Self-Awareness Isn’t Helping Women Progress At Work. Here’s Why.

Self-Awareness Isn’t Helping Women Progress At Work. Here’s Why.

This post was originally featured on

New research has identified three reasons why self-awareness can actually hinder the success of many female workers.

Self-awareness is often touted as a foundational leadership skill for the 21st century. After all, research shows that executives who see themselves clearly are more confident, more creative, make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively.

The self-aware are also better leaders and receive more promotions. It’s even true that companies with strong financial performance are comprised of employees with higher levels of self-awareness than poorly performing companies.

When it comes to self-awareness, women have a slight advantage over men, which would lead us to jump to the logical conclusion that women are being promoted more often. Except, of course, that’s not true. Women are still underrepresented in senior leadership roles and are still paid less than men.

How do we reconcile the fact that self-awareness isn’t helping women progress at work? New research has identified three reasons why self-awareness can actually hinder the success of many female workers.

Women Believe They are Underestimated in the Workplace

Let’s begin by clarifying a popular theory: women are not less confident than men. It’s been found that the self-confidence gap between girls and boys diminishes significantly by the age of 23. Men and women in leadership positions rate their abilities similarly. The idea that gender inequity in the workplace can be explained away by a woman’s lack of confidence no longer holds water.

But while women strongly believe in their own abilities, they face a related challenge that men do not: many women feel that their colleagues underestimate their output and worth. In fact, a recent study showed that while men and women’s self-ratings of their emotional intelligence do not differ, women are three times more likely than men to believe that their supervisors would rate their abilities lower. In reality, their bosses rated women slightly higher than their male counterparts.

What accounts for this disconnect? Research suggests that ingrained gender roles and persistent stereotypes likely play a role. While women are self-aware in that they understand themselves and the value of their contributions, they’re also aware of unconscious prejudice at play within the workplace and are therefore less likely to correctly perceive how others view them.

While prejudice certainly still exists and cannot be downplayed, it’s also true that many leaders are willing to award credit where it’s due, regardless of gender. When a woman believes that others don’t value her, she’ll inevitably be more cautious about asking for things that she may very well deserve, like promotions and raises. Therefore, women looking to advance quickly should attempt to gain a more accurate picture of their contributions through the eyes of others. This might involve soliciting feedback from supervisors and other colleagues to gain a greater understanding of their strengths and weaknesses as others see them.

Women Do Not Receive Quality Feedback

Although women ask for feedback just as often as men, they’re less likely to receive it. Many managers fear giving honest feedback to women because they’re concerned about having their comments perceived as hurtful. These managers still believe the stereotype that women are more emotional than men, and they choose to avoid difficult conversations that could provoke tears or an irrational outburst. Researchers have coined the phrase “benevolent sexism” to refer to behaviors that shield women from negative feedback.

This is problematic because feedback is essential to a leader’s growth and development. It’s very hard to improve without it. It’s much more likely that a woman will be passed over for promotions and raises when she can’t address the issues that would make her more effective in her role and more valuable to her organization. Whereas men are getting feedback that’s specific and tied directly to business outcomes, women are more likely to receive feedback that’s vague, which only tells a woman that she’s not meeting expectations, but doesn’t give her the specifics to address her shortcomings. It’s simply not actionable. The disparity is devastating, as vague feedback leads to lower performance ratings.

On the other hand, vague positive feedback is just as problematic because, while it tells a woman that she’s doing well, it doesn’t specify why or how, so she’s left in the dark about how, exactly, to continue replicating those actions which are valued. And without detailed, documented achievements to point to, it’s more difficult to make the case for promotions or raises. Likewise, when women can solicit and record specific feedback, it has been shown to eliminate men’s overrepresentation in performance categories. In other words, it helps to neutralize bias.

The best solution for women is to know their audience and solicit concrete performance feedback from colleagues that they feel will be both supportive and honest. And, when feedback isn’t specific enough, women should ask follow-up questions. They can try to quantify successes and failures, the behaviors that have led to both, how often they engage in such behaviors, and the organizational impact of their achievements and shortcomings. Seeking concrete examples and documenting them makes them available for future negotiations.

