Run it Like a Girl

Run it like a girl with Dr. Sarah Kaplan, Season 2, Episode 2

September 23, 2019
Run it Like a Girl
Run it like a girl with Dr. Sarah Kaplan, Season 2, Episode 2
Chapters
Run it Like a Girl
Run it like a girl with Dr. Sarah Kaplan, Season 2, Episode 2
Sep 23, 2019
Dr. Sarah Kaplan
Dr. Sarah Kaplan talks about the serious structural change to organizations that is needed to achieve gender equality.
Show Notes Transcript

Sarah Kaplan is a professor at Toronto's Rotman School of Management and the director of The Institute for Gender and the Economy. As a professor and author, Dr. Kaplan has also been interested in gender equality issues, and has herself faced barriers and biases since beginning her career.  

It was in 2016, 30 years after Sarah's first day of work that she woke up and realized how little progress has been made. It was at this moment Sarah realized she needed to do this as her day job, not just as something on the side. On this episode, Dr. Kaplan tells us about the serious changes that are needed, and that we all have an obligation to call out discriminatory practices. If we don't we are part of the problem, by actively participating in a society that perpetuates discrimination. 



Speaker 1:
0:00
Dr Sarah Kaplan is the Director of the Institute for Gender and the economy at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. As a professor and author, Dr Kaplan has focused her research on innovation but has also been interested in gender equality issues and has herself faced barriers and biases since beginning her career "And in 2016 30 years after my sort of first day of working post university, I woke up and realized how far we had not come, how much a bias there still is in society, how much discrimination there still is in society. This was right in the middle of the US election before we knew the outcome, and I just saw the amount of misogyny being directed at Hillary Clinton separate from her policies, but just the misogyny and I realized that I had to work on this as my day job and not just as the thing I cared about on the side, on my personal life." Said Sarah.
Speaker 1:
0:55
And it's then that Dr Kaplan decided to combine her professional experiences with her personal interests and apply an innovation lens to the gender equality issue. For example, Dr Kaplan points out that financial institutions in London, England have been concerned with the lack of women rising to key roles and have contemplated changing the hours that stocks can be traded to make it more conducive to having family obligations. "They're basically saying, look, we recognize that we live in a society where we actually expect women to be the primary caregivers at home. And by the way, as a side note, I think we need to change that as well, but given that expectation, we then need to redesign jobs so that they can accommodate the responsibilities that anyone who's caring, for has any kind of a personal life, home life, family life care work that they have to do. And so it's a radical move to redesign work as opposed to an incremental move to, for example, train people on implicit bias or train women to be more assertive, which we now know from research literally doesn't work." Said Sarah. On this episode of Run it Like a Girl Dr Kaplan tells us that we have an obligation to call out discriminatory practices. If not, she says we're part of the problem by actively participating in a society that perpetuates discrimination. Dr Sarah Kaplan on this episode of Run it Like a Girl.
Speaker 2:
2:26
So today it's beautiful and sunny outside, and I'm so thrilled because I have the opportunity to sit down and chat with Dr Sarah Kaplan, Professor at Rotman School of Management and Founder of the Institute for Gender in and the economy. Sarah, thank you so much for joining us for an episode of run it like a girl. I'm so excited to be talking with you today. I have to say I follow you on Twitter and I read a lot of articles that you do and I've watched your Ted talk and, I'm just, I'm so thrilled to have you. How about we start by telling us a little bit about your background, how you got into what you're currently doing and what led you to start the institute for Gender in the economy.
Speaker 1:
3:10
Well, so I get to tell you a little bit of a personal story that connects into my scholarly work and it's a little bit complicated, but basically I have been an innovation scholar, all of my career. So first as a management consultant, I studied innovation and did innovation consulting. And then after I left consulting to get my PHD at MIT, I focused on innovation and I wrote a book called Creative Destruction. And all of that was about thinking about how organizations resist change, can get outmoded by innovation and what they can do to be more innovative. And that's always been my research trajectory. But separately I've always cared about gender equality issues. I've faced many barriers and biases throughout my career. Having started working in 1986 and in 2016, 30 years after my sort of first day of working post university, I woke up and realized how far we have not come, how much bias there still is in society, how much discrimination there still is in society.
