Unlocking Creativity with Michael Roberto and Workplace Challenges Women Face with Bonnie Marcus

When asked about what’s blocking creativity, people usually say things like hierarchy, bureaucracy, short-term financial pressures, or Wall Street pressures. Michael Roberto, however, found that it’s not a people problem but rather a lack of out-of-the-box thinkers. Michael is the Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University and the author of Unlocking Creativity. He talks about his book and dives more about what’s blocking creativity.


Women face special challenges in the workplace. They have different issues, both internal barriers they set up as well as some of the unconscious bias in the workplace that they have to deal with. Bonnie Marcus primarily focuses on women, mostly because a lot of women are hesitant to position themselves for success. Bonnie is a keynote speaker and the author of The Politics of Promotion and the co-author of Lost Leaders in the Pipeline. She tackles the different obstacles women are facing, the perception of women in leadership and different cultures, and more.

TTL 322 | Unlocking Creativity


I’m glad you joined us because we have Dr. Michael Roberto and Bonnie Marcus. Michael is a Professor at Bryant University and he’s the author of Unlocking Creativity. Bonnie is a keynote speaker, author, Forbes columnist and certified executive coach with getting promoted and women’s issues. We’ve got two fascinating guests that have a lot of connections. I’m interested in hearing their input on creativity and getting promoted.

Listen to the podcast here

Unlocking Creativity with Michael Roberto

TTL 322 | Unlocking Creativity
Unlocking Creativity: How to Solve Any Problem and Make the Best Decisions by Shifting Creative Mindsets

I am here with Michael Roberto, who is the Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University. He joined tenured faculty at Bryant after serving for a few years as faculty at Harvard. He has a book called Unlocking Creativity. I’m excited to talk to you about this, Michael.

Thanks, Diane. It’s great to talk to you.

You’ve written many amazing books. You’ve always taken on issues that I find fascinating with your books about Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes For An Answer or all the different things that you’ve written about. If for any reason somebody doesn’t have a background on you, if you could give a little bit of background. I’d like to talk to you about your book and what led to your interest in writing about creativity.

I left the private sector. I had been at General Dynamics and Staples in my twenties. I went back to do my Doctorate at Harvard. It’s been many years of doing research originally around how management teams make decisions. I focused on that and focused on problem-solving processes. That led me ultimately to the newest work, which is around creative problem solving and what’s blocking creativity. It goes all the way back to trying to understand how people make decisions, which is where I started in my academic career.

Teams are what I talked to Amy Edmondson about when she was on the show. I know you’ve done some work with her, but this is interesting to talk about what’s blocking creativity. I was looking at what’s blocking curiosity. What’s blocking creativity?

What you initially hear superficially when you ask managers or employees when I did their interviews are things like hierarchy, bureaucracy, short-term financial pressures, Wall Street pressures. I don’t negate those. Those are true but I was searching for and getting more to it. What’s underlying this? Those are things that you could tackle as a manager. Many have tried and they still struggle. What I ended up concluding is that it’s not a people problem. It’s not a lack of out of the box thinkers. It’s a situation problem. It’s environmental. It’s around belief systems in companies, which is why it’s hard to overcome. It’s not as simple as changing the org structure. It’s about belief systems or mindsets that permeate the organization and they’re hard to topple and change. They’re embedded.

I found four things impacted curiosity and they were fear, assumptions, technology and the environment. When you talked about the environment, it’s probably the same things that I was finding for curiosity. It’s hard with the beliefs in your environment. Not only in your current environment, it could be your past work environment, it could be things you grow up with and different factors. I was interested in how we could change mindset as well. I’m sure you probably looked at Carol Dweck’s work and some of the others. What was the main research that you found about the situation or environment mindset? What can we do about that?

I started by talking about the notion that the tone at the top certainly is a big factor in the sense that there’s a little bit of double talk on creativity out there. When I interviewed leaders, they said things like, “I want out-of-box thinkers. I want people who will challenge the status quo. I want people who will probe assumptions and challenge the conventional wisdom.” When I talked to employees, what I discover is that’s not the way the leaders are behaving. The way they’re behaving says that what’s going on in their head is they’re going, “Diane’s a troublemaker. I wish she would comply instead of asking many questions.” The message employees are getting is that leaders don’t want out of the box thinking in many cases.