Women Can Take Negative Feedback to Heart

The three ways people form a picture of who they are include: how they see themselves, how others see them, and the comparisons they make to others. While men most value how they see themselves, women tend to focus more on how others see them. Women are also more likely to amend their view of themselves in the presence of feedback from others. While feedback is essential to leadership, placing a greater importance on others’ evaluations of one’s performance can be dangerous. It not only potentially causes us to depart from our own values, standards, and goals, it can cause us to dwell on our fears and shortcomings. Coupled with the tendency to ruminate on insecurities (which women are more prone to do), this kind of behavior can be fatal to one’s career.

Self-awareness is a comingling of self-perceptions and the perceptions of others, and women need to be careful not to fall into the trap of overriding their own self-images based on others’ opinions. Feedback is important and should be taken seriously, but it should not be taken as gospel. Viewpoints will inevitably vary person-to-person, and it is the synthesis of those varying impressions, paired with one’s own assessments, that form a more complete vision of a leader’s strengths and weaknesses. It is this diverse and informed view that women should analyze to extract actionable insights and form the foundation for their personal performance improvement plans.

Additionally, women can strengthen their own sense of self in the process. We can ask ourselves about our greatest aspirations, our guiding principles, and our values. What work energizes us the most? What career path should we take and are we on the right track? The more we recognize, value, and prioritize our own views, the stronger and more resilient they will become. This strength is perhaps our greatest protection against negative views that threaten to upend our own. It never hurts to prove someone wrong.

Despite the bold claims about the importance of self-awareness in leadership, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe for success. Sure, women can strive to be self-aware leaders. That’s not a bad goal, as long as we also commit to ensuring that we keep others’ feedback constructive, productive, and in perspective.

When Should Women Ignore Career Advice?

When Should Women Ignore Career Advice?

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

As soon as women step foot into the working world, they face an inundation of career advice from magazines, from family members, from coworkers, and even from the strangers that they happen to strike up conversations with during a wait at the train station. Each person has their own opinion on how a female worker can optimize her skillset, demeanor, ambition, speech patterns, and outfits to maximize her potential for professional growth. They often feel inclined to share their wisdom — regardless of whether their beneficiary even wanted the guidance in the first place.

For the person on the receiving end of the conversation, this tidal wave of advice can feel frustrating and stressful. Women — and particularly those in the earliest years of their career — may struggle to reconcile conflicting instructions or worry that they might fall behind if they don’t follow given advice. They may even feel insecure in their carefully-planned career trajectory if an unsolicited advisor provides well-meaning but judgemental criticism. Over time, the accumulation of well-intended but grating advice can wear away at the receiver’s confidence, leaving her unsure of her own direction and capabilities.

Now, this isn’t to say that all advice is harmful and wearing — quite the opposite. When solicited, guidance from our friends, family, mentors, and others can be invaluable, especially when we begin our careers. After all, what better way to learn how to start a business, ask for a raise, or even switch industries than to consult someone who has already done precisely that? Experience is an invaluable tool in any professional development arsenal, even if the lessons we draw on aren’t ones that we lived firsthand.

The problem comes, however, when we begin to think that others’ experiences and opinions are more valuable than our own. In perpetually accepting advice, we unconsciously position ourselves as always needing help — and stop believing ourselves capable of walking forward on our own.

This would be troubling enough on its own — but is made even more so because not all advisors instruct to help their advisees grow.

Understanding the Nuances of (un)Healthy Advice-Giving

The reasons behind a person’s decision to give unsolicited advice can vary. Our friends and families want to see us succeed; other women want to mentor us; our colleagues and supervisors want to see us thrive. Well-meaning advice-givers are often motivated by altruism, friendliness, or even excitement.

series of four studies published in the May 2018 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that even when an advice-giver isn’t actively or consciously attempting to control another person, the very act of providing advice provides a sense of sway and power. An earlier study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania supports this finding, writing: “In giving unsolicited advice, the advice-giver appears to presume that his/her authority will be accepted by the advisee.” The report goes on to say that because women are socially conditioned to shy away from authoritative statements and use more questions, their conversational partners — and assertive men, in particular — often already have a presumption of authority and therefore feel comfortable giving unsolicited advice.

Naturally, the advice-receiver is put in an inferior position, which can have a clear and detrimental impact on both their confidence and their relationship with the advice-giver — although the advice-giver may not immediately recognize the harm they cause.