Speaker 1:
4:15
This was right in the middle of the US election before we knew the outcome. And I just saw the amount of misogyny being directed at Hillary Clinton separate from her policies, but just, the misogyny. And I realized that I had to work on this as my day job and not just as the thing I cared about on the side, on my personal life. And the other thought that I had was that because I've been an innovation scholar and I was puzzling about why we hadn't made more progress. I thought, well maybe we need to take an innovation lens on the gender equality challenge. Maybe we simply have been talking about it in the wrong way, in a stale way, in a tired way, in a way that sort of blames women for not stepping up or leaning in and focuses on fixing the women as opposed to paying attention to how we could innovate in new ways of working and new ways of organizational design in new ways of developing products and services, all of which that could support greater gender equality. And so I connected my background and knowledge as an innovation scholar to thinking differently about this question. And I thought, here I am at a university, we can bring academic, scholarly, rigorous research to this question to kind of change the conversation on gender equality, bring that Innovation Lens. And so that's why I founded the, the institute three years ago.
Speaker 2:
5:38
Wow. So, since starting your career in the 80s, now it's 2016, the change just wasn't that dramatic in terms of equality for women and what you were finding in the workplace.
Speaker 1:
5:53
Absolutely. I mean, and the data bear this out. If you look at statistics from the OACD or the UN or anywhere else, what you see was after the women's liberation movement in the sixties and seventies, we did see tremendous progress in the work world and other places. For example, in the sixties and seventies, you still had newspaper job ads for women and, and job ads for men. They literally broke them out into jobs that were only, you know, appropriate for women and jobs that were appropriate for men. That, of course has gone away. And many other, small kinds of barriers, like, you know, it used to be you could only wear a skirt suit in the office, but now women can wear pantsuits or skirt suits. Many different kind of smaller barriers have been broken down and we saw progress in the 1980s but that progress basically stalemated in the 90s and the two thousands, we haven't closed the gender wage gap because women are still being tracked into lower paying careers because of the idea that women are responsible for care giving at home, which means that they can't do the Go-go careers that allow for higher earning levels.
Speaker 1:
7:05
We still look at leadership in a corporate Canada or corporate America or corporate Europe and see so few women in leadership, and so few women on boards of directors. And so yes, we have stalemated and that's of course not counting the progress that has not yet been made in more developing economies and in countries where the gender norms are even more rigid. So, yeah, we haven't made the progress that everyone likes to think we should have made by now. And so I feel like this is the moment when we need to recognize that, be honest about it and realize that we can't keep doing the same thing. We need to do something radical, different and transformational if we're going to actually make progress. And that's what I hope that the researchers that we support in the work that we do at the Institute for Gender in the economy really is part of that kind of radical vision.
Speaker 2:
7:57
Yeah, absolutely. You said something there about what you noticed during the election, the last US election, and I'd love to ask your thoughts on this, because you know, we're not just talking in terms of gender equality, but equality and racism and diversity and how people are treated. it seems almost that some sort of permission has been granted for people to be, awful to each other, for people to say things that, that no one would ever say. Do you have perspective on that at all in terms of, of what, what's been happening?
Speaker 1:
8:35
Well, I do, it's a very difficult and traumatizing and terrible time. And, I'm an American. I live in Canada. I'm an immigrant to Canada, so watching what's going on south of the border is extremely painful to me, and to so many people because, it's not that people weren't awful before or that there wasn't racism or sexism before. In fact, there was, and what we're seeing now though is that there's been permission to just unleash that, to not pay attention to historical discrimination, to not pay attention to the disadvantages that many people face. And it's shameful and it's terrifying. And, you know, I, I feel on a personal level, I feel almost paralyzed with both fear and with rage, but on a professional level I feel like I need to take that fear and that rage and turn it into productive action.
