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Kim Churches, the Chief Executive Officer of the American Association of University Women, joins the program to discuss a report by the AAUW called The Simple Truth, which outlines how the gender wage gap has stagnated over the past 20 years. Kim reveals why policy changes alone are not enough to create real change, and the underlying paradigm changes that need to occur in order to close the gender wage gap. Discover how technology can be helpful, and the changing expectations of the next generation of workers.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • Kim’s diversity story, including growing  up in different communities (2:00)
  • The concerning data about the gender pay gap (11:00)
  • Key skills that women need when negotiating salary (18:00)
  • How one major company is closing the gender pay gap (30:00)
  • The demographic changes that will impact the workforce of the future (37:00)
  • Why accountability is crucial (39:00)
  • How leaders and mentors can help women advance in organizations (44:00)
  • The need for a national conversation about gender equity and equality (49:00)
  • The danger of assuming that good intentions are enough (54:00)

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

JENNIFER BROWN: Kim, welcome to The Will to Change.

KIM CHURCHES: Thanks for having me, Jennifer.

JENNIFER BROWN: I always start The Will To Change with our diversity stories. Our listeners know that we believe everyone has a diversity story or stories, multiple, and I loved learning about your background when we first began speaking. What would you share as your diversity story or stories that led you to be the passionate advocate that you are today?

KIM CHURCHES: Yeah, it’s a really good question because I truly do believe that in this intersectional world, we all have many different faces, many different stories in our lives that bring us to these points. I grew up with parents that didn’t graduate from college, they were unable to. When my parents divorced, my mom was a single mom without a college degree earning so little money that many times she was very creative in how to stretch our food budget, but always made sure we were clean and ready for school.

So, public-school raised, but not just raised in one community, raised all over the country. Born in Miami, raised in Chicago, Minnesota, Seattle, back to the D.C. area and so, I had from those early years in Seattle of lots of different experiences with the Asian-American community to then going to high school in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area with much more of an African-American population and being able to work in all of these different communities. But because my parents didn’t graduate from college, I didn’t have that pathway, I didn’t have that silver spoon into the policy world, into academe, into the business world or the non-profit sector where I’ve spent the bulk of my career.

In a lot of ways, I’ve had to prove my scrappiness throughout my career and be able to prove that I had mettle to be at the table. And then, likewise, I’d say just being a young, white woman entering the workforce, you’re faced a lot of times with looking like the girl, the person that’s there to serve the coffee. Frankly, Jennifer, there are times even today if I’m sitting at a table with 95% men ,which happens frequently, I’ll have to actually physically sit on my own hands to make sure I don’t serve the coffee or the water and make sure that I own my space at the table and that I don’t take on those caretaker roles that are just so overly gendered for all of us.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my gosh, I thought you were going to say also sit on your hands so you don’t take notes. That’s another big thing that we do.

KIM CHURCHES: Oh, yeah, or volunteer to host the holiday party and do all the planning for that, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Well, that’s really interesting. What did you learn most? I know your mom eventually became a successful businesswoman, right? Is that true? She just really had an incredible story. What did you inherit from her or see the things, the tough choices that she had to make and what kind of promises did you make to yourself about your own career and what that would look like?

KIM CHURCHES: I’d say what was really impressive about my mom was how she could stretch two pennies. I resented it, to be honest, as a kid, because you just wish you have more as a child and the older I get and as I raise a child outside of marriage as well, learning how to make sure you can stay within budget and what you can do within that budget to create a meaningful life. Also, I would say active listening skills. I’d really credit both of my parents for that in the workplace of understanding that it’s not just our voice and personal pronoun, “I,” but making sure we’re leading with open-ended questions to learn more about with whom we’re working or whom we’re courting in the business world so that we can be more effective. Those were key skills that I picked up. It helped me to be stronger, I think, in every role as being intellectually curious even though we didn’t have those pedigrees of Ivy League schools and prep schools and the like.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. Listening is such an important strategy to get yourself in the room and in the door. And I find as a listener as well, people love to talk about themselves, so it’s a great way to ingratiate yourself.

KIM CHURCHES: It’s really true.

JENNIFER BROWN: And then you get in there and you figure it out. You mentioned parenting. I wanted to know about your little one and what you can share about that journey and how that is informing, also, your passion for gender equality which we’re going to get to in a moment, but what can you tell me about your family?

KIM CHURCHES: My ex-husband and I adopted our daughter from Guangxi, China at the start of 2009. She was nine months old with a little shaved head and had never seen somebody with blonde hair before, and has become just the absolute light of our lives. We co-parent, really very productively, raising our daughter with the same set of values and really in friendship and partnership, but she is the epitome of what I call 21st-century feminism in that she’s like a poster child for Title IX. She plays baseball, definitely not softball. She plays and practices with three different teams, two travel and one in her league here in the District of Columbia.

She just did tryouts last weekend, was the only girl on the field in a four-year age group, which is pretty impressive, but she’s also just one of those kids that just doesn’t even understand why an organization like the one I run today still exists, because in her mind and in her world view, girls and boys are equal and women and men can do anything. But what she hasn’t faced is the sexual harassment, the sexism, the borderline assaults that my mother and I faced in the workplace.

