Saturday, February 16, 2008

Better Supervisors is What's Needed, but in the Meantime What Can You Do

Catalyst is one of my favorite independent research companies for working on understanding women at work. A long time ago they realized that the battle isn't about equality in the work place it's about presenting a business case on the benefits of having a diverse work force.

They recently completed a piece of research looking at women in high-tech jobs. Challenges appear to be in their relationship with their supervisors - their supervisors aren't available when needed, they don't listen to suggestions, and they don't give feedback.

The research comments that women join companies but leave because of supervisors. Come on companies, think about this cost. I haven't yet dug into the absolute results but I wouldn't be surprised if women had the same challenges if their supervisors were female. The role of being boss is a tricky role, with so many demands being made of you. It's always sad when it's simply good management that is the problem. However it does run a little deeper.

In another piece of research Catalyst report that managers have a harder time giving feedback to women than men. I have tried to communicate this to many women that we have to work harder at providing an engagement with our bosses that makes it easier for them to give us feedback, without this feedback we have a harder time progressing.

  • Be direct and ask for feedback about a particular project or behavior. Ask clarifying questions as feedback is being given to help them fine tune their feedback.

  • Even if they say, 'You did Great', ask about how to improve next time as you want to get better at X.

  • Change your behaviors to respond to the feedback, and then confirm that you're improving

  • Send an email ahead of a meeting to say you will be asking for feedback on a certain project, behavior to remove taking them by surprise.

Another path is to get feedback from others, however we have to consider what we want feedback on, ask the right questions, and make others comfortable in giving feedback.

  • First think about what it is you want feedback on

  • Now consider, specifically what aspect it is you want feedback on.

  • Brainstorm several different ways to get feedback and from whom. Ask a friend to help you brainstorm.

  • Follow through on taking action on getting feedback from someone.

  • Say 'Thank you', and seriously consider what they tell you and how you can respond to their feedback.

I know this is a lot of work for us to do, when if we had fantastic bosses we wouldn't need to put in the extra work - well listen, our bosses aren't going to miraculously be better at listening and giving feedback over night so we have to take steps ourselves. And when we become bosses we have to make sure we take time to put into practice what we want from others.

Companies need to be learning about these strategies to improve the technical work place for women because a diverse work force is a more creative productive one.

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