As MindBodyGreen writer Dr. Margaret Paul wrote of her experience as being an unsolicited advisor, “Over the years, I finally began to understand that my imposing viewpoints weren’t being interpreted as sharing wisdom, and my care was instead being viewed as an attempt to control.”

The truth is, no one can tell you how to live your professional life better than you. While others’ perspectives can and should — when requested — inform your decisions, they should never take precedence over your own opinions.

Here are a few tips for how you can productively dismiss unwanted career advice.

Set Boundaries 
When someone gives you unsolicited advice, decline their assistance. You can do so politely by acknowledging their perspective and intent; however, it is crucial to avoid the assumption that you needed, requested, or couldn’t have succeeded without their help.

Don’t Ask for Advice to Be Polite
Sometimes, we ask questions for the sake of making polite conversation. However, if you don’t need advice, don’t ask for it — if you do, you may inadvertently make others think that they have permission to step into an authoritative or mentor-like role over you.

Assert Yourself
Accepting productive advice without losing self-confidence is a balancing act that you will need to achieve alone. As feminist writer Rebecca Solnit put the matter: “I’ve learned that a certain amount of self-doubt is a good tool for correcting, understanding, listening, and progressing–though too much is paralyzing and total self-confidence produces arrogant idiots.”

It is possible to stand firm against unsolicited advice while listening to those you want guidance from; however, striking that balance can take work. Shut down your self-appointed counselors if you feel that they’re forcing their authority onto you — or don’t. The choice is, as always, up to you.

The Lincoln Center Announces A New Cohort of Emerging Artists

On November 13th, the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts officially announced the members of its Emerging Artists cohort for 2020. The annual class sources its members from the Lincoln Center’s 11 resident organizations and recognizes the incredible talent and potential that the rising stars bring to New York City’s artistic community. Over the past several decades, the Emerging Artist award has highlighted over a hundred promising artists from a broad span of disciplines. This year’s cohort includes singers, composers, dancers, musicians, and filmmakers alike — all of whom were individually nominated by the Lincoln Center’s artistic leadership. 

The soon-to-be-awardees will receive their honors and an additional $7,500 in career development prize money at a gala, which will be held at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday, February 26th. Many of the recipients will perform during the celebration, and all will be present during the festivities. 

The celebration is more than a party for the Lincoln Center’s leadership. As Henry Timms, President and CEO of the Lincoln Center for the Performance Arts, commented for an article published in Broadway World, “The arts are fundamental to our world, and it is Lincoln Center’s responsibility to support the voices of diverse, fearless, and extraordinary artists.”

This year’s gala will be co-hosted by the Lincoln Center Awards’ current presenting sponsor, the Movado Group Foundation. The Foundation is the charitable arm of the eponymous American watchmaking firm. The organization provides considerable financial support to the Lincoln Center’s artistic efforts and will additionally give each award recipient a Movado watch. 

The Emerging Artist awards won’t be the only accolades delivered at the gala. Two recipients will also accept the Martin E. Segal Award, which has spotlighted two exceptionally talented rising artists every year since 1986. Another artist will receive the Hunt Family Award, which is traditionally awarded to the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts’ Emerging Artist nominee. 

The upcoming gala has two intentions — first, to recognize the accomplishments of the Lincoln Center’s artistic community, and second, to celebrate the five decades that the organization has provided support to its 11 constituent organizations. The money raised from the event will go to support the emerging artists’ future productions, support new artistic programming, and allow the Lincoln Center to host free performances on its campus. 

Tickets and sponsorship opportunities for the February 26th event are currently available on the Lincoln Center Corporate Fund’s website. These funding slots are available at several price points. Levels include the Friend Ticket ($1,500), the Award Underwriter ($7,500), the Supporter ($15,000), the Benefactor ($25,000), and the Gold Sponsor ($50,000). According to the Fund’s website, over 450 corporate organizations currently enjoy the benefits of sponsorship. These include but are not limited to: “use of Lincoln Center’s premiere ticketing concierge service; invitations to donor events and open rehearsals; listing in the Annual Report, website, and all Lincoln Center Playbills.” 