My mom was then working and today is an exceedingly beautiful, striking woman and while very well-skilled, had to deal with unwanted advances throughout her career. And likewise, I haven’t shared this with my daughter yet because she’s just turning 11, but I’ve faced sexism and harassment in every single job since I was 15, save for the one I’m currently in. While I’m thrilled my daughter is putting her hands on her hips and is squaring her shoulders and is ready for the world, I worry about how many more changes – what workplace cultures we can improve upon, what practices, what laws need to be passed to make sure women truly can thrive not just when they’re young and feeling confident, but at every stage in their lives.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. And she’s of the soon-to-be famous and infamous Generation Z, which is so interesting, right?

KIM CHURCHES: That’s right.

JENNIFER BROWN: We’re starting to understand this generation more. They’re starting to enter the workplace. The oldest among them I think is 22, is that right? Is that the cutoff?

KIM CHURCHES: That’s right.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, so I really hope she brings her full self and her passion and all of who she is to everything she does, but you and I know she’s about to run the really tricky gauntlet of being a teenage girl. I’m sure that probably keeps you up at night, but if anyone knows what picture awaits her, I guess, in her career, it’s you given that your role at the American Association of University Women and all the research that you’re privy to, that you speak about, that you generate.

Tell me about the current state of and maybe some of your favorite research points on where we’re at with gender equality, pay practices, leadership gap, research in numbers. And I saw you present a bunch of really interesting stuff recently at the colloquium, but what is heartening and also really troubling and refusing to budget in terms of our progress on some of these key issues? You mentioned harassment, so maybe we could start there in terms of the work environment.

KIM CHURCHES: Yeah, sure. Well, actually, I’ll tie it even to my daughter, Ruby, here for a second of just saying I’d say the Millennials and Gen Y, Gen Z coming up are where I’m most bullish. I’ve been working in focus groups with men, women, and non-binary gendered people ages 21 to 40 in several communities around the country and what’s really striking to me is just the sheer level of intersectionality and thought of these groups regardless of their geography, regardless of their background, regardless of West Coast versus East Coast or Midwest versus the South. There’s this idea that there’s no exception for lack of diversity and inclusion, there’s just none. They want to sit side-by-side. They’re not as interested in just the traditional 20th-century women’s group or boys’ groups.

They want to believe that hiring and promotion practices are going to be fair and equitable and they see the inequities in the world and just demand change. And they’re going to demand it with their pocketbooks and they’re going to demand it as employees as well and either leave organizations or stay if they see that cultures are improving and are providing a roadmap to gender equality and to equality for all. That’s where I’m probably most bullish, but as we think about the research today, and goodness knows I’d look like a Cathy cartoon with the reams of research reports that we could stack up from World Economic Forum to the McKinsey work or Goldman Sachs work, state work on the Commission on Status of Women or very specific to different sectors.

What’s alarming on all of this is how little things have changed. On the gender pay gap, which is well documented, AAUW has been at it for a long time with our report we update annually called The Simple Truth. Essentially, we’ve stagnated over the past two decades. We’ve only budged about a nickel. The overall wage gap on a gender bias for people working full time is that women, on average, in the United States today are earning $0.80 on the $1 compared to a man. Essentially, that means April 2nd of this year is what we call “Equal Pay Day,” and that means that’s when the date that when women, hey, congratulations, you finally catch up with men in 2018 and their earnings.”

What’s concerning to me about that stagnation is we all know this. We read about it, we’ve heard about it for years, but we’re not doing enough practical actions to ensure change. We haven’t updated our policies and laws at a federal, state, and municipal level enough. We haven’t encouraged employers to take their own steps to really get rid of unconscious and implicit biases to improve practices in workplace cultures. And we haven’t empowered women and men to understand the gap and what they can do at an individual level. To me, I’m a factual and actual person and I’m a pragmatist and humanist at heart, the only way to this is if we break it down and put forward the solutions and chip away at it with accountability and metrics. That’s how we’re looking at the pay gap today.

But what I would say on that, further, is I think it’s a real misnomer to just look only at the gender pay gap. I don’t think you can even talk about the gender pay gap if you’re not first talking about the student loan debt crisis. And then on the other side is looking the leadership gap and retirement security.

On the student loan debt, we all know this is a massive $1.5-trillion-dollar problem in the United States today, but what most people don’t know, it disproportionately affects women. We know women make up 56% of the undergraduate population. We’ve been securing degrees at an undergraduate and graduate level in a prolific way more than the men for a long time, but we’re carrying much more debt on an individual basis than male counterparts. That’s not just a student problem then it’s a female problem, it’s a women problem.

And I know you won’t finding this shocking, Jennifer, but it’s just as the gender pay gap is worse for women of color, the student loan debt is worse for women of color. Black women today are graduating with the most debt, on average a little over $30,000 worth of debt compared to $22,000 of debt for white women or about $19,000 of debt for white men. That’s just deplorable in this day and age. If you take the student loan debt, which we know is a massive issue that the United States has to face, and then you look at the gender pay gap, right when you take that first job and you’re earning on average 20% less than your male colleague, and then you move forward in your career and you’re not able to attain those leadership positions. We know those gaps in every single sector, and then, surprise, you get to live longer than your male counterparts and so you don’t have enough resources for retirement. It’s a triple edge.

