder how things will play out this year. When I started this show, I was talking about things that were bubbling under the surface…they weren’t out there in major newspapers and outlets the way they are now. Because of all the attention on this are you hopeful there will be some real shifts in the way workplaces work as soon as this year? Or will it be a slow, cumulative effect over many more years?”

“My prediction is that it is likelier to be slow and cumulative. I think some of the hopeful things that can come from this had actually started to happen even before we became aware of some of these things. I can’t speak to the inside of the company Salesforce.com, but what they did maybe 18 months ago was to go through and do evaluations of people’s salaries on a one-to-one basis. And a lot of women and some men got raises. They are making an effort or were making an effort to have pay parity, and I think that’s something that is critically important.”

Anne says she’s approached the business school where she got her own MBA and said to them, you publish the salaries second-year MBAs are offered…

“Why don’t you break that down by demographic? Why don’t you talk about what people of color are being offered and what women are being offered versus what men and white men are being offered? Now I don’t know if anyone is doing that but that is the kind of action that could get things rolling.

I think if a CEO is determined to have things be different that they can take very concrete steps to make sure people have a safe way of reporting harassment and sorting it out too. Because every situation of harassment, some are thoughtless, and some are targeted abuse, right? You need to have deft and skilled leaders at companies who can sort out what’s a firing offense and what’s a forgivable, coachable offense.”

This is Anne’s main point: leadership and good management are more important now than ever. But the structures that have enabled harassment and bullying to take place – they won’t exactly crumble overnight.

 “Cultures survive because they’re a survival mechanism and they’re very persistent and resilient. And right now misogyny for better or worse is built into organizational cultures. Men and women who are seeing things happen and laughing it off or ignoring it are part of that system, right?”

 She says women are not in a special category just because we’re women…

“One of the things I’ve heard said is, we just need more women in leadership. I don’t think we just need more women in leadership because again, all of us are part of this current environment, right, part of this reckoning at this point, but just having a woman there doesn’t mean she’s going to be any more deft and skilled at dealing with a harassment situation. Especially if she’s gotten there because she’s navigated them in her own way and some of her own way might be not saying anything about it.”

It’s complicated.

In a minute…things people should never do in a workplace environment. And why harassment can be harder to push back against in countries where having a laugh is part of the culture.    


So Anne doesn’t think more women in leadership will mean an automatic decrease in harassment at work. Women have been known to be harassers themselves on occasion.

But at least a lot of women have an understanding of harassment through personal experience.

At the end of the year Anne had a brief exchange on chat with a young man who’d responded to a comment she made about recent news events involving prominent men like Harvey Weinstein and TV anchor Matt Lauer. She used those stories of harassment and assault to compile a list of things you should never do in the workplace. And Anne says this man is a really good guy, but he implied Anne couldn’t really comment about this stuff…

“It was like I didn’t have the moral authority to make those statements because those weren’t my story. And because I wasn’t outing myself and me-too-ing and talking about the hundreds and hundreds of micro and macro harassments that I’ve endured in a 30-year career, that I didn’t have the moral authority to say what should or shouldn’t happen.”

AM-T: “Can you remember what you put on that list, things people should not be doing at work?” 

“Oh yeah, it was sort of flip, I’ve made it a lot less flip, but that you should never be seen in a bathrobe by someone you work with.”

AM-T: “Charlie Rose…”

“Yeah, Harvey Weinstein, those guys have ruined bathrobes for me forever, hotel bathrobes are dead to me! But yes, that you should never suggest to somebody else that having sex with you will be a career move, that you should never be unclothed in the workplace, that you should never take your penis out of your pants at work – and I did state it that boldly. I made a list of ten or fifteen things and then linked back to all of them. I’ve been adding new incidents that have happened and that are well reported to that list. I mean do we have to say these things? Obviously we do, because it’s happening.”

I said to Anne men are always going to be 50 percent of the population. We’re always going to be working together. And most men won’t do any of those things. But where do we go from here with that workplace relationship?

“Well that’s why I’m guardedly hopeful. That’s why I’m pinning a lot of responsibility on people who lead people. Because what you need to do is give people options to do the right thing, right? I think probably 98% of people or more want to do the right thing in any situation; human nature is you don’t want other people to suffer.”

And when she hears about some men being alarmed by this new environment…

“When people say men are afraid I think well, we’ve been afraid for a long time, we’ve been mediating our behavior for a long time. Good, that’s gonna be one good thing about this. But I don’t think fear is the right answer. You shouldn’t be motivated by ‘don’t screw up or you’ll get in trouble,’ as much by, gosh ‘if you see something, say something.’ Which is simple in its notion but it’s difficult in its execution. And that’s the leadership moment we’re at right now. How can you let people safely say something?”

And how can you let people be supported in saying something? How can others intervene if we witness something that seems unsavory? She wishes more companies would allow academics to study them as they try different ways of handling harassment issues. She says the results of a study could inform the wider world about what works and what doesn’t.

“So I mean I think that there’s plenty that can be done, but the first thing that has to happen is that you as the leader of that organization, or the executive team of that organization has to say, this is one of the top three things we’re going to work on this year. And if you’re not doing that then you can expect more of the same.”

So that’s a view from the US, from an expert on management and company culture.

My next guest lives in London.

“I am Nastaran Tavakoli-Far, also known as Nas, I produce a podcast called The Gender Knot and I’m also a journalist, I present programs on the BBC and I was a reporter and producer there for quite a while.”

I wanted to talk to Nas to get a view from someone younger than either Anne or me – she’s 32 and also to get a perspective from the UK. Nas was born in Iran but her parents moved to England when she was two. She speaks fluent Farsi and used to work in that language when she worked for the BBC’s Persian Service.

Nas says she hasn’t experienced harassment at work. But she certainly didn’t feel things were equal for men and women at the BBC.

“I felt part of the reason I did want to work for myself was to do with the gender dynamics at the office, and I’ve heard this from other women entrepreneurs too…a lot is to do with not wanting to be the woman who does a lot of work but not getting enough credit. So I think there is a bit of a tie-in to women wanting to be entrepreneurs, to get away from a lot of the unspoken dynamics of the workplace, you know?”

As for how she and her friends are thinking about the year ahead…

“It’s strange because on one hand there’s a real excitement but there’s a little bit of, I don’t want to say cynicism, but a bit of caution too, I don’t know if that’s a British thing of not getting too excited about anything lest it doesn’t pan out well [laughs] but there’s this feeling of yes, it’s good men and men in power are hearing these conversations, but there is a little bit of skepticism as to how much things are gonna change going forward.”

AM-T: “Well how do you feel? You seem pretty positive in the conversations I’ve heard you have on your podcast.”

“Yeah, I feel pretty positive, but I don’t know if it’s because I’m not inside a big institution daily, and I wonder if that has an effect too, because I’m not surrounded by the institutional structure on a day to day basis. But I do think these things are good long-term, I think what might happen is 2 to 3 years of hard conversations and unpleasant dynamics. But you need to get that out of the way, and I feel it’s like with personal relationships as well, when you need to have those difficult conversations and they’re not nice and stuff isn’t nice for a while, but people need time to process that.

Something that’s interesting that I heard from some of my colleagues is like, certain women pushing for men on their team to reveal their salaries, and that’s been interesting because some of the women are really into that, ‘yeah, let’s be totally open about what we’re earning,’ and others are like, ‘no that’s not gonna help us in the long run because the men are gonna resent us.’ So it’s really interesting because it’s that sense of like, we mustn’t offend men, not because we care about what they think or their feelings, but will we end up suffering as a result of this? So there’s a lot of questions about how open should we be about pushing for these changes. Is it gonna just be a backlash that will end up hurting us more?”

Some of you will know about the Carrie Gracie story – Gracie was until recently the BBC’s China editor, living in and reporting from China. She quit her post after finding out two male foreign editors were paid far more than she was, and after the BBC refused to take action to equalize the salaries. She wrote a dignified letter about all this which I’ll link you to, it is well worth reading. And her action has spurred more conversations in the UK and especially in journalism about women’s unequal status as employees, and how little we know about what our peers are earning. But Nas says in an industry like journalism, where a lot of outlets are laying people off…

“There’s also some worry that if we all have to reveal our pay, what is unlikely is that people’s pay will be reduced. What is more likely is some people will be axed if managers feel they have to raise everyone’s pay to the same level. So it’s like, would I rather get a pay rise or risk actually being axed?”

I’m planning an upcoming show on women and pay so I will get into all this stuff more deeply then.

Nas thinks British women’s response to the explosion of stories about workplace harassment has been a bit more subdued than in the US. She says women there still speak less openly about bad work experiences of all kinds, though that is changing.

“I also think the nature of harassment is different as well. Just from my small time in the US, people are more openly aggressive so it’s more obvious, I guess that’s the famous difference between London and New York, I guess – New York is really aggressive and London is aggressive in more subdued or passive way…something that I think is quite a big deal in the UK is the boys’ club thing, men kind of giving jobs to one another, looking out for one another, that’s not harassment but it is a kind of discrimination that’s hard to call out because it’s so ingrained.”

AM-T: “Yes, I hear you on the boys’ club thing…and the different ways in which men use language at work, about women and around women. One of the things I think about the UK and Australia is there’s a jokey culture, ‘we’re having a laugh,’ you need to have a sense of humour and everyone is expected to have a sense of humour. And I miss the British sense of humour, I’ve become more guarded about what I say living here over the years, and it’s happened to me because I’ve lived here so long. But one of the things about Brits and Australians is that jokiness, which sometimes…”

“Is an excuse to hide? No, definitely. It’s harder to call things out here because it’s much more subtle. You know when we talk about lad culture in the UK and bro culture in the US? We think of those two types of men as being equivalents of eachother with cultural nuances. And the whole lad thing, it is a funny thing, it’s a jokey thing, you’re being silly, you’re poking fun, and yet it’s hard to be offended about that. ‘Can’t you take a joke, come on, it was just funny,’ so it’s really difficult to speak up about that, but yeah, it is used to cover up a lot of hostile sentiment.”

So what of that hostile sentiment? Whether it’s male commentators in some of the British papers or just online comments you read under articles about women in the workplace, some men clearly feel uncomfortable in a world where women’s voices are getting stronger…

“I feel like yeah, it is going to take a long time to change. But the thing is I’m a big fan of all this discomfort men are feeling right now. Any change requires discomfort, and this isn’t a bad thing. I think as women we need to be careful not to care too much that there’s some discomfort among men. In many cultures it’s the case, where women are caretakers, we try not to hurt people, which is why women take a lot of bad behavior, too, we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by calling it out. I feel like right now a lot of men are feeling discomfort. On some level I find some of the conversations where men feel discomfort quite manipulative, because it’s a way of trying to guilt-trip women into not saying anything, and I think women need to not care if people are getting their feelings hurt. This needs to happen.”

She had a conversation with her male co-host on The Gender Knot recently and she talked about people needing to feel pain to change and grow. He was not so sure.

I wondered if leaders of British companies think of themselves as part of the reckoning. Will they start to forge some changes to company culture? Nas seemed skeptical.

“I wonder if it’s a case of women doing their own thing a little bit. I’m already seeing this, women wanting to work with or for women. In a way it might be quite a good time for women leaders or women in positions of power, because I get the feeling of…trying to wait for men to change and especially in a culture when people don’t really want to look at it, I have a feeling you’re gonna get more women wanting to work for other women. Or powerful women who have money setting up things that are friendlier to women. I get a feeling women might just try and do it on their own.”

What do you think? Has the #MeToo movement got you thinking differently about your career, and who you want to work with? And if you’re a freelancer or run your own business I’m curious to know whether you’ve escaped some of the seemier sides of office life, or not necessarily. You can respond on Facebook, email me or send me a voice memo from your phone.

One thing I will say that I think is a very positive sign in my industry is groups of women who have come together to say look, if you as a female journalist or radio reporter experience bullying or harassment, come to us, tell us about it – because we as a group have some influence with these companies you’re working for either on staff or as a freelancer. That kind of thing seems hugely positive to me and a real step forward.

Thanks to Nas and Anne Libby for being my guests on this show. You will find links to their work under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. If you are not already a subscriber please become one – you can find the show in places like Apple Podcasts, or RadioPublic.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

Episode 116: The Reckoning

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…responses to the outpouring of sexual harassment allegations. Is the focus on this aspect of women’s lives empowering us, or just the opposite?

