Gender Bias in the Workplace: ‘That’s What She Said’

As the conversation around equality in the workplace continues to heat up, professionals are asking what they can do to close the gender gap in their industry. For a unique perspective on this discussion, we spoke to Joanne Lipman about her new book, “That’s What She Said, What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together.”

Joanne is a former USA Today editor in chief, chief content officer of Gannett and a past Matrix winner.

What inspired you to write your book and start studying the disconnect between genders in the workplace?

This all started with an article I wrote for The Wall Street Journal three years ago called Women at Work: A Guide for Men. I was going to a conference for professional women in Des Moines. On the flight, I was sitting next to a businessman and we started chatting about his kids and new house, when he asked why I was going to Des Moines. When I told him I was going to a women’s conference, he froze up. He said he had just been through a diversity training at work and had spent two days getting beat up on and being told the issues they were addressing were all his fault.

So it occurred to me that there are a lot of perfectly good guys out there that we unintentionally demonize. There’s a real need for this kind of conversation to open up to men who would be interested in joining up with women to close the gap at work.

What is one of your pieces of advice for men looking to make the office a more inclusive place?

One thing that men can do is to brag about a female colleague. When women talk about their own achievements, they’re penalized for it. If I read a list of my achievements and Joe reads the exact same list, I would be seen as boastful, abrasive and unlikeable, while Joe would be seen as successful and likeable. It’s unfortunate but true. So if men can talk up their female colleagues, it will have more power coming from them.

What do you think women can do better to support each other as professionals as we work toward equality?

One area where women are lagging behind men is promotions. Women are less likely to put their hands up for a promotion. And part of the onus falls on managers. So I’ve changed the way I manage during the course of writing this book. I realized there are often qualified people who don’t speak up for themselves for promotions – women as well as introverted men and underrepresented minorities. I now go to people who didn’t put their hand up and tell them, you’re qualified to be in the pool but you didn’t raise your hand, so let’s talk about it.

The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements: are you encouraged by the progress or think we still have a long way to go?

It’s encouraging that the topic of harassment is now discussable in mixed company and that it’s being reported on seriously on the front pages of news coverage. And it’s having a real-world impact on men losing their jobs and being held accountable.

What does concern me is the backlash. I’m already see men that are freezing up around women, that are afraid to take a woman to lunch, or that are using this as an excuse not to hire, mentor, or talk to women. That would be incredibly damaging, so we need to counter this.

As a female leader in a traditionally male-dominated industry, how does it feel to see so many women now have a voice?

What I feel good about is that men are listening. I love that it’s OK now to discuss this in mixed company. “That’s What She Said” is about depoliticizing these conversations and taking the stigma out. We’re now making men a part of the conversation so that they can have a stake in it.

You used research and data in the book; what was the most compelling insight you learned?

One of the most eye-opening thing is the research on unconscious bias. There are prejudices at play that we don’t even know exist, and this is not something you can easily wipe out in the workplace.

It starts at birth. Mothers routinely overestimate how quickly their sons will crawl, but underestimate for girls. In college, a girl needs to be an A student to be seen as the equivalent to a boy who’s a B student. This goes all the way up to the professional level, but it starts well before at home and with parents and teachers. It’s endemic to society, not just contained in the workplace.

The takeaway is that in the workplace, these biases are not issues that can be solved by going to HR for a two-hour training. It must be embraced at the top by the CEO and CFO, and is essential to the backbone of the success of any enterprise.
— Lauren Tran


Learn from the pros.

learn more


Do you have decision fatigue?

learn more


Join today and get inspired by the NYWICI community.