Speaker 1:
9:45
And that's why I'm so focused on research that's going to actually change the game, research that's going to be able to tell us to do new things, research that's not going to be about telling women to lean in or you know, creating employee resource resource groups in firms, but actually thinking about radical restructuring. And so, this is not just going on south of the border, I think Canada has had it's own fair share of that. I'm extremely worried about Canada because I have been saying for the last three years after the US election, Canada has this opportunity to be a beacon of light in the world around diversity inclusion, around, the power of being a country where we wouldn't discriminate, but Canada also moving in the same direction as we're seeing in many countries around the world. And I think we have an obligation to actually recognize that and address it directly.
Speaker 2:
10:44
Yeah, I, I agree with that. And I think that leads nicely into want I want to talk about next around, what you're saying. And so how do we change the conversation on gender equality to position it more how you've just been talking. What are the concrete steps that we should be taking to move quickly forward?
Speaker 1:
11:03
Well, the first thing I should say is that obviously we have had gender inequality for Millennia. And so it's not like there's three quick steps that you can take and magically it's all going to be fixed. We need many, many, many different changes and actions, but those changes, those actions need to be structural. So for example, this just came out in the press over the past couple of days in London, the City of London, London, UK, not London, Canada. Their financial institutions have been very concerned about the fact that women are not rising up into key roles in those businesses. And so one of the things they're contemplating is actually changing the hours. Stocks can be traded on the stock exchange, so that it is more conducive to also having a family and having family obligations. And so that has nothing to do with telling women that they need to be a more aggressive or put themselves forward for these roles.
Speaker 1:
12:10
They're basically saying, look, we recognize that we live in a society where we actually expect women to be the primary caregivers at home. And by the way, as a side note, I think we need to change that as well. But given that expectation, we then need to redesign jobs so that they can accommodate the responsibilities for anyone who's caring for people, has any kind of personal life, home life, family life care work that they have to do. And so it's a radical move to redesign work as opposed to an incremental move to, for example, train people on implicit bias or train women to be more assertive, which we now know from research literally doesn't work. The implicit bias training, unless you couple it with about 25 other things in your organization, not only doesn't work, but it can backfire. And so I feel like what we need are more structural changes that actually redesign work, as opposed to changes that focus on the individual. And I think that's one of the biggest problems is that people keep thinking about these as individual issues. It's about individual bias or individual capabilities and they're not recognizing how structural it is, how much it's related to how we design work and how we think of who a leader is and all of that. And so we need to make these structural changes as opposed to focusing on individual changes.
Speaker 2:
13:29
Right.I think that's an excellent point, and it's interesting too because when you say a lot of it is around teaching women how to stand up for themselves or how to get that job it's so true, but instead we need to be focusing on the much larger issues of how to structurally change how organizations work. I liked the, the example that you gave around London. Another example that I heard you talk about was around Salesforce and what they're doing within their own organization to help try to change the way they work. Please talk a little bit about that and, anything else you've kind of seen in that big way of moving quickly.
Speaker 1:
14:11
right. Well, so one of the most visible ways that we can measure inequality is around the gender wage gap. Now most people think that the gender wage gap has to do with women and men being paid differently for the same job and that is indeed happening, and the Salesforce example that you cited has really been about fixing that. But I just want to, as a side note mention that the main driver of the difference in wages for men and women is that women are being forced into lower paying job tracks or careers or sectors because we still expect them to do most of the work at home, and they therefore need flexibility. They can't necessarily work the long hours. And so they can't be in the job categories that pay the most. So that's the primary driver of the wage gap. However, it is still true that within similar jobs there are instances of unequal pay.
Speaker 1:
15:08
And that's what Salesforce did. The CEO, Mark Benioff is very committed to gender equality. And he had an analysis done in his firm where they discovered that there was a gender wage gap. And so he actually mandated that they increase the salaries of the women who were underpaid based on this analysis. And that was actually very expensive. It cost millions of dollars. I think it was $6 million that they spent, or $3 million first. And then they did the analysis again a year later. So the first analysis was in 2016. It costs them $3 million to fix the wage gap. They then did it again the following year. And what had happened is two things. One, some bias had crept up into the pay of existing people. And two, they had done a number of acquisitions and the people who came in from these other companies that they acquired also had wage gaps.