Francesca Gino talked a little bit about that. I see it more with the Boomers and Gen X. They looked at it as insubordination if you didn’t go right in status quo. Did you find it was generationally different?

I didn’t try to track it that way but certainly, many of the senior leaders I talked to are not Millennials. They tend to be older. By de facto, that was the case. I make the argument that it’s not our business leaders that are doing this. I’ve had some fun with the presentations I’ve been giving. I put up a slide with a picture of Miss Trunchbull. If you don’t know who Miss Trunchbull is, she’s a famous character in a Roald Dahl novel called Matilda. Most people perhaps know the movie better than the book starring Danny DeVito. Miss Trunchbull is the mean headmistress. She terrorizes the children. I put up a picture and it’s got this board of rules that are in her classroom and they’re two-word sentences, “Sit still. Be quiet.” I argue that what we’re doing in schools is similar to what leaders are doing, which is they say they want creativity, but we’re really asking for compliance and conformity.

[bctt tweet=”The creative process is fundamentally nonlinear. It involves a lot of trial and error and a lot of iteration.” via=”no”]

You see a lot of that though. Mindset is something that we hear a lot of and you could think of fixed and growth and different types of mindset. You talk about six organizational mindsets that impede creativity and innovation. I want to talk about that because everybody wants to be innovative. AI is sneaking up on all the jobs. Everybody’s trying to figure out how they’re going to be relevant. All the companies they think aren’t going to be here in the future. What are these six mindsets?

When I say mindset, I don’t mean what Carol Dweck and others. That’s why I call them organizational mindsets. I’m not talking about something that resides strictly inside of one person, but instead belief systems that are shared among lots of people in an organization. As an example of the one I lead off with is what I call a linear mindset, which is that we’re trained to solve problems in a fairly linear way. We do some research. We do some analysis. We look at some options. We select a course of action. We execute. It’s a linear model. If you think of strategic planning in companies, that’s the way it works. I argue that the creative process is fundamentally nonlinear.

It involves a lot of trial and error, a lot of iteration, a lot of rapid experimentation and prototyping. I use the example of Leonardo da Vinci as the quintessential nonlinear thinker. He iterated like crazy, so much so that he often didn’t finish his products and his projects. Steve Jobs had a real artist-ship. In the business world, you can’t behave that way. Good innovators do iterate a lot and yet the linear mindset is pervasive. People hate to iterate and there are some deep psychological underpinnings. We don’t like feedback, we don’t like to fail, the only reasons why we’re not good at iterating. We’re comfortable with the linear mindset.

Is it our perception in the United States or is it something everywhere that you’ve seen globally?

I’ve been to Japan every summer for the last many years teaching exec ed and I certainly see a similar pattern there. I’ve spent time in Europe teaching executives and working with them. These are embedded in human nature. I’m not sure that they’re exclusively American or Western in any way.

It’s interesting to me to look at what comes first in this whole innovation solution thing. Creativity’s there. Do you have to have the motivation to be creative? Do you have to have the curiosity to be motivated? How do you see those all tie together?

TTL 322 | Unlocking Creativity
Unlocking Creativity: We don’t like feedback and we don’t like to fail are the reasons why we’re not good at iterating. We’re comfortable with the linear mindset.


I do think curiosity is one of the igniters of the creative process. It’s where it begins. I close the book with a chapter called Leader As Teacher. What it basically says is if you work on these mindsets or if you work on these barriers and then you might find people still aren’t reacting and responding the way you want. The reason is you also as a leader need to ignite their curiosity. You primarily have to clear the path and create an environment where they can be creative, but you’re responsible to ignite their curiosity. The analogy I use or what I ask people to think about is their favorite teachers from childhood who stimulated their intellectual curiosity. What are the things those teachers did? That’s what leaders have to do in a way. They have to do some of those things. One of them is giving people the opportunity to have novel experiences because novelty stirs the brain. It’s one of the arguments I make. Another is they have to be able to ask questions and provoke and get people. Part of the job of leaders isn’t just to present solutions but ask a lot of questions to get people to re-examine the way they’re doing things. Get them curious about why is it that way or why not. That’s why I’m curious and interested about the work you’re doing. I argue that we have to ignite that because that’s the match. It gets things going.

