Stop Treating Women Like Men in Business

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At least that’s what one consultant advocates over at the Harvard Business Review blog. “As long as men and women are treated exactly the same by organizations,” says Avivah Wittenberg-Cox,

most women will continue to be shut out of senior roles. And yet for the past 30 years, managers have been taught to do just this: treat men and women exactly the same. That is considered the progressive thing to do. Any suggestion of difference was, and often still is, labelled a bias or a stereotype, especially by many women, eager to demonstrate that they are one of the guys, or the in-group.

The business world’s denial of differences hurts women, and excludes them in a myriad of ways – consciously and unconsciously – from leadership. Because differences are not recognized, women are too often simply judged as “not fitting” the dominant group’s systems, styles and patterns. There were good reasons for pushing “sameness” in the past, and the laws of many countries underlie today’s companies’ insistence on similar treatment – being treated the same is, after all, better than being treated worse. But today, those are not our only options. It’s time for companies to adapt to women – or watch them walk out the door to competitors who will. In all the companies I work with, lack of recognition of basic differences like career cycles, communication styles, or attitudes to power is enough to eliminate one gender and prefer the other.

As an example of role reversal, she points out

that because eight out of nine U.S. teachers today are women, schools today judge boys learning styles subpar because they deviate from the norm set by girls and women. Instead of adapting to boys’ differences (“more physical energy, developmentally less mature, use language differently,” as he put it), we insist that both genders behave the same, and medicate our sons to calm them down. According to [Michael] Thompson, 11% of American boys are diagnosed as having ADHD and are on drugs for it. That’s 85% of the global ADHD drug consumption. And since the late 1990s, boys have been more likely to drop out of school than girls. Imbalances like these help account for the growing gender imbalance in higher education (60% of university graduates will soon be women in the U.S.).

She quick to explain that she is not calling for “special treatment.” She is also not arguing for the innateness of gender differences. “After all,” she says,

businesses don’t debate whether the differences between Chinese and American employees are innate. They know that to work with and for the Chinese requires learning their language and culture. Working across genders is similar. Companies and managers, as well as teachers and educators, will need to learn the real and imagined differences between genders – and adapt to them if they want to work with and for both men and women. They urgently need to become “gender bilingual” if they want to tap into today’s talent pool.

Worth thinking about.

Mastering Civility: Lecture by Christine Porath

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

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When it comes to management research, Stanford’s Robert Sutton is someone I often look to. I follow his blog (which has unfortunately been dormant for some time) and take his book recommendations seriously. A year or so ago, I read his The No Asshole Rule. The main idea is that bullies and other toxic people–you know, assholes–negatively affects worker morale and productivity. I’ve written about his follow-up book Good Boss, Bad Boss here at Difficult Run. Needless to say, I like Sutton’s work. So when I read his Amazon review of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace by Georgetown’s Christine Porath, I knew I had to check it out. Sutton writes,

In the name of full disclosure, I read an advance version of this book and wrote an endorsement. That said, because I wrote a related book on “”jerks” a decade ago, I’ve since read many books on workplace jerks and what to do about them, and related matters, over the years– and I’ve endorsed a lot of them too. Mastering Civility is the best of the bunch. It is the most useful, most evidence-based, and the writing is delightful– Porath’s voice is strong and engaging. The blend of stories and studies and advice you can use right away are pitch perfect. If you like books by Adam Grant or Robert Cialdini, you will like this as Porath is one of those rare top-notch researchers who is devoted to making people’s lives better, and making our organizations more effective too. She also presents one of the most compelling arguments against treating others in rude and disrespectful ways that I’ve ever read. It’s a gem.

Porath’s survey of the research finds that rudeness and incivility can decrease creativity, disrupt attention, and increase errors. However, leaders and co-workers that practice civility a viewed more favorably by others, have more engaged employees, boost creativity and performance, help create a reciprocal, civil organizational culture, and improve decision-making. All those who work–which is pretty much everyone–should take note.

You can see a lecture by Porath below.

Rising Strong: Interview with Brené Brown

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

Image result for rising strongBrené Brown’s Daring Greatly made my top 5 list in 2015. I wrote,

Brown’s approach to shame and vulnerability has had a significant impact on my worldview, including how I interpret my religion…The book is a fantastic mix of research, anecdotes, and application. The insights within it are themselves therapeutic, providing a language capable of capturing many of the turbulent emotions we experience. The result is better self-understanding and increased self-awareness. A paradigm shifting book.

