Want More Women at the Podium? Bring Conscious Awareness to Unconscious Bias.

You’re a meeting planner, a planning committee member, a symposium series organizer, or otherwise responsible for engaging speakers and presenters. You have an explicit goal of ensuring gender diversity* among the speakers you engage. And yet, despite your best efforts, you consistently fall short of your diversity goals. What is going on?

Your program is a victim of unconscious bias.

I experienced this early in my career, when I was running a grant program and was responsible for setting up review panels. I quickly learned that when asked the questions, “Whom should we invite to join the review committee next year?” the group, who at the time were mostly men, would quickly give me a list of names, all of them men. I would tear off that flipchart page, stick it on the wall, then say, “OK, now how about we come up with a list of qualified women.” And, invariably, I would end up with just such a list.

The good news is that these groups of men were quick to realize what had happened. Asked for the first names who came to mind, they named people who looked like them. To overcome that unconscious bias, I had to ask, directly and clearly, for what I wanted from them: a list of diverse candidates, not all of whom looked like them.

Unconscious bias looms large on the list of reasons why women and minorities struggle to advance in male-dominated professions, why they are less likely to receive promotions, funding, and awards, and why they are less likely to be considered as presenters and speakers at your meetings.

As I discovered, when what you are after is a list of potential speakers, reviewers, or award recipients, the direct approach works best. Whether in a committee meeting or a one-to-one conversation, these two steps will help you reach the diversity you want.

1.     State your desire for diversity up front and at the beginning of the conversation. Some variation on, “We are committed to gender diversity in our programs. As we talk about potential speakers (reviewers, awardees), I want you to give a lot of thought to identifying women who would fit well in our program.” Reiterate as needed.

2.     When you still end up with a list that is all or nearly all men, make your ask again, “You have recommended some fine people, and they are all (or mostly) men. Do you know any women whom we should ask?”

And don’t take “no” for an answer. If your current sources truly know of no women who qualify, ask another source.

  • Reach out to  “Women in [Subject]” groups, committees, or caucuses of scholarly societies.
  • Check with program officers or awardees of grant programs that support the advancement of women, such as the National Science Foundation Advance program.
  • Make use of databases like the one compiled by the RAISE project.

Do you have other tips for increasing diversity at the podium? Please, leave them in the comments section.

*Much of this is also true for racial/ethnic and other diversity goals. Gender is what I know best, so I’ll stick to that here.


The landmark 2007 study by the US National Academies, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, noted that “Decades of cognitive psychology research reveals that most of us carry prejudices of which we are unaware but that nonetheless play a large role in our evaluations of people and their work. . . . Although most scientists and engineers believe that they are objective and intend to be fair, research shows that they are not exempt from those tendencies.”

If you think you’re unbiased, go take a few of the implicit bias tests available for free from Harvard University’s Project Implicit.

Books that describe research on unconscious bias and its impact include:

Madeleine L. Van Hecke Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things. Prometheus Books, 2007.

Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

Shankar Vedantam. The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives. Spiegel & Grau, 2010.







Stressed? Have a Cup of Gratitude.

Feeling stressed this holiday season? Try making yourself cup of gratitude.

This morning I had an unprompted moment of clear and utter gratitude. I was sipping my morning cuppa, looking around my home (which is also my office building), and had a sudden and deep realization that my life is extraordinarily wonderful. Literally, it is in no way ordinary, and I am full of wonder at what I have created with the life that was handed me.

Now, these past few weeks I've been in a bit of a funk. Not deep enough to earn the title "depression" but deep enough that I haven't much felt like putting up the Yule decorations or going to the social events that pile up this time of year. I was dwelling on all the things I don't have - family members who have died, friendships that have ended or faded, the lack of time and funding for  the projects I want to complete, and on and on. Nothing life-shattering or even particularly serious, just a low-grade sense of lack and dissatisfaction.

This morning that all shifted.

What led to this seemingly miraculous moment? Remember that Zen saying: "Cut wood, carry water?" Attend to the day-to-day needs of your being, so that you can simply be. That's it. For me, that looks like "Meditate, exercise, eat healthy food." When I take the time to simply be fully in my body, to be completely in the present moment, to be still and listen, clarity comes. And with it comes compassion, for myself, for those I love, for all beings in this crazy world. And a heart full of gratitude for this extraordinary, wonderful life of mine.

Then, only then, can I begin to imagine, plan, and do. Maybe I'll even pull those decorations out of the attic . . .

Why Hire a Coach?


Why do I never get the things in life that I want? Why does success elude me? Why does every attempt I make to change my life lead me back to what I had to begin with? What do I really want, anyway? 

When you're asking yourself questions like these and getting no answers, it's time to bring in a coach.

Coaching can address any part of your life in which there is a discrepancy between what you say you want and what you have and consistently get. If you’re confused, uncertain, scared, don’t know what you want, or you're tormented by “should’s” and “ought-to’s,” coaching can serve to sort through the confusion and bring clarity and focus. 

Coaching can help when:

  • You know precisely where you are heading and want some tools and encouragement to pick up the pace or keep you focused. 
  • You are happy where you are and getting curious about what might be next. 
  • You are facing a setback or disappointment and feel unsure about what’s next. 
  • You are experiencing mild and vague disgruntlement and wondering where that’s coming from and what you can do about it. 
  • You are unhappy and tired of trying to fix things on your own.

As a coach, I offer a client-centered approach and effective and useful techniques and tools, including: 

  • structure for getting the results that you want. I provide structure for your work through regular coaching appointments, tasks and steps to work through, deadlines, and benchmarks for success.
  • accountability – I will hold you responsible for doing the work, completing tasks and exercises that you’ve agreed to do, and meeting deadlines that you’ve agreed to. Simply being held accountable for doing what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it is a very large component of our successful coaching relationship.
  • challenges that move you out of your comfort zone and give you confidence in your ability and belief in your accomplishments. 

