When people talk about gender bias and sexism, what comes to mind?
Are you clear about when gender bias happens to you and around you? Or does it feel so common it’s hard to discern?
The mixed messages about how to respond to gender bias and sexism keep us flailing, even when there are efforts to make meaningful change.
We need to make these changes at all levels of leadership and as long the burden to make the changes continues to be on those who have been harmed, nothing will change.
When we gather collectively, we are a force. And yet, internalized misogyny gets in the way. Until we see how gender bias impacts us all, we will continue to turn on each other, whether directly or by supporting those with counter interests to our own.
Today’s guest offers us language and a framework to help address gender bias through tangible practices and language to help us understand the many nuances and complexities around identifying gender bias–in ourselves and others–and how we can make actionable change.
Amy Diehl, PhD, is an award-winning information technology leader, currently serving as Chief Information Officer at Wilson College in Pennsylvania and is a gender equity researcher and author of the new book Glass Walls: Shattering the Six Gender Bias Barriers Still Holding Women Back at Work. She has also written numerous scholarly journal articles and book chapters. Her writing has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Ms. Magazine. She is also a sought-after speaker, consultant, and lawsuit expert witness.
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Amy Diehl: These are not individual women’s problems. It is derived from the male norm system that we all work in. And so, the solutions then become -- not that we don't help each individual woman, but the solutions are larger in that we’ve got to fix the culture of the workplace so that women are valued and supported to the same extent that men are.
[Inspirational Intro Music]
Rebecca Ching: When people talk about gender bias and sexism, what comes to mind? Are you clear about when gender bias happens to you and around you, or does it feel so calm and it’s hard to discern? I hold many stories from women who’ve experienced everything from biases to blatant sexism and misogyny at work, at home, at school, at church, at the beach, at the store, gosh, everywhere. This may sound familiar to you, the cat calls, the degrading comments, the uninvited touches, the overtalking and mansplaining, the hostility, the passing over for promotions, lower pay, the different standards, the blame, the fear of backlash or making things worse, the violence.
I hear the fatigue fueled with the fed-up fire from so many of you. Many of the women I talk with struggle to even see the hostility they experience in the workplace and the spaces they do life in because it feels so dang normal. I also hear way too many stories of women turning on themselves and each other as a result of internalizing the many toxic messages about women and seeing how women are so poorly treated. The mixed messages about how to respond to gender bias and sexism keep us flailing, even when there are efforts to make meaningful change. We need to make these changes at all levels of leadership and as long as the burden to make the changes continues to be on those who’ve been harmed, nothing’s really gonna change. When we gather collectively, we are a force, and yet internalized gender bias and misogyny gets in the way.
Until we see how gender bias impacts us all, we’ll continue to turn on each other, whether directly or by supporting those with counter interests to our own.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with humans who navigate life’s challenges and lead in their own ways. Our goal is to learn how they address the burdens they carry, how they learn from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.
All genders carry the burdens of misogyny, sexism, and gender bias. Working on this interview, I’d done a lot of reflecting on my own professional experiences, and I keep coming back to some of my bosses and mentors in my life, most of these women in my early years who taught me how to protect myself in various settings. They would sit me down before internships or traveling to have some really cool professional experiences and how to dress, how to communicate, what dangers to look out for like not getting stuck in a room alone away from the door, or how to navigate creepy come ons and the intrusive comments about my body or looks and how to redirect these microaggressions in ways that just keep the peace.
In hindsight, it’s wild how I already knew so much of what my mentors shared with me was true and normal, which is weird to say. I mean, sure, we shared outrage and disgust at the state of affairs for women, even back in the day, but there was this understanding that these experiences simply were just the norm, and so, the need to protect and adapt was necessary.
Oof, gender bias, sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, these are all essential words to understand, and they seem to get thrown around often without the depth of understanding needed. And there are many scholars and activists that have cultivated deep bodies of work on these topics, which is worth going in and checking out. But for an overview for this conversation, I just want to note that gender bias is where favoritism and preferences are shown to one gender over others. Sexism is like a prejudice or stereotyping or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex. Misogyny is the deep dislike or even contempt (there’s that word, contempt) or angering prejudice against women. Patriarchy is a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from that power.
Now, none of us remain unscathed from these ideologies, and we, speaking to women here, perpetuate more harm to ourselves and others when we internalize these views. Our experiences in our families, society, places of work, faith communities, media of all kinds fuels our internalized gender stereotypes and inequalities. And when we internalize these biases, we often end up justifying and defending the exact gender inequalities that cause so much harm, which can feel disorienting and demoralizing. This psychological brainwashing does so much harm, and to cultivate the changes on how women are treated, we must first start by doing the inner work to uncover the burdens of sexism and gender biases in ourselves.
I love these words from Tiffany Bluhm. She’s the author of the book Prey Tell and a previous Unburdened Leader guest. She said, “If women are untrusting of themselves due to social and spiritual conditioning, then learning to trust your body, your instincts, your intellect, and your wisdom is a radical resistance in a world desperate to keep women in their ‘place.’” I really love that.
Today’s Unburdened Leader guest offers even more language and even a framework to help address gender bias through tangible practices and words to help us understand the many nuances and complexities around identifying gender bias in ourselves and others and how we can make actionable change.
Dr. Amy Diehl is an award-winning information technology leader, currently serving as Chief Information Officer at Wilson College in Pennsylvania and is a gender equity researcher and co-author of the new book Glass Walls: Shattering the Six Gender Bias Barriers Still Holding Women Back at Work. She’s also written numerous scholarly journal articles and book chapters. Her writing has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Ms. Magazine, and she is a sought-after speaker, consultant, and lawsuit expert witness.
Listen for Amy’s breakdown of the six glass walls of gender bias, and notice what comes up for you as she shares them. Pay attention to what Amy shared when I asked her to dive deeper into the glass wall of hostility and acquiescence. So these two of the six glass walls really stood out to me, and I really can't wait to hear what you think about them. And notice when Amy pushes back on the popular recommendations for women to lean in or just get more confidence. All right, y’all. Now please welcome Dr. Amy Diehl to The Unburdened Leader podcast!
