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How to Close the Gender Gap and Move Beyond Rhetoric and Into Action

Posted October 29, 2014 by Editor

This post was written by Lenna El-Safwany, Director of Marketing at Jump Associates. Follow her on Twitter @lennalu, or connect with her directly by commenting on this post.

You’ve heard the stats around women in the workforce, particularly in technology and sciences. Day after day, our Twitter streams overflow with factoids on job stats of men vs. women. Books stack the shelves with research on the gender gap. Evening news reports shame companies that shirk the diversity issue.

Women make up over half the total workforce in the U.S., yet in STEM-related fields like technology, women only make up 26% of the workforce. Over a lifetime of work, a woman with a bachelor’s degree will earn a third less (some $700,000) than a man with a same degree. Only 24% of CIOs at Fortune 500 companies are female. The number of women promoted to board seats in Fortune 500 companies, which steadily increased in the late twentieth century, has dropped over the last three years.

We get it. We’ve read Lean In. We gawked and rose up our arms in response to Nadella’s gaff. But what have we done about it? What can we do about it? What lessons can we learn from history, governments, and companies about how to change it? It’s time to move from rhetoric to actionable steps and transform the opportunities for women.

Just last week, the White House published this status along with the hashtag #EqualPay, which shows how dire the situation is for women four years after graduation (see leading image for the graph included in the tweet):

As Charles Dickens once said, “Washington D.C. is filled with good intentions, but the dream is far from reality.” While I applaud the White House for bringing this fact to the public’s attention, the truth is that women comprise approximately 1/3 of leadership positions in U.S. government and earn approximately 75% of the pay offered to men in the same positions. Clearly, a hashtag is a far cry from an actionable solution.

Some argue that women are at a disadvantage due to “societal norms.” Women battle the gender gap from the time they’re in pigtails to when they rock the professional bob. From elementary school on, girls get the subtle message that science and math are for boys. Girls that are otherwise capable in STEM are pushed toward social sciences. However, studies show that “the most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes into STEM studies might be whether anyone encourages her to go on.” The unintentional message a young woman receives not only affects where she ends up in the workforce, but how and why she gets there.

The societal pressures don’t end there. Historically, women in work struggle with a balance between an overt “masculine” personality and “feminine” demeanor. Women who are seen as “too dominant” face the most harassment in the workplace. In the office, it’s not uncommon for women to discriminate against other women, aligning themselves with men in order to reap the implied benefits of being “one of the guys.” Some women actively distance themselves from complaints of gender bias to show loyalty to their company. The cards are stacked against women and make it tough to have equal footing in the rat race.

But we often forget that it’s not just about playing the game—it’s about changing it. We know the facts: across industries and across the world, women are under represented, underpaid, and many times, undervalued. Women can jump in, but it takes a consistent and united effort to move society past the perception of equal roles of women in work to actual equality.

Some governments and businesses successfully combat gender disparity by identifying the real issues and shifting perceptions and, ultimately, opportunities for women:


1.     The Power of Government.

It’s arguable that government has the most power to affect real transformation in the perception and practice of equality in work. For years, NASA essentially, but not explicitly, banned women from space. In order to become an astronaut, one was required to first serve as a jet test pilot. But, since the US government banned women from serving as jet test pilots, this requirement effectively made it impossible for any woman to become an astronaut. Not until 1995 after the ban on combat roles was rescinded were women allowed to pilot in space.

Norway is considered the world leader in gender equality and champions a society that offers equal opportunities to both men and women. Norway went so far as amending their conscription rights to include 2 years of civil service for both men and women—the only European country and NATO member practicing gender-neutral conscription. Norway touts that rights and obligations should not inherently favor one gender over the other.  Besides, they want the best recruits, and what better way to find the best of the best than to widen the pool of candidates by 50% of the entire population?

Government initiatives aren’t always the answer (nor do they always need to be this far-reaching), but they can serve as a good model for other business to imitate.