“We’ve become addicted to being outraged and angry. And there’s some good to that of course but there’s also some damage that’s being done as well.”

But not everyone agrees…

“The notion of a space and a place and a platform for lots of women to speak up about their experience, I think is a game changer.”

Coming up…two views on the reckoning over sexual harassment and assault.


This morning I woke up to news of yet another TV host being suspended from his own show because of allegations of improper sexual conduct. If you live in America you’re getting used to this. Media men, entertainers, restaurateurs, politicians – we’re hearing awful stories of the behavior they’ve subjected female colleagues to over the years.

And the men have got away with it because the women thought, I won’t be taken seriously if I speak up, he’s too powerful, I’ll risk my career. Also, in many cases they doubted themselves, as women so often do. They wondered if it was as big a deal as it felt.

Now, after the Harvey Weinstein allegations, the stories are pouring out. And US media law means it’s easier for an American news organization to publish allegations without fear of being sued. In the UK the laws are different. That may explain why fewer allegations of misconduct are being published there.

Many of the accused men aren’t denying the stories – think Matt Lauer, Louis CK, Mario Battali - they’re apologizing and retiring from the public gaze. At least for now. But others are disputing them – and saying they’re being tried and condemned in the court of public opinion. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.

But first I want to read you this letter a woman wrote to the Chicago Tribune recently.

The media’s portrayal of women as victims does nothing to further their progression in the workplace. It suggests that we cannot advocate or protect ourselves, which lends itself to the fallacy that we are weak and need looking after.

The recent tawdry revelations of past incidents of sexual harassment are not representative of our society’s workplace as a whole and should absolutely have been dealt with, but without creating this “witch hunt” hysteria that the media is so delighted with.

Strong, confident and smart women who know how to handle themselves and make decisions on their own should be the desired perception. The media’s annoying portrayal of women as helpless is incorrect and does nothing to further the cause of equality. If anything, it serves to isolate them in the workplace.

I posted that letter to the show’s Facebook page, asked some of you what you thought. One listener wondered how the writer could possibly know that sexual harassment wasn’t widespread at work, another pointed out being confident and smart had nothing to do with being able to fend off a persistent harasser…others said coming forward was courageous, not weak.

One commenter felt differently though. She said the writer of that letter summed up her feelings quite well. And she said society was coming down too hard on some of the men accused of misconduct. She said, “we seem to be picking up pitchforks and torches before fully understanding the full stories.”

I’d begun to think about that a bit myself. So I asked her if she’d talk to me about this, and she said yes.

“My name is Laura Linnaeus, and by day I serve as a director at a publishing company. And by night I am a fellow podcaster, at the Harvard Digipub podcast where we talk about issues facing the publishing industry…and I should add I have an academic background as well, I taught women’s studies in the past.”

Laura describes herself as a feminist, she’s in her thirties, married, lives in a liberal town.

But she says her reaction to the #MeToo movement on social media – and the torrent of harassment allegations in the press – it’s different than a lot of her friends. And I should add Laura told me she hasn’t experienced serious harassment herself.

“I am not excusing the behavior of perpetrators of sexual violence of any kind, but what alarms me is to see this mob mentality take over the discourse. Because the public outcry isn’t one of careful deliberation, only coming to conclusions after we hear all the facts. It’s an immediate reaction to a movement. And I think we need to be fair equally to both the women who are coming forward with their stories as well as to the men if they are saying, ‘hey, there’s more to this story, I want there to be an investigation,’ then we need to look at it carefully.”

She says she won’t necessarily disagree with the outcomes of those investigations…

“But I do think it needs to be a careful process. We’re talking about ending careers and changing lives and that shouldn’t be done on a whim, as a reaction, it needs to be thought through and logical.”

And it should be. But in that letter to the Chicago Tribune the writer said women were being painted as weak…and Laura had seemed to agree. I wanted to explore that.

AM-T: “Coming forward has been quite a difficult thing to do, and they’ve kept this to themselves for years in some cases. I don’t think of them as weak. What is it exactly that you think makes us look weak, particularly in the workplace?”

“Right. Something I want to clarify, I don’t think it’s necessarily weak to come forward and talk about past assault but the overall language and this overall sweeping generalizations that this is happening to all women in the workplace across all industries, and that all women feel like they are victims in this particular situation. And I do not feel that way, that is not my narrative. So I don’t think you can just generally say that is the case in the workplace universally, I’m not saying it’s not the case in many, many situations, and they should be taken seriously. But I worry about solidarity in the guise of what’s actually creating more polarization between men and women, saying women are the victim, men are the perpetrators, and the damage that overall discourse could have on feminism.”

AM-T: “What do you mean by that?”

 “So for example, there’s a huge gap between assault and harassment and then when we’re talking about harassment there’s a huge range of things that could imply. Groping is groping, that is imposing yourself on another person’s body, absolutely. There is really no grey in terms of groping, so I want to make clear I am not condoning that. But harassment does start to get grey when you start talking about language and the way that we have conversations and what might be considered appropriate versus inappropriate.”

This can be tricky when you throw in generational differences. I know I’ve overlooked comments from older men in the past, the kind of thing no one batted an eyelid at 20 years ago. They would have been considered a compliment. But in a different era, with more equality between the sexes, they sound…and I hate this mealy-mouthed word, but…inappropriate. That said I wouldn’t equate those kinds of comments with sexual comments or someone touching or grabbing me. I see shades of gray here. But not everyone does.

Laura says humor is one area where things can go wrong. Different people find different things funny – or unfunny.

“And what troubles me here is I’d hate to perpetuate the idea that women are delicate figures who universally condemn crude humor. I don’t condemn crude humor myself, it doesn’t bother me. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother other women and their preferences should be taken into account. But I do worry about whether this will ultimately further exclude women from the executive suite in the future. And time will tell but I don’t like the idea of women being painted as these delicate creatures…again I’m not talking about groping or anything like that, but in terms of harassment, it could mean a wider variety of things, and we need to do a better job of defining what those are, iterating on the policies and then acting upon those policies in a way that we’re taking all those nuances into account.”

Good luck with that, HR.

Laura says if a man offends with something he says it’s possible he’s just trying to be funny. And failing. She says she’s messed up herself at times.

“I’ve definitely made jokes at work or in my personal life that I’ve regretted. And then just like, oh, you cringe afterwards, like I shouldn’t have said that or I read the situation incorrectly. And I think there needs to be room for error and for people to grow and acknowledge mistakes they’ve made and move forward. And I just don’t want to lose that feeling of compassion that really makes us human.”

But other women aren’t feeling too indulgent right now. Maybe some of you read an opinion piece by the actress Amber Tamblyn. It was in the New York Times. It was called I’m Not Ready for the Redemption of Men – I’ll link you to it under this episode on the website. In it she said it is way too early to talk about the redemption of men when women are only just starting to have their voices heard after centuries of being ignored or disbelieved. She ends the piece by addressing men with the words, ‘Pick a side – choose us.’

And that’s exactly the kind of stance Laura has a problem with. Though a lot of her friends and colleagues don’t.

“Some of the response that I’ve seen among very intelligent women that I’ve always respected is of the ‘men are pigs’ variety, and I think creating this dichotomy and divisiveness is troubling for the feminist cause, because in the end it’s collaboration and thoughtful discourse that will enable social change.”

We’ll talk about this more with my next guest. She isn’t so sure that’s working. But Laura says the ‘taking sides’ attitude – it doesn’t work for her. She hates how divided America has become and how quick people are to jump to conclusions about others. She watched a recent exchange on Comedy Central where a female comedian said, “Men got us into this mess, women will get us out.” And the man replied, “Sounds like you’ve got this, then.” It made her squirm.

“Women have been resisting over-generalization for a century and so why would we want to turn and generalize men in the same way? It seems counter-productive to say the least.”

And yet…

AM-T: “Because we have been the ones for millennia who have just had to put up with stuff, and put up and shut up, I think there’s a feeling of triumph at this time, of yes, we have a voice now we didn’t have before, we can talk about this stuff and people are actually believing us. And I think what you just mentioned, is a natural outgrowth of some of this, I am woman, hear me roar, kind of thing.”

“It’s true, but men are still half of the population. As a woman I am very…I want to be an egalitarian. I want to be on equal footing with men. And I don’t think it helps our cause, we actually alienate quite a few people when we make these sweeping generalizations. I understand the triumph but there needs to be room for men in the conversation.”

AM-T: “No, absolutely. I’ve picked this up from other debates we’ve had around this topic on Facebook. I think there’s this feeling of we’ve been the ones who people haven’t been believed for many years, people are skeptical of what we say. So now if things are a little unbalanced, oh well, so what, kind of thing.”

“Right. I’m gonna echo Betty Friedan for a second. These are problems with our social structure, and both men and women are part of it. And we ultimately do need to work together if we want it to be a scalable and real solution. And if we’re saying, ‘oh well,’ if the balance tips over the other side, I just don’t see that ending well, it just doesn’t seem like a productive movement.”

In a minute…we get a view on all this from Australia – where women at the top know a thing or two about a hostile workplace.


Linda Betts lives in Melbourne, Australia. She’s an organizational consultant and as part of her job she does a lot of work on gender equity and women in leadership. I found out about her through one of my listeners, who pointed me to her podcast about women and work, Are We There Yet?

I started by asking Linda, what’s the landscape like for Australian women in 2017?

“Well I think it is actually rapidly transforming and I'm finally at a stage when I could actually describe myself as hopeful. But I do think that for a long time there has been a very blokey culture, as it's described here, sport, the domination of sort of male sporting heroes in the culture and a very sort of traditional outback male type of image whereas in fact of course most of Australians are very urban creatures these days, and live in large cities. So things are transforming a lot. But of course what's really been challenging is that that hasn't necessarily translated for women in the workplace.”

Including women at the very top.

I’m betting a lot of you remember this, but several years ago, then prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard gave an impassioned speech in parliament. [Fade up Gillard under trax] She said she faced rampant sexism in her daily life as the country’s leader – much of it coming from Tony Abbott, then leader of the opposition party.

“And then of course I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny, of the leader of the opposition cat-calling across this table…at me as I sit here as Prime Minister. ‘If the PM wants to, politically speaking, ‘make an honest woman of herself,’ something that would never have been said by any man sitting in this chair. I was offended when the leader of the opposition went out and stood in front of a sign saying ‘ditch the witch’…I was offended when the leader of the opposition stood next to a sign describing me as a man’s bitch…I was offended by those things: misogyny, sexism, every day from this leader of the opposition, every day in every way…”

Linda says Gillard was sounding off about something many female politicians in Australia and elsewhere have faced over the years – a hostile attitude.

“There’d been a number of women who had really, really been targeted both by the opposition politicians, male politicians but also by the media, and a really deliberate strategy about how those women were portrayed as leaders. And really ultimately what led to their political downfall. So I think it was both the media in lots of ways in the past has been very enabling of that and have participated in that. And so this was really a fantastic opportunity within Parliament to speak out.”

Even if Gillard didn’t keep her job for much longer.

Linda says the Australian media has been part of the reason why women in leadership get such a bad rap. So it’s good to see women turning things around and using social media to talk about harassment and assault. 

“I think that is one of the important things that social media has provided is a platform to share it. And it's really the democratization of this information. So previously your options were to go higher up in the organization or to HR to complain. And I think the evidence is that has not led to results. So the ability now for women to take it directly public themselves I think is tremendously powerful actually. And I think it really starts to shift things.

If things are happening to you that are inappropriate, once you had very little options about you know who could you go to, who would believe you. There's the whole sort of legal situation around defamation, it's very strict laws, stricter even than in the UK around defamation, so it was very difficult to sort of make any public statement in the past. But of course the power now is in the numbers. The notion of a space and a place and a platform for lots of women to speak up about their experience, I think is a game changer.”

And it is. It is truly a revolution. But what about Laura’s fear that a torrent of allegations could contain some inaccuracies? And that painting accusers with too broad a brush could backfire?

AM-T: “Is this going to harm workplace relationships between men and women? What do you think?”

“Well I think for a long time, the approach has been to, in terms of getting women to the top, to play by the rules, to work as hard if not harder than men, to be nice, to fit in, to not make a fuss etcetera. And that works for a small cohort of women but actually it took its toll as well because it wasn't necessarily how they wanted to lead or work etc.

