Joanne Lipman ’83 on Women’s Issues in the Workplace

Last week, my husband and I sat around a conference table, discussing our financial portfolio with a new advisor.  As he started counseling us, he kept looking across at my husband, rarely meeting my eyes, and even when I directed a question to him, he answered Rob instead.  I was sizzling, and later mentioned this to his supervisor.

It is this behavior, likely unintentional - I’m sure the guy didn’t want to alienate clients--that Joanne Lipman ’83, Chief Content Officer of Gannett, and Editor-in-Chief of USA TODAY and the USA TODAY Network, responds to in her forthcoming book, Women, Men and Work, to be published in early 2018 by William Morrow.

Lipman would contend that my advisor, and many men with whom she has come in contact in her 40-year journalism career are “clueless, well-meaning guys, blind to a lot of issues women face every day at work.” The book, based on her viral Wall Street Journal piece “Women at Work: A Guide for Men,” argues that while women complain to each other about workplace issues, this represents only half of the conversation.  Men need to participate as well.

The misogyny I describe and that Lipman has seen is not “the old kind”; it’s not older Yale alumni who didn’t think women belonged at the institution. Instead, it’s perpetrated by men who think of themselves as equitable, and would be horrified to be considered sexist. Lipman argues that by making these men aware of their behavior, as she does in her book, it will change.

For example, take a meeting where a woman makes a great point: Unless she talks in the emphatic way that men are prone to do, her comment is often left hanging, until a guy repeats it, getting credit for the idea.  Lipman tells of one man she interviewed, made aware of this behavior, who now says something like, “Susan, you made the point originally.  Why don’t you elaborate?”

Women can help themselves as well, Lipman says. “Brag buddies” are a group of women who get together and consciously back each other up at meetings by repeating an ignored comment.  Or, they talk up female colleagues to a boss, since women are less likely than men to push their achievements.

Lipman admits women can unwittingly harbor the same biases as men: “We make an assumption that there are in-groups and outgroups, and that the in-groups are male, who are automatically accorded higher status.” She tells of an interview she arranged with two executives, whom she was now meeting for the first time. A man and a woman, the same age, crossed the room to introduce themselves, and Lipman said that she started to take the man’s hand first, assuming he was the senior, before checking herself. 

What would Lipman say specifically to Yale women alums? Lipman has spoken to many young women from prestigious colleges and universities where they were leaders.  She says they’ve always felt on an equal footing with men, but were surprised when they hit the post-university world.  She tells of one woman, a Harvard Business School grad running her own hedge fund, who was shocked to find herself cut off by men in conversation. Lipman advises younger women not to assume that “everything’s fixed now” or to become complacent.

- Elisa Spungen Bildner, ’75


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