I also devoured her The Gifts of Imperfection after finishing Daring Greatly. But when Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. was released, I asked my therapist if she had read it and if it was anything new compared to her previous work. My therapist said that it was largely more stories expanding on her previous themes. Being one who is largely interested in hard data, the idea of additional anecdotes with few new insights didn’t appeal me. However, when I came across it on Audible and remembered that Brown was the narrator, I decided to give it a listen. My interest was further peaked by some brief research I was doing on boundaries and relationships.

Rising Strong was well worth the read. While my therapist’s description was accurate, my disinterested reaction was due to my failure to remember how much I enjoyed Brown’s anecdotes and how well she weaved them together with her professional research. It’s actually one of the major strengths of her books. In Rising Strong, she puts this strength toward describing a framework of

  1. Accepting failure and becoming curious about the emotions that come with it (the Reckoning).
  2. Honestly engaging the stories we tell about ourselves (the Rumble).
  3. Turning the process of reckoning and rumbling into a practice that leads to transformation (the Revolution).

One of my favorite insights, however, was about boundaries. According to Brown,

[T]he most compassionate people I interviewed also have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries…They assume that other people are doing the best they can, but they also ask for what they need and they don’t put up with a lot of crap…Boundaries are hard when you want to be liked and when you are a pleaser hell-bent on being easy, fun, and flexible. Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment (pgs. 114-115).

Boundaries are an important part of generosity and integrity. “Generosity,” she says, “is not a free pass for people to take advantage of us, treat us unfairly, or be purposefully disrespectful and mean…[A] generous assumption without boundaries is another recipe for resentment, misunderstanding, and judgment. We could all stand to be more generous, but we also need to maintain our integrity and our boundaries” (pgs. 122-123).

These kinds of insights can help us all be our better selves. You can see a brief interview with Brown below.

Why We Work: TED Talk by Barry Schwartz

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

Image result for why we workAs some of my past writing should indicate, the concept of meaningful work is a major area of interest for me. What management researchers have found is the prevalence of both intrinsic and prosocial motivation when it comes to constructing meaning at work. As Wharton professor Adam Grant explains, “[P]sychologists have demonstrated that prosocial and intrinsic motivations involve different reasons for expending effort. For intrinsically motivated individuals, effort is based on interest and enjoyment; for prosocially motivated individuals, effort is based on a desire to benefit others.” Psychologist Barry Schwartz highlights this kind of research in his short TED book Why We Work. For example, Schwartz explores the impact of “job crafting” and viewing one’s job as a “calling”:

It is people who see their work as a “calling” who find it most satisfying. For them, work is one of the most important parts of life, they are pleased to be doing it, it is a vital part of their identity, they believe their work makes the world a better place, and they would encourage their friends and children to do this kind of work. People whose work is a calling get great satisfaction from what they do (pg. 17).

This outlook is not necessarily brought about by the job description provided by the company, but often through aligning one’s values and job performance with the ultimate purpose (the Aristotelian telos) of the organization. It is especially motivating to be in contact with those who are positively affected by your work. While I at times quibbled with his economic reasoning (or the absence thereof), I was pleased to see Schwartz acknowledge the “positive-sum structure” of market transactions in which everyone benefits:

What this market logic means is that virtually every job that people do can be seen as improving the lives of customers, even if only in small ways. And what that means is that virtually every job that people do can be made meaningful by focusing on the way sin which it improves the lives of customers, as long as it’d done right and done well (pg. 30).

For those unfamiliar with the research behind meaningful work, this book can serve has a nice introduction. You can see Schwartz’s TED talk below.

Why Therapy Works: Interview with Louis Cozolino

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

Image result for why therapy worksI don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before on here, but, as some of  you may have guessed, I go to therapy. I haven’t as of late for various reasons, but for a solid two years I went pretty much every other week. My interest in shame and vulnerability has been largely due to my personal work in therapy. This is why as soon as I heard of psychologist Louis Cozolino’s book Why Therapy Works: Using Our Minds to Change Our Brains, I immediately picked it up. Granted, like most of my books, it sat dormant for quite a while until I finally finished it up toward the end of last year.