Amy, thank you so much for joining me for this important conversation today.
Amy Diehl: Thank you for having me! I’m really excited for this conversation.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] It’s kind of becoming my trademark. I get so excited when I dive into a guest’s work and I can’t stop talking about it, and I’m really excited for listeners to know why they need to be excited about this important work.
So I want to start off just having you do some definitions. How do you define gender and gender bias?
Amy Diehl: Yeah, so I really appreciate this question. I appreciate the fact that it is a foundational question because it really is foundational to all of the work that I’ve been doing around women in the workplace. I want to start with gender.
So gender differs from sex. A lot of times people use these terms interchangeably. But they are different terms. So sex is defined biologically: male, female, intersex. It has a biological definition. But gender is socially constructed, and it’s in terms of how people identify. So a person may have a female sex but not identify as a women gender. The other aspect of gender is that it’s a spectrum. In fact, sex isn't binary either, but certainly gender is not binary. So often in my research I do talk about men and women, but I recognize that gender is not binary. It’s how a person chooses to identify.
And then we move onto gender bias, and when we talk about gender bias, what we’re often talking about here is a bias against women, at least that’s the definition that I use in my work. But the general definition that I’ve used for gender bias is barriers that arise from cultural beliefs about gender as well as workplace structures, practices, and patterns of interaction that favor men.
So what we see with gender bias is sometimes it’s subtle and it’s unconscious. Other times it’s very conscious and deliberate and overt. But in terms of my work with women in the workplace, that’s how I define it. The fact that it’s comprised of these barriers, that became the focus of my work and the focus of my new book Glass Walls: Shattering the Six Gender Bias Barriers Still Holding Women Back at Work, what we’re looking at is what are those barriers. What we try to do in the book is tease out, in a research-based way, all of the barriers that make up gender bias and all of the facets within those barriers that help people understand that gender bias isn't a big, nebulous concept. It’s actually a set of practices, patterns of behavior, of norms in the workplace, again, that inadvertently or advertently favor men over women and people of other genders.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, I really appreciate that, in your book, you make these glass walls (the six gender bias barriers) very tangible. I mean, I was reading this, and I just kept feeling in my body like, “Oh, oh yeah.” You did some qualitative and quantitative research, and some of these interviews I feel like I’ve lived some of that. I know so many of the people that I’ve worked with and that I know that almost it’s like there’s a little bit -- and we’ll get into this a little bit later, but they're like, “Eh, that’s just how it is.” And so, the fact that you made it so tangible and even actionable, whether it’s for allies, for those of us who identify as women and also leaders, it’s just really great.
I want you to go a little bit further, though, about how your book is different than maybe conventional wisdom on this topic.
Amy Diehl: Yeah, so my co-author and I, Dr. Leanne Dzubinski, we met at a conference in 2014, and she had done research on women based on profit organizations that she had done for her dissertation. I had dissertation research based on women and higher education.
The sets of research were very similar in that we were both looking at the challenges that these women were facing, and so, at this conference we started talking, and we realized that the barriers that the women were facing were very similar even though the industries were very different. Higher education is very different than faith-based religion, right? Often we think of higher education as more progressive and liberal, whereas religion is quite conservative.
So we thought, initially, well, probably these women are dealing with different things. But as we started talking, we realized, no, they were dealing with very similar things. We quickly came to the conclusion that it was not a factor of the woman’s industry or her particular workplace or the sector or even necessarily the country that she was working in. It was the fact of being a woman at work. And so, the work that we’ve done over the past nine years has been to flush that out. But what we did from that research is we published a qualitative journal article looking at the similarities and the differences between our two sets of research.
After that, we partnered with two quantitative researchers, Dr. Amber Stephenson and Dr. David Wong, to create a scale to measure gender bias. This is where I’m getting to the book. [Laughs] As part of scale development, we were able to tease out the six primary gender bias barriers, gender bias factors, and that’s research that, again, has been published in a journal.
And so, what Dr. Dzubinski (Leanne) and I did with those six barriers is we took them for the book, and we thought, “We can frame a book around this.” These are the primary six barriers, and then we did more qualitative research on top of that to flush out everything that falls underneath each of those primary six barriers. So this is a research-driven book. We did not just pull these six barriers out of our head or out of our favorite ones or out of the ones that we see most prevalently written about. We did this in a research-based way so that we’re looking at this whole concept of gender bias and how can we break it apart.
Way back when Leanne and I first published that first journal article, we had it broken down into 27 or 28 barriers. I knew they had to cluster into groups somehow. We just couldn't see it until we did the scale development. What we tried to do is be as comprehensive as we could about identifying the barriers, creating names for them (not all of them had names), and giving lots of good examples so that people, as they read it, can say, “Oh, this has happened to me. Maybe this hasn't happened to me yet. Maybe this happened to my colleague.” So that they can identify it when it does happen to them. Then once you can identify it, then you can take steps to move forward to do something about it, which we also talk about in the book.
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely, and I think it’s just really important to underscore what you've done with this research is this is something that happens to women. It’s not because women are the problem.
Amy Diehl: That’s right.
Rebecca Ching: So I think that’s just understanding this is just so hard for folks to really get out of, “I need to keep changing.” So I think that’s just really powerful. I’m wondering for you, just personally in your own personal and professional journey, you’re collecting the data, you're hearing these interviews, you're collating everything. What was going through your mind as you reviewed all of this, and it kept coming in? How is that impacting you personally and professionally?
Amy Diehl: When I did my dissertation, my dissertation was on how women in higher education leadership make meaning of adversity. I interviewed 26 women, presidents and vice presidents of colleges and universities, and often, most usually, people have a personal tie or a connection that they're doing, and I certainly did. I had been going through different bouts of adversity, and I was trying to make sense of it for myself. I had also recognized that I was experiencing adversity or barriers professionally, right? People were looking at me differently than they were looking at my male colleagues.
