Ellen Pao claims that Venture Capitalist Firm, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, discriminated against her because she is female. They claim that she wasn't a team player and lacked leadership skills. It's highly possible that both Pao and the Kleiner Perkin leadership team are telling the truth.
How could that possibly be true? Because being a "team player" and having "leadership skills" can be somewhat subjective and you can honestly believe the that you are making a judgment purely on skill, when what you are doing is actually making a judgment based on your own prejudices.
I make no claim of special knowledge of the Pao case--we'll let the courts shake that out. But, if you want to make sure you aren't unfairly judging the women in your office, here are 6 things to do.
1. Judge by the numbers. Can you quantify your employees' results? Most jobs have a large quantifiable component. If you were to put all the numbers on a spreadsheet, without names, and then hit sort, would your ranking of your employees match how you feel about their performance? Sometimes it's hard to separate out how you feel about someone's personality with how they actually perform. By making your performance criteria based on hard numbers and sticking to that, you can reduce this bias.
2. What does bossy really mean? Remember the whole Sheryl Sanberg bossy thing? While I strongly disagree with Ms. Sanberg that what we call bossy is actually a leadership trait, I don't disagree that sometimes we see men and women doing the same thing and we label men as leaders and women as bossy. If one of your employees or colleagues seems "bossy" to you, stop and ask yourself, "If Steve said or did the same thing, would I label him bossy?" If the answer is yes, you're good. If the answer is no, then make an effort to switch your thinking.
3. Offer fair pay. Men like to negotiate. Women don't. Now, I'll argue all the day long that women need to stop being wimpy about pay and learn to negotiate. But, I'll also argue that you're a weasel if you give a lower salary to someone (male or female) simply because you can. Ask yourself, "If I gave this job candidate a list of everyone in the department's resumes and salaries, would she think the salary I'm offering is fair?" If the answer to that is no, change the salary offer. You don't want someone in your office who finds out later that her salary is lower than her co-workers, and then feels resentful. Your smug defense that "they negotiated and you didn't," may win the court case, but it won't win the morality case. That was sleazy and you know it. Knock it off.
4. Think in the long terms. Look, let's be honest. Women frequently give birth to tiny, adorable humans. And when we do, we tend to want to take some time off to recover from childbirth and bond with the new baby. As long as your employee is eligible for FMLA, by law you have to give her the 12 weeks off. While it's illegal to "punish" someone (and men can take FMLA time for bonding as well, but most don't take the full 12 weeks) for taking such time, many people do it--at least subconsciously.
And then, you know what happens to most American women after they have one baby? The up and have another. Chaps your business hide, right? She's never here, she's always off having babies. And then, dang it, that baby gets sick and she wants to work from home and, and, and..."
Except, it's really not and, and, and. The average American woman has two children. (Well, actually, 1.9.) Babies require a lot of intense care in the beginning and like it or not, Mom is usually the primary care giver. But, that does go away. Do you really want to make your business unpleasant for women who have small children? Because if you do, you'll lose them forever. In the long term, it makes sense to suffer through a couple maternity leaves in favor of keeping valuable employees. Turnover can be significantly more expensive than maternity leave. Or take a page from Vodaphone, which is beginning a revolutionary new maternity leave program, which allows women to reduce their hours without reducing their pay. Why do this? Because they've found that doing this helps them recruit and retain great talent.
5. Act immediately on sexual harassment/discrimination claims. If you make a habit of telling women who complain that they need to "get over it" or "stop being so sensitive" you're not treating women fairly. This is true even if they do need to get over it and are being too sensitive. Take every complaint seriously and investigate accordingly. If the investigation shows that it wasn't harassment or discrimination, you can go ahead and explain the outcome.
Amazingly, people who you think would know better make tremendous mistakes where gender discrimination is involved. Your sales reps shouldn't be required to visit clients who sexually harass them, any more than they should have to put up with it inside the office. "But that's how we've always done it!" doesn't fly with the courts.
6. Don't excuse bad behavior because it's being done by a woman. We like to be all warm and fuzzy about women empowering women, but the reality is, some women are horrible, awful people who have no desire to see other women succeed. Some women want all the power for themselves. These Queen Bees have often not left junior high in the dust. Bullying when done by a woman to another woman is reprehensible, just as all bullying is.
It's your responsibility as a manager to stop bad office behavior as soon as it starts. No one, male or female, wants to work with office bullies.