Negotiating Women, Inc co-founder, Carol Frohlinger on Hidden Bias In the Workplace

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Carol Frohlinger, lawyer, negotiation expert, co-founder of Negotiating Women, Inc. and co-author of Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success (Jossey-Bass/John Wiley, September 2004). She recently co-authored Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It: 99 Ways to Win the Respect You Deserve, the Success You’ve Earned, and the Life You Want with Lois Frankel. This book calls attention to female stereotypes that many women still unknowingly conform to and provides practical advice on how to assert yourself to get what you want in any situation. I spoke with Carol about a number of issues impacting 20-something women. Today I’m sharing her perspective on the type of gender discrimination that young women may experience today…which is less explicit than previous generations may have dealt with but no less harmful.

Christina: Many of the 20-somethings I talk to don’t feel any “gender discrimination” in the workplace and have no hesitation stepping up to the table. You commented that they will likely get surprised someday. What would you tell a 20-something to expect?

Carol: In the research Lois and I did before we wrote the book, we found that young women were oblivious to what are known as “second generation gender issues” so when they come across them, they are blindsided. When I started practicing law in the early 80s, I was often the only woman in the room. I wasn’t surprised if I was asked to get coffee. Whereas, young women today have been raised to think the workplace is a meritocracy so if they do get asked to fetch coffee they are shocked.

Second generation gender discrimination can be very insidious. Unlike first generation gender issues, which were intentional acts of bias, second generation gender discrimination are practices that appear neutral on the surface.

Note:  According to a study by HBS these “second generation gender issues” entail “practices that are embedded in organizational workings that may seem unbiased in isolation, but result in different experiences for and treatment of women and men.”

Christina: How does this play out for women in the work place?

Carol: The playing field in the workforce is still not equal, so women are impacted unintentionally in a disproportionately negative way.

You can be left out of the informal networks where information is shared about new positions and openings on the next managerial level. You many not have access to the hiring manager who could put out a feeler for you. In some industries, women are left out of these networks. It’s not intentional, but it is just the way things are. Companies may say they promote solely on performance, but you’re naïve if you think that your promote-ability is based only on your work. It’s just as important to have strong relationships with the right people.

Christina: How can younger women be prepared for this?

Carol: I think it’s empowering for young women to understand that this informal network exists. If you don’t understand it, you can think it’s you. You can take it personally that you’re not aware of all of the information and feel left out…that maybe you are not “plugged in”. But if you understand that no one is intentionally withholding information from you, you won’t be disappointed. It’s just the way it is. When people are busy and stressed, they don’t think about going out of their way to bring you into the fold.

Don’t take it personally but be smart. Be aware that because you’re a woman, like it or not, you are going to be disadvantaged to some degree. Maybe not today, but chances are that at some point in time, your ability to lead will be questioned. Research shows there is still tremendous bias against mothers.  For example, people may assume a mother won’t want to travel so sometimes she won’t even be considered for job that involves travel. They think they are doing her a favor but that is not the case. She should be offered the opportunity, assuming she is qualified, of course, and allowed to make the decision for herself.

Christina: How can you address not being included in a meeting, feeling left out or make sure you are “plugged in”?

Carol: First, you really want to pick the hills you want to die on. Make sure that the meeting is important enough that you want to make it a point that you should’ve been there. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 90% of the time, it has nothing to do with you. The next level of questioning is “why?” Were you intentionally left off the invitation list or was it simply that they didn’t think of you? If it was intentional, was the rationale behind it understandable?

For example, if there will be three clients to five people from your company at a meeting, the balance isn’t right. Therefore the least senior person or the one who is not as directly involved with the project needs to be left out of the meeting. If you still feel you should have been included, then think about how and with whom you should speak to about it. You can say  “I saw you in a meeting with so and so and I was hoping you’d catch me up on it.” After you listen to what went on, just say “I’d love it if next time I could be included and here’s why I think I would be of value.”  That way it’s not about you wanting to be included. Instead, it’s about the business reason for you to be at the meeting and about how you can contribute.

Thank you Carol!

Check out “Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It” for more on how to go for what you want, create your best network and make sure you are included.

“What I love about this book is the way the authors incredibly specific tactics and strategies for achieving small and large goals in every aspect of life, ranging from convincing a waiter to take back a dish to telling a friend you’re not available for free babysitting to getting selected for desirable work projects.” — Lindsey Pollak, author & consultant on next generation career and workplace trends,

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