Stepping back, I worked in IT. IT is male dominated. So to learn how to lead, I was watching the men around me, and I would watch them be authoritative when a decision needed to be made, right? Anytime a man was authoritative and said, “We need to go in this direction,” my coworkers, the staff, they would follow along. It actually seemed to add to the respect that that male leader had, and I remember one time, one meeting where I did the exact same thing that I had seen my male boss do 100 times before, and that was we had this meeting, we had to make a decision, and we didn't come to a consensus, and I had seen him 100 times before, at the end of the meeting, at the end of the hour just say, “Okay, we’re just gonna go in this direction.” And nobody complained about that. They were all like, “Okay, that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Well, the first time I tried that, [Laughs] I got a lot of pushback, and my team was like, “What are you doing?” They really didn't feel like, I guess, that they had been heard. I don't know, but I had behaved in the way I’d seen the men behave, and I was getting a different result. And so, that started in my mind like, “What’s going on here?” Firstly, I took it personally, right?
Rebecca Ching: For sure.
Amy Diehl: But then part of doing this dissertation research, the other thing that I had thought before I’d went to talk to these women was I thought, “These women just be really, super, extraordinary women,” which, don't get me wrong, they were. But what I found was that in talking to the women about their adversity, they were just like me. Fundamentally, they were no different than me. So what was going through my mind as I’m collecting, not only that dissertation research with the interviews, but then all the other data that we've collected is it helped me make sense of everything that had happened, and not just that one example but other things that had happened to me in my professional career to that point.
Rebecca Ching: You lived it.
Amy Diehl: Yeah, I lived it. Yeah, and still today, obviously things happen, and I can say, “Well, I know what that is,” and I have got my own strategies for dealing with it.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Amy Diehl: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, it’s not just research you're disconnected from.
Amy Diehl: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: It’s research that you've lived, and it validates your own experience. Again, with some of the language you put together in your book, you identified some really important nuances of gender bias that either had not had names before, at least that I heard, or you kind of offered new labels of other aspects of gender bias. I want to name a few for you. I’d just love for you to walk me through your thought process and how we can make each of these more visible.
So let’s talk about role incredulity.
Amy Diehl: Incredulity.
Rebecca Ching: I was like, “Wait! I didn't say that right.” Role incredulity. Let’s talk about role incredulity. [Laughs]
Amy Diehl: So I’ll say it too, before I get into role incredulity, for all of these, if something had a name that we identified the name or the label that it already had. But as Leanne and I worked through the data, we would come up with, “Here’s the set of data. We know it all goes together, but there’s no name for it.” We looked in the literature, and there was just nothing. And so, we had to come up with terms for certain aspects, and role incredulity is one of them. That’s been one of the more interesting things to me about this research is being able to name things.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah!
Amy Diehl: That these terms come into our lexicon because nobody had done that before. So it’s kind of cool to be the first one to say, “This is what this is.”
Rebecca Ching: For sure.
Amy Diehl: So role incredulity is when you're a woman, and people assume that you are in a support role or a lower-level role than what you are actually in. And so, this often happens to women professionals like women physicians are often assumed to be nurses. Women lawyers are assumed to be court reporters or assistants. Women professors, the admin assistant role, sometimes even students.
Another example that one of the women physicians gave us (and this was actually a Twitter post), she posted about how she was attending a picnic that included not only the physicians but their partners.
And so, she attends with her male partner, and her male partner is assumed to be the physician, and she’s assumed to be the girlfriend or the wife, right? So it’s this idea that you have this role, but you're assumed to be the secretary or assumed to be the admin.
The problem with this is, not only the extra time that women have to spend to say, “No, I’m actually the director of XYZ department,” or whatever I am, it’s also the fact that their words in the workplace may not be taken as seriously because someone has perceived them to be in a lower-level role. So they lose some of the authority that’s invested in those positions.
Rebecca Ching: Talk to me about gender blindness.
Amy Diehl: Gender blindness was an interesting one, and this was an interesting one because of my dissertation research. I’d met several women who didn't believe in gender bias. They didn't believe in a gender gap. They didn't believe that there was any difference between men and women at work and how they were perceived. They sort of believed in the -- they didn't say it this way, but they believed in meritocracy, that two people being equal, no matter what gender they are, as long as they work hard, they will be able to advance equally. And so, gender bias is a lack of awareness that gender is an issue or an access of power at work.
These interviews that I did were about an hour long, and so, we had quite a bit of time to go into a few different things. But they would tell me -- one woman specifically, she was a president. She told me she didn't believe in a gender gap. Later in the interview, she starts talking about something that she referred to as oddities. She called this one an oddity. At her institution, somebody had donated a small airplane to the college.
Rebecca Ching: Okay.
Amy Diehl: And so, she had to go onto wherever the airfield was and the runway and do a photo opp, right? Well, for the photo opp, they wanted her to climb up on the plane, you know?
Well, nobody prepared her for the fact that she should wear pants and sneakers maybe. So she walks up to the plane, and she’s got on a dress and heels, her normal professional attire. She said to me, “These are just the oddities that happen that nobody thinks about.” Well, yeah, that’s an oddity, but it’s also a fact of people in a male-normed world or a male-normed role don't even think about that because the man who’s a president is not ever going to be wearing a dress with heels or expected to. But she didn't perceive it as anything related to gender, but it was kind of part of the larger male-normed workplace. And it was just an oversight. Nobody was trying to set her up like that to not be able to jump up on this plane, but it was one of the hidden aspects of a male-normed, gender-biased workplace.
Rebecca Ching: Walk me through diminishment.
Amy Diehl: Diminishment doesn't sound like it’s a new term. It certainly has been used. People have talked about diminishing, women being diminished and stuff, but we applied it as a term to the myriad of behaviors that happen to women, so it was things like when women are put down, when they're given pet names (called honey or sweetie or missy or kiddo - oh, awful), when they're belittled, when people make condescending remarks.
Another two new terms within diminishment that we coined were untitling and uncredentialing. And so, this happens to women who have a professional title. Like I have the title of doctor, or women that have titles like coach or maybe religious titles or even military titles. What we find is, so often, women are referred to by their first name in settings where their male counterpart is referred to by his title in these formal settings.
Rebecca Ching: Oh.