2.     The Power of Business.  

Forward-looking companies identify bias indicators and put metrics behind internal gender equality initiatives. The use of trigger words in a job post can affect whether a woman applies for a job, let alone lands it. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that job advertisements that do not explicitly mention the possibility of wage negotiation tend to attract men over women, since men prefer job environments where the 'rules of wage determination' are ambiguous. Job postings that use words like “ambitious” or “competitive” also attract more male candidates than women.

Google was concerned that women were not being promoted at the same rate as men within the company. Google executives created algorithms to pinpoint why women were not moving up the ranks.  Google reviewed the promotion process and noted that women were not meeting the requirement that they must self-nominate for promotion. Women are not as inherently inclined to self-promotion as men. In order to combat the disparity of female leadership, Google started an initiative to teach women how to self-nominate and realized an increase of women in leadership roles.

Although initiatives to increase wages for women and get more women into fields like technology and science are well-intentioned, we won’t start seeing real progress until companies start paying attention to some of business’ less obvious gender biased practices.

3.    The Power of Innovation.

The common assumption in many cases is still, unfortunately, that men have families to support and that mothers need to run home to take care of kids. Many are finding answers to such dichotomies through tech innovation. In September 2014, 150 parents, engineers, designers, and healthcare givers gathered at MIT for the “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck” Hackathon. Aside from its excellent name, this hackathon represented a necessary step to make it easier to be a professional woman with children.

Tech advancements can ease that burden on women, allowing them to be in the office and take on long-term assignments while still caring for kids.

It’s time to stop talking about the facts and figures around gender issues, and time to start doing something to enact change. The only way to ensure that we move past disheartening statistics to real transformation of society is to learn and apply methods of change to government initiatives and business practices. Whatever the next step may be, I’m certain that it involves amore than just throwing numbers on the Twitter wall.


Photo credit: The White House via Twitter

6 Steps to a Thriving Company Culture (that Most Companies Aren’t Taking)

Posted October 16, 2014 by Editor
Categories: Leadership
Team-FocusThis post was written by Alison Mora, Director at Jump Associates. Follow her on Twitter at @AlisonCMora, or connect with her directly by commenting on this post.

Most companies don’t manage culture. They notice it and write it down after it’s already formed.

The organizations best known for their culture, however, didn’t get there by treating it as an afterthought. In employee reviews, Starbucks holds people accountable and measures them by their values. Southwest regularly highlights its culture and points out exemplary employees who embody it. And Zappos provides explicit behaviors and habits that employees can use to embrace and conform to the company culture. All of those behaviors took good organizations and helped to make them great.

As leaders and executives, one of the most important jobs you have is to craft your culture and bring it to life in a way that’s true to the company and drives business. If you don’t know the essence of your company, your culture becomes reactionary to different cultural trends and isn’t true to itself. And if your culture is aspirational instead of accurate, people don't believe it, and you will fail.

Your company culture has to be totally true to what you are and what matters. Ask yourself: “Who are we on our best days?” That’s the culture you should codify—the culture you support and build. But of course, that’s easier said than done. At Jump, we’ve actively thought about the culture we should have to help us do our work from day one. Though each company’s culture is (and should be) different, there are some replicable actions any company can take to build a culture that’s on-point and real.

Here are 6 steps any company can take to better manage its culture:


1. Know who you are.
The question we mentioned above—“Who are we on our best days?”—is essential. Culture is not something you’ll be able to exemplify every single day with every single last action. It’s something you should strive towards and build for. You can’t manage your culture if you don’t know your culture in the first place.

2. Know how to tell people why to care about culture.
Figure out how culture drives your day-to-day business. The most successful leaders in your company should live out your company’s values; you need to prioritize culture above other things as part of your company’s strategy. Prioritizing culture in this way will force you to be better at articulating why it matters.

3. Have an ear to the ground and enroll cultural champions.
Have a temperature gauge to understand what pieces of culture are thriving and which aren’t. Have a network of people who you call upon and recognize as cultural champions. A champion’s job is to help people make meaning of their work and company.