Speaker 1:
16:10
And so he spent another $3 million to close the wage gap again. So that's real commitment. That is putting money where your mouth is. And that's not putting money on a big campaign to, you know, host an event and have your logo splashed up somewhere. Which is what a lot of companies do when they're spending money on gender equality. It's to host big events and give themselves awards. And I'm very cynical about that. I think what we need is more people like Mark Benioff saying when I spend money it's going to be on actually fixing things. Like I'm going to spend $6 million on the gender wage gap within my firm. So that's an example again of a structural fix. It's something that the CEO or the leadership is committing to changing. It's not about, again, fixing the women, telling the women they should have negotiated more for their salaries.
Speaker 1:
17:00
So that is another example of a structural fix. By the way, some of the researchers that I'm working with at the University of Toronto that we fund out of the Institute for Gender and the Economy have been looking at other kinds of structural fixes, for example, in job promotions, we know that women are not promoted at the same rate as men in corporations. And one of the reasons that people have said is that women don't put themselves up for the jobs. And it is actually true. Women don't as often put themselves up for roles and it's not because they lack in self-confidence, but basically they see the statistics, they see that not very many women are promoted. And so they think themselves, I'm not going to put myself through that experience and not get promoted. I don't want the disappointment given the bias that I witnessed.
Speaker 1:
17:48
So people blame women's self confidence without understanding that actually the lack of women being promoted into leadership is changing what women think is the payoff for putting themselves forward. So, some of my researchers I work with did a study where they changed the structure of the promotion system. They went from people opting in to people opting out. So they basically said instead of saying, here's a risky thing that you could do, you can opt in to do that risky thing, meaning something like putting yourself up for a job and instead they say, look, we're going to put everyone in the risky situation and they can opt out and not do the risky thing and do something more stable or more guaranteed. And what we find is when you have people giving the option to opt into something risky, you see it in the gender gap. But when you actually give people the option of, they're in the risky a pool, but they just are given the option to opt out. So the choice is the same. They can either do it or not. You could completely erase the gender gap simply by changing the structure of their decision making something we call choice architecture. So again, it's another example of where we're changing the structures around people rather than trying to change the people.
Speaker 2:
19:06
See, I love that because, wouldn't that be amazing. For me I know if for a role came along I might not put my hand up for, it but if someone has already put my hand up for me, I probably wouldn't say no. Right. I'd probably go ahead and go through the process because everyone is. Right, exactly right.
Speaker 1:
19:22
So I think we need to really think through this again, we've traditionally done promotions in this way and so we don't even think of it as a gendered process. We don't think of the promotion processes, gendered. It's like if there's a job and people apply for it and we look at through the candidates of people who apply and we promote someone. But that process is actually very gendered. And so it's really important for us to recognize that many processes that we think are completely gender neutral are not gender neutral. And it's not because the individuals doing the process are biased in some way. It's simply that we have a social structure that is leading women to not opt into those risky situations simply because they can look around and see that it's unlikely they're going to be successful. And if you, if the odds are stacked against you, for you to put your hat in the ring, you have to be 10 times more risk seeking to put your hat in the ring as a similar man, given that he can see a whole bunch of people who've been promoted who looked just like him.
Speaker 1:
20:23
So we frame this as women being risk averse. But instead what we're really finding is that for women to put their hat in the ring, they're actually more risk seeking than the average man.
Speaker 2:
20:34
That's an incredible switch in the mentality around doing things differently. So I, I would love to talk for a minute about your book Survive and Thrive. You identified four ways we can think about what we can do at the personal and, organizational level. I'd love to talk about that for for a minute. So maybe just to start with, so what are those four ways and, and also when we're talking about it from a personal level, we're not talking about just women. It's what everyone can do to change.
Speaker 1:
21:09
So what I would say is since the 1980s, we could say since the Reagan Thatcher era, a project to make diversity issues really about individuals and an individuals responsibility. And that's an actual, not to get too political here, but it's a kind of a neo-liberal project to take things that are structural, structural discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia, all of these things which are structural, they're about the structures of society that make it more difficult for various people to be included economically. And we turned those into individual projects. Oh, I just need to get more training and self confidence. I just need to network more. And that's a specific, that's an actual political project. We don't recognize it as a political project. We spend our time thinking about, oh, how can we help women without understanding that there's a political project to put this on the shoulders of women or other discriminated groups to fix it themselves or to other individuals to be allies.
