I read your article “Celebrating Women at Work” with interest and it prompted this question. I am a female senior manager in a fast-moving tech company. I run a high-level customer success team made up of mostly older women. About a year ago, my old boss retired. I got a new female boss who was brought in from another tech company that does not have a great reputation.
She immediately challenged me to diversify my team. She said I did not have enough men, because “most of our customers are men, and men prefer to work with men.” Let me be clear here that we have never, ever received feedback on that score.
I have no reason to replace anyone on my team. Every single person is outstanding and I don’t have the budget for more people. At each of our one on ones (most of which she cancels), my boss asks me what I am doing to get more men on the team. When I tell her I will certainly keep it in mind if someone on my team does need to be replaced, she just looks at me blankly.
I think she expects me to fire some of my people so I can start fresh with young men, but she hasn’t said so explicitly. If that were true, I am pretty sure we would have an HR issue on our hands. And then there’s the sheer unfairness of it all—it has taken me years to get the team to peak performance. The whole diversification focus just seems so faddish and frankly irrelevant right now. And my boss doesn’t even seem to understand or care about what my team does.
I always thought a female leader would, if anything, advocate for having more women, especially in tech where they are an anomaly. But this one seems to be pulling in the opposite direction. I am confused and annoyed. How do I put a stop to this nonsense that has nothing to do with my team being successful?
Dear Feeling Betrayed,
I hear a couple of things going on here. The gender bias/diversity seems to be a symptom of the bigger problem, which is that your boss doesn’t seem to know or care what your team does. Nor does she seem to be inclined to offer any direction on how you are supposed to comply with her edict to diversify your team.
Considering these two issues, the fact that she does not seem to care about supporting women in the workplace seems almost beside the point.
So, what to do?
I think your first task is to help your new boss understand what your team does and why it matters to the organization, and provide her with any data you might have on how successful your team is. Any feedback you have received from customers, including the fact that no one seems to care about the gender of their customer service representative, might be useful.
It might also help to ask your boss for more detail on her position that your team needs to be diversified and how she got there. This can be hard when all you want to say is “that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard!” So try open-ended invitations or questions such as:
- Please tell me more about this point of view.
- What is it exactly that you see as a problem with my team?
- Is this a new policy you feel obligated to comply with?
- What am I not seeing that you think I should see here?
You might consider getting someone from HR involved to help you with a long-term plan for complying with your boss’s edict. Your HR professional may spot a red flag in terms of compliance with policy and may be able to help you put together a case for the total lack of need for the changes your boss wants. They may also be alert to the possibility of a big fat legal problem in the making.
This seems like such a perfect example of managers focusing on the wrong things and wreaking havoc in systems that are working just fine. We can speculate all day long—and believe me, I am. I wonder if your new boss is afraid she might be seen as weak because of the number of women under her. But as entertaining as it may be, speculation, like making assumptions, is a colossal waste of time.
You and I may both be missing something here. Try to get to the bottom of it if you can. Definitely get some help from HR, because there is just something off about this whole thing.
In the meantime, keep up the good work supporting your dream team and your customers.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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