JENNIFER BROWN: And add to that how we – I would love to hear your thoughts about the conundrum of the whole how do we negotiate? The salary history and how negotiate in pay conversations like how often do we ask for raises? How do we fight for that, for ourselves? And, I don’t know if you – you probably have data on the degree to which it’s as much socialized as anything the way we show up in terms of advocating for ourselves financially in a way that may be or not in a way that the men do from a very early stage and then the gap compounds. But I always really hesitate to blame the folks that are the real victims in the system which is biased and the fact that I think we need to make an institutional commitment in change around asking for pay history because it disproportionately impacts certain people and it perpetuates what we’re talking about. Is that one of the really big, exciting ideas that’s getting adopted everywhere is blinding salary history? What are some things that are happening in that space?

KIM CHURCHES: Yeah, so we really look at this AAUW. We first start with facts, and then we try to develop the right level of policies at a grassroots municipal level to a state level and federal level to create change, but we know laws in and of themselves are not going to change behaviors. We also have to work with employers, and when I say “employers,” I want to be really clear I’m not just talking about Fortune 500 because the nation’s workforce is not primarily working for Fortune 500. We’re working for small businesses, we’re working for non-profit institutions. We’re working for educational institutions. We’re in the public and private sector. We’ve got to peel off that Band-Aid and really recognize that when we’re talking about the workforce, it’s not just on Fortune 500 to change, it’s really every single sector in all of those.

But as we talk about the policies, the work that employers can do in every sector, we also want to embolden individuals to take action. And, yeah, sadly, when we talk about negotiation, I’m sure you didn’t take a class in high school or college in negotiation.


KIM CHURCHES: I didn’t, right? My first job they said, “Kim, congratulations. We want to offer you $18,000 a year,” and I was like Sally Field, “You like me! Thank you! This is great.” I just said, “Thank you.” That was my negotiation. Sadly, what happens is men are four times more likely than women to negotiate from the get-go, and they’ll negotiate on everything not just on salary. It sets up women behind right away and when you compound that with our salary history which, luckily, there are a lot of states and the federal government now are looking at new bills to ban the use of salary history in applications, meaning if you lay out something and you have a job you’re listing as an employer and your HR department puts it out there they can put the salary range in there. But if they ask you your last few salaries and your last few jobs, that actually compounds the problem for women because if they start off behind ,it just becomes a crocodile mouth on a graph over time because that just compounds over time.

And so what you’re seeing is by eliminating salary history, my former salary should have nothing to do with the job that I’m taking on today. It should be all about the skills and abilities and the assets I bring to the table for this job, not what I was paid in my last job. That’s an easy way past it, but importantly, we also have to teach negotiation skills. We at AAUW have a practical and proven curriculum around negotiation skills that we’re encouraging 10 million women to try and take within five years. We have that at in-person workshops in cities and states around the nation, but we also have online curriculum called Work Smart Online that’s available to everyone at any time. If they’ve got a cell phone, a mobile device, a laptop or an iPad and they can access that information not just to close the confidence gap which is, I think, where too many people think it’s just about confidence-building skills for women in negotiation. It’s much more than that. It’s more about learning your market value, understanding that if you’re looking for a research assistant position or a PR manager position that what you’re paid in Tempe, Arizona is going to be different than what you’re paid in Manhattan or in Miami. What that median is, what those skills and assets look like, what that education background looks like, so that you have the market value and understand what you’re worth in that marketplace and how to go about negotiating for your salary and benefits. This is important not just for salaried workers or people with advanced degrees, but for hourly workers as well.

We’ve had a lot of success with this with women who have been earning call it $12 an hour and suddenly now can earn $14 an hour. I had a woman in Massachusetts tell me, and I’ll never forget this story, where she said, “After I took your course, I now no longer have to decide between buying good groceries for my family or paying the electric bill.” That’s just basic economic security for families. This isn’t about a women’s issue, it really is about families.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. And I’m sure you have thoughts/research also on the penalties that I think women and candidates of color in the job process and negotiating process where we are judged negatively or differently depending on how definitive we show up, how much we push, how we use our voice, right? And so, how do you counsel – you’ve got to talk about that. If you’re talking about negotiation skills, you’ve got to be honest, too. And you probably think about this with your daughter, “How do I warn people about what they’re going to come up against without taking away that spark and that confidence that you can do this?” Like you just need to use different language, know your market value, there’s all those technical pieces, but then there’s the total persistence of bias in terms of our own behaviors when we show up and when we lean in. How are people going to respond? And when they respond negatively, it’s going to leave us in the same spot that we were before we started trying.

KIM CHURCHES: Yeah, so this is completely true, Jennifer. This is where emotional intelligence, this is where those active-listening skills really comes in because the truth is as much as we encourage people to learn the negotiation skills and to practice, practice, practice, you’re not negotiating with your mirror in your bathroom, right? You’re negotiating with at least one other person and sometimes more than one other person as you’re looking at either your current employer or a future employer. And there are innate biases there at how we look at men versus women.

