Business 08 October 2018
It was announced yesterday, that in the wake of Starbucks’ Vice Chair Howard Schultz’s departure, the revered company executive Mellody Hobson will be taking his place.
Hobson, who boasts an impressive resume as a previous board member at Estée Lauder, DreamWorks Animation and Groupon, is the latest in a string of strategic post-crisis executive appointments that have caught the attention of true diversity advocates.
While the most recent HR move can, one side, be viewed as a natural promotion for a woman who has her fair share of experience and genuinely deserves it, it can also be looked at as a reaction to what Starbucks has been through in recent weeks. With the entire company taking four hours out of its workday last Tuesday to conduct racial bias training following a racially divisive scandal that caught the nation’s attention, it’s clear that they are under the “wokeness” microscope, and feel compelled to make it publically known, ever so slyly, that steps in the right direction are being made.
“I think Starbucks is sending a strong message in doing this,” Jeff Dickerson, a crisis communications adviser in Atlanta, told the Washington Post. “They’re bucking the trend, because ordinarily when large companies find themselves in this situation, they have counsel who will advise them against" admitting they'd done anything wrong.”
Without wanting to diminish the achievements of this incredibly qualified boss woman, is it perhaps, a little convenient that this appointment was made so close to the disaster that occurred not so long ago? Is this perhaps the most beautifully packaged PR stunt Starbucks has executed, superseding even that of the Unicorn Frappuccino?
Does this harken back to Uber’s genius move to appoint fan favorite Bozoma Saint John to her position as Chief Brand Officer in the wake of Travis Kalanick’s disastrous fall from grace? Is there a semblance of a pattern here?
And while sure, the end justifies the means [meaning we are always happy to see more female representation no matter the reason], wouldn't it be better practice to have women, and diversity as an integral part of the growth of the company from the get-go? Rather than this be a reactionary occurrence when a company is in panic mode, or when facing a crisis that begs a cataclysmic change of company culture, would it not be better to begin developing programs that aid those at a disadvantage entering the workplace?
Talking to Fortune last year, Ursula Burns, the first African-American woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company in Xerox, noted that the reason there are so few women of color at the top of the totem pole is because of the schooling in the country. “Not enough are coming out of the education system to get them all the way through to the C-suite,” she said. And while that might be true, the institutionalized bias against women in the workplace is another major contributing factor that goes almost unrecognized.
This self-serving, and somewhat predictable damage control move begs the question: Are these diverse women being promoted because of the mistakes of white men? And if so, why aren’t more companies proactively hiring or promoting diverse women in order to avoid these PR nightmares?
We recently explored the notion that women have been hired or promoted as CEOs of flailing companies, in order to become a scapegoat for a company’s failures. The “glass cliff,” the “glass ceiling’s” younger, more nefarious sibling, represents a situation whereby companies that are in trouble and looking for new leadership, turn to men first to help them out. But when these men, foreseeing a painful career catastrophe, turn them down, they then look to women, who invariably jump at the opportunity to breakthrough the proverbial glass ceiling, and take a job at the helm of a sinking ship.
“I think it’s good that she takes it [the job as CEO],” former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz told Freakonomics Radio. “I have no problem with that. But it’s not that all of a sudden the boards wake up and say, ‘Oh, there should be a female here.’ … It’s easier to hide behind: ‘Well, of course, that failed, because it was female.’”
So what do the glass ceiling women, like Bartz, and new hires, like Hobson and Saint John have in common? That they weren’t considered before there was a crisis.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.