[Podcast] RL 53: Andie Kramer: Combating Gender Stereotypes for Women in the Workplace

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In this episode, I interviewed Andie Kramer. Partner with McDermott Will and Emery and author of “Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work,”  Andie talks about how to combat biases and stereotypes that can hold women back in the workplace.

Topics covered:

 

  • The issues and challenges of women in the workplace
  • The importance of impression management and self monitoring
  • Suggestions for handling interruptions in the workplace
  • The concept of idea theft and how to circumvent it

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Transcript:

Intro: Welcome to the Resilient Lawyer Podcast, brought to you by Start Here HQ — a consulting company that works with lawyers to create a purpose driven and sustainable legal career.
In this podcast, we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs, and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life.

Now your host, Jeena Cho.

Jeena: On today’s show I have Andie Kramer. She is a partner with McDermott, Will & Emery. Andie, welcome to the show.

Andie: Thank you very much. I’m very glad to be here.

Jeena: Andie, could we start by having you introduce yourself?

Andie: Well, I am happy to introduce myself.

I am the author of the new book, Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work which I wrote with my husband. We have been focusing on and worried about how women can succeed at work for quite some time now. This is basically been the culmination of many years of research, and speaking, and trying to see if we can change the dynamic of women at work.

Jeena: How did you and your husband become interested in this topic?

Andie: Well, I’ve been interested in it for most of my career with more than 30 years in the trenches as a lawyer. Certainly seen the thought originally that if you put your head down and you just do a good job then, miraculously, everything is going to be fairly reflected. What I learned was that’s just not the case.

One of the key things that holds women back in the workplaces, the stereotypes and biases that people have about women and men and leaders. These stereotypes and the biases that flow from them hold women back because women are either too kind, too sweet, too nice, too soft — which we would refer to as being too communal — or to assert as aggressive, ambitious which is too agentic which is the word that the social scientist use to describe characteristics that are predominantly attributed to man.

And so what we have is a goldilocks dilemma where women are too sweet, too nice, too kind, or perceived as too tough, too hard. Women have this narrow tight rope that men don’t have in advancing in their careers.

Jeena: In your book you talk about the importance of impression management. Can you talk about that?

Andie: One of the things that is almost second nature to men that women tend to have more of a problem with is what is referred to as Impression Management and whether you want to call it emotional intelligence or political savvy, there’s all sorts of different pieces of this elephant of impression management.

But one of the things is that if we want to be certain that somebody is actually hearing us so that we’re communicating and effectively being heard, we need to both understand ourselves meaning what do we want to accomplish in this conversation? It could be a written and oral or a non-verbal one, frankly. And so what we need to do is we need to be able to understand how the other person is hearing us.

If they’re not reacting the way that we want to then we dig into our characteristics of ourselves and we can modify slightly the way that we’re communicating what it is that we have to say.

Impression management is really something that men grow up doing since they’re 5, 6 years old when they want to get on the tee-ball team with the captain who they don’t like and, girls, we don’t really tend to be socialized that way. Impression management is something that we need to think about as women and understand that it is an effective tool that we can use in our careers.

Jeena: In your book you talk a lot about self-monitoring. What is self-monitoring and how is that related to impression management?

Andie: Well, I think that that’s the way that we are able to understand what it is that we want and how we’re communicating.

For example, when you wake up in the morning and you go to your closet and you’re going to figure out what you’re going to wear today, if you’re going to a formal business meeting, you’re going to dress very differently than you would if you were going to the beach, or if you were going to a casual event, you would dress differently from the way that you go to a formal.

Self-monitoring and impression management are really pieces of the same thing which is that what we need to do is we need to understand sort of the context of the environment that we’re in. And by understanding that context, we’re going to be able to communicate in the most effective ways using our own capacities, our own skills, our own characteristics and traits. It’s a way of understanding ourselves basically.

Jeena: You talk about the difference between the different communications now as agentic and communal. To me it sounded like what you are suggesting in the book is to try to figure out when to sort of reach into toolbox and which tool to pull out. Sometimes it’s more appropriate to use more a communal communication style and more… Sometimes it may be appropriate to use a more agentic communication.