For example, with the gender pay gap, women overwhelmingly are faced with if they have children, faced with a motherhood penalty where fathers receive a fatherhood bonus. Men, even though we no longer live in the “Ozzie and Harriet land,” sadly, our workplaces still reward in the same way as those old black-and-white television shows that we know from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Men are seen as a family guy, and therefore going to be solid, and a good provider, and perceived as stronger for the workforce, whereas women, if they’re a mother, a working mother, are seen automatically and overly generalized as the person who’s going to take off when anybody has the sniffles or for soccer practice, etc.

We face an added penalty if we’re working mothers and I had that play out many times over the past 11 years. My then-husband took the paternity leave and stayed home for three months and was lauded as if he just stepped down from heaven as this amazing creature that was helping to care for his child, because I had just received a big promotion and we decided as a family that it would be good for me to continue and do the travel and still, obviously, be a full-time parent. But my now ex-husband took the time away from work. How that’s perceived in the workplace is really different. Same way when we’re in our negotiating skills.

A lot of what we work on is how to cover and counter those biases, so the power of our voice in those, where women can be deemed as aggressive, but men are seen as assertive and strong. And it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Helping women to make sure they’re prepared for negotiating skills not to negotiate like a man, but to negotiate like a woman in a strong position based on her asset base, but still having that high level of emotional intelligence picking up on cues and awareness of with whom they’re negotiating so they can, we hope, achieve as much success as possible.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. And as we do all this development and effort to try to figure out, “How am I going to navigate this if I hear it? How am I going to push just the right amount and in just the right way so that I don’t trigger somebody’s bias about me?” It’s so much effort on the part of the person who’s already marginalized and who’s coming to the table with so much less power. What are your advice pieces for the organizational leaders and those on the other side of the table in order to be – I always think of it as I want those with the power to be aware of whether it’s a struggle with confidence or language or negotiation skills or whatever it is, to be sensitive and anticipate that and correct for it on the other side of the table.

And yet, a lot of people are very blind and assume we’re all living in a meritocracy and a candidate is just a candidate is just a candidate. And so, a lot of my time is spent laying out these differentials and saying, “So, how are you going to ensure a fair process when you are the institution or you are the manager or you are the colleague given the disparities that this person is walking in the door with?” What kind of advice do you give for the other side of the table?

KIM CHURCHES: I hope you’ll agree with me on this that I’m also optimistic here because I’m really seeing so many employers taking the lead on this and realizing that as they think about hiring, attrition rates – both are very, very expensive, promotion, and as they think about the next generation of consumers. They’re watching the demography of this nation and the world and they’re seeing these changes and they’re understanding that they’re going to have to get in front of it if they’re going to survive and thrive. I’m really seeing a lot of good news out there of employers not waiting for laws to change at a state or federal level, not waiting on another pledge from the U.N. or the like, but really taking it upon themselves to create some change.

But some of the ones that we really, really encourage employers, and again, in every sector because I want to be clear. This isn’t a Fortune-500 problem, this is a workplace problem, and that affects us all whether – I’ve spent almost 30 years in the non-profit sector and I’ve seen a million times over as well. One is what gets measured gets done. So, making bold, long-term commitments to what you’re trying to achieve as employers and holding people accountable. If we’re not hitting targets, if we’re not reporting, and if we’re not pushing for accountability for every level of hiring manager, if it’s not tied to their performance as well, we’re not going to create change. If it’s just words on a value statement on a placard on a wall or just words in an employee handbook that everybody knows they can shrug and roll their eyes at, we’re not going to create the change that we’re really looking for. So, one is really making that bold, long-term commitment.

Two, I would say making sure your hiring and promotion practices are transparent and easily accessible by people inside and outside of the organization so that they understand it’s not some opaque, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” kind of practice, because that’s too often. When you really put that out in the sunshine, people understand what the process is and it seems more fair and equitable and it’s known to be more fair and equitable.

Another is auditing your pay practices regularly. I think there are a lot of employers that have done it, but they might have done it years ago, and we really encourage at least every two years to audit your payroll and really ensure that hourly and salaried that you’ve gone through that with a gender and diversity and inclusion lens to make sure biases are getting checked at the door and have a robust plan to address it if you do see problems. And that’s a big deal. That’s an ongoing effort. It’s not just a “one and done check the box and you’re set.” That has to be ongoing.

In terms of eliminating bias in hiring and in promotion, again, it’s not one and done on implicit bias training. I think so many of us have been through that in various iterations at organizations, but it has to be constant because we all have biases. We all have presumptions we make on – right now, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics data shows that the fastest growing potential workforce in the United States is women over the age of 50. So, think about that for a second of how are women over the age of 50 perceived across the table in a negotiation? How do we make sure those women over 50 are protected and that their skills and assets have as much chance as a 25-year-old white man does for the same position?

How do we ensure the language in the job descriptions is appealing to both men, women, and non-binary-gendered people? How do we make sure that we’re holding our hiring managers accountable for what their own biases are? And then, also, how are we thinking about parental leave and flex policies if we know that there’s a motherhood penalty? These paradigms of how we work were set up during the Greatest Generation in many cases, and so if we’re set up a long time ago where it was “woman stay home, man go out into work and bring home resources.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Hunt and kill.

