Recently, we reached an important milestone in astronomical science:The first picture of a black hole was recorded. This event was captured by an algorithm written by Dr. Katherine Bouman, a 29-year-old fellow at MIT, causing people around the world to celebrate it as another great step forward for women in technology.
Some people, that is.
For others, it became important to ensure that Dr. Bouman’s work was downplayed, belittled, or even denied. The online harassment she has received as a result is an unfortunate reminder that there are many people who do not accept women in leadership roles. In the scientific community, which depends mostly on grants for funding, while women who get funded tend to stay funded, more projects are still led by male researchers.
Throughout my career in the tech industry, I’ve encountered something similar: I’ve noticed thatmy male counterparts often have an easier time convincing others to buy into their ideas than my female coworkers. According to research at Oxford University,this stems from an innate self-confidence in the speaker, which leads to a higher level of persuasion. How much? According to a 2012 Harvard study, men are up to five times faster than women at getting their point across.
I’ve seen this effect, not just in speaking face-to-face, but in writing emails. While answering technical support questions for Evernote, I measured how many back-and-forth replies myself and other agents were sending. As the majority of our issues were the same and had scripted replies, they should have had the same ratio.
However, there was an alarming statistic: For every male agent we had, their touch-to-close ratio was threetimes lower than every female agent — across the board. Everyone sent out the same answers to the same problems, word for word.For some reason, on the female-named agent emails, customers were coming back and asking for clarification, asking for another solution, or often asking to be escalated to a manager.
Seeing that, I asked some agents if they would change their online name to an ambiguous name, like “Sam” or “Chris.”After doing so, their touch-to-close ratio immediately went down — overnight.
Research by customer service company Wordstream saw similar results. They learned that women are undervalued by 21 percentby their customers. As an e mployer trying to understand the issues surrounding diversity, the gender and wage gap, how can you address this? Start with these three strategies:
While I had anecdotal evidence in my own company that something was wrong, I needed actual data to support that hypothesis. By running a report on technical support agent tickets of the same number and types of questions divided split by male and female, I was able to clearly see the difference.
You’ll need to determine a baseline you can test that will give you equivalent results.
After you’ve run your experiment, see if there is a place where you are not as efficient with your spending as you could be. At Evernote, I created the potential for a 60 percent increase in efficiency for my agents by presenting them the opportunity to change their signature.
This had the side benefit of increasing morale, as the female agents who did change it finally caught up to their male counterparts on the overall ticket leaderboard — which, in turn, kept them from leaving their positions.
No matter what you do, there are going to be people that disagree with you. If you come forward as a supporter of Women in Technology, or as a Woman in Technology, you will likely be harassed. You will probably have your motives, your abilities, and your qualifications questioned.
What’s important to know, though, is that with all the research that shows men are more persuasive, another Harvard study shows that people perceive women to be better leaders than men. And my own data backs that up as well — remember at Evernote, all those times people asked to be escalated to a manager? “Heather” answered them, and almost always after one email, they were satisfied.
My advice to Dr. Bouman and all of the other female entrepreneurs out there? Keep being amazing.
You may realize thatsleep is key toproductivity, but research also points to its importance for leaders.
Your sleep routine may be downright essential to your work and the success of your business. Eti Ben Simon, a neuroscientist and postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science, points to several studies that track sleep’s impact on productivity, including one by Christopher M. Barnes and Nathaniel F. Watsonpublished in February 2019that looked at how sleep can help maximize employee effectiveness.
Team leaders’ lack of sleepcould even diminish their perceived charisma in the eyes of their employees, according to another study by Barnes, along with Cristiano L. Guarana, Shazia Nauman, and Dejun Tony Kong,published in May 2016.
“A good night’s sleep is important for every system in our bodies from our brains to how we’re motivated, to how we deal with stress, all the way down to our immune response–which is very relevant right now,” says Ben Simon.
Sleep “istied to optimal functioning,” saysAric Prather, an associate professor at UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, who has studied the subject for 15 years. Sleep plays arole in emotional health and physical health andis critical for a strong immune system, he says.
So, how can you get your best sleep? The experts have some suggestions:
Prather and Ben Simon each cite the importance of a more or less fixed sleep schedule, sevendays a week. That means going to bed at the same time every night, especially when your body begins to signal that you’re tired,and waking at the same time every morning.
To ensure you have a good transition into sleep, create a wind-down routine,Prather suggests. “Cue your body that night is here,” he says.That may mean turning off your devices, stopping your intake of news and information, and taking a shower or bath to ramp up your parasympathetic nervous system and bring on sleep.
“The goal is to let your body let go of all the engaging and angsty things that happened throughout the day,” he says.
“It’s important to keep regularity in the hours you go to sleep and wake up,” says Ben Simon. “When sleep corresponds to a rhythm, I like to give the analogy of riding your bike with the wind at your back: When you’re in sync with your rhythm, the quality of sleep is better.”
Waking up in the night is normal–especially when worries may intrude on good sleep–but tossing and turning in bed as you try to fall back to sleep hinders restfulness.
“If you’re not able to sleep, and you’re awake for 20 or 30 minutes, you want to get out of bed,” says Prather. Tossing and turning have the potential to counter the conditioned arousal that lets your brain and body associate your bed with sleep. To reset yourself, Prather suggests getting out of your bed. “Try to wind yourself down again. Read, watch a little TV. Something until you begin to feel sleepy again and then get back in bed,” he says.
And try not to worry too much. Anxiety and sleep are bidirectional,Ben Simon notes.”If you’ve had a bad night, you’re likely to have a worse day,” she says. “If you have a bad day, you’re likely to have bad sleep. If you get better sleep, that’s enough to reduce anxiety the next day.”
This is a big one for founders and company leaders to keep in mind: The way you help structure your employees’days can set the tone for their nights.
“I would recommend that employers let employees know sleep is valued here,” says Ben Simon. She suggests not sending your team emails late in the evening with the expectation that they will respond immediately and not setting meeting times so early in the morningthat they might cause your team to losesleep. “The most important thing is to prioritize sleep,” she says.
Supporting your team’s ability to get good sleep canhave a huge impact on your company’s culture and bottom line.
“I do a lot of work on sleep and the immune system, and we really have shown fairly conclusively that when people get, say, less than less than six hours of sleep per night on average, they are significantly more likely to get a cold,” Prather says. “It’s very, very clear that sleep is a crucial piece to protecting you from infectious disease.”
That has been important for long time, but now it’s even more essential–and potentially lifesaving.
Want to keep up to date with all the latest news and events?