So for women who may not necessarily be exposed or are not used to using more of an agentic communication style, how do you go about learning it? Is it your practice or… You may sort of, intuitively, know that you have to use a more assertive style of communication in certain circumstances but that may not be intuitive for a lot of women.

Andie: Well, that’s really why we decided to write our book because what we found was that we all have these characteristics, every one of us — male and female — are going to have communal characteristics and are going to have agentic characteristics. It’s just figuring out when one style or the other is going to be more effective that we need to do.

You raised a very important point which is you said that most women are going to behave in a communal way because we’re socialized to do that. But the way that leaders advance is by being more agentic.

Women who succeed very often are going to have adapted or have already grown up with a more agentic style. What they have to do is sometimes they have to rain it in a little because people could misunderstand or because of their stereotypes and the biases that they have may find us unpleasant or unlikeable. Some women need to dial it up and some women like to dial it down. Some days it may be a dial up for one type of style or a dial down for the other.

What we’ve done in our book is we’ve provided some real life situations and make suggestions and takeaways about ways you could practice; things that you can do to appear more trustworthy, or sincere, or confident.

Women have, again, unlike men, women, we have to balance being nice so people like us so that we’re not too far on the too agentic side. But we also need to be certain that if we’re really nice and sweet that we’re not then taken advantage of and believed to be nice and okay to have around but not somebody that we’re going to want to have on important projects. So that’s the goldilocks problem that we try to deal with.

Jeena: And you mentioned some of these tools that are important for increasing sort of self-monitoring and self-knowledge. There’s three that you talk about: grit, humor, and mind priming. Maybe we can start with grit. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Andie: Absolutely.

These are all concepts that have become very popular in recent years. In fact, there are some fabulous books out about grit and positive mindset and mind priming.

What it is I would also add one more to that though. I would also add having a coping sense of humor because grit is really when we are prepared to go at it, to make it work. If we hit the ground, we stand up, dust ourself off and we keep going. Grit is, in fact, something that there are workshops and tool kits to try to help men and women develop grittier ways of dealing with the world.

The positive mindset, or growth mindset, is also very important because what we have there is that if we keep hitting the floor and dusting ourselves off, we may not be able to advance unless we also have the capacity to step back and say “What am I doing wrong? What can I do differently? How can I grow from this?”

And so people who have growth mindsets, positive mindsets, are very likely to keep trying to try new things, to approach new problems, to raise their hand. And people who have fixed mindsets and who don’t have positive mindsets are more likely to be afraid of failing and so they’re less willing to take a chance. And so when we put grit and positive mindset together, what we’ve got is we’ve got attitudes that can really help us advance.

If we then factor in mind priming, which is very interesting, because what happens is that there’s been recent studies would show that if we think about and write about sometime when we felt like we were rock stars, when we had a great day, when we were really happy, it turns out then, in other settings, interacting with other people, we can actually come across as being the leader. It gives us a way of sort of… whether it’s placebo effect or not, I wouldn’t know but what I do know is that it definitely works.

We layer that on top of this and then the last piece, having a coping sense of humor, is that when… It’s not going our way, when we’re dealing with people who are small-minded or whatever, that we can either not become a standup comic but we can either laugh at the situation or get a wry sense of, well, this person really doesn’t understand where the world’s at. That helps us be stronger and move forward in adverse situations.

Jeena: Are there deliberate practices that you can engage in to increase your grit or, I guess, to become more grittier?

Andie: There are. There are.

One of the things that I would suggest is that we start thinking about and approaching the world in a way that allows us to give ourselves permission to fail basically. Allow ourselves, give ourselves permission to take constructive criticism.

There’s grit tests that you can take online. We have links to that in our book, like takeaways for the attitude chapter. We can think about how we could stick with it for purposes of a growth mindset. There’s also a mindset test that we can take. The ABA has a grit project and training tools for developing grit.

Basically, there are techniques that can be done and the one important thing about all four of these is that it’s not what you’re born with, it’s all trainable. We can all learn and expand our grit and our positive mindsets and our coping sense of humor. It’s not “Well, I don’t have it and so I’ll never get it.” It’s something that we can actually learn and grow with.