KIM CHURCHES: Yeah, exactly. How are we in 2019 and we haven’t updated these basic paradigms of how we work? I’ll give you one more example, and this one is close to home because I work in academe and I represent an organization that’s been really focused on women’s access to education and good jobs. If you want to become tenure-track at a university and/or college and you’ve earned your PhD, typically, you’ve earned your PhD roughly around age 28, well, those are prime baby-making years for women, and you’ve basically got seven years to publish or perish, to be able to get on the assistant professor tenure-track and then you hope get promoted to associate professor, full professor, and on and on and on. That is set up for males to succeed. It is a paradigm. It doesn’t have to be that way, it’s just the way it’s always been.

Likewise, if you think about trying to make partner at a law firm or partner at an accounting firm, how those systems were set up, again, was males as the chief breadwinner and no longer is that the case. Women are more and more becoming the primary or the co-breadwinner in a family, and if that’s the case I think we need to take a hard, hard look at those work paradigms because we’ve always done it that way and how could we do it differently to make sure we can have even more ROI and see all thrive in the workplace?

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. You just said so much good stuff. One thing I wanted to highlight, and I wondered if you had been following what Marc Benioff at Salesforce does with his gender pay gap analysis research, and then he writes the check, literally, to true-up people’s salaries and he’s done it not once but multiple times because as Salesforce continues to acquire companies he finds they’ve got to do it again because in the acquired companies, literally Salesforce inherits all of their pay gaps as well. As you said, it needs to be done over and over as a routine hygiene for the business.

I wondered, how do you view that? I hope in addition to writing the check, he’s doing the systems work around why did this gap appear in the first place? What can we do? But what do you think about his leadership on this topic? I know he’s very public about it as well. He’s really transparent. Even if I think a lot of companies are running scared in terms of sharing the real deal about what they find when they do these kinds of analyses. Is that what real leadership looks like, in your opinion?

KIM CHURCHES: You got it. I use as examples all the time Marc’s leadership on this and being such a strong voice in saying essentially, failure is not an option, and this is going to be ongoing, consistent work. He doesn’t see this as a “one and done.” This is ongoing work.

I also look to SAP. There’s so much written after the Google manifesto and the like on the tech industry as being more of a “bromance” spot for gentlemen to thrive and not for women. But SAP looked at it not just as a value space proposition of why they wanted to add more women into leadership roles and look at these issues. It actually was their financial office, their CFO, who saw that when more women were at the table making decisions, profits went up. Which you and I both know there’s plenty of research out there that shows that the ROI is there when you have different voices around the table, and not just a paper doll that all looks exactly the same.

When we get a lot of different humans with different viewpoints and backgrounds around the table, better decisions are made and revenues can go up. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing. So, in the SAP example, they really looked it and it was the finance office going into the board and the CEO and saying, “Hey, what would happen if we insisted upon this across the board, every business line and we got to 25% women leaders? Now what happens when we get to 30%?” And guess what? Earnings are going up all over the place because they made that big, bold commitment, just like Marc is doing at Salesforce.

Starbucks, likewise, is working on this. They’re about to announce that they’ve reached equitable pay in Canada as well as the U.S., and they’re working on this around the world, it’s great. But there are so many different levers employers need to do to make sure that they have a fairer process, because it’s going to actually help their bottom line. And think about what that does for Marc Benioff or Starbucks or an SAP, too. It doesn’t just help to retain employees and ensure you’ve got this happy workforce which that, in and of itself, is incredible. It also helps so much on the consumer side.

We know in this 24-hour news cycle where we’re all consumers, even when we’re sleeping, that that resonates with the Gen Xers, the Baby Boomers today, but very, very importantly with the Millennials and Gen Y, Gen Z. That’s really going to matter for their livelihood long, long, long into the future.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. How did you read the whole experience with the Gillette ad about redefining masculinity and then the threatened boycotts and noise, if you will, on Twitter, but the fact that the company’s bottom line went up by 3% or something after the ad? I just watch these brands make these choices and really take risks, which is amazing. The ad made me cry, honestly. I was so moved by it. Did you see it? Did you see the ad?

KIM CHURCHES: Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes, and showed it to my daughter and shared it with my friends. These are the conversations we need to be having. I remember when Target changed even the way that their toys are laid out without anymore having pink aisles or blue aisles. I am fighting for this work because I have this badass cool kid who plays baseball, but as much for my nephew who likes to dance. We have these crazy gendered roles of what we expect of boys versus girls and girls versus boys. They’re societal and they’re learned. These are not innate. They are learned behaviors that our society has imprinted on our kids and then well into adulthood. And while I do think Gillette with that example, look, these systems are changing whether the people who wrote in the angry comments or not understand it. They can hold on with a tight male grasp until they hit their grave, but the world’s changing no matter what. The demography is there. You just have to talk to a good economist or look at the data. No matter what, we’re changing as a society and so get on board because where things are at is in an intersectional world.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, it’s so exciting. I just want to see more and more brands take risks and do so in a respectful way and also make sure, by the way, they’ve earned the good PR that they may get from things like that with their internal workplace practices, because I’m sure you’ve noticed and read and both of us, when you walk the talk, you’ve got to be ready for that scrutiny of your internal practices as well, otherwise you can be seen as going for the, what is it, virtue signaling?