Speaker 1:
22:27
And I'm not really interested in that project. I think it's important for people to have allies and it's important for women people in other groups to have every skill that they need to have, but that's not gonna fix things. What we really need to do is change structures. We need to change work design. We need to change how we think about how organizations, and no one wants to do that project because that is about recognizing structural barriers and that you need structural fixes.. And it's really hard for people to think structurally. Most people don't know how to do it, aren't trained to do it. In our society, we don't train people to think about structural barriers. We train them to think about individuals and even an emphasis on developing empathy and things like that is all about connecting you to individual people as opposed to understanding structural barriers.
Speaker 1:
23:19
What I'm interested in is thinking about how can we innovate in new ways to organize. So I wrote in the book Survive and even now a few years later, there are some things I wish I had been much bolder about. So I said ensure sponsorship. Well, yes, everyone's saying that and I think it's really important. We need to make sure that organizations, not just individuals, but organizations are actually sponsoring people to be effective. And that means investing. For example, when we look at the Transparent television show, they put in a trans affirmative action program to hire trans people into all sorts of roles in promoting that television show. But that meant investing in capability building and other things for people because they came from such marginalized communities that they didn't actually have the resources they need to to do well. So it's not just about being a quote sponsor in the sense of, Oh, I'll get you an opportunity for a job, but it's actually helping you have all the things that you need to be able to do well in that job.
Speaker 1:
24:21
Given that you've been deprived of many opportunities, women don't get opportunities to be in profit and loss responsibility jobs. And we know that those jobs, people who have responsibility for profit and loss are the people who are much more likely to get promoted and advanced in their careers. But we don't give women those opportunities. So then we say we want to promote women into certain roles while we better backstop them if they haven't had the same profit and loss experience as the men. They're competing because the women don't have the capabilities, because they were not given the opportunities to develop those skills. So when I say sponsorship, I really mean helping, investing and taking time and putting resources behind, making sure that it truly is a level playing field. So that's one example of something that I said in that book or in that chapter, but I would say much more boldly and much more strongly, even today, a few years after writing that.
Speaker 2:
25:26
Sure. Awesome. So I think that's interesting because that's a lot more work, right. For someone to say, I can use my clout and I can go into a room and I can get you a job. is one thing. It's personal capital risk, but this is actually
Speaker 1:
25:39
time,
Speaker 2:
25:40
a lot of time that someone has to put into something. So,, hopefully, hopefully most are willing to do that, but I can see how a lot of times it just scraped the surface because to go much deeper or be much bolder is significant investment.
Speaker 1:
25:58
Hmm.
Speaker 2:
25:59
It takes real change. Like you were saying, organizational change.
Speaker 1:
26:01
Well, I agree with you and I think that's why when you asked me what's three things or whatever, some list of things that people could do. The problem is these are incredibly intractable tough problems and we're not going to fix them with some nice to have little things that we do on the side. We're going to have to engage in radical change. And you know, and this goes right back to when we talk about racism, it's not enough to not be racist. You have to be actively anti racist, right? Yes. And we are not, it's not enough to not be sexist. I think most people in our society, men and women and people of all genders alike don't think that they're actively sexist. But that's not enough. You actually have to be fighting for equal opportunity and equality for everyone.
Speaker 1:
26:54
And I think that's what people don't recognize it's an actual responsibility to be active in it, in changing this dynamic and not just say, well, I'm not sexist or I'm not racist. That's not enough. Because not being sexist and racist in a system that is in a social structure that is sexist and racist means that you are participating in a social structure that's protected, perpetuating that kind of discrimination. Even if you yourself believe that you are not sexist and racist by by not calling the system out, by not acting against the system, you are actually perpetuating the system. And even if you don't feel sexist, you're actually perpetuating sexism by not fighting against the existing structures. And that's, that's what we really need to be thinking about when we, when you say, wow, that's a lot of work. I'm like, yeah, it's a lot of work. When people say they want to be committed that's the work they should be committed to. And we see corporate Canada giving each other awards for being so good on diversity and inclusion. That's great. But what, what we need to be doing is not just giving each other awards. We need to be, you know, doing the work and yes, that is what is going to take.