4. Be explicit about behaviors and habits to help people improve.
The culture you define sets general expectations, but likely won’t call for specific actions.
You need to codify and be explicit about the behaviors and habits that people can use to display what would otherwise be a “soft,” subtle culture. This is fundamental to helping them improve and get better at living out the cultural values. 

5. Make your culture visible and highlight it regularly. You’ll feel like you sound like a broken record, but it helps people take notice and do the same.
Highlight your culture regularly so that employees take notice of the things around them. The reality is that to have a strong culture, every individual at the company needs to constantly improve the culture in themselves.

6. Measure people against your company’s values.
Nearly every company hires its employees based on their skills and their cultural fit. They should be measured against these standards as well. Hold people accountable! There’s little incentive to follow culture and build upon it if there aren’t clear ways to measure what fits your culture and what doesn’t.

Our experience at Jump has shown us that companies who manage their culture in these ways have more effective employees and a strong community of advocates inside and outside of the company walls. While these steps may not get you 100% of the way there, we certainly think they’ll get you started on the right path.



What the Millennial Generation Can Teach Businesses about Building a Better Customer Experience in the Era of the Consumer

Posted October 13, 2014 by Editor
Categories: Hybrid Thinking
clear blue water

This post was written by Alex Havneraas, Receptionist at Jump Associates. Connect with her directly by commenting on this post. 

Do I need a new pair of shoes? Some updated clothes for my work wardrobe? Maybe a birthday gift for this weekend? As I sit at my desk in front of my computer, the online shopping arena is my oyster. I don’t have time in my busy schedule to wander around the mall and sift through clothes racks that have already been trampled through. Online shopping makes my life as a closeted shopaholic easier than ever before.

Millennials in the age of the consumer—myself included—have a “want it now, get it now” mentality. If I need a specific item or service, I can simply pull out my phone, tablet, or laptop, and get it right then and there. But my online purchases aren’t as personal as traditional shopping; I can’t physically hold or experience what I’m purchasing right away. And that’s where customer reviews and testimonials come in.

I’m not interested in what your company claims your product can do for me, especially if it seems unreal. I’m mostly interested in past customers’ experiences. Through my experience, I can say that three things are essential for remaining relevant in the age of the consumer: providing customers with what they want, when they want it, ensuring that their opinions are validated, and providing transparency and honesty in advertising.

When people get what they want, when they want it, your company seems reliable. That much ought to be clear. It’s important to add that when customers have their opinions validated, it makes your company seem more genuine. Companies that win provide digital interfaces that consumers can use to locate, research, and utilize your service, and seek out individual testimonials.

The “want it now, get it now” mentality was born when the millennial generation came of age—when Google and Amazon were at our fingertips at all times. With that ability, consumers were given the opportunity to give their own opinions for specific products. As the pioneers of customer testimonials, they gave themselves the ability to be fully transparent to the consumer. This is a lesson does not only apply to B2C brands, but also B2B businesses. Even if you don’t have a review system like Amazon, an online forum can still be very valuable. Past studies have shown that as many as 72% of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Customers today are also more suspicious and discerning of advertisements. Long gone are the days when companies could make wild insinuations about their products, such as old ads that argued cigarettes were good for your health. Customers aren’t laughing anymore when companies joke about their products’ blatantly facetious benefits, just like when Red Bull was sued for claiming their drink "gives you wings." Customers respond best when online advertisements are quick, clever, and most importantly, transparent.

In order to make customers happy in today’s world, companies need to have a strong digital presence that facilitates fast reactions and interactions. Customers like to be entertained but, with their shrinking attention spans and more skeptical perspectives, they also want to feel like the whole truth is being presented to them, quickly. They want information at their fingertips, so companies need to be upfront with their own motives while also providing outsider perspectives via testimonials so that customers can make educated decisions when shopping online.

Customers respond to transparency, so make your digital platform as clear as glass. Your customers will appreciate it.


photo credit: Bradphoria via photopin cc

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