Jeena: Yeah, and I think it’s important to know that all of these practices that you’re talking about, increasing self-knowledge, you’re just becoming more aware; are all practices that we can actually practice.

I think that’s really the interesting thing about a lot of the research coming out of social psychology now is even things like happiness which researchers, for a very long time, thought was sort of fixed, we’re finding that it isn’t and you can actually engage and deliver practices like keeping a gratitude journal and actually boost that sense of happiness.

Andie: Absolutely, and smiling. Just smiling helps.

Jeena: Just smiling, yeah. Yeah.

Andie: It does help even if you don’t feel like it. Miraculously, all of a sudden, you’ll feel like it.

Jeena: I’m just reading a study that was published fairly recently in the last couple of months and they looked at all the Supreme Court hearings for the last couple of decades. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that the women justices were interrupted, I think, it was like two-and-a-half times the rate that the male justices were interrupted and I thought “Oh my goodness!” Even at the Supreme Court level this happens. Interruption is one of the topics that you talk fairly at length about in your book.

For women lawyers out there, what are your suggestions for handling interruptions?

Andie: Well, you’ve pointed to a very important issue, a problem that women face, because we’re perceived to be less valuable, again, by virtue of the stereotypes that somehow we’re going to be communal and nice and helpful but not the one who’s going to make a decision.

We’re very often passed over whether it’s in a meeting or in a conversation so that men will interrupt women. The statistics are something like seven times more frequently than they interrupt men as a general rule. So the Supreme Court justices are lucky if it’s only two-and-a-half times more that they get interrupted. What happens is they don’t even know that they’re interrupting us. They don’t even hear us.

On our website we have a blog about with interruption tip sheet as to how you can avoid interruptions. But, for example, you’re in a meeting and no one seems to be paying attention to you — common situation complaint for women. One technique is to stand up. Go get a glass of water, get a cup of coffee, and then start talking. When you walk back to your chair you don’t sit down. It’s much harder for people to interrupt you if you’re standing and they’re sitting. That’s one technique.

Another technique is men can very easily say “I’m not finished yet” in a very harsh voice and people back off. If a woman does that then their hair catch fire and they don’t have a clue what to do. So women need to be able to do that in a more — even if it’s offensive, in a more pleasant sort of “Fred, I’m not quite finish yet. You can have the floor when I’m done.”

But one thing is that there’s studies that say that senior men in board meetings — and this is out of the UK — that they complain that women let people interrupt them and that the women are much more willing to not defend their positions. That’s something that we, as women, need to think about is when we have something to say, we need to kind of screw up our courage so that we will, in fact, say it and make sure that we’re heard.

Jeena: Yeah. I think when we’re in conversation with other women, we sort of naturally interrupt. But the interruption isn’t to change the subject or to disagree with you. It’s almost like, “Oh, I’m affirming what you’re saying. It’s just how we sort of relate to one another.” I find that that actually has a very different tone when you’re in a mixed gender sort of an office type of environment when a manager of this because he’s just done with whatever it is you’re saying and he wants to change the topic and want to sort of move on to something different.

Do you have tips for saying it in a way that is it the tone? Is it the body language? This is almost silly to say but he doesn’t feel like his ego is bruised by you saying “Hey Fred, you’re interrupting me. I’m not finished.”

Andie: Well, you’ve touched down a few different points that are all very important in the context of interruptions because what happens is there’s basically two — there’s many but you could divide interruptions into two buckets. One is the “[Gee, supportive 00:19:32].” “I’m agreeing with you.” “Yeah, you’re right. Keep talking,” kind of interruption. Women tend to do that a lot more than men do. But the other type of interruption is to try to grab the floor from you.

So you have to be understanding which type of interruption it is. And if it is trying to grab the floor from you, then you have to hold your ground. You may need to say, at some point, “Fred, that’s enough. I’m not finished.” Sometimes what women can do is they can talk louder, they can talk faster.

If you don’t look at the person who’s trying to interrupt you, it turns out that it’s much harder for him to actually be successful with it. Depending on how senior he is can determine how you respond to him.