Amy Diehl: But anyway, that’s just a type of diminishment of women where they're not seen as warranting the title in those professional settings.
Rebecca Ching: It’s subtle. It’s insidious, right?
Amy Diehl: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: It feels natural. Yeah, that’s a really powerful one. I’ve seen that happen, had that happen, and even sometimes find myself kind of either checking it too. It’s really in the air we breathe for sure.
Talk to me about credibility deficits.
Amy Diehl: Yeah, credibility deficit. This is when women’s’ words or statements are just not believed.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Amy Diehl: And it’s not that, with women or men, nothing should be questioned, right? But often what we find is that women make a statement, and they’d ask, “Are you sure that’s right?” Or they would be sitting with a man beside them, and the person would turn to the man and ask for that man to second what they just said, right? Even though this woman was the expert on the particular topic, you know? And so, I say to that it’s not that you can't question what somebody says. But only question is you can back it up with a rationale. Not just saying, “Are you sure,” you know?
One of the examples in the book that I kind of laugh at (and I just had to include this one in the book because it made me laugh) was about the public sometimes not trusting women experts. And there was this woman, she was a space museum tour guide, right? She said male tourists would often question her, and they’d be like, “Sweetie, are you sure that’s right?” as she’s giving a tour. She said it became tempting for her to respond, “Yes, you idiot. I studied for months in order to make up lies about people who gave their lives for this nation.” [Laughs] I would have wanted to respond that same way too, you know, when being questioned over and over again whenever it’s your job. Your job is to communicate facts about the museum or the history of the museum or the history that the museum’s portraying, and you're just being questioned by the tourists who think that they maybe know more than you do or what, I don't know. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: You know, it’s interesting as I reflected on that one. I’ve pushed back or I’ve seen other people push back. There’s often this defensiveness of the folks who were partaking in credibility -- “Oh, it’s just their generation.” “Oh, they don't have exposure.” “Oh, that’s just their personal --.” We almost minimize that, so it’s just this almost like kind of suck it up. We make excuses versus, “You're right. We’ve got work to do,” and this is hard. It’s always kind of explaining away the offender.
Amy Diehl: That’s right. Oh, that’s right.
Rebecca Ching: And that too. This is one of the things I believe is really worth noting, too. You write about invisible contributions.
Amy Diehl: Invisible contributions happen when women’s’ work goes unseen and unrecognized. I’ll give you another story. I had this happen to me just recently. [Laughs]
So there was an article written by a media outlet. The outlet was discussing our recent Harvard Business Review article written by myself and my two co-authors, Leanna Dzubinski and Amber Stephenson. The outlet, in their article, referred to us as the researchers. Our names were not anywhere, even though we had written this whole article, and this particular media outlet’s article was all about our article, all about our research. I wrote to the journalist, and I kindly asked this person to put our names into the article, and I didn't hear back. To make a long story short, I didn't get any response. This is what happens to women all of the time, right?
But again, it’s just how insidious this is. It’s baked into the culture where one of the examples in the book was where a woman’s research on -- I forget what the research topic was right now, but her research was discussed on a radio interview. But they called in two male historians to talk about her research and also didn't credit her.
This is a failure of the media outlets, and this stuff needs called out, but it’s definitely a larger phenomenon with women’s work not seeing as meriting credit. It happens all the time at work, and when it happens in the workplace, it can be hugely demoralizing, and it also means not only less credit for the work that you’ve done, but also less promotions, less ability to advance, because if you're not getting recognized for the work that you’ve done, then that can impact your long-term professional advancement in the workplace.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, I mean, the phenomenon extends to the work that women do outside of the workplace, too, that’s invisible and is just expected. There’s almost this intersection, I feel like, with gender blindness and invisible contributions, too, because of -- you know, we all think about, “Oh, yeah, this leader is still nursing,” or, “This leader --,” anything around their physicality or things that are connected to them having other roles, like possibly parenting, that they just don't think about too. Using a bathroom, the need for a bathroom, especially if they're cycling and different types of things. But these invisible contributions, if they do it at work, they're also not even aware of the body of work that so many are carrying at home too. So it’s just a multitude.
Leading is hard. Leading is also often controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, and your boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm. And when you start talking about gender biases and sexism, things will get stirred up. But I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions, but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and action.
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I want to shift to, I don't know if it’s my favorite chapter, but it’s the one that really hit me between the eyes. I know I was writing with you about this as I was prepping for our conversation, and I spoke to you before we started recording, and one of the gender barriers is what you title acquiescence. I feel like that is the last 20 years of my work. I mean, I feel like there’s so much that you, as I reflected on my own workplace experience and also my clinical and leadership work with so many people I talk to. So why don't you walk me through the gender barrier of acquiescence, and then I’d love to hear what are some of the work/life conflicts women face that lead to acquiescence.
Amy Diehl: Yeah, so acquiescence is the sixth, and what we say about it is that it’s likely the consequence of all the other five barriers that come before it, right?
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Amy Diehl: So acquiescence can seem like, “Oh, maybe we’re putting the blame on women, but we’re not here.
The first thing I want to state about this barrier, acquiescence and the sub-barriers that make up acquiescence seem like they're an individual woman’s problem, but they're not. They all derive from the larger male-normed workplace --
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Amy Diehl: -- that tries to put these expectations on individual women even though that’s not where they belong. So what happens with acquiescence is that women adapt to the limitations that they're experiencing in the workplace. And I’ll just start through the sub-barriers, and we’ll get a better understanding.
So the first sub-barrier of acquiescence is work/life conflict, which work/life conflict can be conceived as affecting all of us, anyone, no matter who you are. But we find that it has much more of a greater impact on women, and especially mothers, because things like work hour expectations, long hours that assume everyone has a partner at home to deal with the housework and the childcare.
Of course, motherhood. We always hear the term working mother, but we never hear the term working father. [Laughs] Of course, all mothers are working no matter where they're working. Talk about maternity leave demands that women return from a too-short leave. Even if they're lucky enough to work in an organization that offers paid leave. We tell stories of women that felt that they had to come back sooner because of the pressures of their jobs, sooner than what even they had paid leave for. Of course, there are too many women in The United States that still work in organizations that offer nothing.