I think this is about changing the power dynamics. And I think it's really an opportunity to fundamentally shift the power dynamics. Now that won't necessarily be an easy road, but I think it is opening up a new conversation. So what's really been needed for a long time are different options, a different paradigm about work and what leadership is. And I think hopefully this idea about shaking up the very foundations of male power…I think it potentially will lead to more women being successful at the top, but also in new ways.”

For example, she says, we need more flexibility around who’s in the office when. Not just in certain progressive companies, but everywhere. And another thing…

“I see quite a lot of women who prefer to work collaboratively. They don't necessarily like a highly competitive environment.”

She says that doesn’t mean they don’t want to do great things. They just want to do them in a different way.

But switching from the future to the present…

AM-T: “In Australia, so far as you can tell, what is men’s reaction to the Me Too movement, all the allegations of harassment? Is there a reasonable man response and an ‘oh, they’re all a bunch of whiners’ response, or what?”

“I think there's probably only a small cohort where there's a sort of, ‘what are they talking about. They're just trying to get publicity for themselves.’ I think overwhelmingly it's seen as sort of creepy behavior, inappropriate behavior, and there's a dislike for it. I don't think the Me Too thing, I think women are talking about that all the time and sharing experiences etc. You know I haven't heard a lot of discussion about it by men and I don't think men quite get that experience about what might have happened to you 10 years ago or 20 years ago, that it still sits with you, is a form of trauma, affects how you see yourself in the world, what power you might have.

There's a brilliant comedian here in Australia, Hannah Gadsby, who's just done a show that's won all these awards around the world that really goes to that sort of core issue of the damage that those sort of experiences as a young woman can have, you know, 20, 30 years later it's still absolutely affects your identity. And that's the bit I think men don't get. You know there's often that, well get over it. You know, it happened 20 years ago, move on type general sort of approach. And so I think that's probably the bit that's a bit confusing to them about the Me Too campaign, but I think in terms of the sort of celebrities and the abuse of power, I think one of the good things about Australian culture is that egalitarianism is very important. So the idea that the sort of tall poppy syndrome in Australia, people don't like people with a whole lot of power who are lording it over others. So I think there's a closer affinity with everybody about that. But yeah, a little bit less understanding of the idea of Me Too campaign.”
 

AM-T: “Yeah, no, I agree. I think that can be hard for them to get because they’re not experiencing the power differential.”

“Exactly.”

I told Linda, it doesn’t sound like you agree with my last guest that the current focus on men’s misdeeds, and everything women have been putting up with – that it’s pitting men and women against eachother?

“Look I think it's always, I think an element of that is true. In that it shouldn't be about a battle about men and women and this is I think too, where young women and modern women are very alienated by that, they see that as a sort of historical battle of the sexes and they're really not interested in that.”

And she says sure, it isn’t helpful to start blaming all men or identifying all women as victims.
“So I agree with that but I also think not naming it and not naming how ubiquitous the whole everyday sexism is, and the fact that often in terms of sexual harassment overwhelmingly the perpetrators have been men…now not all men obviously, and not most men. A small cohort and it's got to do with power. And I think that's the interesting thing that's coming out with this celebrity thing is that you know there's a lot of people faced with everyday sexism but where it gets really ugly is when it's combined with that power.”

And she says that’s the great thing about all the media attention on this topic, including the social media outcry. It’s bringing a magnifying glass to the power imbalance between the sexes.

“And so what can be done to shift that? And that's ultimately a deeper and harder question rather than a couple of individual men behaving inappropriate. It’s the fact that people knew about it, they got away with it, they got away with it for a long time because they were in positions of power.”

She hopes that power will become more evenly distributed between men and women – not in 50 years, but in five or ten.

But what we still don’t know is whether the current reckoning will have any effect on women in blue collar jobs, who have far more to lose by accusing a harasser. That debate has yet to take place.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. Thanks to Linda Betts and Laura Linnaeus for being my guests on this show.


As usual I would love to hear from you. You can find me on the show’s Facebook page, where we’ve had a lot of good discussions around this topic recently. You can tweet me at @ashleymilnetyte or you can email me via the website.

I will bring you one more show before the end of the year. After that I will pop up again at the end of January.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

Episode 115: Putting Yourself First

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…

“You gotta be your best self to perform in your daily job, you may not be an Olympic champion but you have a lot you have to give every minute of every day, and you want as much energy at the end of the day as you do during the day when you’re working at your job.”

Sounds great…but taking care of yourself takes practice…

“Working out was like a luxury. It’s not anything brown, black women did in my neighborhood. No one talked about therapy, no one talked about getting massages.”

Coming up…two women, two different stories of how they came to put themselves first. And they don’t feel guilty about it. 

My first guest is Leigh Stringer. She lives in Washington DC, she’s in her forties, married with two children, and she works as a workplace strategist at an architecture firm. It’s client-driven work, so lots of deadlines.

AM-T: “Would you have described yourself as someone who got a lot of your identity from your job?” 

“Oh, 100%. I’m a type A northeasterner, lots of degrees from lots of universities, I am very into – or was – into title and position, didn’t always want to admit it, but it’s kind of true.”

During the financial crisis of 2008/2009 business got tight and everyone who could clung to their jobs. When the employment market improved, a lot of her colleagues moved on at pretty much the same time.

“I had to pick up the ball for lots of folks, doing four jobs for months on end, had to work 80, 90 hours a week, and after third month or so I hit a wall. I used to pride myself on my ability to hunker down and push through and deal with it, but it was clearly not my best work.”

She had prided herself on her work ethic. Now she was just exhausted.

“I could just feel my body not responding any more and not able to rally in the way it typically is. Wasn’t exercising, forget that.”

She was eating takeout for every meal, getting home at 10 o’clock and drinking wine to wind down. She rarely saw her husband or kids or anyone outside work.

Now she’d been at this firm for some years. So she had some leeway. And after that project finally wrapped up she went to her boss and said…

“I’m either gonna take a sabbatical or I’m gonna quit. You help me decide.”

He said, see you in three months.

Leigh says those three months changed her life. For one thing, she knew she never wanted to get so run down again. She walked a lot and spent time with her family, but she also began research on what became her second book, The Healthy Workplace. As part of her research she visited the Human Performance Institute in Florida. It was originally set up to train the world’s best athletes in how to attain peak performance – by maintaining their energy over a long period of time. These days it mostly focuses on applying those same techniques to busy executives. What it calls ‘corporate athletes.’

Leigh treated herself as if she were a CEO going to the Institute for a tune-up.

“They get you in there and they have you beforehand take a test and have your family  members, your friends and other people write about how you’re doing, how your energy levels are, if you have time for them, if you’re eating well, taking care of yourself and sleeping and all those kinds of things. And they play back the results while you’re there. And they take blood draws and things like that to really check your nutrition. And the point is you’ve got to be your best self to perform in your daily job, you may not be an Olympic champion but you have a lot you have to give every minute of every day, and you want as much energy at the end of the day as you do during the day when you’re working at your job. But it took someone shaking me and a lot of my friends, family and colleagues writing me and literally saying, she doesn’t have energy, she doesn’t have time for me, Mommy, kind of thing for me to turn around and say oh shoot, this self-care thing was real…it’s not about being selfish it’s the most selfless thing that I can do.”

Before, she’d only exercised to lose weight. Now she sees exercise as something that helps her get through the day and still have energy at the end of it. If she can, she goes for a 20-minute run in the morning.

But not everyone has that option.

Before I spoke to Leigh I’d posted on the show’s Facebook page. I’d said I wasn’t even sure I should cover this topic of self-care. I just didn’t know that I could bring anything new to the discussion. It’s so thoroughly covered in women’s media – all those articles urging us to juice and meditate and do yoga. But the listeners who responded said they would be interested, IF it felt real.

AM-T: “And one woman said my feeling is, ‘yes, this is covered a lot but it’s rarely covered in the context of real life.’ She said, ‘whenever I read about this or that person’s morning routine…I roll my eyes because I have young children, my husband gets up at the crack of dawn so I’m solely responsible for the morning routine…and I just can’t relate to these ideas. I mean what do you say to somebody like that? It can be tough depending on your schedule. Especially perhaps if you’re a single parent, to care for yourself after getting everyone else off to school.”

“Yeah, I mean that’s reality, and I think as women we’re particularly resistant to want to give ourselves even a minute’s break, we are servant leaders, we’re so good at taking care of others, it’s in our nature, a lot of us. It’s difficult to say, you know, it’s of more value for me right now instead of racing off to do this conference call or to race into work, to take a few minutes and go for a really short walk around the block, or mindfully sip coffee instead of racing off to the next thing…it’s a mindset and it’s very difficult to break that. Particularly when there are so many things we care about in the world and we want to spend our time doing better for others and improving other people’s lives but the truth is those mini breaks…those mental breaks, it helps with focus and productivity and all the science tells us it’s really better to do that…you’re a better, more productive person when you’re able to do that. So if there’s any cheerleading I can do, try it, give it a shot, squeeze it in when you can… and be an experiment. Actually experiment on yourself.”

A lot of people swear by meditation, including Leigh. She often meditates using one of those meditation apps . But she says any time you can take for yourself – preferably away from a screen – counts.

“The other thing I’ve started doing recently, and this is really old school is reading a book, that’s a physical book, it’s not a device…and that is really good, like I spent last weekend reading this fantastic book, it was fiction, I almost never read fiction. I was like, oh this is fantastic! This is almost as good as meditating!”

But what about those times when you’re really worked up about something in your work life or just your life? You know what you SHOULD do, according to the self-care gurus…chill out on a mat somewhere, or get on your bike, and let it all go.

AM-T: “One woman who contributed to the discussion on Facebook said I know all this in my head, but I get really angry about things and a yoga session or getaway weekend is useless... because I just can’t let go of these negative feelings. You know in theory what you should be doing but it can be tough to release negative feelings, they can follow you into your weekend.”

“Oh yeah, I’ve definitely been subject to that…I remember distinctly having this awesome massage at some spa place and I remember being angry at something that happened at work, someone who was trying to sabotage a project, and I spent several hours getting rubbed down and it had zero effect on me. It was pretty bad. I felt completely un-refreshed, although I’d been in a beautiful place.

One of my tricks lately has been to say, are you in control of the situation? Is this something you can do something about? If you can’t do something about it, let it go, let it run its course, it is what it is…maybe that’s part of being a mom or a wife…it’s definitely one of those things you just have to pull away from.

I will say one thing personally, I can’t remember if we talked about this, about a year after I’d written the Healthy Workplace my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and he’s about 49, it’s early Parkinson’s, he’s doing well and it’s all great, but one of the biggest things to minimize the symptoms getting worse is to work out. And one of the biggest influence on his behavior is me…if people around you are working out you’re more likely to work out. I knew, number one, a disease like that puts things in perspective, but what I do impacts other people and my kids too, that really swayed my focus and putting myself first, because I have to take care of my family. And when my husband’s health, knock on wood won’t go downhill too much, but chances are it will and I’m gonna need to be there to support these young kids. If I don’t they have no one, or they have a backup system but I’m their most important person, caregiver, and I need to be 100 percent effective and have 100 percent energy in everything I do.”

And hearing her talk about that made me think again about single parents and how challenging it can be to do anything for yourself when everything is on you…

“And maybe that much more important because you are the foundation for your family, and if your health falls apart, if you start suffering from a chronic disease or you feel really bad, you’re not able to hold it together, and holding it together requires self-care.”

In a minute we meet someone who discovered that first hand.


You first met Theresa Thames a few episodes ago, in the show I did about being overweight at work. Theresa is a theologian, a longtime pastor, and now associate dean of religious life and the chapel at Princeton University.

Theresa grew up in the south, in Mississippi, and when she was a teenager she was sexually abused. And the way she dealt with that trauma wasn’t through talking about it to anyone – certainly not to a therapist.

 “What I had was food – and that’s what I turned to.”

She was an overweight teen and became an overweight adult. She says ideas about what’s now called self-care barely existed among the women she knew – they looked after other people, not themselves. And she says there’s a historic precedent for that.