If he’s your boss, you should be always sticking to the “Fred, let me just finish” as oppose to “Fred, I’m not done yet.” Tone and whatnot plays a key part in it. But just talking faster or louder is not going to be enough. You have to confront the person if they’re persistent in trying to take the floor away from you.

Jeena: It’s a difficult thing to do. I think we should just acknowledge that saying to someone “Hey, you’re interrupting me. Can you not do that?” or in some variations, right? It’s kind of hard. Do you have suggestions on practicing it or kind of becoming more skilled at it because I think this is definitely a learned art.

Andie: It is and there are ways to do it.

If you feel uncomfortable holding your ground and you know that then what you could do is you could ask a friend to have a conversation with you where they intentionally try to take the floor from you. You could practice a speech or a presentation that you have in mind, something that you could then try to make a point. It’s not that hard to get a rhythm going if your understanding what it is your objective is. The objective is to be heard. Your objective is to be making a point or your objective is to be certain that if you’re making a contribution you get credit for it.

It’s very important if you remember that, and that goes back to the self-monitoring and the impression management part of everything. That’s really why we started our book there which is that you have to understand what your objective is. If your objective is to hold the floor, then you need to be certain that you hold it. If your objective is to make sure that Fred’s feelings aren’t hurt then you may be approaching the response in a very different way.

Jeena: I also love the suggestion in your book about sort of standing up for other women when she’s interrupted and say “Let her finish.” I thought that was such a great advice that we, as women, can support one another just by saying “Hey, let her finish.”

Andie: Exactly. It turns out… We refer to that as sort of men will very often pile on. So when a man says something great, that will pile on. But when a woman says something great, it’s as if nobody hears her. Then 5 minutes later when Fred says the same thing that all of a sudden they get out the golden chariot and they start carrying Fred around for coming up with this great idea.

The other side of that same issue is that when a woman gets interrupted, it’s very hard if she’s the only woman or one of the few women in the room. It’s very hard for her to really keep the floor and that it pushes her into that uncomfortable zone.

It’s not hard for somebody else to say “Oh, wait a minute. You’re saying something really interesting. Let her finish. She’s not finished” or “I thought that Jessica said that a few minutes ago” or “Gina said that a few minutes ago. Why don’t we go back and hear what she has to say?”

A really good leader of a meeting would be doing that for the whole group but, unfortunately, there are very few leaders that pay attention and have that much focus as to who actually made the statement first.

Women, we can help each other. Other men can help us. We could go into a meeting where we say to a friend of ours, “Listen, I’ll watch your back if you watch mine. Keep an eye out and we can help each other.” Overtime, miraculously, if it’s pointed out even just once or twice, the people in the room get it because they’re not trying to be pigs. They just don’t understand what it is that’s going on. They don’t understand that they’re buying into their own biases.

Jeena: Right. I think it’s also hard to kind of empathize and know what it’s like to constantly be interrupted, to have your ideas stolen from you. Yeah, I think these are sort of really great tools.

I think you’ve sort of alluded to the idea of idea theft. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Andie: Well, that happens, unfortunately, on a regular basis in many of the workshops and speeches that my husband and I will do about women in communication.

If we ask the question, have you ever been in a meeting where you said something brilliant and nobody pays any attention and then 5 minutes later Fred says the same thing and he’s carried around in that golden chariot? Almost every woman in the room is going to raise her hand. The men in the room look at the women like they’re crazy. They have absolutely no sense of it.

If you say something and your idea is stolen, you have to think first “Did I communicate it in a powerful way? Or did I possibly say what I had to say with ‘Oh, this may be a dumb idea but…’ or ‘I’m not an expert on this but…’” because women, very often… because we don’t want to be perceived as too agentic, we’ll dial it down to the point where we’re pouring cold water on our own ideas.

So the first thing we need to do is say “Did I articulate this and communicate it in the most powerful way that I could?” If the answer to that is no then we know that next time we’re going to practice and try harder. But if the answer to that is yes then we need to be certain that we own our own ideas. So we have to then say “Fred, that’s a very good recitation or repeat of what I said a few minutes ago.” Of course, you do it with a smile on your face not a wagging finger in Fred’s face. You can bring the conversation back to make it clear that you thought and made this comment first.