If you see the front of my book, it says, “To Mr. Tate,” who was my 7th to 8th Grade math teacher who made me be more curious. He was a crazy guy. He was great. He was my favorite guy and he would climb up on the chalkboard and yell at it. He would get in the closet and scream from the closet and do all crazy stuff to get the kids thinking outside the normal process. When you talk about novel experiences, that was one for me.

One of the other mindsets I talk about in the book is the naysayer mindset. I quote Tom Kelley of IDEO who says, “The devil’s advocate is the biggest innovation killer in Corporate America now.” I take issue with the quote because a lot of the research, including my own, argues that the devil’s advocate helps us make better decisions. What I do is I say yes, but it depends on how you play the devil’s advocate. There’s a difference between a constructive devil’s advocate and a naysayer. The naysayers are always looking for why things won’t work. They’re never asking how it might work. One of the things we have to be able to do if we want to establish more creativity is, we have to be able to get those naysayers out. We have to create constructive devil’s advocates. Constructive devil’s advocates are not practicing what I call the “Yeah but” mentality, which is someone proposed an idea and all they think is, “Yeah but it won’t work, yeah but we tried it before, yeah but we don’t have the resource to do that.” They have to think instead of how it might work. Good devil’s advocates are asking a lot of questions. They’re not sitting there saying, “Diane, you’re wrong for these three reasons.” Immediately, you’re going to get defensive. You’re killing ideas before they have a chance to flourish at all in that respect.

That brings up something that someone said on my show once about a lot of people say, “Don’t come to me with your problems unless you have a solution for it.” He said something I hadn’t heard from other people so much as he said, “If they don’t have the solution because it’s not their skill set, then you’re not finding out about problems. You’ve got to let people come to you with their problem even if they don’t have the solution.” What do you say?

The last book I wrote about what I call leaders as problem finders. I basically argued that in order to be a good decision maker, you have to know where the problems are in your organization. In many cases, they remain hidden from senior leaders. You want them to remain hidden and say things like, “Don’t come to me with problems. Come to me with solutions.” You’re asking people to cover stuff up.

How do we turn down these barriers? What other things can we do?

[bctt tweet=”The beginner’s mindset is the key to creativity.” via=”no”]

One of the biggest barriers I talk about is the idea that we get caught up, especially in companies with the benchmarking mindset. We’re constantly looking at competition and studying them. As a result, we fixate on them and we end up copying them and we often copy badly, which is the worst. I have a few techniques that are important to help overcome that. They also relate to some of the other discussion we had around curiosity. One of them is look outside your industry for analogous inspiration. If you’re a hospital trying to improve the inpatient experience in a room, go study the Ritz-Carlton. By definition, you can’t copy them because they’re in a totally different industry. It’s not even economically feasible to copy what they do on a hospital. You’re almost forced to learn and be inspired instead of copy. You’re forcing creativity in a way. If you’re running a fast food restaurant, go study a NASCAR pit crew to see how they quickly turn things around.

The other one I talk about is don’t look just at the people who you’re competing with every day but look for what the substitutes are for your product or service. Coke and Pepsi are competitors. Water is a substitute for soda. I wrote about Planet Fitness, an interesting company because they’re in a horrible business. Fitness businesses are highly unprofitable. Planet Fitness has managed to make money for quite some time and you ask, “How have they done it?” They said, “We’re not competing against other gyms. We’re competing against the things people do besides going to the gym.” They define those broadly. They didn’t say, “Working out at home is a substitute for going to the gym.” As their CEO has been known to say, “Chili’s, UNO and the movie theater are substitutes for going to the gym,” because they’re more pleasurable. What they said is, “Why are our customers doing those things instead of coming to a gym?” That led them to this whole judgment-free zone idea.