The gala will undoubtedly be something to look forward to — both for the celebration itself, and what it represents for New York’s artistic community. 

Below, find a full list of the 2020 Award recipients and their nominating organizations.

Lileana Blain-Cruz 

Lincoln Center Theater

Stella Chen 

The Juilliard School

Tessa Clark 

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts 

Hunt Family Award

Emily D’Angelo 

The Metropolitan Opera

Ruby Lister 

School of American Ballet 

Martin E. Segal Award

Sebastian Manz 

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Riley Mulherkar 

Jazz at Lincoln Center 

Martin E. Segal Award

Akosua Adoma Owusu 

Film at Lincoln Center

Unity Phelan 

New York City Ballet

Ellen Reid 

New York Philharmonic

Jennifer Ashley Tepper 

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

This post originally appeared on Debrah Lee Charatan’s Philanthropy blog.

On Momternships: Do Working Moms Really Need to Start From Scratch?

On Momternships: Do Working Moms Really Need to Start From Scratch?

Returning to the workforce shouldn’t require jumping through so many hoops.

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For women who take a temporary leave from the workforce to care for their children or family, returning can feel next to impossible. “I’ve had a lot of really well-meaning people tell me to quit looking,” Hagit Katzenelson, a programmer and mother, told one writer for the Harvard Business Review, “They’d say, ‘Come on, you’re banging your head against a closed door.’”

It certainly felt that way for Katzenelson at the time. Despite having an electrical engineering degree, an MBA and 14 years of experience in her field, she had to search for five long years for a job after taking a four-year break to take care of her three children. Katzenelson’s story isn’t an anomaly.

“I would get into interviews,” programmer Abby Carrales told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year as she recounted her attempt to break back into the workforce, “It would always come down to myself and another candidate. When employers see a gap in a resume, they assume the person has left to have children and that their career would always play second fiddle to their primary-caregiver responsibility.”

Similar frustrations echo across forums, magazine articles and social studies, all aligning with the same narrative through line: If you leave to have kids, don’t expect the working world to welcome you back. Research backs these anecdotes. In February of 2018, one Harvard Business Review study found that stay-at-home moms were only half as likely to obtain a job interview as a person who was laid off. Researchers further wrote that, “Respondents viewed stay-at-home parents as less reliable, less deserving of a job and — the biggest penalty — less committed to work, compared with unemployed applicants.”

It’s a cold hiring landscape. However, some have celebrated “returnship” programs as the solution to returning mothers’s hiring woes, indicating that such initiatives can provide former stay-at-home parents the tools they need to break the ice — partially, at least.

Introducing Returnships

Returnship programs aren’t, strictly speaking, new. Goldman Sachs launched the first returnship initiative a little more than a decade ago; since then, 50-plus companies have opened their doors, including IBM, Johnson & Johnson and United Technologies. In April, Apple offered a 17-week return-to-work program for professionals who both took time away from work and have more than five years of professional experience. These programs are typically open to people who have left their industries for two or more years and last for a limited period — usually between eight weeks and six months — and are designed to provide networking and mentoring opportunities, help returnees refresh their professional skill set and give the company a chance to gauge whether the returnee is a long-term fit.

A Solution, or Just a Flawed Fix?

For both Katzenelson and Carrales, returnships were a lifeline, a means to climb out from the hiring sinkhole they had been struggling with for years. Both cited the returnships as stepping stones for getting back into their careers. Their stories provide hope to stay-at-home parents who want to return to work. And to be sure, all returnships offer participants the chance to update their resume and gain professional acceptance, even if they aren’t hired at the end of the program period.

However, these programs are not without their flaws. While some returnships are paid, many are not. Others require the returnee to pay for their participation. Hiring, too, can vary widely. While Ford’s returnship program hired 98 percent of its enrollees, Goldman Sachs only accepted 1.9 percent. Both are on extreme and opposing ends of the hiring spectrum; research indicates that most programs hiring between 50-100 percent of their participants.

Then there are the semantics. Should experienced moms fall under a subcategory of “interns”? For some, embarking on a “returnship” may mean accepting — at least subconsciously — that their skills are less valuable. As one writer protests in an article for Working Mother, “Companies like Goldman Sachs actually play on this perceived lack of expertise or skills. They promote the low self-confidence some people feel after being out of the workforce and use it to their advantage. Under the guise of helping people get up to speed and allowing employees to ‘see if it is the right fit,’ they get a no-risk trial and can fire you.”