And then the other thing we see in work/life conflict is often in a heterosexual relationship, the husband’s career takes priority. Sometimes that’s because the husband is earning more than the wife or woman, but also, there has been research that shows that even when women earn more and the couple has kids, the woman is still taking on more than the average share of housework. The research that this was derived from suggested it may be in part to help alleviate the husband’s psychological distress about not being the high earner or the breadwinner.
Then we’ll move onto other aspects of acquiescence. The next one is self-blame.
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Amy Diehl: That’s what happens when women blame themselves for systemic or organizational problems that are not their fault.
Rebecca Ching: Yep.
Amy Diehl: They're often actually encouraged to do so. There was a story that we told in the book of a woman who was told by her manager that she was too ambitious, and she was very ashamed. She heard this from her manager, and she was very ashamed. Oh, he also told her she should be more quiet. But later she learned that the manager said the same thing to every new female team member. It wasn't just her. So there are things like that also.
I tell the story of a woman that I had interviewed in my dissertation who had come into a new role as the VP of finance, and there was an audit that was done, and they had found errors that occurred before her. So they had preceded her. They weren't on her watch, right? But she was held accountable for them, and I interviewed her eight years after this terrible audit had taken place. She said that she still personalized what had happened there and she personalized, she took on the blame of what had happened to her, the people who worked under her. Even though the errors were not her fault, and even though what she was doing was trying to clean up the accounting practices and make everything right, she still took on the self-blame for that.
So after self-blame, the next one is self-silencing.
Rebecca Ching: Right.
Amy Diehl: Self-silencing happens when women keep silent on sexism or women’s’ rights. Often, we see women keeping silent on harassment that they experience, and it’s because they're trying to protect themselves. They fear the backlash. If they stand up for other women or if they stand up for what’s happened to them, they fear the backlash. There are still too many times whenever women are harassed, it’s the woman that’s put on leave and the harasser that’s still working, and it needs to be the reverse, right? So often, women self-silence, and it’s totally a self-protection mechanism.
Rebecca Ching: One hundred percent.
Amy Diehl: Yeah, and then the last part of acquiescence is self-limited aspirations. There are two types. One is what we call the psychological glass ceiling, and that’s when women internalize the message that they are not enough, and they believe that they're not capable of professional growth or professional advancement or whatever they would conceive of as their next step. The second aspect is something we call retreating, when women just retreat. In this instance, they know that they're capable, but they choose not to advance because they're burnt out from dealing with all the sexism, and also they see what happens to other women who do take on leadership, all that hassles that these women face that the men just don't face, and they decide they don't want it. It’s just not worth their time. It’s just not worth their energy. And so, they retreat. They decide to stay in the role that they have. Sometimes women decide to leave the company that they're in, maybe go work for themselves. They choose something that’s more affirming, that’s better for their own psychological mental health.
The thing I say about acquiescence, all of these, they're all rational choices. They're all very rational choices for the person who’s in that position.
Rebecca Ching: Mm-hmm.
Amy Diehl: You know, it’s not that they are like, oh -- you know, they could have this high position, but why wouldn't they want that? Well, it’s a rational choice. You want to protect your own health, protect your own happiness. And these are not individual women’s’ problems. It is derived from the male norm system that we all work in.
And so, the solutions then become, not that we don't help each individual woman, but the solutions are larger in that we’ve got to fix the culture of the workplace so that women are valued and supported to the same extent as men are.
Rebecca Ching: I want to just take a moment to unpack some of the self-blame, self-silencing, and self-limiting aspirations.
Amy Diehl: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, go ahead.
Rebecca Ching: Because I think with the self-blame piece, too, it is really hard for those that I’ve worked with, and even with myself for a while, to unhook from that. There’s almost this, “Are you sure?” They can get the theory, “Oh, yeah, this is a system. Oh, yeah, this isn't me.” But then, as someone who’s worked in trauma for 20 years, especially those, what we often call the inner critics, those parts of protecting that say, “You suck, it’s your fault, it's all you,” that are shame oriented, are born out of relational trauma and relational wounding. So we look at the statistics for women, too, around violence, around relational wounding, around betrayal. That piece is really hard to unhook from and take some time to unhook from. I just want to say. It’s like homeostasis is a beast, and it fights to the death to maintain status quo. The self-silencing, I’m with you. It’s just naming it, but you say there’s some great cost standing up for yourself. Your safety, your salary, your ability to stay housed and have healthcare, you address these in your book in a little bit more detail. But I feel like it’s really important, like, “Oh, no. I self-silence and I self-blame. Something’s wrong.” No. No, no, no. It’s more of how do I help shift how I see myself in this burdened world, and there’s such deep grief with self-silencing, Amy, that I’ve worked with folks saying, “I did the best I could. I still hate that that was my best with what I had at the time,” whether they were silenced at their job or didn't stand up for somebody else. And so, the echoes of that take some time.
And then the self-limiting aspirations, I can’t even tell you, in so many circles I’m in, ambitious for a woman is like a dirty word. Saying, “Oh, she’s so ambitious,” is not like, “Oh, that’s a great thing.” It’s like, “Oh, she’s so ambitious.” And so, there’s this sense of not wanting to lose our belonging and our community and it’s just brought up so many internal polarities of folks who are just like, “I’m so excited about this! But what are people gonna think?” Or the push back from other folks like, “You’ve got to pay your dues these ways.”
So I just wanted -- I mean, that’s such the tip of the iceberg on these, but I just am so grateful for you naming this and having this. Again, the validation of, “Okay, I’m in self-blame. How much do I want to continue? How do I befriend what’s going on within me, and then unburden that.” And also, then, you have more agency and freedom, I think, to push back on the systems and on your passions. So I just really loved how you laid that out. It really just was speaking to what I’ve experienced personally but also professionally.
Amy Diehl: Yeah, I appreciate that. It also goes to -- one of the points of the whole book is to help people not take personally any aspect of gender bias that happens to them. That was my initial thing that I did when I was young, and I didn't know what was happening. I thought I was at fault. So it’s helpful to have the names and also to know that it is a bigger phenomenon and even though it feels personal to you, it is not.