“I grew up in public housing, my mom was a bus driver, my grandmother was a head-start teacher. Working out was like a luxury. It’s not anything brown, black women did in my neighborhood and you didn’t walk anywhere in Mississippi, you drove. No one talked about therapy, no one talked about getting massages, all those things felt self-indulgent but also we couldn’t afford them growing up. And self-care has never been part of the narrative for African American women in this country. When I think back to the history of black women form slavery, from 1619, when we came to this country, it was about labor. Our bodies are still products of labor. Whether we were having our own babies or having babies for the servitude of white bodies we’d have our babies and have to serve as wet nurses to other people’s babies. Even when I think about the black and brown women who clean houses before dawn in the morning, they’d have to leave their children before dawn in the morning to greet other people’s children with breakfast and love.”

In many ways the adult Theresa did break away from the past. She took a traditionally male job – pastor – something she’d been told her she’d never be able to do. As she said, therapy was not a thing growing up. But as a pastor in Washington DC, ministering to other people’s emotional needs, Theresa got herself a therapist and saw that person every single week. She says every pastor should have one. So she was looking after herself in some ways. But she was still severely overweight, self-conscious about it yet resistant to her parishioners’ not so subtle hints that she should slim down.

Then a lot of things happened at once. Her marriage failed, and her sister became ill and then died. She had a 9-year-old son, and Theresa decided to adopt him.

“I say when you adopt an older child they have handprints already on him, before you get them, so he’d gone through Hurricane Katrina where our family lost everything…so he knew that loss. This loss of his mother dying, and moving 1000 miles away from your family to live with your aunt, we had a great relationship but it was hard. I was dealing with a child dealing with deep grief in a brand new situation – DC is nothing like Mississippi, and getting accustomed to a different way of parenting…I had a different model of parenting than what he’d been used to, and we were starting all over.”

So she’s trying to raise this grieving child on her own, grieving the loss of her sister herself, depressed and often bingeing. She had prayer, she had therapy, but they weren’t enough. At one point she weighed 450 pounds. It was tough just to move about.

In the midst of all this she found out about the organization GirlTrek – some of you may know them – they get groups of black women walking in their neighborhoods all over the US, in honor of women like Harriet Tubman who helped people escape slavery, and other black women who marched for civil rights in more recent decades. One of the founders asked Theresa to read an opening prayer at a local walk in DC. She was happy to do the prayer…less happy to walk the walk. But…

 “I didn’t want to be a fraud. I didn’t want to believe in this organization and not make a commitment to walk and to take care of myself.”

AM-T: “And did you do the whole walk?”

“I did. I did the whole walk [laughs]. Yeah. It was hard.”

Partly because people kept wanting to talk to her while she walked – they’d loved her opening prayer and were eager to discuss it. But Theresa says she was still about 400 pounds at this point, and so unfit, could hardly breathe.

“So I didn’t want to talk. I felt highly irritated, but I’m in my official capacity, right, so I have to be nice and smile.”

But despite how difficult the walk was, despite the fangirls wanting to chat, that walk sparked something in her. She loved the GirlTrek mission and she wanted to continue. The organization encourages women to post selfies of themselves working out on social media – in part to combat all the negative images of black women that already exist on the internet.

Theresa began to walk regularly. Often in the dark, so people wouldn’t watch her, stare at her body or shout rude comments.

“The walking for me became therapeutic. It was my space, I wasn’t being a mom, I wasn’t being a pastor, I wasn’t listening to other people, it was my space…I joined the gym across from my office, and I sort of giggle because gym is not a friendly space for plus-size bodies, so I joined the Jewish community center with little old Jewish people and I’d go at a time when all the hard core gym bodies would be gone and that gym became my sanctuary. So I was able to go on the treadmill, work on my speed, and have this relationship of accountability where the front desk person said hello, and knew I was there…but there was no other conversation. But I kept my 30 minute commitment of walking, I would wear my GirlTrek shirts to the gym, and I took selfies, and tweeted them, and my body changed and the change of my body became the change of my eating habits and the change of my energy, so it led to this domino effect of, even now , now I’m at this weight, it’s not about the weight, it’s me taking care of myself. So when I walk I’m praying, I’m de-stressing, I’m taking inventory. It’s my stress thing, when I’m stressed I’m walking, I’m out and about.”

Thinking about all the weight she’s lost – about 200 pounds – and how this aspect of self-care has changed her life, it makes her sad and angry for the African-American women who have gone before her.

“They’re not here because they gave so much of their bodies, they had nothing to give tor themselves and they are in an early grave. And I feel it’s my role to change that and be a different example of living. And not just living, but thriving.”

Several years on, she’s doing well, and her son is too. He’s a young teenager now, and when she landed this job in Princeton, he quickly decided an old east coast college town was not for him. So he went back to Washington DC and goes to school there during the week. He stays with his godparents.

“We have a crazy, beautiful family, that…his godparents are Jewish and Vietnamese and I’m his African-American mom. And actually his school called on Friday and it was like, is this the Vietnamese mom or the black mom? The three of us show up to PTA and back to school night, you know. All three parents. And it’s a great way of loving and being community.”

And she’s keeping up with the walking. Even the running. She tries to work out every day of the week.

“I think I told you, I did the Brooklyn half-marathon, it was a big step for me. I’m gonna do another half-marathon. I’m thinking about maybe training for a marathon. I do it all the time, I do walking meetings, I love it.”

One last thing I wanted to bring up with Leigh Stringer was something one of my listeners raised in a Facebook post: the different ways men and women look at self-care.

AM-T: “You mentioned your husband, this brings me to men…because somebody else pointed out, ‘no one even calls it self-care for men. What do they call it, relaxing? And she said women make it sound so intentional and exhausting.’”

 “Yeah, I think they call it sitting on the couch watching the game. We have in our family called it out as, hey, I need some alone time, or some chill-out time…and that includes for my husband going to the baseball game with his buddies, or having dinner with a bunch of guys talking politics which is believe it or not relaxing for him. Not for me! We’ve gotten good at carving out what gives us pleasure and makes us happy. And maybe his having Parkinson’s has put a fine point on that…like well, if we’ve only got the next ten years before this thing could turn into something ugly, let’s take this next ten and really enjoy them and make sure we call out in our week things that are really important to us. And I’ve noticed I’ve started hanging out more with my girlfriends, I really enjoy that.”

Finally, in that same vein of men and women sometimes approaching life a little differently…

“It’s funny, I was talking to some friends of ours, the husband and the wife were going through a time my husband and I went through recently which is like argh, we’re in our upper forties and we need a change in our careers, we’re not really being challenged in our work. So my husband and the friend husband and another guy, their way of brainstorming about what’s next involved Cuban cigars and scotch and sitting around riffing, and the women, there were three women, this other woman and another and me, and we sat in a room and we had sticky notes and post-its and we had an agenda. This one woman was like, ‘this is my career move, and this is my agenda!’ She had it all organized, she had snacks…it was really funny. We’d moved to a specific office space and used that for a while to make it really official. I thought, this is so man versus woman right here, right now. But in both cases we came away feeling good and like we’d made progress, so we’ll call it a draw.”

Leigh Stringer. She’s the author of The Green Workplace and The Healthy Workplace. Thanks to her and Theresa Thames for being my guests on this show.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. Thanks to all of you who contributed to that original Facebook discussion that got me thinking about this episode in the first place.

As usual I’d love to hear from you – you can find me on Twitter at Ashley Milne-Tyte – without the hyphen - or you can email me via the website.

Thanks to all of you who have supported the show with a donation, I really appreciate it. If you can’t afford to give – write a quick review on iTunes instead. It all adds up.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

Episode 114: My Answer is No (If That's OK With You)

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…you know all those requests you get, that strictly speaking aren’t part of the job?

Ask yourself if you have to do it and what you might lose if you say no. Does your livelihood hinge on you saying yes?”

Much of the time it doesn’t. We end up doing it anyway and it eats our time. But there are alternatives.

“Try and say no in a positive fashion. It’ll make you feel a lot less guilty.”

Coming up…setting boundaries without alienating your colleagues.


I’ve always thought of this show as covering some of the themes that run beneath women’s lives. Stuff that isn’t always obvious on the surface but that makes our experiences at work quite different from men’s. One of those differences is that many women find it harder than men to set boundaries, to say no to the many requests that come our way. Women so often feel bad saying no – partly because we want to be helpful, partly because everyone expects us to be.

Recently a friend told me about a book on this topic. I liked the title so much I borrowed it for this show. ‘My Answer is No – if that’s OK with You.’

The author is psychiatrist Nanette Gartrell. She has been on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and the University of California in addition to running a therapy practice.

“I’ve been a clinician seeing mostly women in a psychotherapy practice for more than 40 years, and the struggles that my clients experienced around setting limits in their lives was really the bulk of the work that I did.

I take care of what I call the worried well; healthy, high functioning individuals who struggle with relationships or job problems or career issues and so on. So I found myself over four decades-plus, inventing and developing new strategies for them that were tailored to the situations in which they found themselves. And they wouldn’t have been bringing these issues to therapy if they didn’t care about the relationship, their position, so it was really a matter of finding the best way for them to set a limit when they needed to, and also preserve the relationship, hold on to the job…”

And that is key to why so many women hesitate to say no – we feel like it puts those relationships in jeopardy. We feel like we’re not being nice, or supportive, or helpful – maybe we’ll upset the other person or make them angry or resentful.

AM-T: “Were you immune to this yourself, or not entirely?”

“Absolutely not. First of all I’m a woman, I am very tuned in just inherently to other people’s moods and dissatisfaction, it’s part of who I am. Then I chose to become a physician where it’s an important characteristic of a physician in my opinion that we are tuned into our patients or clients, then I chose to become a psychiatrist where it’s even more important to be tuned into how people are feeling and what’s going on with them, even though they may not be aware of some of their feelings because I’m there to help with that. So I have all those dimensions contributing to being very aware when people are dissatisfied or unhappy…I see myself as being in a profession that’s about being helpful to people in their lives. So if I become aware I’m gonna be letting someone down by saying no, of course that makes it a challenge for me.”

AM-T: “I love that you say at the beginning of the book that women’s desire to help and be there for others is actually a really valuable thing. Some ‘say no’ advice you hear for women doesn’t acknowledge that really. Why do you think it’s important to reiterate there’s much good that can come out of our desire to help people?”

“My clients are often very surprised when I tell them our reluctance to say no often comes from traits that we should value, that include empathy, sensitivity, thoughtfulness and compassion, and that the struggle to say no comes from being tuned in, rather than shut down. And that the paths we take to saying no, no matter how circuitous, can sometimes help us grow. Saying no can be a struggle because of our deeply rooted need for connection, this is very important to us. So to be considerate without jeopardizing our wellbeing or livelihood and at the same time assertive without losing the relationships we value, I see as two of life’s most compelling challenges. For most women the prospect of being less sensitive to the needs of others isn’t appealing even though accommodating their requests can result in personal hardship, and many of us would rather weigh the pros and cons of helping out and finding best possible ways to take care of ourselves as well as the others who are dependent on us.

And that’s also how our brains are wired. We have an aptitude for compassion and connection but so often we hear there’s something terribly wrong with the way we say no, and this is the opposite of what my book is about. We hear put yourself first, stop being a people pleaser and quit worrying about everyone else. But really this is a foreign concept to most of us, because if women as a group became substantially less concerned with the welfare of everyone around us, the consequences for children, the infirm, the disadvantaged and the elderly would be disastrous.”

Because it is women who do so much of that caring work – whether it’s for family or as part of a helping profession. And a lot of you are in those jobs – I’ve heard from teachers, doctors, nurses, coaches. But I had to go back to something Nanette said about women’s brains being wired for compassion. I knew that would have some of you bristling.

AM-T: “You know I just want to pick up on something you said. I get in trouble with some of my listeners when I say ‘women’s brains are wired to’ - I then get these emails saying it’s all socialization, and I agree, women are socialized to help people… but I wonder how you tread around that nature versus nurture thing.”

“Well there’s quite a bit of evidence that our brains as women are wired for connection, however, there are plenty of boys and men who also are also socialized, grow up in environments where those characteristics are nurtured and developed, and I find men in my practice and in my life who are deeply connected individuals also struggle in the same kind of way with setting limits as women do. So it’s really about are you a person who is very relational, if you are, regardless of gender, then you’re gonna struggle with these kinds of issues.”