This might not be entirely fair, especially given that these programs do help participants add to their professional networks and update their skills. However, the writer does have a point. While many programs don’t approach their participants as low-level, inexperienced or temporary staffers, the implication is baked into the title. I would argue that the assumption of in expertise and the dismissal that the writer highlights is a symptom of a broader problem, one that returnships can only partially address, even as they reinforce it through nomenclature: the devaluing of and bias against mothers in the workforce.

Go to the Source: Examining the “Mommy Tax” at Work

Returnships are a halfway solution, but they don’t solve the underlying social problem mothers face in the workplace. Research has repeatedly shown that mothers who leave the workforce for an extended period to care for children — or even simply have children — face penalties in their career. One study conducted by the nonprofit thinktank Thirdway found that women’s wages decreased by an average of 4 percent for each child they had. Ironically, men’s wages increased by more than 6 percent when they had children. The gap between the genders remained even after researchers controlled for significant factors such as education, hours worked, experience and spousal incomes.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology may shed some light on the cause of the gap. Researchers wrote, “Mothers were expected to be less competent and were less likely to be kept in the running for advancement opportunities than were other female or male applicants who were applying for the same high-level managerial position.” The writers further explained that hiring managers expected mothers to adhere to overly “feminine” behavior stereotypes; female candidates were believed to be too soft, too focused on their home lives and not suited to the demands of a male-dominated workplace.

With this, we can see that returnships aren’t a golden career ticket for stay-at-home moms; instead, they serve as a band-aid on the larger professional injury that social bias causes for women in the workplace.

What Does This Mean for the Future?

I’m not suggesting that women call for an end to returnships, or even that they avoid them. Quite the opposite. I believe that we need to provide more resources for stay-at-home mothers in and beyond the workplace. We need to establish more apparent channels for re-entry, push for more flexible and family friendly policies in the workplace and create programs that acknowledge the skill set women already bring to the table instead of framing their re-entry as an “internship.”

Most of all, though, we need to turn our focus inward and face the unacknowledged bias that so often prevents women with families from returning to work. As one leader for the job listing company Apres put the matter, “It’s one thing to say you are going to hire women on the sidelines, it’s another thing to train your hiring managers to interview without bias toward the gap.”

Gender bias isn’t going to be something we can solve with a single training program or one push towards returnship expansion. But if those in the business world launch a cohesive effort to value, welcome and support women returning to work, we might be able to give mothers a fair shot in the interview room.

Want to Be a Leader at Work? Try Rehearsing in Your Personal Life.

Want to Be a Leader at Work? Try Rehearsing in Your Personal Life.

There are days when you think that you might not be cut out for leadership. After all, you’re continually trailing behind instead of leading the pack; you sit at meetings and nod along to mediocre ideas, even though you have a better option tucked away in your notes. You never quite have the courage to speak up and share your inspiration — even though you desperately want to.

Maybe your confidence as a leader will grow when you become an entrepreneur, you think; if you head your own business, you would have to step into the role. But here’s the problem — merely being in a position of leadership won’t make you a leader. If anything, the added pressure and high stakes might make matters worse, leaving you without proper leadership skills, a business, or way forward towards your aspirations.

Statistics support this conclusion. Currently, the failure rate of all U.S. companies after five years stands at just over 50%, and above 70% after ten. Interestingly, one study conducted by CBInsights found that the reason behind these failures tends to root in leadership or directional problems; researchers report that 23% of businesses crumpled because they didn’t have the right team, 19% were outcompeted, 13% fell apart due to disharmony among team members or investors, and 9% failed because they lacked passion.

In short: leadership matters. Your success in business will hinge on your ability to communicate, raise your voice, address interpersonal issues, pick the right team, and inspire trust — regardless of whether you’re an active entrepreneur or a corporate team member.

As CEO and leadership writer Peter Bregman puts the matter in an article for the Harvard Business Review, “Leadership is hard in a very practical way. It’s about managing politics skillfully and effectively to achieve what’s most important […] showing up in critical leadership moments with confidence; connecting with people in a way that inspires their commitment, responding productively to opposition without losing your focus; skillfully handling people who push back; and building trusted relationships, even with difficult people or people you don’t like.”