Unfortunately, women, we don’t do it as much as we should and we walk out of those meetings angry. The last thing we want to do is walk out of the meeting angry because then we’re going to be just stewing about it and stewing about it and it’s going to affect our all well-being as well as our standing in our organization.

Jeena: Yeah, so true.

Talk about self-promotion. How do women and men promote differently and what are some ground rules or advice for doing self-promotion for women?

Andie: Well, one of the problems that women have is that one of the big stereotypes about us is that we’re supposed to be modest. If we’re modest then how could we possibly be self-promoting?

You had asked at the beginning of our conversation, how did we get involved in this topic in the first place. For me where one of the sort of aha moments was when I was on my law firm’s compensation committee, I started to read the self-evaluations of my colleagues and the self-evaluations of the women were all about “I was on the X, Y, Z team and I enlist the 20 teammates. We did a fabulous result for the client. We want to applaud the following 12 people.”

A man who was working on that same project is not talking about the team or we, he’s talking about how he single-handedly scaled the Empire State Building and rescued damsels in distress on the way down. What I started to do was I put together a self-evaluation do’s and don’ts to try to help our women be certain that they were approaching their self-evaluations the same way that the men do.

It was an eye opener both for me to see that but also for the women to know that they had permission, if you will, to talk about themselves in that way. Not being too in-your-face that it triggers the goldilocks dilemma but you have to be certain to understand that if it’s a self-evaluation, you need to be talking about yourself. If you’re asked to talk about your team then you talk about your team.

If it’s a promotion conversation, what happens is men can go into a promotion discussion and say “I deserve it. It’s my turn.” Women cannot do that. Instead, what we need to do is we have to build the case for why promoting us is in the best interest of our organization.

So it’s not fair that we have to be balancing on this tight rope. It’s not fair that we have to do this but in today’s gender bias workplaces, this is a way that we can assure that we’re going to be treated fairly.

Jeena: That kind of brings me to another question about, you know, all the topics that we discuss so far really kind of giving advice to women about how they can shape their behavior so that they’re heard, that they’re compensated fairly, so on and so forth.

As an organization, especially like a law firm for example, how do we start to have this conversation and actually involve the men so that they become more sensitize? I mean are these type of trainings on gender bias effective? Are there sort of programs out there that you’ve seen? Because to me it seems like we can’t just tell the women “It’s up to you to fix this,” right? We really need both genders involved.

Andie: Absolutely. This is a problem that you have to fix for yourself.

By talking about what women can do that is not, in any way, intended to let men and organizations off the hook. So it’s a perfect point to say that men, first of all, need to understand how the stereotypes and biases work. They have to really should read our book as well because we wrote it addressed to women but Al’s participation and his objective really was to be sure that men were thinking about and focusing on the problems and why it is so much harder for women to get ahead than it is for men.

Men can be fabulous allies for women but they don’t see it and they need to understand why it is that women have these problems. We believe that it’s because of the stereotypes that hold women back.

Organizations need to make certain that their policies and procedures are fair and that their policies and procedures do not feed into these stereotypes and biases.

One of the things that we’ve done at my law firm, for example, is we’ve tried to move away from the subjective sorts of senior evaluations so that reviews of younger lawyers don’t have open-ended questions that would allow somebody to say “She doesn’t really fit in” or “She just doesn’t have what it takes.” It’s all based on core competencies and this is where law firms are moving to now.

So that it’s harder for somebody to criticize somebody because they don’t like them, because they’re too nice, or because they’re too aggressive. They’re too communal or too agentic. It forces them to evaluate the work product. That’s only one way but, also, holding people responsible for their evaluations.

There’s a lot of work about how we all react quickly and when we react quickly, it ends up this… The gut reaction, very often, is based on stereotypes and the biases that we have since we grow up with those since we’re 3, 4 years old. We’ve adopted stereotypes about women and men, about young and old people, and about people whose skin color is different from ours. What we’re doing is we have habits that are hard to break and that’s what this is all about.

