“My hope is that we’re going to empower the people in the audience to be more creative and to be open to others whose voices are not always heard,” says Joanne Lipman, who will serve as one of the keynote speakers at PromaxBDA The Conference 2018 at the Midtown Hilton in New York on Wednesday, June 13.
Lipman, the author of That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know [and Women Need to Tell Them] About Working Together, was most recently chief content officer of Gannett. Lipman began her career as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, and quickly rose up the ranks.
Daily Brief contributor Kareem Taylor talked with Lipman about her upcoming conference appearance, the challenges affecting underrepresented voices and what we can do now to help ourselves and those around us.
DAILY BRIEF: When writing That’s What She Said, was there something that took you by surprise?
LIPMAN: There were so many things that took me by surprise. There were a number of things that I experienced in my own work life that I thought were very specific to me that, it turns out, happen to all women.
The fact that, for example, women are interrupted three times more frequently than men. Every woman has had this experience; where you’re in a meeting and you say something and it’s like no one heard it. And then a man repeats it two minutes later, and he gets the credit for it, everybody listens to him. And that has happened to me so many times, where I thought it was just me. But it turns out it’s pretty much 100 percent of women. If you are the minority in the room, you will very often face that scenario.
But the biggest surprise for me was how early the biases start. I went in with the assumption that it started in the workplace, but what I found is that you have to go back much further than the workplace, to childhood, to understand where these biases come from.
For example, I found a piece of research that said mothers routinely overestimate the crawling ability of their baby sons. But they underestimate the crawling ability of their baby daughters. And parents of two-year-olds who type into Google “is my child a genius?” they’re more than twice as likely to type that in about a boy two-year-old as opposed to a girl two-year-old. These things start early, unconscious biases, the biases that we have buried so deeply inside of us. Women have them, and men. They manifest themselves in these very subtle ways from birth.
What are the biggest changes impacting your work currently?
One of the points in That’s What She Said that has only come into much greater focus in the last few months is this idea of intersectionality. That if you’re under 30, you’re highly focused on this concept. And if you’re over 40, this is something new.
This is the idea that if you belong to more than one underrepresented group, you’re facing a double or triple bind and facing far more challenges. We know that women make 80 cents on a dollar. But if you really parse that, you’ll find that black women make just 63 cents on the dollar. And Latina women, only 54 cents on the dollar. There really is this inequity that multiplies if you belong to more than one underrepresented group.
I would add that in That’s What She Said, though the book is about women specifically, so much of the research that I cite has to do with any underrepresented group. I’ve been hearing from lots of readers including introverted men who say “I work in an organization full of alpha males, and I am the outlier, and everything you’re writing in the book applies to me as well.”
Your story is particularly inspiring in the way you rose through the ranks in journalism. What do you think the factors were that propelled your career?
I hate to say this because women often qualify our achievements by saying that we are lucky. But I was. And this is something I think all of us can emulate.
I had two kids and they were born within two years of each other. I had two babies at home when I was a young editor at the Wall Street Journal. I really would have mommy-tracked myself. I was simply not interested or ambitious about my career at that moment. My bosses, however, would not allow me to mommy-track myself. I was in an editing job that had a little bit of flexibility so I really loved that particular job.
But not long after I came back after my second maternity leave, my boss came and asked if I wanted another opportunity with a promotion. And I said ‘No.’ For most women with babies, you say ‘no’ and you are written off for good. That’s it for your career. My bosses said ‘okay’ and came back six or eight months later with another opportunity and I said no again. Finally, my son was in kindergarten, and they came to me and said would you like to invent an entirely new sports section of the Wall Street Journal. I was like ‘Hell yeah! I’d love to do that.’
That set me on a path that allowed me to do everything else I’ve ever done in my career. As I was writing That’s What She Said, I realized how unusual that is because most women would not have had multiple opportunities to say no and then still be given an opportunity when they’re ready to rev up again.
I have a chapter in the book called ‘Invisible Women,’ and it is about that topic. What we really need to do with women with young children is offer them opportunities, allow them to say no but don’t decide for them.
Too many organizations, a great opportunity comes up, there’s a discussion among the leadership. Someone in the meeting will say ‘Oh, Susan would be great for that.’ And somebody else will say ‘Oh, but she’s got little kids at home. She’s never going to want to move or travel.’ And they cross her off the list.
I say don’t decide for her. Continue to offer her opportunities. Women, when they’re ready to rev up again, we need to take advantage of that because if we do, they’re the greatest addition we can have in the workforce.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the people I meet every day. I have been on the road talking about That’s What She Said, and I have met men and women who are really committed to making a change to closing the gender gap. They’ll come up to me after a talk or a panel, and talk about some of the things that they have done. I’m very encouraged by that.
With all of the bad news that we’ve been hearing about sexual predators and the #MeToo movement, I think it’s healthy that we’re exposing that and really healthy that now these issues are on the table and that there’s an increasing realization that this is not a girls’ thing but this is an issue for all of us.
What do you hope the audience takes away from your talk at PromaxBDA The Conference 2018?
I love this audience, and I would hope that these people are going to bring away very concrete ideas that they can bring to the workplace that are going to allow them to succeed, and allow others in their organization to succeed. There very often are incredibly talented people who are in some underrepresented group whether we’re talking women, ethnic or racial minorities, LGBTQ, disabled. There are so many people in underrepresented groups who have so much to offer that is often overlooked. My hope that is we’re going to empower the people in the audience to be more creative and to be open others whose voices are not always heard.
Listen to more from Lipman at PromaxBDA The Conference 2018 June 11-14 in New York City at the Midtown Hilton.