JENNIFER BROWN: Virtue signaling is that term where, “Hey, we’re this great brand that gets it and we want to attract these kinds of consumers,” and meanwhile they have no women on the board or meanwhile they have whatever. I think it’s that reconciliation and that transparency of our world is now driving this, where companies actually have to be doing the work internally, which I would argue is the harder work because organizations are complicated. You just listed 15 things that companies need to do to be working their growth internally, and it’s hard work, it needs to be sustained over time, it’s painstaking. You said measure it and hold people accountable, and even that I don’t see in the bulk of organizations I work with. They really aren’t ready to measure and/or hold accountable.

So, when they ask me, “Where do we start? And what should we be measuring?” And I bring up a lot of the things you do, it’s interesting. I’ve also seen measurement have an unintended consequence. I’m sure you have some thoughts, occasionally when people are checking a box around, for example, diverse slates of candidates. Say they are making promotion and advancement decisions, I have found myself in the sad situation of being told about certain people being promoted when they weren’t ready or supported to succeed and the very difficult aftermath of that – both for the person and because it’s assumed that now that’s happened once it’s going to happen again, and then people leaving the organization because they didn’t feel supported to be successful or they weren’t successful. It does set up what gets measured gets done, and so we like that on a certain level, but it can also backfire, too. How do you set up measurement in a healthy way so that people aren’t working to the test, but not really doing the real deeper work?

KIM CHURCHES: Boy, that’s a great question and I think mainly it’s because it’s not just a check the box, that, “Okay, I did it and I got one there.” We all know that tokenism is never going to work, and so to your example, “Oh, she failed and therefore the next one will fail.” Well, we didn’t set it up in a way that’s representative of our community, representative of our consumers, representative of our demography, whatever. And so, if you have more inclusion there’s a couple examples of university presidents now that are getting a little braver on how they’re thinking about their senior cabinets and not just going, “Oh great, I’ve got one woman of color on my cabinet, therefore I’m diverse.” But really looking at it much more dramatically so that you don’t have those situations, because human beings are human beings. Not everybody is going to excel at A+ regardless of their background, educations, etc. Fit matters, right? Culture matters.

The reason why I think accountability is so important is I was about to use an old word like “Rolodex,” which just shows my age, but I think we all have I’ll say Outlook contacts. We have our networks and we have people largely, sadly, that look and sound like us because we all are a little bit of in our own echo chambers. So I would see too often when I was in policy think tank world, “manels” show up and you would just have a group of four white guys or four men of color, but it would be all men up on a panel espousing some great ideas on policy. Not to say that they weren’t brilliant and weren’t sharing a lot, but the question would come up, “How come there are no women on this panel?” And there are tons of tweets and Facebook pages about these manels and it’s because the networks, if there’s a white male economist or a while male professor or a white male sales executive, any of these situations it doesn’t matter your sector or industry, you go to who’s on the top of your Rolodex or who’s on the top of your Outlook contacts of who you know is really smart on this? And unfortunately, usually they end up looking and sounding like you.

So, the reason why I think it’s important to track is because it forces us to look beyond that Rolodex or Outlook contact list. It forces us to go deeper into the pool and to look at it in more dramatic ways.

And there’s now new software companies that can help companies look at that their own pipeline for a promotion, for example, where you might think you know who the 15 most qualified people are that can go for this VP slot in a 30,000-person organization, but if you run the algorithm, you might come up with 250 names. People that you go, “Oh, I forgot about Sally and I forgot about Verna. I didn’t even think about them.” Because they’re not right in your realm. And so that’s why I think accountability and metrics really matters, but it can only – it can only matter when we’re not doing it with a tokenism approach and that we’re really making sure that we’re layering that in and understanding the power of three overall. That always, that 30% marker is how you’re going to effect change.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so powerful, that rule of three, I share that a lot to avoid tokenism and it highlights, to me, like you just said, the dearth of the pipeline is really of our own creation because we do go with what’s comfortable. We go with what’s most expedient. We go with who we can, quote/unquote, vouch for, and the speed of business and decision-making these days is so intense that I think it makes slowing down and asking that question and taking that extra second to broaden your aperture an overwhelming task in addition to all the other tasks we do. It’s hard to make the arguments for these. We do need to be more intentional, listen more, go out of our comfort zone. I often say, you’re not leading if you’re not uncomfortable and being uncomfortable means that you are talking to more candidates that aren’t in your immediate circles. That is, to me, that’s growth. That’s what we should be doing, but, boy, it takes a lot of effort to stretch people outside of that.

I think technology is really going to help us hack our very flawed human wiring. We can talk about behavior change and great training programs all day long, but wouldn’t it be amazing to have Textio, for example, I think it crawls through job description language. It crawls through performance reviews and literally spotlights gendered words and you mouse over that spotlight and it gives you an alternative. Technology, I think, has a tremendous potential to help us where we can’t help ourselves. Certainly, there are a lot of other dangers about technology like the hard coding in of bias on the part of designers of this technology and we know the dangers of that is actually to replicate and accelerate bias throughout technology, which is hugely dangerous and scary seeing that’s happening.