AM-T: “Well talking about caring people, you’re in a caring profession, you told a great story of an assistant you had, you realized she had mental health issues when she was some way into the job, but you didn’t want to fire her. That was a great example from your own life. Can you talk a bit about what women in helping professions, and there are a lot of them, can do to say no sometimes without people thinking they’re Cruella DeVille?”

“Well I’ll just expand on this personal story, I think it illustrates the complexities of this dynamic. This employee had been with us and doing quite well for a number of years and then all of a sudden I came into the office to begin my day of seeing clients, and I saw there were boxes of baking soda with skulls and crossbones drawn on them next to all the electronic office equipment…and I said, what’s with the baking soda? And she said, the radiation that it gives off is very, very dangerous.”

That was the first sign that something was wrong.

“And over the course of the next few weeks she became more anxious about even being in the office. So obviously she was developing a psychiatric problem.”

Nanette knew psychiatric problems very well. She wasn’t getting the backup she needed in the office, but she couldn’t just let her assistant go. That would have felt inhuman to her.

“So what we did was we helped her get into good treatment and in the process of that she decided she could no longer do the job in our office…so that is how we set the limit essentially. It was helping her get the treatment and facilitating her understanding that she could no longer do the job.”

It was a relief on all fronts – the assistant was getting the help she needed, and Nanette could hire a new person.

She says we need to get one thing straight about setting boundaries, no matter what kind of work we do. And though it sounds obvious when she says it, I think a lot of us lose sight of this.

“You can really only say no when you have a clear sense of your priorities.”

But how many of us have sat there at one point or another and told ourselves everything is equally important?

And once we get over that…

“It’s important to weigh the risks of each no both professionally and personally, and then it’s important to tailor the no to fit the request, it can’t be one size fits all if you care about the relationship with the person who is asking. So basically I’d recommend overall 6 steps in this no process to consider.

The first is, if it’s not an emergency don’t answer immediately. Give yourself time to consider whether you want to do it. And say instead something like, ‘Let me think about this, let me check my schedule, consider my other obligations,’ and be very specific about the date and time you will respond, it’s very important to let people know as soon as possible and it’s very important and to keep your word.”

In other words, be respectful of the person who’s asking. They need to know one way or the other.

“So secondly, ask yourself if you have to do it and what you might lose if you say no. Is the request within the parameters of your job description, does your livelihood hinge on you saying yes, and if you do say yes will it be hardship for you, family, your relationships? And third, does the request fit within your personal priorities, is it part of your personal agenda, will it bring you closer to your goals, will you be happy or fulfilled if you agree to the request? Are you saying yes as part of a desire to be helpful? Are you being asked to do something meaningful or substantive?”

Or is there a colleague who could handle this better, and who might even benefit from doing it?

Number four…

“If you decide it’s not in your best interests to say yes, I suggest you state your no clearly and decisively and at minimum say sorry, I can’t accommodate your request.”

She says a clear, unequivocal no is much easier to deal with than a mushy non-answer that leaves the asker in the twilight zone. I’m already feeling guilty about the number of times I’ve done that.

“Five, you may feel inclined to explain your reasons but I suggest that you be brief. You may want to clarify why it doesn’t fit within your responsibilities or prior commitments or if it’s a policy based decision, explain why your no should not be taken personally. 

And finally, six, if you can, offer other alternatives, because it’s always better to be helpful when you can and sometimes your generosity comes full circle. But I think overall it’s very  important in caring professions and in the workplace in general for women, that we are held to a higher standard when we say no than men are. It’s OK for us to say no if we say it nicely but if it’s not warm and nurturing we often lose points. And therefore finding just the right mixture of firmness and thoughtfulness to communicate a clear limit without alienating people takes training and practice.”

Heather McGregor has that training and practice. Some of you may remember her. She’s been on the show several times. She used to write a column for the Financial Times under the name Mrs. Moneypenny. This woman gets a lot of requests, personal and professional. 

“First, acknowledge that you can’t be everywhere. You will just be average at everything…no one will get proper attention.”

When I last spoke to Heather she was running her own headhunting business in London. These days she’s the dean of Edinburgh Business School and still chairman of her business. She’s also an author, and she has a family. She says to protect her time, she says no a lot. But she does try to offer the other person something along with her refusal.

“So I’ve just come from an email from a pretty famous TV presenter in this country, who’s a woman, asking for one-on-one advice having read my book…non-executive director position…she wants my personal advice. This is an hour of my time, I will not be able to charge for it. I can’t do anything to specifically assist her because I don’t run a search company that does board positions and I don’t influence chairmen. I encourage and support women but I don’t make any difference as to whether they succeed or not. All she will hear is what’s in book all over again. I’ve written back to her and said I won’t see her. But in writing back and saying I won’t see her, I’ve written 3 suggestions of things you can do to help herself, so when you say no to something, I can’t make the bake sale but here’s what I’ll do, I’ll donate $15 towards the cake ingredients. Try and say no in a positive fashion. It’ll make you feel a lot less guilty.”

I learned from that advice and I try to do something similar if the occasion arises.


If you’re a woman who’s done well in her field, maybe you’re one of very few women in the job, you’re probably inundated with requests for your time and expertise. Here’s Nanette again.

“One of the university professors I spoke with is asked to speak all over the world…she had an elderly parent for whom she was caregiver, she couldn’t meet all the demands and requests on her time, she always had a list by the phone of all the junior faculty who could benefit tremendously from the opportunity she was being asked to do, give speeches in various places, so she would give them a leg up as she was saying no to the request.”

But another, African-American professor didn’t have the same options. She always felt like the token black woman on these panels, but…

“She didn’t say no because she felt that all the diversity she represented wouldn’t be attended to if she wasn’t there. That issues of people of color wouldn’t be attended to, issues of people of different sexual orientations wouldn’t be attended to. So she had very, very little free time.”

But here’s something to bear in mind if you’re someone who always ends up saying yes to these extra-curricular requests. Yes, they can bolster your career, but sometimes you just bolster the person or the event itself. And that’s what the requester is after—they need you to make their event look good.

There’s a story in Nanette’s book about American writer political writer Peggy Noonan.

When Noonan’s son was little she got asked to fly across the country to campaign for a female candidate at a political event. She admired the candidate, and the organizer kept saying this woman would win if Noonan showed up and spoke up for her. But Noonan was a single mother and the event was during the week – her son was at school. The woman asking her said, bring him! Noonan said no, little kids didn’t like being yanked out of school and taken half way across the country. The event organizer kept pressing her. Noonan hesitated…but ultimately she said no.

“So I think what’s really important to realize in scenarios like this is that all too often people who ask for your time for a particular function or event, they don’t care about your family or other responsibilities, they care about their needs. So it’s very important that you prioritize your own needs because nobody else will do that for you.”

That’s what Peggy Noonan did when she said no to that request. She put her son over the event because she recognized that her agenda was her son, the organizer’s agenda was the success of this rally. They were two separate agendas. Realizing that helped her make the decision.

But what about the smaller things…the workplace requests that can clog up your day? Some of you responded to a Facebook post I wrote asking about requests you found it difficult to refuse.

AM-T: “One of my respondents on Facebook talked about being asked to interview someone in another department. These smaller things that over the course of a day or a week can be little time sucks. But especially when it’s someone who is superior to you, it’s just really awkward…how to say no to those things without looking churlish?”

“Exactly, and it’s true that saying no in those kinds of situations sometimes raises concerns about not being a team player.”

And sometimes I think you have to do it – you have to put in the time to give that good impression. But not every time they ask. One listener told me on Facebook the men in her office always ask her to take notes in meetings – a common request women get. And she says yes partly because she thinks she’ll take the best notes anyway, so why not? But if it were me I’d suggest something else like, everyone takes turns taking notes in different meetings.

But of course sometimes what you want to say no to isn’t the small stuff – it’s the big stuff. And pushing back on a request from above can be fraught with complications.

AM-T: “People may be facing these kinds of situations in their office where they may be asked to do something, it’s coming from on high, yet they feel it’s the wrong action – what sorts of options do they have?”

“Well in some of those situations as in the hierarchical systems where you’re not allowed to say no to your superior, you are definitely at risk of losing your job if you draw a line that your superior is going to be very unhappy with. And it’s very important that you talk with colleagues to the extent you can, that you get support from as many people as you can, that you get as much advice as you can about how to be very clear about why you are stating the limit you are stating, and hope you can make a good case and be respected for what you are doing, but it doesn’t always work out.”

Finally, Nanette and I talked about how to say no to routine requests – or rather, how NOT to say no. She began to think about this when she was researching her book. She got rejected a bunch of times when she approached prominent women to interview – more than she expected. She came to appreciate a direct no. But much of the time, that’s not what she got.  

“It was very frustrating, because essentially I was put on indefinite hold with the vague promise they’d get back to me and they didn’t. That made me feel devalued, and ultimately lose respect for the person who couldn’t just tell it to me straight. I mean I’d rather have a nasty no or just a no, I’m not available, than just a wishy washy or indefinite-hold no.”

Noted.

Nannette’s book covers so much more than settling boundaries in the workplace. She has chapters on saying no to friends and family, how to say no to requests from your community, even how to say no to someone who is dying.

If you are somebody who wants to stop saying yes so often I highly recommend it – again the book is ‘My Answer is No – if That’s OK with You. How Women Can Say No and Still Feel Good About It.’ I’ll put a link under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time.

Thanks to those of you who’ve donated to the show since the last episode went up. I am pleased to say PayPal has reinstated the ability to give a monthly donation, and I know some of you have asked about that. If everyone who listened to this show gave me just…one dollar a month – so way less than you spend on a daily cup of tea or coffee – I could actually earn a living from this thing. Go to TheBroadExperience.com/support. And thank you.

I’m always open to hearing story ideas from you so if you’d like me to cover something, get in touch via the website or email ashley at TheBroadExperience.com.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. See you next time.

Episode 113: What's in a Name

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, when your name makes people confused about your gender…until you enlighten them…

“The point was, you’re not going to be taken seriously if you’ve just outed yourself as a Miss. You now look kind of insignificant. That’s what I got from it.”

And what it’s like when a man swaps names with a female colleague for a week…

I had no authority, essentially. Prior to this I had an assumed authority, people seemed to think I was capable of the job they had paid me to do and I guess I’d taken that for granted, because when I was working as Nicole that was often not the case.”

But don’t expect everyone to believe you…

“We just said hey, guess what, we did an experiment and fun fact, our clients treat me like crap, on the whole. And he was just immediately like, you can’t prove that, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Coming up on The Broad Experience.

And just a heads up, you will hear the occasional swear word later in this episode. So in the unlikely even you’re listening to this with kids, you might want to put your headphones on.

But before we begin, how often do you think about marketing yourself? Some of us are great at this. Others like me would rather do anything other than talk ourselves up.

Which is completely understandable.

The thing is…Every decision about you and your opportunities is made in a room you’re not in.

 Which begs the question, can you do anything about the conversation in that room?

Joanna Bloor – a former guest on the show - believes you can. And it starts with knowing how to talk about who you are and why you’re important.

 Joanna is on a mission to get us to talk about ourselves in a new way.

 Uncover your unique value, then learn how to share it with others.

So in that room, they’re telling your story, and articulating your value, the way you want.

Organizations including Microsoft, EY, 21st Century Fox, and Cartier have brought Joanna in to talk to employees from entry level to executive with remarkable results.

 Go to Joannabloor.com and check out her services page to find out more.

That’s j – o –a -  n- n – a – b – l – o – o – r dot com.  Reference the broad experience and receive 10% off a workshop or individual coaching.


When I was a child growing up in London I couldn’t stand my first name. I didn’t love my last name either but it was Ashley that really bothered me. Because at least in those days, in the UK, Ashley was a boy’s name – and people often reminded me of that. My mother was American and she’d thought of Ashley as more of a feminine name, which it usually IS in the US. But that was no consolation to me at my school, surrounded by Victorias and Lucys and Natashas. 

So I really got into this piece I read in the Financial Times recently about ambiguous names. Alev Scott was the author. She lives in London. She’s a writer and commentator on Turkey and everything that’s happening there – which these days is quite a lot. She’s half Turkish and she began her career as a journalist there, but came back to the UK when the Turkish government became increasingly repressive.  

Her name – Alev – means ‘flame’ in Turkish. Her Turkish mother chose the name. But like a lot of kids whose first names sound ‘foreign’ in the country they live in, Alev says people always struggled to pronounce it; none of her schoolmates had much interest in her Turkish half. For years she just wanted to be called Emma.