Rebecca Ching: Right.
Amy Diehl: And just knowing that can give women, I think, a lot more freedom to say, “Hey, it’s not me. It’s something bigger than me, and there are steps that we can take to address it,” but it’s not a personal failing.
Rebecca Ching: It’s tricky though because there’s a part of me, Amy, that says, “It is frickin’ personal!” You're attacking me, and then I’m turning on myself as a result to try and survive. So it’s almost like it’s not just because I -- I’m not the problem even though what can I do. I just think it’s a really big mind F to kind of, you know -- it’s a bit of an internal quagmire when someone’s person identity, their personhood, their dignity, there’s something about that, but to say it’s not all on me to be the solution is so hard to get to. But I think we just need to keep saying it.
Amy Diehl: That’s the whole trick of it, right? The people who are perpetuating this, they want it to feel personal to you. That’s why they go after --
Rebecca Ching: Oh, yeah, fair.
Amy Diehl: -- women’s’ aspect of their identity. They want it to feel that way. I think of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and how people go after her. Oh, my gosh, the hate that she gets. I don't know how she does it. But the people go after her personally, and the whole point of it is to make her an example to other women. To say, “Hey, if you're gonna be a representative, you want to be on the political stage, this is gonna happen to you too.” Even with these perpetrators not thinking about what they're doing, it is a larger phenomenon to keep women in their place.
Rebecca Ching: And it works because I have heard people say, “Oh, I could not do that because I don't want to go through that,” so the self-limiting aspirations, the self-silencing of --
Amy Diehl: Exactly.
Rebecca Ching: I mean, I think there’s just an appeasing, complicit, compliant piece that’s baked into all of this, too, as self-protection, too. What’s tricky is that mode of self-protection, it works but it eats away at us. And so, it’s like surface works, but there’s such a cost.
So what are the stakes for leaders and business owners to address acquiescence and, particularly, these work/life challenges (we’ll start there) that women face in a meaningful way?
Amy Diehl: Yeah, so in the book we put the onus on leaders to make culture change within their workplaces, to make sure that women are fully supported at work, that they're not just put in the token positions and then not supported in those positions, which is still happening far too often. Some of these, they're very, I think of them as easy solutions, [Laughs] that can be put into place. We’ll talk about work hours, expectations, and they're just assuming that everyone works long hours.
Well, from the top, put boundaries at the hours that people work and model that, you know? Let an eight hour day (or whatever your workday is) be that eight hour day, and don't put expectations on people to stay late for meetings, to have meetings in the evenings or on weekends, or even early mornings because people that have children have got school schedules or daycare schedules where it’s very, very tough for them to keep up with the man who’s in a role who has a wife at home taking care of all of the needs of the house and the needs of the kids, or even people who are more affluent. Maybe both partners work, but they’ve got money for domestic care and things like that where they can outsource it.
So that’s one thing. The other thing would be around the whole parental leave thing. Some states have programs. Most of the states don't. But if you're an organizational leader, that doesn't stop you from having a good parental leave program. I’ll say, too, the longer the better, in terms of the amount of time. Two weeks, four weeks, it isn't enough, you know?
Rebecca Ching: No.
Amy Diehl: But the more that you can do to have a paid parental leave program that covers both partners, no matter their gender, and allows them to take time with a new baby or a child who is sick, or even an elder. Elder care is a big thing, right? Again, it’s all about modeling the behavior, making sure that each and every person has got your full support so that they feel like if they’ve got an issue at home or something, that they're like, “This just isn't working for me,” they can come and talk about that and see change, rather than a strict structure that denies women the ability to fully contribute.
Rebecca Ching: I want to shift a little bit, too, because one of the things that I’ve noticed personally and also comes up a lot with the clients I work with, how it’s often women perpetuating the gender biases that you identify. It has its own special edge to it because it’s almost like this is not what I did, and this competition -- there are only so many seats at the table. No, you know, right?
Amy Diehl: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: I’d just love for you to speak to that and how women often perpetuate these gender biases against other women and why so many solutions are just like, “Just be more confident! Just lean in.”
Amy Diehl: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Instead of changing the culture.
Amy Diehl: Yeah, I love these questions. You know, the thing about whenever a man acts in a gender-biased way (he cuts us off or if he maybe blocks an opportunity or even harasses us), it may be surprising but it’s really surprising when it happens when it’s a woman that does it, right? We almost expect men to not treat us well, but we don't expect women to not treat us well. We expect women to stand up for us, right? It’s solidarity with our female counterparts, right?
It could be the same behavior coming from a man and a woman. It’s gonna feel worse when it comes from the woman.
Rebecca Ching: Totally.
Amy Diehl: Right? In the book, we talk about this in chapter five which is our chapter on hostility. We name it female hostility. It’s broken down into two primary components: queen-bee behaviors and mean-girl behaviors.
The difference between the two are queen bee behaviors are hostility that happens from women who have a higher level than you, women at the top, women who’ve made it. Whereas the mean girl thing is more peer or lower-level women being hostile to their counterparts. But they all stem from a similar place, and particularly the queen bee, it’s what you said. It’s this idea that they're given the idea that there are only so many seats for women at the top, and so, therefore, they’ve worked hard, they've earned their perch, right? And if another woman succeeds, that means that this woman believes that she’s gonna have to lose her hard-earned position.
Women are often encouraged to feel that way. It’s a reality, you know? You're in an environment where you’ve got this leadership team and you're the token woman, you know that, well, there's one spot for a woman, right?
Rebecca Ching: Right.
Amy Diehl: I don't want to excuse any bad behaviors from anyone, but I will say when it’s happening, women are perpetuating gender biases against other women. It’s a self-protection mechanism, and you really have to take that step to think about what has this woman experienced in her career, what is she experiencing currently in her current workplace, right, that is causing her to act that way. Again, I’m not excusing the behavior, but I am saying that it’s a result of trying to keep the patriarchy in place is the goal of all of those.