Cozolino walks the reader through the findings of cognitive neuroscience, discussing the “fast” (i.e., “primitive systems, which are nonverbal and inaccessible to conscious reflection, [that] are referred to as implicit memory, the unconscious, or somatic memory”, pg. 5) and “slow” (i.e., “conscious awareness…[which] eventually gave rise to narratives, imagination, and abstract thought”, pg. 5) systems of the brain. Because of this “fast” system, we often have negative internalizations that we’re not even consciously aware of. This is what Cozolino calls “core shame”:

Core shame needs to be differentiated from appropriate shame and guilt that emerge later in childhood. Appropriate shame is an adaptation to social behavior required by the group. Core shame, on the other hand, is an instinctual judgment about the self, and it results in a sense of worthlessness, a fear of being found out, and a desperate striving for perfection. In essence, core shame is tied to our primitive instinct to be a worthy part of the tribe; it is a failure to internalize a deep sense of bonded belonging. As a result, people with core shame feel damaged, unlovable, and abandoned. Thus, core shame becomes a central factor in the perpetuation of insecure attachment and social status schema (pg. 10).

The brain, according to Cozolino, “is a social organ” and “we can leverage the power of human relationships to regulate anxiety and stimulate learning” (pg. xxii). This makes the relational nature of therapy all the more important and effective:

The reasons for our struggles often remain buried in networks of implicit memory, inaccessible to conscious reflection. Psychotherapy guides us in a safe exploration of our early experiences and helps us create a narrative that associates these early experiences with the ways in which our brains and minds distort our current lives. In the process, our symptoms come to be understood as forms of implicit memory instead of insanity, character pathology, or plain stupidity. This process can open the door to greater compassion for oneself, openness to others, and the possibility for healing (pg.9).

The book is comprehensive and excellent for both laypersons and scholars. You can see short interview clips with Cozolino below.

Biased Regulators

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In their book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate what they call “libertarian paternalism”: a kind of governmental choice architecture that seeks to influence the choices choosers make. This restructuring tends to rely on small tweaks to the system, recognizing that people are often biased and irrational in their decision-making.

However, a new study shines light on an overlooked aspect of bias and policy. Economist and paper author David Hirshleifer explains,

What if the choice architects are subject to psychological bias? This could come from biases of regulators, politicians, or even economists. It can also come from the psychological biases of the voters who hire and fire political agents.

Teoh and I argue that important features of financial and accounting rules and regulation are shaped by psychological bias on the part of the architects, rather than as a useful remedy for the biases of the decision makers being acted upon.  Typically the resulting regulation is far from libertarian, as well.

We call the approach to understanding regulation as coming from smart and benevolent architects `Good Rules for Bad Users.’ (Libertarian paternalism is slightly different: `Good Suggestions for Bad Users.’) We feel the other side of the coin has been neglected, that the architects themselves may be biased, resulting simply in `Bad Rules.’ (This is not to say that all regulation is bad, but it does say that bad rules will sometimes be approved.)  We call this perspective the psychological attraction approach to financial and accounting regulation.

Specifically, we argue that some forms of regulatory ideas are good at ensnaring the attention, emotions, and cognitive biases of regulators and the public. Such regulations do not necessarily help others, on the whole, and indeed may have highly perverse effects. But people are attracted to certain rules because they are superficially appealing. This point applies even to accounting rules, which have evolved over centuries through the interactions of different users. Rules concerning what firms have to expense, what they can capitalize, whether they are required to be conservative in reporting their performance—all, we argue, have been influenced by heuristic intuitions, not just economic efficiency.

The biases of regulators have been addressed before by other researchers. It’s a glaring oversight among “nudge” advocates that needs to be continually studied.

GMU Interview with Joe Henrich

Joseph Henrich (left), Tyler Cowen (right)

Anthropologist and cultural psychologist Joseph Henrich is an academic whose work I’ve been following over the last couple years. His work has been highlighted multiple times here at Difficult Run. He is a co-author of some of my favorite studies in the last decade or so. And his latest book–The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter–looks absolutely amazing (it’s waiting patiently for me on my Kindle).

