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“Engage people.” With Candice Georgiadis & Dr. Karen Morley

Men then, are more likely to get the more visible roles, the high-profile projects and line and operational management roles. Being more visible, it’s easier to believe they work harder and achieve more. Ergo, higher pay. As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” […]

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Men then, are more likely to get the more visible roles, the high-profile projects and line and operational management roles. Being more visible, it’s easier to believe they work harder and achieve more. Ergo, higher pay.


As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr Karen Morley.

Dr Morley is an authority on the benefits of gender balanced leadership and how to help women to succeed at work. She helps leaders understand the value of inclusive leadership to organisational as well as social outcomes. She is the author of Beat Gender Bias: How to play a better part in a more inclusive world; Lead like a Coach: How to Make the Most of Any Team; and Gender-Balanced Leadership: An Executive Guide.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

Itwas a while into my career before I noticed the difference that gender played in the ambition women could express, and the opportunities and rewards that came their way; I felt rather blind-sided when it did. Fairness was such a strong value and I couldn’t believe that there was such inequality at work. When it hit me, I became determined to change it. That was 30 years ago, and while I can see a lot of progress in that time, there is still plenty yet to do to achieve gender equality.

I’d begun my career working in an organization that had a female CEO and a very gender-balanced workforce. The respect paid to everyone regardless of gender was high; it was the way things were. I was a psychologist working with women and children experiencing domestic violence. It wasn’t all ‘kumbaya’; I knew the world wasn’t fair for many.

It was still a shock to move into a more corporate world and find that inequality was marked. I believed that as a professional woman with excellent credentials and a high-performance track record I would experience the same opportunities as the men around me, but that wasn’t the case.

In those still early career days I experienced setbacks and missed opportunities; I felt passed over for promotional roles, with vague feedback as to why. I was certainly aware of times when male colleagues doing the same work were being paid more than I was, and it was extremely difficult to raise the subject and have a satisfying discussion about it.

Since then, I’ve been committed to doing what I can to advance the careers of women and promote inclusion. I want to change the way we shape and experience the world of work. Work should be a place where talent and potential shine, where people are noticed and recognized because of what they can do, not what they look like: no-one should be held back due to their gender, sexuality, skin colour, handedness or any other feature. We should all have the opportunity to rise to be our best!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

The most interesting and moving story in my first couple of years of working was helping a client who was subjected to domestic violence not just free herself from that violence, but go on to make a successful career for herself. It was also when I appreciated the full impact of extreme gender-based inequality and its nasty ugliness.

Assault, emotional blackmail and financial abuse by my client’s partner, whom she was attempting to leave, took a sickening turn when he ram-raided her car, threatening both hers and their child’s lives. What followed was days and weeks of creating a new identity, setting up a whole new life for her and her family, so that she could free herself from the violence. It was exhausting for me, so very much worse for her. She had to give up a great deal, including her name and her home.

The story has a beautiful ending. After a couple of years she was free of the violence, had completed her degree, loved her new home, had happy children and had become an eloquent spokesperson against domestic violence.

She was then living the life that she’d dreamed of and yet not felt was possible. To see her success and confidence was inspiring, and has remained with me.

Gender pay equity might not be at this extreme end of the spectrum yet violence towards women and unequal pay have their roots in the same set of beliefs; women are supporters, possessions, inferior to men.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting?

I think that the most interesting mistake that I made, and kept making for a while, was to believe that I wasn’t making gender-biased decisions too. That bias was something that (some) men did to women. That those who were biased were intentionally so. Sometimes that is what’s happening. But more often than not, bias happens outside of our conscious awareness; it’s accidental not intentional.

I’ll share an embarrassing example. I was walking along an airport concourse and saw two pilots, one female and the other male. There was a significant height difference between them. What flashed into my mind was: ‘She can’t be a pilot, she’s not strong enough.’

Whoa! I had to quickly apply the brakes to this automatic judgement — I made the judgement before I was aware I was making it and I most certainly didn’t agree with it. Still, I made it.

About 75 per cent of us use traditional gender roles when we make decisions — they are out of sight, but not out of mind. I know I do, so that means I can — usually — catch myself in the act. Unconscious bias isn’t something that men do to women. It is based on expectations that are unknowingly held by men and women.

Becoming aware of the impact of unconscious attitudes on choices and decisions was the biggest turning point in how I approached gender bias and inclusion. Once I learnt about this and understood how it worked in action, I was able to take a ‘lighter’ approach to helping people understand what bias is and how they can minimize it. Because we don’t mean to do it, if we discover we do, we’re usually motivated to change. We want the decisions we’re actually making to be the decisions we believe we’re making. Inconsistency spurs us towards change.

Even now, as such a strong advocate for gender inclusion, I have to keep reminding myself that I may be making biased decisions, and to remain vigilant in my decision making.

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The key lesson I’ve learned is that change is always possible. There’s no point getting caught up in the change we haven’t made, it’s always about what change can we make.

And I can’t make other people change their beliefs systems, but the thing that I can do is to help people understand how their beliefs work. Insight then may lead to motivation to consider our beliefs and to possibly change them. And that’s the only way to get change — people willingly identify the change they want to make, and then they go about it.

There’s another lesson that I’ve learned from my experiences that I’ll add to this one. When I was growing up I thought that I lived a pretty boring life. In my teen years life felt suburban, safe, normal; boring.

The experiences with my client above led to a massive turnabout in my thinking. I am now able to look back on my childhood and teen years as providing me with such a solid sense of who I am. I was safe from harm. I’d not seen it then as a privilege, but now I certainly do. I’ve lived an ordinary life, which is an immense privilege and I am extremely grateful for it.