The best coach in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t do the work to create change in yourself and your life. What you get out of coaching is directly proportional to the amount of work you are willing to put in. 

Your commitment and determination, even in the face of resistance and reluctance, are key to make coaching work for you. Indeed, if there weren’t resistance and reluctance in the way, you wouldn’t need a coach. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable.  You also have to tell the truth – about what is going on for you, what you are feeling and thinking, what you have done or not done, and what kind of results you are getting.   And yes, you have to do the homework – the tasks and exercises that I ask you to do, even when you don’t immediately see the reason for it.

Is coaching worth the time and expense?  If you want to make a change in your life AND you need the support of a coach to make that change happen – ask yourself “What is it costing me to have my life stay the way it is?”   What is it costing you in terms of your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health?  What is it costing your loved ones and friends?   Ask yourself if you – a happy, productive, satisfied you – are worth it. 

If the answer is "Yes," contact me to set up a free consultation call today.  

What Are Your Favorite Job Interview Questions?

When interviewing for jobs, I recommend coming up with two sets of questions. The first set are all the questions you ask because you want the facts: salary, benefits, amount of travel, number of people you'll be supervising, the size of the budget, and so on. The second set are more subtle, because the answers contain information that lies beneath the surface of the answers you get. These are questions that give you information about the culture of the organization beyond the canned responses of "our values as stated in our strategic plan are . . ." or "we encourage all of our employees to . . . " . Here's an example from my own career: 

When I interviewed for the position of Scientific Director at a women's health research advocacy organization, I talked (separately) to three people: the Executive Director (CEO), the Deputy Director (COO), and a member of the Board of Directors. I asked each of them, "Is this a feminist organization?" and I got three very different responses. 

CEO:  "No, absolutely not, we can't call ourselves that and be effective in the work we do on the Hill and at the agencies."

COO: "What do you mean by 'feminist'?" (This led to a great conversation about how feminism influenced my management style, how I regarded and treated staff, etc.)

Board member: "Absolutely it is. I wouldn't be involved if it weren't." 

All of these were the "right" answers.  The CEO's focus was on growing the organization's reputation as a thought leader and its influence among lawmakers and policy makers, in order to achieve the organization's goals. The COO's focus was on how well I would fit into the organization's culture and style of management. The Board member had the big picture in mind - how does this organization fit in the wider world of policy and politics? 

What is your favorite question to ask when you interview for a job?






Things I Do To Keep My Cool While Bicycling in Traffic

Things I do to keep my cool when biking in traffic:
1. When a driver honks at me, I smile and wave as if they are someone I know just saying "Hello." I love the puzzled looks I get.
2. When a driver does something well (or something kind) - stays behind me until it is safe to pass, passes me with at least 3 feet between their rearview mirror and my handlebars, slows down to let me in when I signal a lane change, etc. - I let myself really feel the appreciation and wave my "thank you" to them. 
3. When a driver does something that threatens my life or safety, I wait for the adrenaline rush to wear off (and sometimes I say a few choice words out loud to help with that) and then breathe a blessing: "May you get where you are going efficiently and safely." (I do this when I drive, too.)

When possible I ask, directly, for what I want.  While sitting at intersections waiting for the light to change, I've asked the driver next to me, "OK if I move in front of you until I get around that delivery truck parked in the bike lane?" I've never had a driver say no.

And sometimes I just have to laugh. For example, once I was nearly sideswiped while being passed by a woman driving a Smartcar with a vanity license plate that said "GoGreen." I guess I was a bit too green for her at that moment. 

What do you do to keep your cool when working under pressure?

The Medium and the Message

Effective communication requires that you first clarify for yourself what exactly it is that you want to communicate. Are you offering factual information that is relatively emotion-neutral? Are you delivering information that you can anticipate will bring up an emotional response? Do you want to express and get over your own emotional response to something? 

Clear communication also requires that you choose the right medium for conveying your message. Face-to-face is always ideal, because it allows for immediate response and feedback. You’ll know pretty quickly if the message you sent was the message that was received. Face-to-face conversation is the only effective option when the message you need to convey has a significant emotional content. Remember, we communicate on many levels other than verbal speaking-and-listening, and when our emotions are triggered, our brain is attentive to all kinds of signals, down to pupil dilation and how we smell.

When a face-to-face conversation isn’t possible, a telephone call can be an adequate, though not ideal, solution. Although you lose the context of facial expression and body language, talking by phone preserves the information conveyed by volume, pitch, and tone of your voice and by the pacing of your speech.

Great novelists are expert at conveying emotional content through the written word. For the rest of us, written communication is suitable only for providing factual information, free of emotional content. This includes emails, tweets, Facebook or LinkedIn posts – any medium in which your message will be read by someone at a distance. This is particularly true for communication in business or at work. In a work situation, one useful practice is to write out (NOT in your email program where you might hit “send” too soon) everything you want you want to say, including opinions, assessments, judgments, emotion, insults, “digs,” and so on. Then go back and delete anything that is not a statement of fact. Opinions, assessments, and judgments are statements of fact when they are prefaced with “I think . . .” or “My opinion on this is . . . “ Even so, keep the insults, digs, and emotions out of it. “Joe, I think that the analysis you’ve provided in this report incomplete. What I want is an analysis that addresses the following . . .” is ok. “Joe, what the heck am I supposed to do with this lame report you provided?” may feel satisfying in the moment, but is that really going to get you what you want?