What an organization can do is it can make certain that it doesn’t allow one person to evaluate who should be brought into the firm or the company for recruitment, for compensation, for promotion. That those processes need to have more objective standards imposed.

What happens is, miraculously, when people think slower or when they know somebody else is evaluating what the decision that they’re going to make, they tend to be much more fair and more gender neutral, more racially ethnically more neutral. And so for women today, what can we do to help ourselves? That’s really why we started with and focus on what women can do. But men and organizations need to get on the program and need to do their fair share. So don’t think I’m giving them a free pass because I’m not.

Jeena: There’s just a lot of things that you talked about — starting to recognize your own stereotypes and implicit bias and kind of adding that pause between the stimulus. So you see someone that looks different from you, we have those sort of automatic responses. .

I think one of the more interesting research testings coming up recently is about how mindfulness just being more present to what’s happening in the moment and really kind of allows people to see their own implicit bias and that, actually going through mindfulness programs has been shown to reduce the implicit bias and that sort of like automatic reaction. I think it’s important to kind of say like we all have implicit bias and just because you have them doesn’t make you sort of a bad person.

Like I have these conversations all the time where I start to talk about all of these sort of implicit biases and, I think, sort of if you’re the old white guy in the room there can be the sense like somehow we’re saying you’re a bad person or that is can kind of sort of come across as being a personal attack.

What are your thoughts on that about how do sort of make them feel like they’re part of the solution and not the problem?

Andie: One of the tricks is that if you make them part of the solution as oppose to part of the problem. One of the things that Al and I have been doing in some of the workshops and the training that we’ve been doing is we’re providing scenarios and role playing — depending on how much time we have — and create set up the problem and allow the women and the men “How would you handle this?” and discuss it as a group.

By being part of the solution, it can be a very effective way of making the points. We’ve had people walk out of these workshops saying “I can’t believe that I really thought I didn’t have any biases and I now see that I do and I now see that there are things that I can do to prevent this going forward.

Jeena: I love that and I love kind of making people feel like they’re allies and that they can be part of the solution.

As we kind of wrap things up, do you have sort of final advice? I Guess I’m more actually interested in advice that you might have for the guy listeners on the podcast. I feel like we gave lots of advice to the women that are listening.

Andie: Well, I think, the first thing that men need to do is they need to understand why it is that women are not succeeding in the same pace that men are. They need to understand that it’s not that women are more interested in baking cookies for the party or being the party planner.

They need to encourage the women. They need to bring them onto their teams. They need to take the women out to lunch and talk to them and mentor them the same way that they mentor the men. They need to not follow the Mike Pence rule of “I’m never having a meal with somebody who’s a woman.” They need to understand that they need to be champions for women as well as for men. That’s really the starting point. From there, I think, the whole world would open up.

Jeena: I think just to sort of recognize that, you know, sometimes it may not be comfortable. So a lot of these suggestions that you have might not come naturally. You might actually have to look at why is it that these suggestions make you feel uncomfortable and kind of doing it anyway.

Andie: Exactly. Exactly.

And that we’re all educable because, probably, 80% of the people that we interact with wants to do the right thing. Maybe there’s 10% that are going to need more work at it and then there’s maybe 10% that just don’t care. But 80% of the people that we deal with want to do the right thing.

So, to the men out there who are listening, they have an opportunity to be a change agent and they can help make sure that women do succeed at work.

Jeena: Perfect. I think that’s the perfect last comment. But before I let you go, I have one additional question.

The name of this podcast is called the Resilient Lawyer. What does it mean to be a resilient lawyer to you?

Andie: Resilient lawyer to me is a lawyer who is going to adopt the grit, mindset, mind priming, and coping sense of humor that is what’s going to allow you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and figure out that if you keep hitting the wall, maybe if you step 2 feet to the left, you could actually go through a door. That’s what it all is.

If we apply, if we put these pieces together, we can’t just keep doing the same thing. But being resilient is learning from our mistakes and raising our hands so that men and women need to raise their hands to get on the projects that are going to give us the strength to do more and more important work going forward.

Jeena: Andie, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Andie: Well, thank you so much for allowing me to share my thoughts and resilient lawyers going forward. Go team, go.

Jeena: Thanks.

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