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Gender impression and how it can impact careers

Jan. 29, 2020
Erin Hallstrom, leader of Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing program, talks gender diversity and inclusion with Charli Matthews and Cieana Detloff of Empowering Women in Industry.

Erin Hallstrom, leader of Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing program, talks gender diversity and inclusion with Charli Matthews and Cieana Detloff of Empowering Women in Industry.


Amanda Del Buono: Thanks for tuning into the second season of Putman Media’s Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce.

Just a few quick announcements before we begin. Smart Industry Base Camp registration is now open! Visit event.smartindustry.com to view the agenda, new speaker announcements and register for the only event designed to deliver a step-by-step action plan for your organization's digital transformation. Smart Industry Base Camp will be held in Rosemont, Illinois, March 30-April 1, don’t miss it. That website again is event.smartindustry.com.

Finally, we wanted to remind everyone to get those nominations submitted for the 2020 class of Influential Women in Manufacturing! You’ll be hearing some more from IWIM in this episode, so take a few minutes to drop by influentialwomeninmanufacturing.com and nominate one of your female colleagues who has made an impact.

As I just hinted at, Erin Hallstrom, leader of Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing program, who you heard from last pod, talks gender diversity and inclusion with Charli Matthews and Cieana Detloff of Empowering Women in Industry.

Here’s their discussion. 

Erin Hallstrom: Hey there, everyone. I hope you’re having a great day, and that you’ve been enjoying the Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce podcast series so far. We just kicked off season two with our episode about the Influential Women in Manufacturing’s Career Development & Gender Diversity survey and special report. From our team to yours, we’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed listening and reading about the issues today’s manufacturers are experiencing with career development.

We’re continuing with the thread on career development and gender diversity on today’s episode as well. With me today are Charli Matthews, founder and CEO of Empowering Women in Industry, and Cieana Detloff, conference co-organizer with Empowering Women in Industry. For those who may not be familiar with this great group, Empowering Women in Industry is a great group that builds communities and events that connect, educate and empower women. I was at their conference this last fall and it was absolutely wonderful. 

On today’s episode, we’re going to dig a little deeper into a topic we talked about in the first episode, and that topic is gender impression and how it impacts our careers. Charli, Cieana, welcome. 

Charli Matthews: Thank you so much for having us. 

Cieana Detloff: Yeah, we’re excited to be here. 

EH: Like I was saying in the intro, I absolutely loved the event. I think I’ve spoken about everything I learned throughout the event - it was in September, and I’ve probably spoken about it and referred to it so more times than I even can count anymore, so definitely for all of our listeners if you haven’t heard of Empowering Women in Industry, definitely check them out. Our show notes will have a URL and more information. 

CM: Thank you so much. 

EH: And thank you for taking the time today. 

I know one of the things that came up during the conference and the content that you ladies cover in Empowering Women in Industry is along the same lines as what we do with IWIM. So, one of the anecdotal responses we received with our gender diversity survey spoke to how often women feel they need to prove themselves, or that their expertise is called into question more often than their male counterparts. 

My first question to both of you is have you experienced this yourself in your career, and a follow up if you want to answer is why do you think women feel this struggle? 

CM: Well, I did find that very fascinating in the survey that you did. It seems to be that women are the ones that are trying to prove themselves. There were very little, as far as percentage, for men who say that, and it made me think are we really trying to prove ourselves or is it that we’re seeking something else? And what I think is that we’re looking for that approval. 

You asked did I experience that in my career? Looking at it, I never thought I have to prove myself. I just tried to work until I got that approval or respect that I wanted. And so, I think a lot of it is that perception that we need to please and we need to have someone’s approval therefore to be worthy or that our work is valid. 

CD: Right, and kind of piggy backing off of what Charli said, I found it interesting that the IWIM report mentioned that leadership tracks are really for hand-selected people, and most of them are men. So, I feel like that short of subconsciously pushes women to feel like they have to prove ourselves worthy to be seen as potential leaders in our companies so that we then get selected to be trained to come up through our organizations. So, I think that’s one of the reasons that has motivated Charli to found this initiative for Empowering Women in Industry, especially with the content where we can work together to show, how do we acknowledge our own skills, and how do we communicate that value to the members in our organizations that can help support and advocate for us? 

So, I would say that some level of feeling that we have to prove ourselves is probably healthy, but not at the expense of demeaning or belittling ourselves. I think it’s really important that we try to find healthy motivations as we move through our careers. 

CM: Yeah, I’ll just say one more thing about that. The work that you do, it speaks for itself, so we don’t necessarily have to prove it, we just have to do the work.