However, the skills Bregman describes aren’t ones you should — or even can — learn on the fly, not when money and business are on the line. Instead, you should start developing your leadership skills now, while the stakes are low. The best way to grow your interpersonal working abilities is to practice them at home, in an environment that you feel comfortable being bold. Then, after you feel more confident in your communicative skills, you can transition those skills to the office — and, one day, perhaps even a CEO’s chair.

Here are some ways to go about cultivating leadership in your personal life.

Understand Your Communication Breakdowns

As you might have already inferred from Bregman’s comment, leadership leans heavily on effective communication. No one will follow a dictator; eventually, someone will question your ideas or suggest a different course of action. If you cannot learn to listen, address push-back, compromise, or craft compelling cases to those you lead, you will never be able to achieve team buy-in for your ideas.

You need to learn how to present points and disagree productively — and the first step to doing so is to understand where your communication skills tend to break down in your personal and professional lives. We all have fights with our friends, our coworkers, and our families; the question is how constructive those arguments are.

As one writer for Psychology Today describes, “Boiled down, the essence of many quarrels goes something like this: I’m right. You’re wrong. And I absolutely positively will not back down or change the subject until you admit it.”

That kind of thinking exemplifies the heart of an unproductive disagreement. If you argue ineffectively, you aren’t just going to fail to make your point effectively; you may even contribute to toxicity as a leader. People may become passive-aggressive, disengage, or foster workplace incivility. These behaviors can come at a significant cost to your business in the long term; According to one Harvard Business School study, nearly half of surveyed employees who worked in “toxic” environments decreased their work effort and spent less time at work, 38% “intentionally decreased” their work quality, 25% admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers, and 12% left their jobs altogether.

So, the next time you disagree with your roommate, partner, friend, or coworker, stop to think not only of what you’re arguing about but how you’re going about the discussion. If the conversation seems to be reiterating the same points without progress, take a moment to step back and consider how you can make your point clearer to the other party and acknowledge their perspective without abandoning yours.

Everyone communicates differently — sometimes it’s just a matter of meeting someone halfway. Once you know how someone interacts, you can understand their view and respond constructively. You still may not agree, but at least you can discuss your differences productively.

Practice constructive arguing at home, and you may find that the experience empowers you to make your voice heard at work.

Speak Up In Low-Risk Environments

If reaching out and communicating with those who intimidate you makes you uncomfortable, you need to brace yourself and do it more. If you know that you rely on your partner or roommate to talk to the landlord or insurance company representative, step forward and do it yourself. If you have a question about your car bill at the garage, ask the mechanic to walk you through it; if you’re stuck on a call line, tolerate the call center until you have the answers you need. Don’t give up, take the loss, or allow others to step into the responsibility!

Too often, we allow our fears of people thinking us rude, or of taking up time, to stifle our voices. Women, in particular, often hold back, worrying that being confident will come off as being rude to those around them. Speak up — not rudely, but firmly, and with the knowledge that your questions are worth the time. As a leader, this will prepare you for leading meetings, directing conversation, and getting any necessary information — without ever losing control of the conversational flow or giving in to frustration.

Step Out of Your Defined Role

The quickest way to fumble your shot at leadership is to settle into a role that doesn’t challenge you. Once you begin to gain some confidence in yourself as a communicator, start applying the skills you’ve developed at home to the workplace! Volunteer for projects at work if you have the capacity; demonstrate that you can handle the demands of management and project leadership.

Leaders aren’t appointed, but developed over years of dedicated effort — so why wait to sow the seeds of your success?

Americans and the Holocaust Exhibit Receives National Tour

Americans and the Holocaust Exhibit Receives National Tour

In the first week of October, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and the American Library Association (ALM) released a list of the fifty libraries selected to host a touring version of the USHMM’s Americans and the Holocaust exhibition, which will make its first stop in early 2020 and continue its travels for two years.

The published list is the culmination of months of careful consideration from both organizations. During the program’s two-month application period, more than 250 libraries from across the country vied for the tour’s 50 available spots. The review process was thorough; all applicants underwent a competitive and peer-reviewed process which, according to a press release from the ALM, “considered community demographics, library outreach plans, and the availability of other Holocaust-related educational opportunities in the library’s region, among other factors.”