I’m sure you know all about that, too, but I’m looking forward to the day – say I’m walking into a performance review and I get a little text on my watch that says, “Hey, I see you’re going into your performance review. Here are some possible pitfalls relating to bias. Words you might want to think about.” Or if you’re mentoring this person, think what might be going on for them that is different. I think the challenge for allies, if we could call people who haven’t been an outsider traditionally is really knowing how to talk about these things and whether to acknowledge or not that somebody has had a different experience than you and how to mentor and support that person.

I can imagine that’s in a lot of male leaders’ minds as well. It’s not just the reticence to engage with women, which is being compounded in an unfortunate way with #MeToo, but it’s also, how do I support this person that’s had such a different than I have? How do I advise them and do I admit, do I call the truth, which is that she has had a lot more and different headwinds than I’ve had? And so, how can I be helpful in supporting this?

I feel like, if I could have my druthers, I would teach everyone about what are those headwinds that women face, that women of color face? So that when you’re going into that conversation you can spot those things and give targeted feedback, mentorship, support, whatever it is. But that sensitivity to somebody’s experience is really missing and so as a result managers and mentors apply the same lens to everyone which is to say, their lens.

KIM CHURCHES: And gloss over. Yeah. I think it’s a real issue. I just did a training here for about a couple hundred people and we had maybe 20% men in the room and even though it was really focused on leadership development and negotiation skills, the men were just shocked going, “I had no idea. I did not know that.” That would have been their experience. And they can’t know it until they’re told. They just think, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, she’s getting that promotion because she’s a woman.” Then they’re really learning about actually what women face in the workplace or how women address safety in their communities, in their places of worship, just running down the street, or taking the dog out for a walk or whatever. They understand it so differently and then what that plays into and how they can be a colleague, be a mentor, be a sponsor of a woman in the workplace goes up exponentially.

But to your point on the AI versus experiential learning, I’m also really, really focused on the leadership gap because as I said, we can’t look at the leadership gap and the pay gap alone. We have to look at all these things as concentric circles. I’m getting more and more concerned with how little budging we’re making on the leadership gap given the sheer volume of leadership development programs we have for girls and women. And some of that is because it’s just been so single-sex focused, not that I totally believe in single-sex education as long as we’re also engaging men in that process. I think boys and men need to learn as well what girls and women are facing in these things if we’re going to actually chip away at the pay gap and the leadership gap. We’re really looking at more than words of male allies – really arming them with the resources and the questions they can be asking so that they can be educated on something they truly have never experienced.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. You’re singing my tune. I have a new book coming out in August, as our listeners know, called How To Be An Inclusive Leader, and it literally tracks the journey that you just described which is from lack of awareness or apathy, could look a lot of different ways, to awareness, awakening, understanding there’s a problem, understanding there’s research and data that supports this and that “ah-hah” moment. Then, it’s moving to action, which is the experimentation around, how do I find my voice and use the right words and how do I take this on board as a colleague, as a friend, as a parent and activate my potential ally voice, if you will?

And that’s a lot of trial and error. I think that phase is honestly the one I think people get stuck on, too, because there’s so much fear of doing the wrong thing. There are real consequences as well to doing the wrong thing, too, and I wish we could all have that growth mindset where we fail forward. We say the wrong thing, I get the feedback, I just try it again. I don’t just give up, I try again.


JENNIFER BROWN: We’re living in really sensitive times, too, as people try to develop these new muscles.

KIM CHURCHES: Yeah, but at least we’re actually finally having a real national conversation. The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, the Civil Rights Act was passed in ’64, and we just as Americans shook hands and said, “Well, congratulations, we did it. Now, let’s move on.” And we stopped having the hard work that happens after major federal acts are passed and we’ve got to get back to the real conversations of what this practically means for us. We’ve got to make sure we’re updating these laws so that all can thrive in our communities. And without those national conversations, without us really changing how we think about education at a K-12 or P-12 level, CTE, community college, and higher ed, how we think about workplaces, whether you’re in a factory or you’re in a major financial institution, we have to be thinking about this much more holistically and be having these conversations at every single level of our society if we’re going to see real impact and change. It’s to that point, it’s got to be a multi-pronged approach. It cannot just be we passed the laws and now we’re safe and sound because that’s just not how human behavior changes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, and you called it. We are in a national crisis in workforce development. You put it in really clear terms to me and you said Seattle has 45,000 jobs, for example, that can’t be filled, and they don’t have the pipeline. I mean, there are multiple points of failure that lead to that reality. I also know that you have so much experience in the non-corporate world of all the things we’ve been talking about are magnified, in a way are worse. Some of the representation issues, the gap issues. Can you tell us about the academe world and non-profit world, I know you said you’d been harassed in every job you’ve ever had except this one and so we often think these organizations are doing so much good, they get a pass or perhaps they give themselves a pass, but the metrics are actually really disturbing in that world as well, which I was shocked to learn from you.