The other thing that this made me think about was asking permission. You feel like part of that approval is are we doing something right? That we need permission to excel. Even in some of my writings I’ve found, am I still asking for permission here? And when you know that you’re doing the right work, I think you can be proud of that and you’re not seeking that approval or to prove to move forward. But I know that there’s also the element of people trying to voice that they don’t have to review their work. 

So, a lot of the times we get a call and someone is presenting an idea, but then they say “Well, let me ask your manager or someone else to verify what you’ve said.” So, I know that that happens, and maybe that’s the mindset of proving, but I think if we just know that our work is correct and valid then that kind of goes away. 

EH: Right. When I earlier had said that I refer back to the conference, this particular anecdotal evidence, when this came across in the survey, I mentioned, I recalled that one of the speakers, and unfortunately, I’m blanking on her name, worked in the heavy equipment, construction and had to be able to maneuver the equipment and she was the only woman in a group of men and she in her presentation had mentioned that there was kind of that feeling that everyone thought she was going to kind of pony up to the piece of equipment, the machinery and knock it over, like so many people before her had, and she just did the hair-pin turns quickly, tightly and succinctly because she had a lifetime background in her family and she knew what she was doing. 

So, in seeing this particular response in our survey, it made me think of that. She had :spoke in her presentation about the jostles and people waiting for her to go up, like ‘yeah, she’s going to be able to do it.’ 

CM: I think we need to show them. So, not necessarily prove to them, but we just need to show them. So, specifically, that reminded me of Gina Simpson, who was at our conference and gave an example of that, and just said “okay, let me just show these guys that I know how to run this equipment.” And I think that just that one change of word really tells the story of okay, we can do this. I don’t have to prove it to you for my worth, but I’ll show you I can do it, and therefore you can count on me.

EH: Right, and I think that is such a great point on the showing and not proving, and I applaud I think that’s great, and I think that’s something all of us can tuck away and remember that I need to show not prove. So, thank you Charli. 

CM: It just came to me. 

EH: So, something along the lines of the proving, and I think that seeking approval, so along the lines that we’ve seen or talked about a lot more is the likeability factor. Specifically, if a leader comes across as friendly or likable. Unfortunately, it also seems to come into question with women more than anything. I can think of numerous CEOs that have been called out that she wasn’t very likable, she wasn’t very sweet. 

So, my question to both of you are what is your opinion on this likability factor and do you feel that there’s merit to it? And why do you think this likability is such a big deal when it comes to women and women leaders. 

CM: I love this question. For one, it’s real. I grew up in sales, and they teach you to be somebody that they know, like and trust. So, I don’t believe it’s just a women’s issue. I believe it’s something people struggle with and especially people who are in leadership and trying to make a difference. So, I think that you do have to be liked, I don’t think that you need to have your value and believing whether you’re doing a good job or not tied to whether you’re liked. But, I think you have to know that you are being judged, you are being challenged in a way that people are going to want to work with you versus they think you’re sweet or not, but are you doing a good job at what you do? Are you reasonable to work with? So, that likability and defining that for ourselves I think is very important, but I definitely think it’s a challenge for both men and women. If they want to be successful, they do have to be liked, but I would say that women grow up and our society tells us to please people, so it’s a little bit harder for us to understand what that means as we grow. 

I would also say that I’ve found that men are very competitive with each other in nature, women are, too, we’ll get to that I’m sure, but it’s not that we want to be liked by others in this male industry that I’ve found. It’s more like, okay this person knows what they’re doing, and therefore I like them. So, I think we just need to redefine what likeability means for women in the industry, and say, okay, is she good to work with? Is she getting results? Therefore I like her. Not, is she pretty and sweet? And therefore I like her.  

CD: Yeah, that’s excellent, Charli, and I’d like to add to that that if you’re going to define the factors that make someone likeable, let’s then make the equitable from women to men. So, let’s start evaluating managers and leaders of all gender identities according to the same standards. Right? So, if you’re going to talk about likeability factor with a male leader versus a female leader, shouldn’t we be measuring them to the same standard? So, I think creating that equitable factor is really important, and I think that’s going to come about as part of our culture shift. 

EH: Definitely. My next question ties in very neatly with that element and what we were just talking about. Something that our IWIM and Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce teams have noticed, and even in our own lives, has to do with how we’re perceived and categorized based on something seemingly silly, like hair color or hobby. For instance, I’ve worked with women who were thought of as dumb because of their blonde hair despite having MBAs. I know my red hair, I hear often that I must be wild, sassy and firey, just because of my hair. 

