The 2017 Women’s March — the largest single-day protest in U.S. history advocating for human rights — was a moving representation of female solidarity. I cheered alongside 175,000 others in Boston Common to protect our fundamental freedoms as Sen. Elizabeth Warren declared, “We can whimper, we can whine, or we can fight back.”
I felt empowered seeing the sea of pink hats and creative signs people carried as they marched. Yet what struck me most that day was the sheer number of men who showed up to voice their support for gender equality. These were men with mothers, wives, daughters, and friends. It wasn’t a political rally — it was about being human.
This translates well to the workplace, where men and women alike need to make conscious efforts to achieve gender parity. In That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together, Joanne Lipman seeks to level the gender playing field. She looks across industries to share eye-opening anecdotes, research data, and strategies in an easily digestible format, addressing topics such as the respect and pay/promotion gap, blind hiring, mentorship and sponsorship, the motherhood penalty, and business impact.
Lipman stresses early on there will be no “man shaming” in her book. Men often have good intentions, but feel demonized by corporate diversity training, and through misunderstandings end up inflicting more pain on women’s careers. At the other end, women bear responsibility for closing the gap — be more confident, demand to be paid your worth, make changes to fit in yet be true to yourself. Additionally, it’s important for women to discuss these issues with other women as well as with men. There is a disconnect and lack of communication between both genders, ultimately exacerbating the problem.
A shared goal
The reality is that empowering women as true equals needs to be a goal for both women and men. We all win when we reach across the gender divide because it improves the bottom line. One example Lipman shares is the plastic bucket. We don’t think about it much, use it on occasion to clean our cars or mop the floors, and aren’t constantly upgrading it. However, Home Depot sought to reinvent the household object in collaboration with the industrial design firm Herbst Produkt. During their research, a woman on the team recognized an obvious design flaw that male designers and retailers had overlooked the past 50 years: When a bucket is full, it’s too heavy for most women to lift. After numerous prototypes, they created a bucket with an ergonomic handle for better weight distribution, second handhold molded into the bottom for easier control, redesigned spout for more precise tipping, and measurement markers inside.
“The best part about these little innovations is they didn’t add any cost to the product,” founder Scot Herbst said in an interview with Wired. “They’re cost-neutral features that are achieved without adding material or complex tooling.” The Big Gripper is fast becoming a new standard, all thanks to incorporating women into the design process.
The reality is that empowering women as true equals needs to be a goal for both women and men. We all win when we reach across the gender divide because it improves the bottom line.
Lipman also digs into the effect of biological wiring on miscues between men and women. For example, computational neuroanatomist Ragini Verma, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that the pathways connecting regions of the brain differ between genders. Women have multiple connections between the left and right hemispheres, which control logic and creativity, respectively; this indicates that women can engage and connect various parts of the brain simultaneously. In contrast, connections in men’s brains go from front to back, suggesting men are predisposed to focus on a single task at a time. While this distinct wiring means we perceive each other and our environment differently, it also means that our two types of brains are complementary and we achieve the best outcome by working together.
The cheat sheet at the end of the book includes immediately actionable strategies. It’s an excellent resource to share with colleagues and prompt discussion. Takeaways include “use amplification and brag buddies” (repeat the original speaker’s idea and ensure she is recognized for it, as well as tout each other’s achievements). And, “don’t decide for her” (when an opportunity comes up for someone, don’t assume their decision and ask the person directly; even if it’s declined that time, present the next one that comes along). Being aware of the issue is the first step — the next step in making a change is up to you.
Nicole Woon is a SharePoint program manager at Microsoft. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an M.S.E. (mechanical engineering) and two B.S.E.s (bioengineering and entrepreneurial management). A SWE life member, she currently serves on the editorial board and the WE Local advisory board.