This creative idea emerges because they say, “People don’t like going to our rivals because they’re intimidated. They feel they can’t possibly be as fit as those heavyweight lifters, etc.” That led them to create this anti-gym. It’s a place where there are no weights more than 80 pounds, where there are no trainers, there are no exercise classes. It’s a bunch of cardio equipment. It’s $10 a month and they poke fun at people who are super fit. They serve pizza once a month. It sounds ludicrous. What they’ve done is to create the gym for the average person. They did it by going, “Let’s stop fixating on who we compete with every day.” There’s a broader world out there. How do we get people who aren’t going to not just us, but they’re not going to our competitors either?

I wrote about some similar things and what I say about curiosity is to step outside your industry because not only are we worried about being outside your cubicle or even your silo. There’s no way they’re looking outside their company, much less their industry in a lot of situations. I’ve interviewed Naveen Jain and people that keep switching industries all the time when I learned completely new things. You have fresh eyes. You get outside of what you think you know everything because that’s the way it’s always been done. It shakes things up completely. It’s almost like trying not to unlearn a bad golf swing. You start from scratch.

I want an expert to do surgery if I need a knee replacement. I do not want a novice to operate on my knee. On the other hand, the problem with experts is unfortunately the evidence says as people gain deep expertise in the field, they get more close-minded. They even get dogmatic. That’s why you need to step out of what you’re doing every day because it’s not that you have blinders on. You don’t have that same beginner’s mindset you had when you started the job where you’re going, “I wonder why it works this way.” You’re asking questions. You’re challenging assumptions and that beginner’s mindset is key to curiosity. It’s key to creativity. Unfortunately, all of us who are mired in the details of our job day-to-day, we can lose that beginner’s mindset and even worse, get closed-minded.

I’m writing about perception and I’m curious about what you think how much our perception impacts creativity and, in general, of how we are able to be innovative. Is it something that we get closed off from culture? What are the things you think impact our perception to be creative?

TTL 322 | Unlocking Creativity
Unlocking Creativity: In order to be a good decision maker, you have to know where the problems are in your organization.


I do this exercise, which I took from Tim Brown, who’s the CEO at IDEO, but he took it from a man named Bob McKim, who was a creativity researcher at Stanford years ago. I ask people to take out a piece of paper usually when I’m doing a workshop or something. I have them sketch their neighbor for 60 seconds. They’re horrified because most of them think they’re terrible artists. After 60 seconds, I ask them to show their neighbor the sketch. What do they do when they have to? First of all, some of them don’t want to show the sketch. They hide it. They’re afraid to show it. Others show it but the first thing they do is apologize, “I’m sorry,” when they draw it. There’s always nervous laughter and everything. It’s a great high energy exercise. This always happens. There are always apologies. There’s always reluctance. I do the same thing with ten-year-olds. How do they react? They loved the exercise. They’re not ashamed at all. We worry so much about how others perceive us as we grow older that we self-censor. Self-censorship kills a lot of ideas before they’ve ever emerged. They don’t emerge because we hold them in a way.

I’d love to see that done in different cultures like in different countries. Have you done that outside of the United States?

I haven’t done it yet outside. I’ve been doing it all around the US.

It could be completely different than what you expect.

I’m curious. I’ve been waiting to do it.

What you’re trying to do and what I’m trying to do is to help people become more successful, innovative, creative, curious and all the things that end up helping organizations be more productive, which makes everybody more money which is good.

[bctt tweet=”If you’ve got a climate where people are fearful, they’re not going to be creative.” via=”no”]

Everybody has to understand that what you’re trying to tell people and what I’m trying to do is say, “It’s not about the next blockbuster billion-dollar product.” It could be about finding a better way to do your work tomorrow. It could be about finding a small improvement that could put smiles on customer’s faces or engage your employees better. When we say creativity and innovation and curiosity, it doesn’t have to be changing the world in one giant leap. People have to have that confidence to say, “I get it. I’m not necessarily going to change everything all at once.”

That would be overwhelming for people if they look at it that way. There’s so much money that’s been lost from engagement issues, from all the things that tie back to all this. If it helps people feel more engaged and aligned with the right jobs. If they’re going to lose their jobs to innovation, other things are going to take over the jobs that you used to do. Wouldn’t it be nice that they could like what they’re doing now that they have to move?

There are many disengaged workers. You’ve seen the data. It’s alarming, to be honest, that there’s that larger chunk of the workforce that feels disengaged at work. There’s all this lost productivity and all this turnover that’s happening because of it. It should concern us more than it has probably.