CM: Well, you are those things, Erin. 

EH: Erin, I am, but not because of my hair color. But the hobby one, I have a second degree black belt in karate, and I used to be introduced to a lot of people as, “don’t mess with this one, don’t make her mad, she’ll kick your butt.” Before I ever have the opportunity to meet someone, that was my introduction. So, my question is have you noticed this in your own experience where someone else has developed an idea about you before you’ve ever even opened your mouth, ever had the opportunity to speak to someone, and what did you do and how did you respond to these perceptions?

CM: Oh wow, which time? What do I talk about here? So, yes, we’re judged immediately when somebody sees us or hears about us whether we’re able to get to know that person before they’re able to make that judgement or not. There’s a great Ted Talk that I follow and one of the lines she said she lives by is “if they don’t like me, it’s because they don’t know me yet.” And I try to go by that and really think “Okay, these people don’t really know me, maybe they just see a silly girl,” and try to go back to showing them what you know. I feel like, I don’t want us to say you have to dress a certain way or act a certain way or have the right hair color to be successful. What I want us to know is that walking into a meeting, you’re going to be judged immediately. So, you need to know what you’re walking in the meeting for and dress accordingly or present yourself, or make fun of yourself if it’s something that would be humorous, say you got into a fight and you’re in karate and you’re like start with the board and straight into the eye and you could relax people and make fun of that using humor to break that ice maybe. 

But the real thing is we have successful women everywhere of all different hobbies and colors and shapes, and we need to not try to become men or become someone else and what they want us to be, but to show them that we can be a successful woman in industry whatever we look like as long as we are doing the job. And really going back to the earlier question of “let me show my work,” and let’s write down our work, ladies. And then also, let that be what drives you and what motivates you each day, not whether they said something about your hair or introduced you the wrong way or you wanted to wear a dress and not a suit, just know that’s who you are.  

CD: And in my experience, I’ve had to sort of decide who do I really want to spend my energy on to really reach out to make that connection and reframe their understanding of who I am and what I do, because I have had that experience where I needed to have a face-to-face and really get to know someone because they did have a perception about me and without really knowing me. And I was so happy to be able to turn that relationship around. So, I think it’s important for us to know that we can put out effort to make a connection and go out of our way to help change that perception about ourselves, but that we don’t need to do that with everybody. There are some people that are just going to think certain things about you and if they don’t impact your world necessarily, maybe don’t spend the energy on it. So, I think that’s really important to kind of figure out what’s really important to you and who do you need to reach out to to rebuild that relationship with?

I think that, again, Charli often talked about showing your work. I think that one reason women have to feel like they’re proving themselves is because they’re showing their work, and they’re showing it again, and they’re showing it again, and it becomes this sort of period where women are like, “I’m worn out, I’m tired of constantly showing my work.” So, where’s the recognition? And that’s where I think that when we have senior leaders who are more committed to gender diversity, they’re going to do a better job of giving that acknowledgement and recognition and advocacy. And so, I think that when we have that recognition and acknowledgment, it helps lessen that feeling of needing to prove yourself. So, I understand that it’s still a struggle, and we are looking for ways, and that’s part of the reason why we’re building this community, why we have this community. Having this group of Empowering Women in Industry talking together, and I love that it’s cross-industry so that women can share our experiences and find out: How do I get that advocate? Or how do I find that woman in a leadership role that can help us build a circle within our own organization. I think that those are really important efforts and seeing what programs are working in some areas, industries or organizations and then being able to learn from it and adopt it and implement that internally within your own organization, I think that’s super powerful. 

EH: Right, and I love what you said about the energy expense of that constant pull or feeling of “Oh my gosh, I’ve shown this thing four different times. I can do this, but I’m worn out. I’m mentally and physically worn out of doing this, and how much hand waving, or symbolic hand and arm waving, do I have to do to show I know what I’m doing before I’m just going to potentially put my arms down because I’m tired.” And I think what you’re saying and speaking to with the advocacy is so important, because all it takes is that one person, that one advocate, that one leader to be like “yes, I see you waving your arm, let’s bring you up on stage. I see you.”  I think a lot of it is being seen, and knowing that someone’s paying attention. You’ve shown, you’ve been paid attention to, and the energy suddenly goes from “oh my gosh, I don’t want to expend this energy anymore” to “oh yeah, it was worth it.” 