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely. I definitely had empathy and compassion because, again, my most challenging bosses and supervisors were female that perpetuated these things that you write about and you study. And they would probably still say, “That’s just the way it was,” and, “I had to.”
Amy Diehl: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: I get it in theory, and I’m like but we still have choices. And even if they're small, tiny ones, I feel like we may not be able to make second-order change in the systems we’re in, but some first order change where at least interactions with each other we don't have to -- because I just feel like, yeah, the women leaders become weaponized in this patriarchal, misogynist system, and it just reinforces that, especially the self-blame piece too.
Amy Diehl: Yep.
Rebecca Ching: And that is really hard to dig out in terms of how you see yourself and connect into your worthiness, your wellbeing. So I definitely can understand it. I have compassion, in a selfish way, for it. It’s like, okay, so I don't hate it, but it is something that I would love to see folks go, “Well, this is what I had to do, and I’m resentful that other folks don't want to go through it.” I’m having a lot of conversations like that lately. It’s like, “Well, this is what we had to do!” I'm like, “And how’d that go for us? How did that go?”
Amy Diehl: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: “Why are we holding onto this?” And so, I’m just wanting to name that, too, and really start to be persistent. And that happens in relationship, and that takes a lot of energy. But the onus, again, is still on the folks that are being burdened.
Amy Diehl: Yep.
Rebecca Ching: I’m curious for you, as we wrap up, what would you identify as the core markers in practice, not just theory, of a successful work environment that not only counters gender bias but supports inclusive leadership practices?
Amy Diehl: Yeah, I appreciate this question. So, the first thing is it’s an environment that’s cooperative instead of competitive.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Amy Diehl: I’ve always thought about this. Often still in our institutions, in our organizations, there’s a competitiveness that’s set up internally, and that always confounds me because it’s like why do you want your employees to be competing with each other? Isn't it better that your employees all work towards the same goal, whatever that goal is, of your organization? Sure, you might be competitive with your actual competitor, the other external organization, right? But why do you want to set up your employees to be competitive with each other? Too many organizations still do this.
So it’s much better to set up cooperative environments where everybody’s pulling towards the same goal and where everybody’s rewarded for pulling towards the same goal rather than rewarded for being individually productive or individually a high performer, right? So that’s one.
Another marker is that everyone has a voice. No one is silenced. Everybody has a right to be heard, and in these organizations, they really encourage the diversity of people, firstly, but also of thoughts and opinions knowing that that’s where the best ideas come from. Whenever you can have all ideas being brought to the table and not silenced and not dismissed, and also when problems arise, when there is abusive behavior or harassing behavior, when that arises and somebody speaks up about it, instead of silencing them, help them deal with it. Root out the behavior so that you’ve got a healthy environment where everybody feels free to be their true selves and provide their input to advance the organization.
Another marker is mistakes. It’s surrounding mistakes. So it’s mistakes being welcomed --
Rebecca Ching: Nice!
Amy Diehl: -- as part of the learning process, right?
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Amy Diehl: Maybe too often we punish mistakes, again, instead of welcoming them as the learning opportunity that they can be. In my own work as a leader, my thing has always been, okay, somebody makes a mistake, you say, “Okay, we made a mistake. We’re human,” right? “How can we learn from this so that we don't do it again the next time? What practice or what process do we need to put in place so that next time it doesn't happen again.” It makes a better organization when you just learn from the mistake, and you can improve the organization going forward.
Another one is being transparent about decision making. So when you have decisions to be made, make them in during your workday in a meeting that includes all the stakeholders instead of making them on the golf course, at the bar, whatever the boys club activity is, right? Too often these activities people are talking about work and they're talking about, “Hey, what do you want to do about this?” But not everybody’s there, right? Not everybody’s at that whatever that after-hours event is.
The tip I give is if you're in a conversation where that’s happening, let’s say you are on the golf course or whatever with your buddy and you start talking about work and you realize, “You know, this really needs these two other people. So, hey, why don't we wait until Monday and talk about it in a meeting with everybody who needs to be there instead of talking about it here?”
Supportive and caring, and then the other one is flexible, in terms of the hours that people work, and in terms of the places where work gets done.
Rebecca Ching: Yes! Yes.
Amy Diehl: Not all work has to be done inside the office at your desk in the office. Of course, we know from the pandemic that remote work is possible, and, in some instances, people are much more productive, many instances they're much more productive, in roles that will support remote work. Even with the in-person types of roles, people can be offered flexibility - flexible shifts, the ability to swap shifts with other people, time off in the middle of their shift if they’ve got to run and do something with their child. There are lots of ways to be flexible and not rigid that would support anybody, any of us that have roles outside of work, which most of us do.
Rebecca Ching: I appreciate that. There’s so much unlearning to be done with these systems and how we think about work and how we think about productivity, what we think about enough, all of this stuff, and really building trust in community versus we all have to -- you know, this kind of individualistic mindset of “it’s me or you.
Amy Diehl: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So I appreciate that. There’s a lot to rumble with in your book. It really is a really important guide that is hopefully gonna continue these conversations, so I’m really grateful for that. But as we wrap up, I’ve got some quickfire questions for you.
Amy Diehl: Yeah!
Rebecca Ching: This is a tradition I do on this show.
Amy Diehl: Sure.
Rebecca Ching: I’m curious if you could share what are you reading right now?
Amy Diehl: I’ve got three books that I just finished recently, and they're all in a theme.
Rebecca Ching: Ooh.
Amy Diehl: The first one is called Good for a Girl. It’s by Lauren Fleshman. The second one is Choose to Run by Des Lindon. And the third one is The Longest Race by Kara Goucher. These are three women competitive runners. I used to be a runner. I wish I could still run. I can't run anymore. I cycle instead, but I really appreciated reading their stories because they talk about all of the sexism and misogyny in the competitive running world.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, wow.
Amy Diehl: Yeah, Kara Goucher, in particular, was dealing with an abusive coach. We include some of Kara’s story in our book, related to her maternity leave, which at first she was told if she got pregnant she would be able to have a leave and it would not impact her contract with Nike. And then after she got pregnant, they basically reneged on that, and they suspended her contract until she was able to race again. It was just, ugh, this terrible thing. But all three women talk about the sexism that they experienced in the running industry, and so, they're very fascinating reads.