But it wasn’t until she began working that her name took on another dimension…people who hadn’t met her assumed she was a man.

“I started to encounter it in my professional life…it’s when I started working as a journalist. I used to live in Turkey, it’s ironic that in a very patriarchal country like Turkey everyone knew I was a woman because they were familiar with the name, there were other problems associated with being a female journalist in Turkey but they weren’t connected to being confused for a man. Whereas in the west people didn’t know I was a woman and I had to tell them somehow and had to deal with the knowledge…they might think of me differently, or they might…it’s odd second guessing what people think of you when they think you’re a man. It’s hard to know and it’s hard to ask them so a lot of times I’ve guessed about a slight shift in tone, there’s all sorts of unknowns…and that’s one of the frustrating but also quite interesting things about my name.”

And I had to admit that I was one of those people who, looking at her name in print, assumed she was male. I read a piece of hers in the Financial Times several months ago, and only when she wrote that piece ambiguous names did I realize my mistake.

AM-T: “…because I was one of the people who fell into that trap of just assuming you were male when the name wasn’t obviously female.”

“Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it as well, it’s part of how we’re formed as a society – people assume we’re male unless told otherwise. And that’s interesting and also worrying. It’s funny, I sort of know people assume I’m a man unless I tell them otherwise but I haven’t developed a policy of dealing with that. If people specifically address me as Mr. Scott or make some reference by which I know they think I’m a man, then I’ll try and put them right but you can’t go around in life sort of shouting about being a woman just in case people assume you’re a man, it’s not something that I feel you can work into your public persona.” 

So she lives with it, correcting people when she feels she needs to.

Just as I do when I get emails or letters addressed to Mr. Milne-Tyte.

I hadn’t thought that much about titles, though, until Alev brought them up.

“I do often consider what would happen if we just got rid of titles, because I think maybe they’re antiquated at this point. I have a lot of issues with titles in fact.”

AM-T: “You mean titles such as Mr, Ms, Miss?”

“Yes, exactly. I don’t see what’s wrong with just using people’s first names. It doesn’t get rid of the problem of assuming a person’s gender…I personally have a real distaste for Ms. I think it’s really ugly and I think it symbolizes the fact there has to be this awkward compromise for women that doesn’t exist for men, because all they have is Mr., setting aside Doctor and Professor so on which applies to both sexes, thank goodness. Ms was probably concocted by someone with their heart in the right place for a good reason, but I still think it’s a really ugly compromise – why should there be a Ms, why should there be a Mrs. and a Miss? Why should women have to categorize themselves and be classified, and why do all these problems occur when there’s only one title for people of the male gender? I just think it’s weird.”

She’d rather not be categorized by her marital status at all…but since people often assume she’s a man, she sometimes uses a title to indicate her gender.  

A while ago, in her role as a Turkey analyst, she was introduced to a group email list of experts on the Gulf states. Mostly she was a lurker. But at one point she says the discussion veered towards Turkey and its president.

“I just felt all the contributors to this particular discussion, it was about President Erdogan’s support for Syrian rebels, I just thought none of them were quite getting the point, they weren’t that well informed. It was generally a high caliber of discussion, anyway, I decided to chip in. In the months I was in the group everyone was male; apparently there were other women, but I never heard from them. I chipped in and in one of the replies they were referring to ‘Mr. Scott’s comments,’ and I thought, OK, this is quite a serious, academic, male heavy group, I’m not going to make a big song and dance about being a woman but I want to put them right. Because it’s awkward, if you don’t say anything it’s almost like you’re being dishonest in a strange way. So I replied and signed off, in brackets, Miss Alev Scott.”

And she thought little more of it.

But someone else did. Soon after she’d sent that email the man who had introduced her to the group – she describes him as an Iran expert, quite old school…

“He said it’s none of my business, but…why did you advertise the fact you’re not married by using Miss? It’s not common among the list of impressive women who contribute to this group. 

And I just I thought oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening and I have to explain myself. And I explained I thought ‘Ms’ is ugly and that people thought I was a man, and I just wanted to correct them. And he said, oh yes, but you know it’s not common among the women who contribute to this group, they’re usually assumed to be senior and professionally important women. I can’t remember exactly how he phrased it. But the point was, you’re not going to be taken seriously if you’ve just outed yourself as a Miss, you’re not a professor and you now look kind of insignificant. That’s what I got from it. And sure enough, it did seem to be that people didn’t respond nearly as enthusiastically after I sent the clarification of who I was.” 

And she says you know, maybe it was just that the discussion was moving on anyway. But she continued to have this niggling feeling that revealing her gender and marital status had demeaned her in the eyes of others…

“It just clarified for me what having a name like mine can lead to and the explanations that can lead to, and the disillusionment, I don’t know what was going through people’s minds, probably just surprise, but I think people have an unconscious bias whether they know it or not.”

Hearing her talk about this took me back to my interviews for the last show on being overweight at work – and how it can be so hard to tell whether someone’s judging you on that one thing. You have this feeling, but you can’t be sure. And you can hear Alev second guessing herself on this…did those other commentators think less of her views now they knew she was a woman?

“I feel like as women we’re more attuned to noticing that shift in tone when someone notices we’re a woman, I might be completely wrong here, and it would be really interesting to talk to a man often assumed to be a woman and see if they’re aware of that shift in tone…whether there is one, what it feels like, whether it feels positive, negative, whatever, I would be genuinely interested to talk to a man about that.”

And that’s exactly what we’re going to do after the break.


Earlier this year a story blew up online thanks to a series of tweets by a writer called Martin Schneider. He tweeted about an experiment he’d done a few years before with a colleague of his, Nicole Hallberg. An experiment where he suddenly found out what it was like to be a woman at work, and she got a taste of what it’s like to be a man.

A couple of things you should know: Martin and Nicole worked for a startup where all their interaction with clients was in writing.

The company they worked for was a resume-writing and editing service. The job was based in Philadelphia. They worked out of their boss’s apartment. Everyone was in their mid-twenties.

I asked Nicole to start by talking a bit about what the job involved…

As technical writers we’d go through a rigorous editing process and go through several drafts with each of our clients to get the answers right, we’d ask more questions, fill in more details, edit, edit, edit as we go, till we came up with finished product. Sometimes it took 4-6 weeks. So we would work in depth with individual clients and get to know them pretty well."

Martin: “Very rarely would we get on the phone with someone unless there was an actual problem, so for the most part it was just a lot of email so they wouldn’t have a way to see our faces or hear our voices or determine what our gender was.”

That’s Martin, or Marty as he’s known.

AM-T: “But Nicole, you’ve written about this, you were made quite conscious of your gender in this job before you and Marty did this experiment, right?”

Nicole: “Oh yeah, 48 hours after I was hired I found out which way the wind was blowing.

Our boss, very shortly after I was hired, he was our age, it was a very small company, there were only 4 of us, but he let me know that I should be proud because he wasn’t considering hiring any females, and I had made the cut out of hundreds of applicants, and I’d just impressed him so much with my writing samples and the practical interview we did that he decided to go ahead and hire a female anyway, because he said they’d always had fun at the office, and he didn’t want that to change. So sorry if I made working there too miserable, Marty…I am a joyless, humorless female.”

 Marty: “He also said something about me, remember?”

 “Oh yes, so Marty wasn’t moving for another few weeks and I said, what was Marty like, and our boss said, ‘oh, you know, he’s a good writer but he gets pretty emotional, he’s kind of a girl that way.’ And it’s like, did you really just say this to me, is this some kind of elaborate prank? But no, he was dead serious.”

She took a deep breath and plunged into the job. But with a boss who felt ‘females’ weren’t quite up to par, she felt she had to work extra hard to establish her competence – and she felt kind of the same way with the clients. Most of them were men, usually in the STEM field.

“I knew it was harder for a woman to be taken seriously and be seen as an expert, so I dotted my Is and crossed my Ts on every interaction. Made it very clear I knew about their industries, knew what I was talking about, name dropped different systems just so they knew I’d heard of them, things like that. What happened was Marty one day was complaining about one of our clients, saying this guy is being really unreasonable, I don’t know what his issue is, he’s being a condescending jerk really. And Marty noticed he had accidentally had his email signature set to my name. We used a shared inbox and chose from a drop-down menu to sign all of our email. So this guy wasn’t being rude to Marty he was being rude to me.”

Again, Marty had accidentally been signing all his emails to this client with Nicole’s name. So he went back into the correspondence, choosing his own name from the pull-down menu – didn’t let on about the mistake, just said to the client, hi, I’m Martin, I’ll be taking over this edit of your resume.

Nicole: “So all of a sudden this guy thinking he’s working with someone new becomes as sweet as could be…just oh, thank you for asking, that’s a really smart question, and all of a suddenly Marty knew what he was doing when Nicole clearly did not. When really nothing changed.

He asked, does this happen to you? I said, ‘Oh, only every day.’ So I said if you want to see what it’s like, let’s switch: all the incoming clients, I’ll be you, you be me, and see how differently they treat you.”

AM-T: “Oh…so Marty tell me from your perspective, what did that feel like?” 

Marty: “Nicole just told my half of the story, man…”

AM-T: “So unfair!”

Nicole: “Welcome to my world!”

Marty: “OK, this is normally the part where we switch to you. OK, working as Nicole was difficult in ways I found hard to describe. Suddenly I had to do a lot more, I got a lot more pushback, questions I previously thought were just basic things, first round questions, suddenly people were asking, well why would you ask this? Or they were saying, ‘I guess this would be impressive if you didn’t know the industry.’ Little condescending barbs…not all the clients obviously, but there was a noted increase in my workload. It took me longer to work with clients, and I was able to bluff a lot less. Prior to this I was able to fake it till I made it, but this time I was not able to do that… I had to do a lot more research because I’d get called on it a lot more. I had no authority, essentially. Prior to this I had an assumed authority, people seemed to think I was capable of the job they had paid me to do and I guess I’d taken that for granted because when I was working as Nicole that was often not the case, I had fewer opportunities to assert my authority no matter how made up it might have been, during that time period.”

And remember what Alev was talking about earlier, that change in tone she detected in people’s responses when they realized she was a woman? Well, Marty experienced that when people thought he was a woman…

Martin: “That’s one of the issues we’ve had, it’s a tone, right, how do you prove a shift in tone? It’s one of those things, you feel like you’re being talked down to. We all feel like we know what it’s like to be talked down to…even if you can’t point out, hey you’re doing it, especially not in text…so there were a few hons, some sweeties…”

Nicole: “I got emojis, did you get emojis?”

M: “I got no emojis.”

N: “I got smiley faces all the time, some winky faces.”

M: “Oh yeah, now you mention it, I think there were a couple of winky faces…maybe someone was trying to flirt with me, I don’t know. I don’t think so but I’m not gonna rule it out.”


AM-T: “So Nicole, what was it like for you that week? What was it like when you were apparently Martin?”

Nicole: “I had such a great time, I really did. I told you I used to spend enormous time and care crafting every one of my correspondences with my clients to project an aura of professionalism, and being an expert, but I noticed when I edited some of the guys’ resumes, when I saw Martin and our other coworker…I noticed that when I checked some of their resumes, the way they wrote questions and comments -- not speaking in complete sentences, no capitalization, typos, things like that…I was like, I double check all my comments to make sure they’re perfect, because as soon as I make a typo they’ll be like, ‘oh, this broad doesn’t know what she’s doing.’ So I was like, I wonder if I can get away with writing like that and if there will be a backlash. And I did, and there wasn’t, and it was awesome. And I was like, oh, cool, men don’t have to write in complete sentences – good to know.”

Marty: “Which brings us to the underlying premise of this story, which is one of the big complaints around our office, quote unquote, was our boss though Nicole took too long with each individual client. Took longer to get from first draft to final draft. And even though I didn’t see it as an issue he’d get on me for it and I’d have to get on her for it and it made everyone miserable. And that was the premise behind this whole thing – and suddenly I completely understood what it is that takes longer for her, is in the time I would normally be halfway done with a client I was just by that point, as Nicole, convincing them I knew what I was doing. So I realized oh, there’s a reason why on average it takes her longer…there’s a longer adaptation period, I suppose, and you have to spend more time being way more careful than I did when I was Martin.”