CM: I wanted to add one thing there, Erin. It made me think of Renee Brown’s book and interview where she talks about where we get to pick the feedback that we get. We get to pick how much credit is given by that person. So, for example, we get to pick which critic is valuable, and so, we don’t want to have everyone giving us that feedback. We want to make sure the people’s feedback that we get are from people we value their opinions of us and know that they  know who we are, they know what we’re trying to accomplish, and so that energy and struggle and validation is from a place of caring and someone who wants what’s best for you and I think that that is very important too, to know that we’re not always going to get 100, we’re not always going to win, but the feedback we get from people to improve should be from the right people.

EH: Right, so important. 

There were a couple of talking points that came up during the conference in September and also during our IWIM award event in October, that were really important about advocacy and inclusion. Kind of dovetailing on what we were talking about with advocacy. 

So, not only is advocacy for yourself important, but also advocating for those who may not fit a perfect mold. Maybe the person who hasn’t traditionally been seen or considered for a role let’s say. Can you speak to why it’s important to advocate for those who can’t always advocate for themselves?

CM: Well, I think that there’s two things: some that can’t advocate for themselves, they don’t have a platform or a voice, and so we need to do that for them; also, there’s the people that don’t want to be the advocate for themselves, that find it uncomfortable, don’t understand why they need to promote and advocate for themselves. And so, I think for me, I really love doing that, where you have these people who work so hard behind the scenes that don’t really want to take that risk to be out in the public or public-facing, or they’re just too busy doing their work all day and that’s all they have left at the end of the day is the work that they did.

So, I think it’s important to recognize people who are doing the work behind the scenes. I also think that it’s important to recognize the people who are in the spotlight who are doing the work, and say, “way to go, good job. Have you seen what this person is doing?” Because I think that people forget that their job is so important to our everyday lives, especially in industry and manufacturing. We couldn’t live every day the comforts that we live without these people and they are happy doing the work and the job, and the people who have different audiences and can really reach the masses need to explain that and really need to show how important their work is so that we can keep them there, so we can grow our industries, so that they get the resources that they need to improve their work-life balance, for example. 

And so, I think it is important to identify those people, there’s different categories of people, I always love to use the example of an engineer, because in my life, walking up to an engineer who wouldn’t talk to me, and then I ask them about their product that they’re working on, and then they come to life and they can share so many details about it, but they’re just not comfortable sharing the personal details about themselves. So, I dig deeper and say, “tell me why you wanted to be an engineer.” And so, those types of things I love to do because they are fascinating people and fascinating work that they’re doing. Same for the factory workers that are behind the scenes. Once you get them to tell you about their day, the things that drive them, that help them keep their passion every day, that’s worth sharing with everybody. And that, I think, is our role as media and marketing people, to get out that message of how amazing it is to have so many people, not like you necessarily, working on your behalf. 

EH: Right. 

CD: And one thing I want to add, and this is sort of a seperate thought, but it’s sort of a challenging topic, too, that I have not quite yet wrapped my brain around, but it would be good for organizations to move barriers to advocacy. For example, let’s say there is someone who works at a company and they want to bring up an issue, but maybe the offending party is the leader or the boss. How do you then challenge a viewpoint from a person who your financially beholden to, from the person signing your paycheck? I think that it’s kind of an interesting challenge in industry, and I don’t know how we should deal with that, but to take an internal look and look at how are we implementing policies and programs in our organization that make advocating employee-to-employee, department-to-department collaboration? How are we opening that up internally to make this a good environment where we can address issues and create policies that work for everybody and have a thriving workforce? 

I think those are really interesting issues to explore, and am looking forward to talking with the IWIM community, the Empowering Women in Industry community and having that free-flow conversation of ideas. 

EH: Yeah, definitely, and I love what you said about removing the barriers. I think that is so important, because sometimes you want to bring up a topic and, well this person outranks me, but this is a big issue to me. How do I bring it up? I think it’s important for companies, no matter what industry they’re in, to be cognizant of that safe area to be able to say something and not feel like they’re going to be like, “hey, sorry you’re fired, because you brought this up.”

CM: Or I disagree with you, so therefore, you’re fired. 

EH: Exactly. And I know because the topic of the Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce podcast is really looking at the younger generation as well. So, we spent a lot of time today talking about women and gender, but something to keep in mind, too, is we have this younger generation coming in, kind of speaking for advocating for people who may not be able to advocate for themselves, it’s looking at a high school graduate who is really good at a technology, but maybe doesn’t have the college degree yet, kind of advocating for the role, they’re great at technology, they’re great for the team, can we give that person a chance?

