National Press Club

Closing workplace gender gap: insights, solutions offered at NPC Book Event

March 2, 2018 | By Louise D. Walsh |

Joanne Lipman (right) at a National Press Club Headliner’s Book Event on March 1 speaks about her book on gender bias. With her is Club President Andrea Edney.

Joanne Lipman (right) at a National Press Club Headliner’s Book Event on March 1 speaks about her book on gender bias. With her is Club President Andrea Edney.

Photo/Image: J. Craig Shearman

Veteran journalist Joanne Lipman told a National Press Club Headliner’s Book Event Thursday that her latest book, That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together, came from years of conversations with women who feel “marginalized, overlooked, interrupted and not heard until their point was repeated by a guy.”

Although it’s great that women tell each other about workplace problems with men, Lipman told her audience that “it’s just half a conversation.” The unfortunate side effects, she added, are that men don’t know what women face, fear saying something wrong, and wind up demonized.

Introduced by Club President Andrea Edney, who facilitated the event, Lipman said her book, released two weeks ago, took three years to write and has found a large millennial readership, both male and female. According to Lipman, “millennials are the most equality-minded generation in our history.”

Asked to expand on ‘unconscious bias’ at work, Lipman noted its origins in infancy. For example, studies show that mothers overestimate how soon their sons are able to crawl but not their daughters. She cited research on first grade girls who outscored boys in their class when Math tests were graded without names. But with names, boys outscored girls. In a study where first graders set their pay in Hershey’s kisses, boys paid themselves more than girls did. “At every age group, you find bias,” said Lipman. “Everybody has it. It’s hidden so deeply.”

She took a workplace bias test herself and found some, despite years hiring, promoting and raising women’s pay as a media manager. “By the time you get to the workplace, all of this [bias] is baked into us.” Lipman was the first female deputy managing editor at The Wall Street Journal and supervised coverage that won three Pulitzer Prizes. She filled other leadership roles in media, serving as chief content officer at Gannett and editor-in-chief of USA Today.

To prepare for her book, she criss-crossed the country seeking men in leadership and their strategies for closing the gender gap. One executive producer of a hit television series saw his male writers invariably interrupt his female writers. So he made a rule barring interruptions while writers made their pitches. He got better ideas and better scripts as a result. Kimberly-Clark, another example, revised its executive compensation plan to include not just a bonus for diverse hiring but bonuses for promoting and retention of those employees. Other leaders saw they had to diversify their teams who made diverse hires.

Another strategy for getting more women heard in meetings is called amplification. It works like this, she explained: When one woman speaks another woman repeats what the first woman said, so it’s harder to shut down or appropriate her idea.

Research is conclusive, Lipman said. More women in an organization lead to more creative and better decisions. However, the CEO and CFO must own the move toward closing the gender gap. Her book suggests that many leaders here and abroad do just that, and others are warming up in the wings of this historic moment.