Women's History Month

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Leveling the playing field

SWAN logo

By Stephanie Holinka

As part of Women’s History Month, the Sandia Women’s Action Network (SWAN) co-hosted a discussion of Stanford professor Shelley Correll’s video, “Leveling the Playing Field,” about research that documents how systemic bias impairs the career trajectories of women.

In the video, Correll describes how earlier, rapid progress in the narrowing of gender inequality in the workplace has stalled since the 1990s, which she attributes partially to persistent and systemic flaws in how women and men are perceived and evaluated in the workplace.

Correll is director of Stanford’s VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and the Clayman Institute for Gender Research. She studies gender, workplace dynamics and organizational culture.

The discussion was co-sponsored by Sandia Inclusion, Diversity, Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

Gender stereotyping leads both to more positive evaluations of men in the workplace, and more negative evaluations of women, Correll said. Often the importance of and reliance upon various criteria will change mid-decision to support gender bias in professional settings.

Correll also noted that women are less likely to have influence in work groups, and are less likely to get credit for their ideas.

“Our solution must break the solution of using stereotypes as a cognitive shortcut,” she said.

During the discussion, SWAN co-chair Lucille Shaw encouraged Sandia participants to share stories about ways in which their work trajectories were impacted by bias and instances where their contributions were ignored or attributed to male team members.

Labs Director Steve Younger also emphasized to attendees that representation of women at all levels is of Labs-wide importance, and has the attention of senior leadership.

Correll mentioned that one way to increase participation of women in a field is to decide on specific criteria in advance of a hiring or promotion decision, and then scrutinize the criteria used when the decision is made, recognizing that barriers such as specific experience can perpetuate past bias against women.

For example, Correll said Carnegie Mellon University increased the representation of women in its computer science undergraduate major from 7 to 42%
in five years by removing computing experience as a major admission criterion. University officials found that men were more likely to show up with experience, Correll said, but they ultimately learned that experience didn’t affect the quality of the scientist.

Correll recommended mitigating cognitive bias through transparent decision-making processes and advance agreement on specific criteria. She also said that vouching for the competence of leaders in an organization encourages employees to recognize the competence and authority of women.

In conclusion, Correll challenged viewers to create workplaces where men and women can thrive.

“By removing the errors in decision making that stereotypes produce, organizations will be able to more fully harness the full range of talent in today’s workforce,” Correll said.

Networking about women

SWAN talk panel
NETWORKING ABOUT WOMEN — Sandia’s supplier diversity team held an open house for women-owned small businesses last month at the Lobo Rainforest Building in downtown Albuquerque. As part of the Women’s History Month event, a panel spoke to business owners about networking and resources available to women whose businesses contract with government agencies. Panelists (left to right) were Susan D. Swafford, an Air Force veteran and founder of Core Advantage; Arthur Humphries of the New Mexico Procurement Technical Assistance Center; Patricia Brown, a Sandia supplier diversity advocate; and Joshua Baca with the U.S. Small Business Administration.  (Photo by Nicholas Kerekes)

Working together for gender equity

Blythe Clark
Blythe Clark, SWAN co-chair  (Photo by Lonnie Anderson)

By Blythe Clark and Lucille Shaw, SWAN co-chairs

The topic of gender bias has received a lot of attention in recent years as a neurologically driven impulse that can create an uneven playing field in the workplace.

Experts know stereotypes are formed through upbringing, societal influence and life experiences, as opposed to deliberate choices.

Still, the topic of gender bias too often is perceived as a matter of blame. As a result, some folks flee at the very mention of gender bias. Even those who are eager to jump in may not know where to start. SWAN often hears, “OK. I’m bought in. Now what?”

While gender bias is clearly not a problem for men alone to fix, their engagement is critical. In a recent survey in the book, “WE: Men, Women and the Decisive Formula for Winning at Work,” 96%
of respondents reported progress in company gender-diversity initiatives when men were involved,
compared to 30% when men are not.

We are accustomed to hearing about the impacts of gender bias through the lens of women, but SWAN felt it important to open a dialogue on addressing gender bias and gender parity with men — men who see themselves as advocates of gender equality, both for personal reasons and to support Sandia’s business goals.