CM: Yeah, I think that that’s a great point, and that goes to communication and letting people have a voice at the table. So, they may be there or be trying to get there, but once they’re there, we have to, no matter what their background is, listen to them and really value their opinions. 

One of the really great things about the conference that we had and continue to see in the Empowering Women in Industry is that it’s very diverse in age, across the board in industry and race. And so, I just think that really opening up to see someone else’s point of view is the most important part about that, and then we can always advocate for that person in the room, if they’re trying to say something and they’re unclear or look unclear to ask them later what did they think about that? And relay that message. Maybe they’re needing something different, and just be there for them as their voice. 

CD: Yeah, that reminds me, Charli, I remember toward the end of one of the mentoring breakout sessions at the conference last year, there was a woman in the group that stated that her new goal for the coming year, because she attended this breakout session, was that she was going to mentor someone who did not look like her, and that just gave me goosebumps when it happened. That’s just so awesome. 

Erin, were you in that breakout? 

EH: I was, I was in that breakout and I remember that. I thought it was great, I applauded, well quietly applauded because she was still speaking, but I thought that was great. I thought that was absolutely great, and I loved it. 

CM: It’s also not easy to do. Right, so advocating, looking for people who aren't like you and learning from them, it’s not easy, it has to be very deliberate and we have to know why we’re doing it, and really just focus there and that it’s worth it. And I think that it’s worth the hard work it takes to reach out and find people that are willing to share with you in that journey, which is the work life. 

EH: Ending on a note for the end of today’s podcast episode, the topic of listening and communicating, and I mean not just in the workplace, it’s fundamental in life. Listen to people, communicate and not just presume. Actively listen to people when they’re talking. I think darn near everything we talked about today boils down to don’t make assumptions about people based on, well even though yes, we’re going to judge people whether we think we want to or not we’re going to, we need to show, not necessarily prove, that we all, all of us, fundamentally need to listen when others are talking and be able to communicate effectively within our companies, have our companies with us. I think those two things are just so important.

So, before we sign off for the day, is there anything else Charli or Cieana that you would like to add? 

CM: Well, I just was going to say that if anything in your daily life makes you feel like that fight or flight, like you need to respond to something that is hurting you or is not fair for you, just take a moment and see, okay, how can I add value to this situation? How can I help that person? Versus they may not be giving me the things I need. And if we go into each day trying to help others, we’ll see that our life is actually more valuable and fun and entertaining than if we focus on the negative things that we are experiencing.

CD: I second what Charli said. I think that having that, Charli comes from a place of humility when she’s communicating, she listens for, yes, I hear what they’re saying, but what do they mean? What are they really saying? And I think a lot of times, people speak but don’t effectively communicate their needs. Right? And that’s a skill that we all have to build in our lives.

My first experiencing with active listening actually came from my twin sister, who I’m 10 minutes older, but I’m still the older sister. She stopped me a decade ago and said, “You’re not listening,” and really I started then to work on my active listening skills and learn that when someone is talking to me, they might be communicating a need, and how do I help them? And so it’s really great to be working with Charli, who understands active listening and effective communication when she realizes here’s a need to fill and there’s a collaboration that can happen where everyone can benefit. So, even if you’re in a negative experience, if you can be calm and humble, and come at it from a place of how do we take this negative and turn it into a positive? I think that it has such an impact.

CM: Well, thank you Cieana. I think I’m still learning a lot of that that you’re saying, but I’m working on it. 

CD: It’s a lifetime of skill building. I’m still working on it. I actually with my husband, when he says things to me, I repeat it back. I say, “so, you’re saying, this?” because I often have to make sure that what he’s saying and what I’m interpreting are really the same thing. So, I think that having the patience to do that is just a skill that we constantly have to build and keep going, and I think that effective communication is at the heart of everything. 

CM: Absolutely. 

EH: Absolutely. I completely agree. 

Well, ladies, thank you so much. I know we all have crazy busy days, so I from the bottom of my heart, appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today, and like I mentioned before, we’ll be dropping the URL for Empowering Women in Industry into the show notes. So, anyone who wants to check it out or hear more about what we were talking about earlier, about the 2019 event and then their upcoming 2020 event in New Orleans can learn more. 

So, thank you everyone. Thank you Charli, thank you Cieana. And everyone, have a great day. 

CM: Thank you, Erin. 

CD:  Thank you, Erin. 

AD: And that was Erin’s interview with Charli and Cieana of Empowering Women in Industry. To learn more, visit EmpoweringWomenInIndustry.com. 

As always, thanks for listening and be sure to tune in in two weeks. Have a great rest of your day.

For more, tune into the Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast.

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