Speaker 2:
28:11
If you were going back to the start of your career in the 80s, and appear in front of yourself as your current age, what would you say to yourself? What, what would the conversation look like? What advice would you be giving?
Speaker 1:
28:38
That's a great question. And because I get asked by a lot of young women today, what should I do or what should I think about? And the answer that I tell everyone is, you don't need to change yourself. You're awesome. And I think that's the message that I would have told myself that. It's not that I got a lot of pushback because I'm a strong personality. Like you know, all that classic stuff, sharp elbows,, hard to work with. All the kinds of things that if I had been a young man, I would not have heard , and that's what I needed to be told at the time. And what I think is anybody in society who doesn't fit into our very stereotypical norm of what it means to be successful in business needs to be told that it's not you, it's society, it's the social structures, so don't feel bad about yourself.
Speaker 1:
29:29
Because one of the things that happens is that people who don't fit, whether it's because of their gender expression or, sexual orientation, their differences in ability, people who don't fit are made to feel bad by our society. And when you feel bad, you can't do your best work. And when you can't do your best work, you actually won't build and accumulate the skills that you need to build to be able to advance your career. And so I would say, don't, don't let the system get you down. Like do your best work and recognize that it's not you. It's the other people. It's, and I don't mean the other people individually. I mean the other people like the social structures in which we all operate. So if you get feedback, like I've heard young women today who have curly hair, even getting feedback that they need to straighten their hair.
Speaker 1:
30:24
And I feel like even such a small thing makes young women feel bad and they shouldn't be feeling bad. They should be recognizing that that's just a really, really sexist practice that goes on in business and they should not be made to feel bad about themselves. Now they can still make a decision about whether they want to straighten their hair or whatever. That decision has to be separate from the emotional impact of getting that kind of criticism. And I don't want people to be brought down emotionally because of something that society is structured to do.
Speaker 2:
30:53
Awesome. That's awesome. Thank you so much. So now we're at the end of our episode here, but something that we've decided to add for season two, after one of our guests suggested it isa fast three. So three quick questions to get your thoughts on three quick things. The first is: What's your favorite podcast or source of information?
Speaker 1:
31:19
So right now I listened to Code Switch, which is a national public radio podcast in the United States. That's really excellent at uncovering the way that race works in our society. I highly recommend it.
:
31:33
Very cool. What are you reading right now?
:
31:36
I am reading a book called, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez which is basically talking about data. We Think of data as sort of neutral, but actually the way that data is collected and processed and used is actually leading to gender bias in our society. So it's a, it's an extraordinary read.
Speaker 2:
32:02
and currently right now who inspires you?
Speaker 1:
32:07
Oh, well, right now I'm thinking a lot about Toni Morrison just because she recently passed and her ability to face down the incredible racism that she faced as an author - people asking her questions about why she doesn't center or write about white people , and to be able to respond the way that she did, which is to say, you don't even understand how racist that question is. You wouldn't ask a Russian to write about Americans. So I, I just love her. To stay centered and respond to the racism that she faced the way she did. I've been working on trying to practice that as well in my life.
:
32:49
Well, Sarah, I just want to say thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy day to join us I've absolutely loved our time together.
:
32:59
Well thanks for all your great work and doing this podcast. I think people need to hear the kinds of stories that you're evoking and so thanks for all your hard work too.
Speaker 3:
33:08
Run it like a girl is hosted by Bonnie Mouck. Brian Long is the producer web design and technical assistance provided by Dan Mouck and music courtesy of the talented Brooklyn Gilachuck.
:
33:22
On the next episode of Run it Like a Girl: Virginia Brailey is a Toronto based marketing executive with a wealth of experience, and she shares it as an American Marketing Association mentor. She's also a valued member of the Women of Influence Advisory Board. Virginia prides herself an optimist and says there has never been a greater time to be a woman. Virginia Brailey on the next episode of Run it Like a Girl.
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