He recently sat down with economist Tyler Cowen for a segment of Conversations with Tyler at GMU’s Mercatus Center. The interview is fascinating as they discuss Henrich’s work on cultural evolution and its implications for both today and the future. What perhaps excited me the most was Henrich’s discussion of his work-in-progress on marriage norms and the development of Western individualism:

In my latest project I’m really looking at the kind of spread of the Western church into Europe and how it transformed the social structure in ways that I think led to individualism, it led to a different kind of cultural psychology that would eventually pave the way for secular institutions and economic growth. The church is the first mover in that account…When the church first began to spread its marriage-and-family program where it would dissolve all these complex kinship groups, it altered marriage. So it ended polygyny, it ended cousin marriage, which…forced people to marry further away, which would build contacts between larger groups. That actually starts in 600 in Kent, Anglo-Saxon Kent. Missionaries then spread out into Holland and northern France and places like that. At least in terms of timing, the marriage-and-family program gets its start in southern England.

This project is in its early stages (according to the email Henrich sent me), but it’s something I’m greatly anticipating. The entire interview is worth watching/listening to. Cowen provides both insightful feedback and even pushback, making the discussion a productive one. Check it out.

When Trigger Warnings Don’t Work

Related imageTrigger warnings” have been all the rage lately. They’ve sparked a national discussion, but what have they really accomplished? “What is a trigger warning?” asks Mariah Flynn, the Education Program Coordinator for the Greater Good Science Center.

The term, often used interchangeably with “content warning,” is a heads up that readers may encounter distressing content—and in recent years, trigger or content warnings have become controversial. To some, like University of Chicago administrators, such warnings keep students from being challenged or engaging with provocative course materials. Others feel that such warnings are useful tools that keep learners from having a strong emotional response to certain kinds of content, usually depicting physical or emotional violence.

For all of the excitement around trigger warnings, they’re actually quite rare. In an effort to gather more information about their use on college campuses, the National Coalition Against Censorship conducted a survey of over 800 educators from the Modern Language Association and the College Art Association—and found that only one percent reported that their institutions had adopted a policy on trigger warnings. Moreover, only fifteen percent of respondents said that students had asked for warnings.

In many respects, framing content warnings as a “censorship” or “free speech” issue is not helpful to professors or students. There is no evidence that they lead to the widespread suppression of troubling material or class discussion. At worst, warnings are merely gratuitous for a majority of students. At their best, however, content warnings can actually help students engage with course material and develop a caring relationship with their teachers.

So while some students may claim they are too “triggered” to read classical mythology, actual policies regarding trigger warnings are rare (even if campus politics are not). Yet, Flynn points out that

[a]bout three-fourths of us will experience trauma over the course of our lifetime. About ten percent of those people will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), experiencing symptoms like flashbacks, memory gaps, depression, or hyper-vigilance.

Avoiding triggering topics—a very common strategy for people with PTSD—isn’t the best way to process traumatic events. Avoidance of triggers is a symptom of PTSD, not a cure. In fact, exposure therapy (a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy where patients are exposed to physical or mental reminders of their trauma) is not only most common method for treating PTSD; it’s also one of the most effective.

This research might lead some to suggest that perhaps we don’t need to be so concerned about student’s exposure to triggering content, if exposure is the best way for them to process past traumatic events. However, exposure therapy works best under the care of a trained therapist. Even though exposure is an effective way to deal with PTSD, instructors aren’t therapists and the classroom is not an appropriate place for such a therapy.

Trigger warnings are also challenging to implement, because identifying potential triggers isn’t easy. Individuals with past trauma are often triggered by seemingly neutral things that have nothing to do with the content an instructor might present in class—the scent of a certain type of cologne or hearing a song associated with the traumatic event they experienced. Educators won’t always know what might trigger a student who is a victim of trauma and can’t possibly provide a warning for everything that might be a trigger.

Flynn suggests three ways of tackling the issue:

  1. Be upfront about what students can expect from your course.
  2. Consider alternative readings or activities.
  3. Offer information on other coping strategies and self-care.

There are ways to be sensitive to the experiences and mental health of students. Implementing trigger warnings doesn’t seem to be the most effective means of doing so, especially when the policy is hijacked by political agendas.

“You’re Racist!”: How (Not) to Change Someone’s Mind

Both before and after the election results, Trump’s supporters were lambasted as racist, misogynist bigots. But do these insults work? Will shaming change anyone’s mind? If not, how do you convince people to drop their prejudices? As Vox reports: “a frank, brief conversation.”

[A 2016] study, authored by David Broockman at Stanford University and Joshua Kalla at the University of California Berkeley, looked at how simple conversations can help combat anti-transgender attitudes. In the research, people canvassed the homes of more than 500 voters in South Florida. The canvassers, who could be trans or not, asked the voters to simply put themselves in the shoes of trans people — to understand their problems — through a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation. The hope was that the brief discussion could lead people to reevaluate their biases.