Rebecca Ching: Wow.
Amy Diehl: I could have just taken their books and put them in my framework and had all six barriers covered, and, you know --
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Amy Diehl: -- had done an analysis. But they're three very good books.
Rebecca Ching: You can't unsee it now, Amy. You see it everywhere.
Amy Diehl: Yes, that’s right! That’s right.
Rebecca Ching: I’m a bit of an eighties buff, and so, I ask folks if they're connected to, whether it’s eighties or at least through your childhood pop culture, what’s your favorite movie from your childhood.
Amy Diehl: [Laughs] So eighties is my decade too.
Rebecca Ching: Awesome.
Amy Diehl: Eighties movies, eighties music.
Rebecca Ching: Yep.
Amy Diehl: I was a teenager then. My favorite, favorite movie is Dirty Dancing, and I can't even tell you how many times I’ve watched that as I was a teenager.
I think I was old enough. [Laughs] Although, some of the things I think went over my head even as a teenager. But I watched that so many times. My friends and I would, “Hey, what do you want to do?” “Let’s watch Dirty Dancing!” [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Oh, my gosh, the routines that we would do.
Amy Diehl: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, the little cut-off jeans with the tank top and get it just right.
Amy Diehl: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: As someone who has curly, wavy hair, it was just nice to see --
Amy Diehl: Oh, yeah, Baby’s hair. Yep.
Rebecca Ching: Yes, yes. Do not put baby in a corner. Honestly, I’m just thinking about this right now. Talk about looking at the gender walls. That movie, even with its flaws, [Laughs] you know, it really touches on a lot of them too.
Amy Diehl: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So that’s awesome. Amy, what is your mantra right now?
Amy Diehl: I don't know that I have a mantra right now, but my go-to mantra is “this too shall pass.”
Rebecca Ching: Ooh.
Amy Diehl: So anytime I’m going through something that’s hard or an adverse situation, I try to bring this mantra to mind just to know that I’ve gotten through other things in the past. I’ve survived. I’m probably better for it. It can help in terms of giving me a little bit of perspective. It’s still hard. When you're in the middle of adversity and you can't make sense of it, you don't know how to get out of it, it’s still hard. But just having that mantra, knowing that it’s not gonna be forever is helpful.
Rebecca Ching: That’s great.
Amy Diehl: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: What’s an unpopular opinion that you hold?
Amy Diehl: The unpopular opinion is I actually don't like listening to music as an adult. Now, I did when I was a kid, so I love eighties music. If I’m gonna listen to anything, it’s gonna be eighties music. But as a thing, I don't listen to music. I guess I prefer quietness. If I’m in a car, sometimes I turn on NPR. Other times I just leave it quiet because I just want to be to my own thoughts. So that’s my unpopular opinion. I don't currently, as an adult, like listening to music.
Rebecca Ching: Who or what inspires you to be a better leader and human?
Amy Diehl: Can I give you two answers? [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely.
Amy Diehl: Yeah, so the first one is my mother. My mother’s been my role model and, of course, biggest supporter growing up, and I watched her. She stayed home with me and my brothers until I was about nine years old. Then she went back into the workplace, and I watched her develop. When she started back, she had to start in a secretarial kind of a role that she turned into a professional role, but she was making secretary wages. [Laughs] She eventually moved to a different organization where she got professional wage for her professional role, and so, I’ve just watched her and tried to emulate her.
The second thing that inspires me to be a better leader and human is my research and the women’s’ stories. All of these women that I’ve talked to, that I’ve read their stories, that have contributed to the survey research, I read their stories, and I read what they’ve gone through, and it’s like I want to make sure that I can use my own abilities to, again, put forward this research, write this book, speak about the topic, and make things better for them and for other women going forward.
Rebecca Ching: Amy, where can people find you and connect with you and your work?
Amy Diehl: Yeah, so the best place would be my website: www.amy-diehl.com. I’ve got a couple forms to connect with me. I’ve got links to my social media accounts there. So that’s the best way to keep up with where I’m speaking and press that I’ve been doing, my writing. It also links to the book. The book is linked there with all of the different resellers’ links.
Rebecca Ching: And we’ll make sure to link to your book and your resources for sure, too. Amy, thank you so much for your time today and this conversation and for all that you're putting out in the world. It really matters, and I’m just really grateful for our time today.
Amy Diehl: Oh, thank you, Rebecca. It’s been a pleasure.
Rebecca Ching: Before you go, I want to make sure you leave with some of the key learnings from this important Unburdened Leader conversation with Dr. Amy Diehl. Gosh, where to start without just recapping the entire episode. But it’s important to know that Amy introduced us to some important terms, some language related to these six glass walls of gender bias. And we went a little deeper on two of them: hostility and acquiescence, which I hear about the most from my clients and colleagues. Amy talked about the mean girls and the queen bee phenomenon and how women can turn on each other as a result of internalized gender bias.
She offered really great solutions to help us counter these insidious dynamics. We also talked about how many women fall into the glass wall of acquiescence as a protective approach for their job and their safety, but at a great cost to their values, their wellbeing, and their sense of purpose.
I’m curious. What came up for you in this conversation? Are you noticing where you’ve internalized gender bias? What are some of the gender biases that really stand out to you after listening to this conversation in your places of work or where you spend a lot of time? And what is one meaningful action you want to take after listening to this conversation to help counter either internalized gender bias or gender bias in the spaces where you work and lead?
By first identifying our own internalized gender biases, we can stop turning on ourselves and collectively make greater strides to support women and those with identities who have experienced oppression from dominant culture, and this is the ongoing work of an unburdened leader.
Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. If this podcast episode impacted you, I would be honored if you left a rating, a review, and shared it with a few folks you think may benefit from it. It makes it easier for us to get the word out and is greatly, greatly appreciated. You can also find this episode, show notes, and the free Unburdened Leader resources, along with ways to work with me at www.rebeccaching.com! And a very special thanks and gratitude to the team at Yellow House Media for the production of this podcast episode!