This is the stuff that they need to talk about. There are a lot of teams going on. I talked to Amy Edmonson about teaming and teams and different things, but you also are a team expert. When you talk about encouraging creativity and collaborating in teams, what did you find as far as that went?

She and I have done a lot of work together over the years. She talks about creating that climate of psychological safety within a team. I make the argument that unfortunately, a lot of leaders that I researched were obsessed with the organizational structure. We need to be worrying. We then flatten the organizational structure. The problem with that is not that I’m all for massive amounts of hierarchy, but it’s forgetting that far more important than the boxes and arrows on the org chart is the climate you create. The shared norms you create within the team. What makes great teamwork is the norms and ground rules you established or the climate you established. The way that you make decisions and the process you employ. That matters so much more. You can have the flattest organization you want but if you’ve got a climate where people are fearful, they’re not going to be creative. It doesn’t matter.

When I found the four factors for curiosity, I expected fear to be the number one by far. The other ones wouldn’t be anywhere near it, but it was evenly distributed across the assumptions where the voice in their head and the technology doing things for them and their environment. Fear is a huge thing for a lot of people. Nobody wants to look bad or be the one that says the thing that everybody’s thinking, but then everybody is dead silence crickets. It’s a real factor. You’ve touched on many important things that we need to be doing to get an innovative culture and climate. There’s never been a better time. This is such a timely book. A lot of people will be interested in reading Unlocking Creativity: How to Solve Any Problem and Make the Best Decisions By Shifting Creative Mindsets. If somebody wanted to read your book or find out more about you, how would they do that?

Probably the best way to get started is they can go to www.ProfessorMichaelRoberto.com. There they can learn about me, but also they can download the first chapter for free. Learn more about the book. There are some great videos about the book that are there with some good tips. They’re nice and short. We did one that’s fun. It’s an animated video featuring Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and the Beatles and others. That’s a great place on the website. They can also follow me on social media. People can find me on Twitter and Facebook and the like as well if they want to learn more.

This has been so much fun having you on the show. Thank you so much for being here.

Thanks, Diane. Good luck with your book. It’s cool to have a community of scholars looking at such important issues.

Thank you. It’s an honor even to be considered that in your community.

Workplace Challenges Women Face with Bonnie Marcus

I am here with Bonnie Marcus, whose extensive business background includes serving as CEO of ServiceMaster Company, VP of Sales at Medical Staffing Network and two other national companies in healthcare and the software industries. She’s a keynote speaker, but she’s also the author of The Politics Of Promotion and the co-author of Lost Leaders In The Pipeline. It’s nice to have you here, Bonnie.

Thanks, Diane for having me.

You’re welcome. I’ve been looking forward to this because you’re right about a lot of things that are success related. Your website’s WomensSuccessCoaching.com. Do you primarily deal with women-based issues or is there some other slant that you have?

My niche is working with women and that’s because in my own corporate career, I realized that women face special challenges in the workplace. For instance, the book is talking about how to navigate the workplace office politics, which applies to both genders. Women have different issues; both internal barriers they set up as well as some of the unconscious bias in the workplace they have to deal with. I decided that I would focus on women, mostly because a lot of women are hesitant to position themselves for success. They’re hesitant to speak up and talk about their accomplishments to promote themselves. What I witnessed is that as a result, they’re pretty invisible and they get passed over.

Do you think that there’s a particular reason for that?

We’re given different messages when we’re growing up. Women are much more hesitant to put themselves out there. They’re worried about bragging. They’re much more likely to believe that their work alone will get them ahead. They believe that they don’t need to bother with building relationships or paying attention to politics. They’re hesitant to do all of that, where men are much more likely to build powerful networks and understand that it takes more than work and good performance to get ahead. Women hold themselves back in many ways. It’s not just an internal thing. Women face certainly a lot of obstacles in the workplace subtle and not so subtle that men don’t face.

I hear a lot of people say women say sorry more than others. Why do you think we tend to apologize so much?