It worked. The trial found not only that voters’ anti-trans attitudes declined but that they remained lower three months later, showing an enduring result. And those voters’ support for laws that protect trans people from discrimination increased, even when they were presented with counterarguments for such laws.

…In talking with researchers and looking at the studies on this, I found that it is possible to reduce people’s racial anxiety and prejudices. And the canvassing idea was regarded as very promising. But, researchers cautioned, the process of reducing people’s racism will take time and, crucially, empathy.

This is the direct opposite of the kind of culture the internet has fostered — typically focused on calling out racists and shaming them in public. This doesn’t work. And as much as it might seem like a lost cause to understand the perspectives of people who may qualify as racist, understanding where they come from is a needed step to being able to speak to them in a way that will help reduce the racial biases they hold.

Image result for you're racist gifIt turns out that favorite buzzwords and phrases like “racist,” “white privilege,” and “implicit bias” are often seen by these voters “as coded slurs. These terms don’t signal to them that they’re doing something wrong, but that their supposedly racist attitudes (which they would deny having at all) are a justification for lawmakers and other elites to ignore their problems…What’s more, accusations of racism can cause white Americans to become incredibly defensive — to the point that they might reinforce white supremacy. Robin DiAngelo, who studies race at Westfield State University, described this phenomenon as “white fragility” in a groundbreaking 2011 paper[…]The innate resistance and defensiveness to conversations about bigotry don’t mean that you should never talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, or other kinds of hate. But those conversations may have to be held more tactfully — positioning people into a more receptive position to hear what these problems are all about.”

The entire piece is worth reading.

Adverse Effects of Family Instability: Possible Gender Differences

“When marriage breaks down,” writes sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, “boys are more likely than girls to act up. From delinquency to incarceration and schooling to employment, a mounting body of research suggests boys are affected more by family breakdown than girls. As Richard Reeves, the co-director of the Brookings Center on Children and Families, recently put it, when it comes to thriving in difficult family environments, girls may be more like dandelions, while boys may be more like orchids.” He points to

research by economist David Autor and his colleagues [that] indicates that one major reason why boys are falling behind girls in school is that they are affected more by fatherlessness than girls when it comes to their behavior and academic progress. The figure below, taken from Autor’s new research in Florida, indicates that the gender gap in school absences is larger for boys from unmarried, father-absent homes than for boys born to married parents. Likewise, the gender gap in school suspensions and high school graduation in Florida is also smaller for boys from married homes. 



“Similarly,” he continues,

economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues have found that young men (at age 30) are less likely to be employed if they come from single-parent families than from married-parent families. Moreover, as the figure below indicates, young men from lower-income families do relatively worse than their female peers if they hail from single-parent families. But young men from married, lower-income families do relatively better than their female peers. In other words, Chetty’s new research suggests that young men’s labor force participation is affected more negatively by single-parenthood than young women’s employment prospects, especially when both are raised in a lower-income family.



However, “it’s also possible that family instability and single parenthood affect girls and young women in ways that are not directly related to antisocial behavior, which is a classic male expression of emotional turmoil. In other words, perhaps both boys and girls are orchids in the face of family instability, but their vulnerability is simply expressed in different ways.” Wilcox then draws on the 2016 American Family Survey conducted by YouGov for Deseret News/BYU. The findings?

  • “[A]dult women are much less likely to report that their current relationship is “in trouble” if they come from a stable married home, and the advantage they enjoy from stability is clearly larger than the advantage that man from a stable home enjoy in this domain.”
  • “[T]oday’s women are much less likely to find themselves in a financial crisis if they hail from an intact, married family, as the figure below indicates. If the results of this survey are replicated in other data sets, they suggest that women may be affected by family instability more than men when it comes to their relationship success and freedom from economic distress.”




Wilcox says that the “survey suggests women have greater difficulty in forging and maintaining strong relationships as adults when they have been exposed to family instability or dysfunction as children. This, in turn, may lead to more relationship “trouble” and also to a higher incidence of single parenthood as adults. A higher incidence of single parenthood, in turn, may help explain why women with unstable families are more likely to report financial distress. Finally, if the absence of a stable, married home has a bigger impact on girls’ future relationship trajectories than boys, it may also explain why the gap in relationship trouble and financial distress by family stability looks bigger for women than men in this new survey.”