The interest in the touring program — and the care taken in determining its hosts — makes sense, given that the traveling exhibit is based on one of USHMM’s most compelling exhibitions. Also titled Americans and the Holocaust, the original display opened in 2018 and marked the museum’s 25th anniversary. As the name suggests, Americans and the Holocaust explores fears and factors that influenced Americans’ reactions to both Nazism and the oppression and murder of European Jews during the 1930s and ’40s. It also wholly dispels the myth that Americans were unaware of the persecution Jews faced during the time.

The exhibition asked: “What did the US government and the American people know about the threats posed by Nazi Germany? What responses were possible? And when?”

“Visitors will be surprised at how much Americans knew about Nazism and the Holocaust and how early they knew it,” curator Daniel Greene shared in a press release about the original exhibition. “The exhibition also shows what else was on Americans’ minds as they learned about these threats, from great economic insecurity to the isolationist sentiment in the wake of World War I and national security fears during World War II.”

The goal, Green says, is to compel visitors to think about the events of the time without the benefit — or reassurance — of hindsight. The experience is often thought-provoking, if at times heart-wrenching. As museum director Sara J. Bloomfield describes, “Americans and the Holocaust will challenge visitors to think about both the missed opportunities to save lives and the impact of those few individuals who took action.”

Or, to quote the museum’s explanation of the exhibition’s research and message, “The United States alone could not have prevented the Holocaust, but more could have been done to save some of the six million Jews who were killed.”

It’s a brutally direct truth — and one that some libraries feel perfectly-oriented to share.

“Libraries are vital centers for lifelong learning, convening, and conversation, and they are the perfect venues to host this important and powerful exhibition,” ALA president Wanda Brown asserted in a recent press release.

In this way, the ALA is helping further the exhibitions’ fundamental purpose — to make us think not only about what was or wasn’t done in the past, but what could be done when tragedy rears its head in the future.

A full list of participating libraries can be found on the ALA’s website.

This post originally appeared on Debrah Lee Charatan’s Philanthropy blog.

Here’s How Big Tech Companies Can End the Gender Pay Gap

Here’s How Big Tech Companies Can End the Gender Pay Gap

Recognizing the myth of the meritocracy is the first step toward ending the gender pay gap for women in tech.

This post was originally featured on

Silicon Valley is known for its innovation, high-skilled talent and its meritocratic ethos — that is, the focus on evaluating and rewarding employees based not on who they are, but on what they achieve. Big tech companies like Google and Uber famously promote company values that emphasize those ideas as a way of creating equality in the workplace.

When taken at face value, that all seems fair and good. However, reality captures a far different picture. Despite the tech sector’s good intentions, companies with meritocratic principles still face a deep gender gap in their industry and continue to be criticized for their bias. For example, look no further than Google’s memo fiasco or Susan Fowler’s criticism of Uber’s gender bias, management hubris and poor HR support.

How is it that top-tier tech companies can seemingly promote meritocratic ethics while their female employees fight against systemic barriers that prevent them from progressing up the ladder? Research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that despite the values these companies claim to embody, meritocracy in big tech might not actually exist at all.

Meritocracy: the myth contributing to the gender pay gap

Unlike their male counterparts, women aren’t facing an industry that judges them solely on their accomplishments. In actuality, the majority of women operate in organizations muddied with institutionalized biases. At least 42 percent of working women in the United States report that they’ve experienced some form of discrimination, including unconscious bias at work. While sexual harassment is a painful, very explicit form of unfair treatment, biases at work can be far more insidious than that.

When it comes to diversity, Google still has work to do. It’s latest diversity report shows that the number of women and unrepresented minorities barely budged in the past year. The company has faced gender-pay lawsuits. Similarly, Uber suffers from limited female staff and leadership and has also been hit with sexual harassment claims.

MIT research echoes these assumptions, citing how seemingly meritocratic organizations can unintentionally favor men over “equally performing women,” offering them higher bonuses and more favorable career outcomes.