[bctt tweet=”Our society favors youth and attractiveness.” via=”no”]

We lack the confidence to speak more assertively and directly. We soft-pedal a little bit. We choose language that’s more minimizing and qualifying and we certainly apologize a lot more. I don’t know if it’s genetic or upbringing and it’s probably a combination of both. What happens in the workplace is often that women who are more assertive and ambitious get put down and aren’t well liked. Women have to deal with that as well.

In my experience, I found that I got along well with the men in the working world and didn’t have any issues. You start to notice that sometimes you get given more secretarial duties that they wouldn’t give to another man. Do you see that continues to happen?

I do. I have a story from my own background. When I was one of three principals in a tech startup, we were going around to different venture capital firms to raise some money. We eventually raised $18 million. We went to all the large VC firms in New York and Boston. We went to one firm in New York and I remember there were three of us and two other principals were men. I was the only woman. We were escorted to this conference room. It was full of testosterone. We were setting up and the partners from the firms started to come in. One of them came over to me and asked me if I would go out and get coffee. I looked around and I was the only woman. I didn’t go out and get coffee. I put my hand out and I introduced myself and I told him what I was doing there. That was a decade ago but it continues as I speak with all of my clients. Women are asked to take on more housekeeping roles in the office, more secretarial. Men are channeled more toward leadership. Women are channeled more toward support roles that don’t have P&L responsibilities.

I can remember being in meetings at roundtables. Everybody would be introduced except for me. I’m sitting there thinking, “I’m the head of this department.” I’m wondering why I’m sitting here. I felt I was more capable than a lot of people who were being introduced. I don’t think they see it until later unless you point it out. I guess we don’t toot our own horn sometimes. Maybe you need to do more of that. What do you think are some of the barriers? There are different obstacles that we’re facing. Can’t we address those?

There are a lot of obstacles. Outright gender bias is certainly illegal. A lot of companies have training programs, but there’s subtle bias against women and especially assertive and vicious women. They don’t get the sponsorship that men do, especially after the whole #MeToo Movement. There’s a lot of research that shows that male leadership is much more hesitant to sponsor a young woman. Sponsorship is one of the most powerful relationships you can have because they propel your career to the top. They take action on your behalf. Women are less likely to get sponsors. They are the subject of a lot of assumptions as well. That goes along with the bias. This is a cultural thing. Once you become a mother, all of a sudden you’re taken off the leadership track. The company probably assumes you don’t want to work that hard. You don’t want to travel. That may or may not be the case. A lot of companies make assumptions about women, especially women who are mothers.

I went for a job interview when I was pregnant with my first daughter and I was four months pregnant and I didn’t tell them. After they had told me I had the job, I was like, “By the way.” It could have had an impact. I remember waiting for another job when I was pregnant with my second daughter several months later. I was told I had a job but they said, “We put you on contingency for the next opening,” which we anticipate in about a few months and I found out I was pregnant. I was like, “I don’t think I’m going to mention this.” The day I had the baby, the guy called me and said, “The job’s open. We want you to come for an interview.” I was in the hospital bed and I said, “I’m in a meeting right now. Can we do it next Friday?” I remember she was born on a Wednesday. I said, “How about a week from Friday?” I tried to give myself the most amount of time so that I could put a rubber band through the back of my skirt and put clothes on to keep my dress up and my skirt up and it worked. He never knew I was pregnant.

A couple of months later we were talking and he goes, “I never asked you if you have any family.” I go, “I have two kids.” He goes, “How old are they?” I go, “One’s one and the other one’s a month old. I thought you might not want to know that because it would probably freak you out.” He goes, “I’m glad you didn’t tell me that. I might have worried.” It’s hard because there’s biology associated. There are things your body does. We have these assumptions, these cultural biases as you talk about. I’m interested in the whole perception issue of male, female success and what you’ve seen. Have you done a lot? I know you write for HR.com, Forbes, Business Insider, you name it. You’ve written for Fast Company, all of the biggest ones. What do you see as a difference in our perception of women in leadership and different cultures around the world? Is the United States better or worse than other areas?

TTL 322 | Unlocking Creativity
Unlocking Creativity: Sponsorship is one of the most powerful relationships you can have because they propel your career to the top.