They did the experiment during a week when their boss was out of town. Some time after that, they decided to tell him about it. They were all at an event outside the office.

His reaction?

Nicole: “Immediate, I mean like immediate dismissal. Before we’d gotten through telling him all about it, he waved his hand. He said, ‘there could be a million reasons they treated you guys differently, there’s no way for you to know.’ And I remember being so angry, so frustrated, I remember being like, what the fuck are you talking about? What million reasons could there be that all of a sudden they think I’m smarter because my name is Marty? Like what are those million reasons? What I couldn’t understand most of all was why, what reason did he have, it’s not like I was asking for more money, or accommodations, or more time, we didn’t frame it that way at all. We just said hey, guess what, we did an experiment and fun fact, our clients treat me like crap, on the whole. And he was just like, you can’t prove that, and you don’t know what you’re talking about and that’s not true. And I thought, what skin do you have in this game? How does it benefit you to deny sexism has ever existed. But then I remember all the terrible sexist comments he said to me while I was there and had continued to make…things often said out of ignorance more than malice.”

Martin: “I mean small concession, but I said, ‘it’s fine if you don’t believe this, but I’m not going to get on her about speed any more, I’m not gonna fight that battle.’ And he conceded because I think at this point he was just tired of having the fight…but that’s the tiniest of concessions I can offer, to be honest.”

Neither of them works at the company any more. In fact it’s been sold twice, and the former boss isn’t there today either. But back then Nicole racked her brain for reasons why he would so strenuously deny that any difference in treatment could have been gender-related…and she finally came up with a hypothesis.

“This guy had created this company himself, he was 25 at the time, supported three employees…and that’s not nothing. And he was incredibly proud of the fact he was a self-made person…even though his parents were wealthy and had backed the company. But I think if he had acknowledged that, you know, I was disadvantaged at work, I think maybe he’d have to acknowledge that he was advantaged, and I don’t think he was willing to do that.

Marty: And I don’t think that’s special to him, I think it has to do with anyone who enjoys any position of privilege. People have asked me why is it so hard for people to admit they have some kind of advantage, visible or invisible – and I think it’s because if you admit that somebody else has to work harder, in your brain it puts down the work you had to do. Now I don’t believe I didn’t work hard, that I haven’t worked hard, but I’m fully willing to admit someone else has to work harder and maybe I have advantages.”

And when Marty went public with this story earlier this year, it went viral. Over weeks and months he and Nicole got thousands of responses from women saying they’d experienced similar things in their work lives.

Marty: “These were women at every age, every level, in every occupation, everybody from C-level execs to female butchers and mechanics…they all told stories. We had one, a husband who told the story of him and his wife, they were both 911 dispatchers, and they found police responded differently to the female voice than his voice when they were telling people to go and respond to emergency services. And that’s terrifying, people could die because of some weird latent bias.”

AM-T: “You mean people weren’t as quick to obey her commands, suggestions?

Marty: “Yes, that’s the story we were told, yeah."

Nicole: “Yeah, and I heard hundreds of stories like that too, some were heartbreaking, some were hilarious.…but this has a real cost for women, this is an interest piece for a lot of people but I think folks need to understand this is holding women back in their careers, it’s keeping them from achieving what they could achieve because they have to strive that much harder just to be taken seriously. It’s costing them positions, money, it’s costing us as a society.”

Marty: “Even this story is an example of why the story is necessary. I’m fully aware of the reason it caught fire is because it was told by me, a white man, I get this criticism a lot from far left feminists and it’s a valid criticism, people ask why did Marty need to experience this…why couldn’t he just believe Nicole to begin with, why do we need a white man to tell us this story? And I acknowledge and understand that criticism.

The closest I can say is that there’s a difference between understanding something exists, because I was never one of those people who denied sexism or that I had weird sexist biases and probably still do…but there’s a difference between understanding something exists and really experiencing it for yourself. It’s kind of like you don’t realize how many stairs there are in the city till you’re on crutches, it’s just something you don’t think about and something Ididn’t have to think about, and now that I do, I try to tell the story so other people can think about it.”

Nicole: “I don’t wanna sound like I’m too much just defending Marty because he’s my good friend, and he is my good friend, but when women say why didn’t Marty listen, why did he have to see it for himself? I say, look, he did. I told him and he believed me. But he didn’t fully understand the extent of what I was talking about it until he lived it, and I think that would be true of any human being whatsoever.”  

Marty: “I genuinely feel like if every woman stopped every single time something a little bit sexist happened to them and they stopped to tell a man about it, no one would get anything done.”

And speaking of men’s reactions, Marty says a lot of guys kind of squirm when they hear this stuff. It makes them uncomfortable. And that’s the good ones.

Marty: “I think for a lot of men it’s hard to hear stories like this because we all want to think of ourselves as good people, and we all agree sexism is inherently bad. I think a lot of men when they see stories like this they immediately get up in arms and use hashtags like #notall men – which means, not me, I don’t do this, where they should be asking just introspectively, do I do that? Is that me? And it’s a tough question to ask, most people don’t like the answer, I don’t like the answer when I did it.” 

AM-T: “It’s a recipe for defensiveness.”

Nicole: “Oh, yeah.

If you want to have a great easy week, I would recommend, change your avatar, change your picture.”

Marty: “Nicole, why don’t you explain why you don’t go by a pseudonym?”

Nicole: “Yes, it fascinates me that people on Twitter, often women, will say, Nicole needs to change her online name, her profile, to Nick – it’s amazing to me, I’m like, you know who I am because of a story about swapping names, you think this never occurred to me? I’ve thought about it and very consciously decided not to do it.

 So when I left that company I became a freelancer. And part of the reason was I wanted more control of who I worked with. I didn’t want to appease more sexist assholes for a paycheck, I didn’t want to do that, I wanted the freedom to fire a client if I wanted to and that’s been a beautiful thing, with its own set of challenges.

 But I wrestled for a long time with would I use a male pseudonym, and the answer I ultimately came up with was that if you have a problem with my writing coming from Nicole, then I don’t want you to have my writing, I don’t want to deal with you. I’m lucky I can afford to say that, some people can’t, some don’t care, they want to get ahead and not deal with the bullshit, and I will validate that 100 thousand percent for anyone who wants to do that. It was good enough for Emily Bronte, it’s cool, there’s nothing wrong with doing that. It was not the right choice for me. I was going to live or die or succeed or fail as Nicole, and that’s gonna have to be cool with the people I work with or else I’m not working with you.”

Nicole Hallberg. Thanks to her and Martin Schneider for telling their story on this show. You can also hear them on their own podcast, Not Eachother. And thanks to Alev Scott for sharing some of her experiences earlier. I’ll be posting more information on all three guests under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. As most of you know, this is a one-woman show that takes many hours of work – and your support is much appreciated in keeping it going. To contribute just go to the support tab at TheBroadExperience.com – but if you can’t afford to give, write a review on iTunes instead. Honestly, it all helps.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

Episode 112: Your Weight, Your Worth

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time on the show…how can being overweight affect your career?

“I got dressed up, did my hair and everything, I was ready for this interview. I got the IM to come and meet the interviewer, and then as soon as he sees me his face just drops.”

“One of the stereotypes is if you’re overweight you’re lazy, and you’re not smart, or you’re slow. And that is something I have learned to actively prove people wrong.”

“Being a black woman in a plus size body, at the time I had long dreadlocks, in front of this white congregation, I was keenly aware of how my body was very different than the other women and the other people in that space.”   

Coming up on The Broad Experience.  


During the last year or so I’ve had several listeners write to me as say, have you thought about a show on being an overweight woman at work? A couple of them told me stories – things that had happened that made them wonder, is my weight damaging my career?

I persuaded two of those women to talk to me on tape. And it wasn’t easy for either of them. Because as you’ll hear, feeling judged is something they grapple with all the time. 

Amy Lockard lives in the Midwest. She’s in her mid-thirties. and for the first part of her working life…

“I worked for a community newspaper here in Michigan, I was a photojournalist and I worked there almost ten years till the paper changed hands. And when it changed ownerships pretty much everyone who worked there lost their jobs.”

And after being out of work for nine months, Amy switched tack and began to work in the corporate world, in cable advertising. She was told there was a lot of room to move around at this company.

“To me that sounded like a good place to start. But it hasn’t been that easy.”

She’s gone for a couple of internal jobs in the last few years, higher level jobs, and hasn’t landed either of them. But she found out recently that she came really close to getting one job last year, a communications role in her department – operations. It was a job she wanted because it would use more of her journalism skills. And she’s started to wonder…could her weight be part of the reason she isn’t moving up?

“I’m a tall lady, I’m a big lady, I’m 5’9, I’m around 300 pounds, you know my weight fluctuates here and there, I’m around size 22/24 American size.”

Last year when that communications job came up she did everything most women would the day of an interview…

“I got dressed up, did my hair and everything, I was ready for this interview…I got the IM to meet the interviewer down the hallway, so I’m walking down the hallway and I see him, he waves and smiles at me, and then as soon as he sees me his face just drops.”

As soon as her whole body came into view, his expression changed. Which wasn’t a great start. She says she was nervous during the interview, especially when she realized just what kind of promotion the job would mean – it was bigger than she thought. But she says the vibe wasn’t weird otherwise.

“So I didn’t think much of it afterwards, I thought when I didn’t get the job maybe I did some kind of mistake in my interview or something like that, until they did the announcement about who got the job. And I saw -- they send out the corporate pictures and then I saw her in my office. They moved somebody from out of state into my state…she had come from a completely different position, she wasn’t in operations, she was in sales, and she was younger and pretty and thin, and I just thought, oh, of course that makes sense…”

She’s been back and forth on this in her head since then. Maybe the other woman had some kind of skill or experience she lacked…she’s just not sure what that is. And when she heard from a colleague recently that she’d almost got that job, it made her wonder all the more. Was her weight the problem? The question keeps niggling at her.

“This discussion is kind of hard to have in public because there is a lot of fat shaming going on especially on the internet, you see it a lot, especially with women who are more vocal about being comfortable with who they are and how they look. Which I’ve always felt fairly confident about that till more recently. I never really thought it would affect me in my job. In my previous job as a photojournalist, every Friday night for 10 years I was photographing football games, running up and down football fields, meeting everybody in the community, and it never was a problem. Until now, when it’s a face to face thing, and I’m just trying to figure out, what are some of the issues? Not that I think this is the only reason that’s holding me back but I’m just questioning, is it something that I’ve been naïve to until now?”

It could be. Various academic studies show there is weight bias in the workplace and that it’s worse for women. Overweight people and women in particular get paid less than their thinner peers, on average. One study from a few years ago had participants look at resumes with pictures attached of obese and normal-weight women. They routinely saw the overweight women as deserving of a lower starting salary and having less leadership potential than the others.

Amy knows that in some workplaces the prejudice can be overt…

“I’ve had a friend who worked in the cosmetology business and she actually had, when she went to leave a job that she was unhappy with at a salon – the owner got nasty with her and said to her face, ‘I hired you even though you’re fat, and you’re leaving me in the lurch.’ So it’s out there and it’s definitely something I started to think about…I started looking online, and reading different articles about weight bias…and the possibility of that, and I’m reading about people who do hiring and what they think about.”

She says one thing she’s read is that companies don’t want to hire overweight people because they’re afraid they’ll be ill more often, take more time off work. Which again, surprised her, because sickness has never been more of an issue for her than it has for anyone else.

Amy says she believes in self-improvement, and she’s happy to make a few tweaks to her image to satisfy the corporate gods. She dresses more formally now than she ever did when she worked in a newsroom. But she says losing weight – for her that’s a personal decision, not something she feels she should have to do to fit a career path. And for her, weight loss is freighted with baggage. She says to outsiders maybe it looks like every fat person should just drop the pounds and they’ll be better off. But it’s not that simple. Once, she lost 70 pounds over a couple years, but…

“I was going through a lot. They portrayed it in the media like it’s this great thing and you’ll feel fantastic and all your problems are gonna go away and you’re this new woman, but the catalyst at the beginning was a lot of emotional devastation. I had a broken engagement, I lost a close friend to a drug overdose, I had family members who got very sick, and I wasn’t happy. But I was thinner than I’d been in ten years. It psychologically messed with me in terms of my body image as well. My body was shrinking and I didn’t know how to feel or what to think about that. You’re supposed to be happy, but I didn’t feel that way. I felt more self-conscious about how I looked, I felt more uncomfortable in the skin I was in. I was changing sizes all the time, I didn’t know what clothes should fit me or what I should buy. And any time anybody made a remark about my weight loss it just made me feel very uncomfortable, it felt like a little stab in the side every time.”