The panel discussion was not to make a case for why women are valuable in leadership. As the book states, “We wouldn’t ask for a business case for men serving in leadership positions.”

Lucille Shaw
Lucille Shaw, SWAN co-chair  (Photo by Lonnie Anderson)

Nor are we suggesting that women can’t be successful on their own merit without the advocacy of men. The book strives to clearly articulate the value of inclusion and offer simple, tangible solutions for people to apply.

At its core, the discussion was a call to action for all of us.

We can’t reverse the effects of gender bias and other implicit biases simply by being aware. It takes thoughtful assessment of our work environment and everyday actions to ensure we are including, respecting and valuing the contributions of everyone.

We are accustomed to hearing about the impacts of gender bias through the lens of women, but SWAN felt it important to open a dialogue on addressing gender bias and gender parity with men — men who see themselves as advocates of gender equality, both for personal reasons and to support Sandia’s business goals.

The panel discussion was not to make a case for why women are valuable in leadership. As the book states, “We wouldn’t ask for a business case for men serving in leadership positions.”

Nor are we suggesting that women can’t be successful on their own merit without the advocacy of men. The book strives to clearly articulate the value of inclusion and offer simple, tangible solutions for people to apply.

At its core, the discussion was a call to action for all of us.

We can’t reverse the effects of gender bias and other implicit biases simply by being aware. It takes thoughtful assessment of our work environment and everyday actions to ensure we are including, respecting and valuing the contributions of everyone.

Male advocates moving from awareness to action

We book
PLAYBOOK FOR CHANGE — A panel drawn from across the Labs discussed Rania Anderson’s book, WE, during a Women’s History Month event hosted by the Sandia Women’s Action Network.

By Myles Copeland

Max Dubroff spent much of his military career supervised by trailblazing women.

“In my time in the Air Force, I had a wonderful opportunity, four times, to serve under commanders who were ‘first women,’ that is, the first time ever in history that a woman commanded that type of unit,” said Max, now a Sandia human resources business partner.

“They did a wonderful job, they deserved the job, but they didn’t get there by just being available,” he said. “It was a leadership focus. It was their commanders over them that chose them and set them up — over the years of their career — set them up for those jobs, to excel.”

Max delivered his remarks to a crowd of more than 100 people, roughly an equal mix of men and women, for a discussion of, “Stepping Up as a Male Advocate for Women.” Organized by the Sandia Women’s Action Network, the Women’s History Month panel of male Sandia staff sought to inspire actions towards a culture free of bias for all Sandians.

SWAN co-chairs Lucille Shaw and Blythe Clark led the panelists through a discussion of Rania Anderson’s “WE: Men, Women and the Decisive Formula for Winning at Work.” Dubroff was joined on the panel by Labs Director Steve Younger; directors Scott Holswade, advanced systems, and Tim Knewitz, business management; Cole Yarrington, a manager in materials; and Simon Cordero, a team lead in communications.

“One of the things the book talks about is that awareness, as a first step, is not enough,” said Cole. “Corporations have historically tended to focus on awareness, and awareness is sort of where it stops.”

Steve indicated a no-nonsense focus on changing the Labs’ workforce demographics.

“I want to see changes in the numbers,” said Steve. “I want to see the needles move for both minorities and women.”

“We’re entering a time of unprecedented geopolitical complexity,” said Steve, describing the need for this change. “The worst thing that we can do for the country is have a group of people who look just like me decide what the future of the world is going to be and what we need to do to defend America in that world.”

“It’s a much more diverse world,” Steve said. “People think differently than we do. So, it behooves us, in carrying out our mission, to reach the widest selection of approaches and opinions and perspectives that we can.”

Steve Girrens, associate labs director for Nuclear Deterrence and executive champion for SWAN, was one of several speakers who said the book made them aware of everyday actions they could take to create a better work environment.

“I realized I could be more mindful of the time of day I schedule meetings — a simple thing like that — to better allow women and men to pick up their young children from school or daycare,” he said.

The book left Max considering what he could do next.

“I read the book and I was super excited because I kept going, ‘Yep. I do that. Yep. Done that,’ like I was making some sort of a checklist,” said Max. “I missed the point (but) I figured it out, that this is not about what I’ve done, it’s about what I’m going to do.”