We’re far behind a lot of other developed countries in terms of the percentage of women on boards and in leadership positions. When I read the research, it’s surprising to me. We certainly have increased sensitivity. A lot of companies have initiatives for high-achieving women and are working actively to get more women on boards and leadership positions. As far as the number of female CEOs, the percentage dropped a little bit. A couple of prominent women left their CEO positions and new women weren’t appointed CEOs. There’s a combination of the fact that culturally we have an issue with powerful women. We saw that in the 2016 presidential campaign. It should be interesting to see what happens when many women are running for president in 2020.

Women in power, there’s something about that combination that many men and women too have an issue with, maybe even more than men. It makes it much more difficult. Women have to walk the line of being assertive and direct and powerful, but they have to go out of their way to be likable at the same time. You saw that certainly with Hillary. She was not likable. It’s beginning to come up now as we have more women running for president, but you don’t worry about that. That’s probably why women apologize more too. We want to be liked. It’s a balance between we need to show our leadership skills, we need to be assertive, but we also know and recognize that we need to be well-liked if we’re going to succeed in our career. We are always on that balancing act.

It’s a tough thing for a lot of people because you want to network and you want to be connected to the right people. You have to be able to know how to network properly. Do men like to be networked with differently than women? What’s the strategy there?

One difference is that men and women network differently. Men’s networks extend usually after work easily. They may have a close network of guys and it spills over into let’s meet for drinks or play golf or play poker. Whereas women have a network around their work perhaps, but then outside of the office their network is usually around their community or their families. That’s what research shows. My experience is that men are more strategic about building their network than women are. The result is that women don’t have an effective network that supports their career and their career goal. Men network more intentionally and purposefully. That’s a much more powerful way to network. When you say, “Here’s my career goal.” You should say, “Who do you know? Who do you need to know to get to that goal?” Focus on building relationships and identifying people and nurturing these relationships over time with people who can be your allies and champions. Men are much better at that. They’re much better at leveraging the quid pro quo than women are. Women will be willing to nurture a relationship and do a lot for people in their network, but they never ask for anything in return.

I was thinking about a guy I worked with not too long ago and I would remind him of things he owed me. He’d act all shocked that I would even bring it up. At work, he’d promised that I could do something or this or that. He laughed at me like, “You say it like it is.” I’m thinking, “Wouldn’t a guy do that or not?” He’s shocked that I’m a female doing it then. I thought, “This was our deal.” It’s something you get better at as you get older. When I was younger, I was much more intimidated. It’s almost impossible to intimidate me now. You’ve seen it all. Do you find that it’s an age-related thing?

I do. At a certain point in time, women feel more empowered to be themselves. They’re more aware of who they are as a person and what their identity is. They stand in that. That’s more their power. They’re less likely to put up with a lot of the fuss over a lot of the petty stuff. I’m currently working on another book about women over 50 in the workplace and interviewing a lot of women who have been marginalized and pushed out and even forced to leave their jobs as they age. When you look at some of the role models of women over 50, Nancy Pelosi and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Glenn Close, all these women who are in the spotlight as being over 70. These are great role models because when you are pushed around and the subject of ages, remarks and stuff like that in the workplace, you tend to lose that mojo. Women outside of the workplace who are that age who aren’t subjected to that are much more connected with that mojo and confidence.

That’s the one thing I noticed when I did a lot of work and I still do quite a bit of work in online education. No one ever saw you for the interview. Everything was virtual if you taught virtual courses. It didn’t matter how old or female, male. It was such a more even playing field. I never thought about that of how that job interview is different. Is virtual positioning of people making it better for women who are older?

[bctt tweet=”Women can’t be doormats. We need to speak up and stand up for ourselves.” via=”no”]

Not necessarily because you’re visible. Our society favors youth and attractiveness. Women are much more likely to face age-related discrimination before men. There’s incredible research that shows there’s a connection that people feel that as you get older, you’re less competent. When women show their age, they’re viewed as less competent. Whereas as men age, they are viewed as more valuable in the workplace often.

What’s the age that’s the cutoff? Are we good until 40, 45, 70?