When someone praises you for losing a lot of weight, you’re hearing ‘I love the new you!’ But Amy had liked her old self just fine. Did other people not feel the same? It was confusing.

Fast forward to today, and she’s put the weight back on…

“…but during this period of time, I’ve accomplished a lot of goals for myself. I’ve purchased my first home, and I’m in a great relationship that’s stable and healthy and happy.”

It’s at work that she’s most conscious of her weight these days. She’s even careful about what she eats in front of other people.

“For example during the holidays they bring in a lot of food for people. And one day there was a company that was making fresh donuts for people in the lobby. And I thought about it – everyone was excited, going to get their treat and then I was like, I passed it up, because in my life I was like I don’t want to be the fat girl sitting at her desk eating donuts.”

She says in an open plan office, there are plenty of ways for colleagues to judge.

Unlike Amy, my next guest, who we’re calling Christine, has always felt self-conscious about her body.

“There’s different struggles that people have in the workplace, obviously gender, women have to deal with, but I have an extra one, which is my size, that I have to contend with too. And it really affects how some people see me, and sometimes it’s negative.”

She says she’s over 300 pounds right now, and she see-saws back and forth between fat acceptance and wanting to lose weight to stay healthy. She says she’s been overweight since she was four. Other members of her family are as well.  

“You know, my mom has the same struggle, and my dad’s family has a tendency to be heavy. There’s a genetic component. It’s very complicated. And it’s very hard, the reason I asked to be anonymous is like, I find in our culture, some people have this attitude of well just eat healthier, stop eating so much, walk more, how can you not get this, this is so easy. But for some people like me it’s not easy. I could go on about all the stuff I’ve tried and it’s just really frustrating.” 

She’s been around co-workers who are talking about the outdoor activities they’re planning that weekend, hiking, biking...and she has that feeling like, they assume she never does any exercise.  

“Like I’m actually a certified yoga instructor, and sometimes you can see this expression of like oh, what?”

Christine works in user experience. She’s currently at a financial company on the east coast. She’s in her forties, and like Amy she wonders how much her appearance has affected her prospects.  

AM-T: “Have you ever felt like you lost out on something at work because of your weight?”

“Oh, definitely. One of the stereotypes is if you’re overweight you’re lazy, or you’re not smart, or you’re slow. And that is something I have learned to actively prove people wrong. I went to some really top universities so I don’t think people could ever say I’m dumb, but I’ve had people at work say I’m slow… to the point where I feel like I sometimes have to work faster and stay on top of my deadlines better than other people because I’m afraid that perception would happen.

I’ve had performance feedback where people told me I was slow or I took too long to do things where from my understanding I was doing things as quickly as other people. I had one situation where, this was about 10-15 years ago now, where I worked for a consulting firm – they work very fast paced, it’s a stressful type of job, and the impression people got at this small agency was I was working slow, to the point where I felt like I was being sabotaged…they were giving me way too much, 5 projects at a time, it was too much for one person to handle…and my mentor there or the person I thought was my mentor sat down with me, told me I should quit my job and go on WeightWatchers and lose weight…that she was worried about my health and I should do something about it. Mind you I was at a space where I was riding my bike 30 miles, 50 miles every weekend, so I was pretty healthy. But she felt that she needed to comment that to get ahead in this company, this industry, you need to be skinner. So that was just one example. So I had to leave as soon as I could, after that happened, which is what I did.”

Christine says this stuff can’t help but get to you. And that’s another problem. She finds herself internalizing some of the stereotypes of being overweight – even as she fights against them in public. She’s hampered by this nagging thought that maybe she can’t be successful because of her weight. She thought she’d be at director level by now and she’s still a manager.

AM-T: “I don’t know if you have worked at companies that have corporate wellness programs, have you?”

“Yes, I have, yes.”

AM-T: “I’d love to hear your thoughts on those because many of those programs, being a healthy weight is a part of what they’re trying to sell you on.”

“Right. You know, how do I feel about those? I feel OK about those I guess – it goes back to what I said earlier where there is, it’s undeniably being a certain weight could be a health issue. I know I’ve hit a point where I want to lose weight but what would be a healthy weight for me would be far too heavy for a lot other people. But…it does make me feel a little…it’s not like I’ve been in a place where people have said, you should have a BMI of, whatever, I don’t know what the range is.

That I would have a serious problem with. But to encourage people to exercise and eat healthier, that is good for anyone of any size. But it does feel a bit big brother sometimes. There are some companies that if you smoke, you have to pay more for your health insurance. If that ever came to pass where the same thing would happen if you didn’t have a BMI within a certain range, that would be a huge issue. I would really wonder if I would want to work for a company like that.”

For now, she doesn’t have to.

Coming up in a minute, losing weight means a change in perspective – yours and your colleagues'...

“You’ve spent so much time when people are looking over your breathlessness and your sweating and not being able to fit into a chair, to what does it mean that you are seen.”


It’s one thing working in an office as an overweight person, but what if your job involves standing up and speaking in front of hundreds of people at least once a week? That’s the situation Theresa Thames was in for years – in a body that attracted some comment.

Today, Theresa is associate dean of religious life and the chapel at Princeton University in New Jersey. But for years before that she was a minister at a Methodist church in Washington DC.

“There are interesting body politics in the church. One, that you’re a female body in a male-dominated space, so as female clergy there are so many things you think about. You think about your dress and how much it’s gripping your body…and if you wear a dress is there a pocket to put the microphone thing…also, being an African American woman in a primarily white congregation…there are different cultural norms around bodies for white than black people. Broad strokes…but we’re used to more curvy bodies, the ways our bodies are shaped, especially in a place like Washington DC which is very fitness and health friendly space to be in, so being a black woman in a plus size body, at time I had long dreadlocks, in front of this white congregation, I was keenly aware of how my body was very different than the other women and the other people in that space.”

And so were some of the congregation. Someone slipped a weight loss DVD into her mailbox. This job comes with a lot of human contact, obviously – and not always the type Theresa welcomed. After church on Sunday…

“You’re shaking hands with people at the door and they feel they can say things to you…so they’ll comment about your earrings or they’ll comment about your makeup, but they’ll comment about your body. They’ll say oh, I can tell you’ve lost weight, in a way that is like ‘good for you, it’s about time.’ And one Sunday this woman commented on my breasts – ‘your breasts look different today, are you wearing a new bra?’ And the same face you just made with your mouth wide open is the same face I made. But in that moment you don’t know what to say, because there are lines of people trying to shake your hand.”

She just kept going, kept shaking hands. But she did email that woman – a local professor –  afterwards, and the woman apologized.

But let’s backtrack a bit. Theresa is 37 now.

“I’ve always been overweight. I went to Jenny Craig at 14, and I was 250 lb. I’m in Mississippi, in an African- American family where we eat all the time, we eat great food, food is what we celebrate around, what we mourn around it is a constant. So I’ve always struggled with my weight. When I graduated high school I was well over 300 pounds.”

She says exercise just wasn’t a thing in the community she grew up in. Women were busy – her mother was a bus driver, her grandmother taught in a head start program. And when she was a teenager, Theresa was sexually abused. After that, the extra pounds bolstered her in more ways than one…

“Having extra weight felt like safety to me. I’d joke and say you don’t find overweight women being kidnapped, the struggle of somebody putting you in their car…so the weight was definitely a protective layer and food was comfort. Comfort food is a word that we use, but it was definitely therapy and comfort.”

Still, she was confident – she did brilliantly academically, she traveled, went to college and then divinity school. She loved her work as a pastor. But after some years in that job her home life began to founder, and that was the start of a terrible time…

“I found myself in a marriage that I needed to get out of, so in the spring of 2011 I went through a separation, and then in August of 2011 my sister became really ill, and she ended up dying in November on my birthday…from cryptococcal meningitis, my sister was a single mother of a boy.”

A 9 year-old boy Theresa decided to adopt. So overnight she became a single mother. After that her ex-husband and her father both died unexpectedly. And during all this she kept going at her job. She was doing well career-wise…but it came at a cost.

“I was completely overwhelmed and in the midst of that I was overcompensating. Part of me being an educated black woman is the importance of being competent and proving that I’m competent, and part of proving I was competent was over compensating. I was exhausted, I was literally 457 pounds and doing all these things in my life, really exceling at my job and raising my kid, and mourning and sad and depressed. And I needed a way out.”

She was morbidly obese. But for a long time, food and prayer remained her sources of comfort.

“One thing about being a pastor, that there is always food at church. There are always dinners, there’s a plethora of food at church.” 

She was trying to cook healthily for her son at home, but she ate on the run a lot, and sometimes… 

“…there’d be moments of like, unbelievable bingeing because I was stressed about something.”

Carrying all that weight around made it tough to do her job at times. She remembers doing a baptism…

“…and being completely out of breath, because of holding this baby and trying to occupy space and my own body weight, and talk and walk and hold a 10 pound baby and do a baptism…”

She knew her health was in danger, but she was so depressed, it was hard to change anything.

Then in 2013 she found out about an organization called GirlTrek – it gets groups of black women walking in their neighborhoods all over the US. She had seen an ad for them on Facebook, and she entered a competition where they asked you to write about someone who inspired you on the health front. After that one of GirlTrek’s founders asked Theresa to read----- an opening prayer at a walk that was taking place in Washington DC…

“I was like, sure, no big deal. And two things happened. I went to the event, and I am wearing a GirlTrek T-shirt that they gave me that day and it was so tight, that I went to my car and cut it in a way that it wasn’t as constrictive, it was so, so tight—then it was like I’m gonna do this prayer, which was totally in my comfort zone, and I was like I’m just gonna go to my car and go home…and it was like no, you need to do this 3 mile walk…and I was petrified. Because I was 457lb, I’d lost about 60 pounds so I was in my higher 300s by then, but doing a 3-mile walk was full of anxiety for me and I struggled on that walk. I just remember being in so much pain.”

But that walk was the beginning of Theresa starting to embrace exercise…slowly. Since that day she’s lost more than 200 pounds. You’ll hear more about her and GirlTrek in a future show I’m doing about self-care.

AM-T: “How does it feel now being in this workplace with different body than you had for much of the time at the church in DC? How does it feel to be in the workplace – because you occupy a different space, in both ways of the word.”

“Absolutely, you know Ashley, when you asked me this on the phone last week it really made me think and I honestly am not sure I would have shown up for this job in my larger body. My first Sunday preaching for Princeton University Chapel, they have a pulpit where you have to walk up these stairs to get to the place where you preach. And my first Sunday preaching there, I said if I had not lost weight I would not have physically been able to get into the pulpit, to do my sermons.”

She’s also not sure her name even would have been submitted for the job.

“I do think plus-size bodies get passed up, a lot. When I think of leadership on this campus there are not a lot of plus size women of any race in leadership here. So yeah, I can speculate but it would have been a different experience for me to have this job in an almost 500lb body.”

AM-T: “Is it a relief – I hope – not to have people to commenting on your body, putting weight loss DVDs in your slot and talking about your breasts?”

“[Laughs] Actually, when you’ve lost a lot of weight there’s this body dysmorphia that happens, there are moments that I forget I’m the size I am now a lot of times. Here people only know me at this size. So they don’t know that when I see another overweight person I have so much compassion and I want them to feel seen, because a lot of times I’d walk into meetings and rooms and be treated like the secretary or not seen. It’s so funny to me how someone can take up so much space and be treated like they’re not there at all.”

She says when your physique changes the way hers did...

“People see you, they acknowledge you, and there’s a different vulnerability to that. You’ve spent so much time when people are looking over your breathlessness and your sweating and not being able to fit into a chair, to what does it mean that you are seen. And in this job I am seen in a different way.”

Theresa Thames. Thanks to her, Christine and Amy Lockard for being my guests on this episode.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. As usual I would love to hear from you…you can post a comment on the show’s Facebook page, tweet me at ashleymilnetyte – without the hyphen – or email me. And I’ll post some links related to this episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

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And thanks to those of you who’ve supported me with a donation since the last show.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time.