Authors Emilio Castilla and Stephen Bernard called this contradiction the “paradox of meritocracy.” They argue that when progressive companies foster merit-based practices, they assume they’re not biased regarding hiring, retention, compensation or promotion decisions. However, these processes don’t protect against ingrained, demographic bias. For example, a merit-based system still doesn’t stop managers from giving more favorable reviews to employees who are most like them.

“When managers believe their company is a meritocracy because formal evaluative and distributive mechanisms are in place, they are in fact more likely to exhibit the very biases that those systems seek to prevent,” says Castilla for the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Tracy Chou, a tech engineer veteran who has worked at tech companies like Quora and Pinterest, has experienced this kind of bias and marginalization, despite being an expert in her field. Chou confronted biases ranging from everyday microaggressions to sexual harassment from her male coworkers, despite her authority. After hearing similar experiences from women in the tech industry, she started to realize that meritocracy in Silicon Valley is deeply flawed and didn’t support equitable work environments that help women like her succeed.

“Meritocracy is this myth that, if you have merit, you will rise up and people who are in positions of power and success got there because they have the most merit and they most deserve it. Having a lot of markers and credentials that Silicon Valley generally like, I didn’t quite question that either, when I first started working,” Chou told Quartz.

Due to the prevailing biases which persist today, it’s no surprise a truly meritocratic system ceases to thrive. But there may be some light at the end of the tunnel — and it begins with changing work cultures.

Tools and initiatives to help companies curb gender bias

Silicon Valley can incorporate truly meritocratic values, but it requires making a few small, meaningful adjustments to the current structure.

Castilla says, “Companies can develop into meritocracies by implementing merit-based evaluation and reward systems that have both accountability and transparency.”

Clear processes that offer criteria for all employees at any career level can help companies ensure that skilled workers operate in a truly merit-based culture. These programs need to have individuals or groups of individuals that focus on the responsibility, ability and authority to ensure that these formal processes remain fair.

Google has taken a step to help resolve this issue. The tech giant now allows an employee’s qualifications for a promotion to be based on peer recommendations rather than a manager’s decision. These peers (along with all Google employees) are trained to spot and guard against unconscious biases so the review process remains fair. It’s not perfect, but the practice is now the norm in many Silicon Valley tech companies, including Pinterest and Quora.

While Chou no longer works at either of these companies, she now uses her expertise to guard against bias, promote transparent data reporting on gender and reshape big tech’s work cultures. In 2016, she established Project Include, a nonprofit that uses unbiased data programming and advocacy to help these tech giants bring on more diverse employees.

Uber has also managed to redefine its ethos from 14 core values, which ineffectively promoted meritocracy, to eight new cultural norms, which are expected to evolve as Uber grows. The company is still slow to implement more women in leadership and overall staff positions, but it is reinforcing its diversity and inclusion goals to offer an equal playing field for talent.

According to Uber’s 2019 Diversity and Inclusion report, it’s strengthening its hiring manager training program to create more inclusive interviewing skills through the Interview Moderator Initiative. The initiative helps ensure that tech interviews are free from subjective bias and stereotypes. Meanwhile, throughout their Career and Talent teams, they continue to review and redesign their systems and programs to help employees of all backgrounds thrive equally. This includes the creation of performance management and diversity scorecards.

However, biased work cultures will not change without internal awareness and analysis. The World Economic Forum advises companies to incorporate The Implicit Association Test. The free resource from Harvard University helps users gauge their personal biases around gender, race, age, weight, sexuality, tone and more. The tool offers insights into conflicts, addressing how employees think, their assumptions of social norms and how these biases inform our decision making on a daily basis. In all, these tools and initiatives can help make both the hiring and promotion processes more equal.

Reviving meritocracy with gender equality

While it’s often assumed that meritocracy fosters gender equality, it seems to initially have had the opposite effect in companies who promote these principles. It’s not that meritocracy is hurting women’s careers, per se, but that companies with unconscious biases are using meritocratic principles in ways that are ineffective and problematic.

We have a long way to go until businesses reach a truly meritocratic model. It’s time for companies to reexamine their diversity and inclusion goals and offer better support systems that help working women thrive. These companies can only become truly meritocratic workplaces by instilling gender equality policies and thus mindsets, at the core of their cultural value systems. Then, and only then, will we start to build a corporate ethos that is truly based on talent and hard work.