KIM CHURCHES: Yeah, even if we just go back to the beginning of the #MeToo movement and when that all struck so much of it there was a lot of conversation happening in the non-profit and academic world in that these were “known knowns.” It’s just because they’re not as prominent as say Hollywood or Wall Street, those stories aren’t as well known.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals did a study of fundraisers tend to be about 80% female overall, so professional fundraisers for non-profits, and the amount of sexism and harassment and assault they say was just stunning, it was like one in four women have faced really, really tough situations and a lot of times not just by staff but by board and volunteers as well. You get into that and it gets a lot stickier as you think about safety in the workplace when you’re dealing with volunteer bases.

But then as we think about leadership, as we think about the nation’s nonprofits, so just in the US alone it’s a $400-billion industry, the non-profits. They’re increasing in size. There are almost two million non-profits, 501(c)(3)s in the nation today. Women make up over 75% of the workforce, right, but they hold a heck of a lot less of the leadership positions. The bigger the nonprofit, the bigger the gap. When annual budgets of a non-profit are less than a million they make up just over half of the chief executive seats, but just about 20% of them when they have annual budgets of around $50 million. You’re thinking about all those big institutions with those storied names that we know about and you don’t see women in the highest ranks.

And academe, as I said, we are receiving the majority of degrees at different levels, and we’re making up the majority of non-tenure-track lecturers and instructors, those that come with far fewer salaries, you know higher salaries, lower salaries, lower benefits. But when you get to tenure track and then you get to full professors the numbers go down, down, down. And then again, the higher you go, the worse the situation. College presidents are women only on about 30% of campuses which is really, really stunning considering the total representation of women at an undergraduate, graduate, and alumni basis. But then when you get to governing boards, it’s even worse and you’re seeing people of color being extremely underrepresented. You’re seeing women only represented and making up maybe 30% of institutional board members.

I was part of an advisory board for a study in the State of Massachusetts on the power gap in higher education, and the report was over 10 years of showing actually they’re rolling back in a lot of areas and particularly as they look at women on the boards and in the most senior roles of how they’re doing of public schools versus private schools. That parity and that parity need is really profound and this is in the bastion of liberal democracy that is Massachusetts where you’d expect better. And, sadly, when you look at the numbers, again, what gets measured gets done. You see that that rollback is happening and what we need to do at every single level of academia to ensure that women and people of color are represented.

It’s definitely, again, not just about the big brands that we follow on social media and we use as consumers. It’s not just the big, big companies, we also have to remember the public sector. We have to remember the nonprofit sector and our educational institutions as being real barriers for women and people of color.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right, and you and I talked about Robin DiAngelo. was a guest on The Will To Change. and her book is called White Fragility. and she says over and over again, the most dangerous people to equality are well-meaning white progressives she says. And guilty as charged, but it was just a good point that the assumption of fairness, the assumption of being a mission-driven organization that does all these things well and actually does not, as you just delineated, is so important. And I think if there were one reason you think you see a lack of emphasis on that in that industry, what would you say? Is it the reason you just gave? Is it the tyranny of being well meaning and assuming there isn’t a problem or is it being hamstrung in terms of resources and not having made this an institutional priority? I hope it’s changing.

KIM CHURCHES: It’s money and it’s sad, I think a lot of it comes down to money and I think the nonprofit sector overall has grown up with basic business planning and strategic planning that has been infused in the private sector for much longer, and so we’re finally seeing that level of acumen entering the nonprofit sector at much more robust levels. But we really do give the Good Housekeeping seal of approval to those institutions because, aw shucks, they’re doing mission work and it’s so important to children and puppies and the environment and our rivers, etc. And even, Jennifer, this always shocks me, too, even the major foundations, so the charitable philanthropies giving away the money, women make up almost 90% of the lower-level staff, but for the 20 largest charitable foundations,, their board members are 72% white and 63% male.

We’re not even doing it in these extraordinary philanthropies that are giving away their largess and helping so many communities. They’re still largely white and male, so we’re giving a hall pass to too many of them and I’d like to see that aperture widen, too, to not just think about the Fortune 500 or Hollywood or Wall Street or whatever, but to really make sure we’re also looking at Main Street and we’re looking at every single sector because the truth is the majority of Americans are working in smaller organizations and we have to make sure they’re all protected.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s really so enlightening and so inclusive of you to point that out to all of our listeners because you talk about a bias. I think I always have my lens carefully focused on the world I know and this is really leading me to be curious about all the different sectors, all different levels of the economy and really look at it as a much more holistic challenge of workforce development, essentially, is what it is, and the need for all of us to do more.

I have loved this conversation. Where would you direct folks to follow-up on some of the resources you mentioned today and whether that’s research reports or your own, wherever you’ve been profiled, your organizations, negotiation skills training, etc.? Where would you tell our listeners to look you up?

KIM CHURCHES: Yeah, so our research and programs can all be found at AAUW.org, and for more information on the negotiation courses and our Empower series to help women solve real world problem in the workplace today all of that can be found at Salary.AAUW.org and we’ve got a free online course there that folks can take on their mobile devices or their laptops at home as well.

JENNIFER BROWN: So helpful. Thank you, Kim, so much for joining me today.

KIM CHURCHES: Thank you, Jennifer. Take care.


American Association of University Women (AAUW)