It begins in the mid-40s certainly. I’m specifically looking at women 50 and over. Some of the horror stories I’ve heard about how they’re treated in the workplace and we’re talking about high-level women. General counsels, female attorneys, women who’ve been in a tech company for fifteen, twenty years, who all of a sudden their workload is reassigned and they’re subjected to a lot of demeaning comments.

Any legal action? Are you talking to people who have gone through any EEOC things or they just left?

There’s a combination. When somebody makes some age-related comment about, “Look at you on Snapchat or you’re such a grandmother.” Comments like these make women feel a lot of shame. They are sensitive to being older and being in the workplace. A lot of these women don’t say anything. In this book, I’m helping women to speak up in a politically savvy way so that they don’t get fired and that people around notice, “That’s age-related. I don’t need to tolerate that.” I’ve also talked to a lot of employment attorneys who say that you should file a complaint with HR. It should not necessarily follow through with a lawsuit. Every company has laws and they have lawyers and you should let it be known that you are being subjected to whatever it is. Definitely call it out as age-related. Don’t call it out as bullying because that’s not illegal. Be on the record and then start to document in case you’re given a pink slip.

I’ve worked for companies where the HR people had more issues than the rest of the company. You’re thinking, “This is who I’m going to report to.” You don’t want to be the person who reports to HR anyway sometimes. You get that stigma if everybody finds out. It’s a tough thing for people. What’s the solution?

The solution is we need to bring more awareness to it. Women can’t be doormats. We need to speak up and stand up for ourselves when we’re subjected to this stuff. We need to talk to an attorney if there’s repeated behavior. Sometimes you can give people the benefit of the doubt. Our culture is prone to ageism and sexism that we make all kinds of remarks. When somebody comes up to me and they say, “You look young.” For years, I took that as a compliment. Now I realized that’s ageist, “What do you mean I look young? Young for my age?” People need to be more aware of it. We can, in the beginning, give people the benefit of the doubt that they don’t even realize it. You go to CVS and you’re looking for a birthday card for a woman who’s over 40 or whatever. They’re all age-related. They’re demeaning and humiliating. You can’t age in our society without a glass of wine. It’s helpful if we talk about it and let people know that, “That’s ageist. That’s not something that I feel comfortable with or I should tolerate.” If the behavior doesn’t change, then you go to HR and you consult with an attorney.

TTL 322 | Unlocking Creativity
Unlocking Creativity: Women are much more likely to face age-related discrimination before men.


It’s probably good advice and it’s a great place to end our conversation. A lot of people are going to want to know more about how they could get The Politics Of Promotion or Lost Leaders In The Pipeline and find out more about what you do. How can they reach you?

The best way is through my website, which is WomensSuccessCoaching.com. My book is The Politics Of Promotion. You can buy the book on Amazon. I also have a Forbes column. You can find me on Forbes.com. I’ve been a contributor for Forbes since 2010. I try to write an article for a week. Sometimes it doesn’t happen but I’m prolific.

Thank you so much for being on the show, Bonnie. This was fascinating.

Thanks, Diane. It was a pleasure talking to you.

It was fun. I’d like to thank both Michael and Bonnie for being on my show. This was exciting to talk to them. It’s such great information. If you want to find out more about Cracking The Curiosity Code or the Curiosity Code Index, you can go to CuriosityCode.com. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Michael Roberto

TTL 322 | Unlocking CreativityMichael Roberto is the Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI. He joined the tenured faculty at Bryant after serving for six years on the faculty at Harvard Business School. His research focuses on how leaders and teams solve problems and make decisions. In addition to publishing three books, Professor Roberto has created three audio/video lecture series for The Great Courses. In 2017, the Case Centre ranked him #25 on their list of the 40 best-selling case study authors in the world. In addition to traditional case studies, he has developed a number of innovative multi-media cases and simulations for students, including the widely adopted Everest Leadership and Team Simulation (co-authored with Amy Edmondson).

About Bonnie Marcus

TTL 322 | Unlocking CreativityBonnie Marcus’ extensive business background includes serving as CEO of a ServiceMaster company, VP of Sales at Medical Staffing Network, and two other national companies in the healthcare & software industries. A popular keynote speaker, Bonnie Marcus is also the author of The Politics Of Promotion and the co-author of Lost Leaders In The Pipeline.


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