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

The overarching factor is that traditionally, we expect women to be warm, kind, gentle, and understanding while we expect men to be tough, competitive, assertive and competent. We associate women with nurturing, support and lower status roles while we associate men with power, authority and higher status. We like women and respect men. While these are traditional views, and some of us don’t like them much, they persist. They’re sticky stereotypes.

We don’t have to agree with these gender-based expectations for them to affect our decisions. Nobel prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has alerted us to the fact that our brains work on two very different levels, ‘fast’ and ‘slow’. While we believe that we know what we are thinking, we often don’t. Most of our ‘mental work’ occurs in the fast lane of intuitions and impressions. Most decisions are made without awareness.

A hefty part of the gender bias problem is that it’s not always possible to know when you’ve made a decision, let alone whether it was fair or biased. That’s a big problem when we’re working out what to pay people.

It’s one thing to make decisions and not know it. It’s even worse to make decisions you don’t know you’re making and not agree with them. See my pilot story above.

Bias hinders women’s progress in organizations in these key ways:

1. You can’t be what you can’t see. Affinity bias means that we like people who are just like us and are more influenced by people who are similar rather than different. This can have a significant impact on career choices. If I can see ‘people like me’ in a particular career or job role, I’ll choose that path. If I can’t, I won’t.

What that means is that there are fewer women in senior, decision-making roles — that’s where pay decisions get made. It also means that homogeneous groups of people generally make poorer decisions — they deliberate less, they ‘think they know’, they don’t question or challenge their thinking. With little diversity and no particular attention paid to bias, it’s not surprising that women get less pay than men.

2. You’re damned if you do and doomed if you don’t. Women’s progress is limited by expectancy bias. Women are commonly ‘demoted’ to roles that are in keeping with traditional expectations. Female doctors are often mistaken for nurses, female lawyers for paralegals. We do not expect women to hold senior roles, despite the fact that, increasingly, they do.

Women, even very senior ones, are still expected to do the ‘office housework’. When a man offers to help with these tasks, we praise him for his contribution. His help is less expected and more visible. If a woman declines to help, she faces backlash; she’s selfish. When a man says no, there’s no similar backlash; he’s busy. The time that women spend helping others penalizes them by taking them away from progressing their own careers.

Men then, are more likely to get the more visible roles, the high-profile projects and line and operational management roles. Being more visible, it’s easier to believe they work harder and achieve more. Ergo, higher pay.

What you see is not what you get.

This plays out in pay through two biases; confirmation and certainty.

Competence is how good you are at something. Confidence is how good you think you are at something. How accurate are people at assessing their own competence? Not very; men are much more likely to over-rate themselves than women are. If a man says he’s got what it takes and a woman says she’s not sure she has, he’s more likely to be chosen, but she’s more likely to be the better candidate.

‘Confidence’ creates a bind for women. It contradicts the female stereotype of women as supporters not leaders; submissive, kind and caring. If women conform to the stereotype, they’re not suitable leadership material. Yet when they act with confidence, they are penalized for being ‘more manly than the men’. This is confirmation bias at play.

Norms about masculine behaviour and its fit with leadership are barriers to women. They cause women to moderate their own expectations and guide decision makers’ choices about leadership potential, ability and reward.

Expressing confidence in your own leadership capability is an almost guaranteed entrée to the high potential track. Is it as important as we think it is? No.

Leaders who appear confident, regardless of their competence, can be very convincing. We are more likely to believe they have leadership potential. We prefer to listen to them than to someone who expresses doubts or identifies gaps, even if they are voicing those concerns because they are confident. We mistake doubt for a lack of confidence, and therefore a lack of leadership.

For women to be seen as influential leadership material, they need to be seen as confident and competent (masculine norms) as well as caring (a female norm). Men need to be seen only as confident. While they remain, these masculine norms for leadership set a much higher barrier to entry for women. Rather than expect women to become more confident, we should downplay the primacy given to confidence, and instead prioritize competence.

The more certain we are, the more likely we are to make biased decisions. Certainty bias means that we tend to think that our decisions are much better than they are; we tend to dismiss the possibility that we are biased. Frustratingly, because biases operate unconsciously, it’s hard to know when we are in their grip. Getting proof is tricky, and happens in retrospect, if at all.

There are good tools available for organizations to systematically reduce the impact of masculine norms on leader identification. Yet they are not used as much as they should be. Seventy-five per cent of HR leaders from top global companies say that the subjective opinion of the person’s boss is the most common way to identify leadership potential. Given the potential for affinity bias, that is, to choose people most like ourselves, this is as flawed as self-assessment.

And certainty bias is more likely, not less, when organizations promote merit as a cultural value. Leaders tend to believe that their decisions are impartial. They invest less effort in avoiding stereotypes, creating a paradox of meritocracy. Researchers Castilla and Benard have found that when organizations promote themselves as meritocracies they pay men more than women despite identical performance ratings.

Whether you know you are biased matters less than accepting that you are likely to be biased. We could all do with being more modest, less certain, about our decisions. That’s a great way to do the broader groundwork for equality.

These biases all spill over into pay — many pay decisions are not made on the basis of objective measures, but on the basis of affinity, expectancy, confirmation and certainty biases.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

I’m working with senior leaders, men and women to make the impact of unconscious bias more transparent. The more we know about how it works and how it impacts decisions like performance ratings, allocation of projects and pay, the better.

One of the things that I’m particularly passionate about is finding ways that we can speak more collegiately, openly and candidly about the different ways that men and women experience work, the relative ease or difficulty they have in progressing their careers. If we can notice it, and talk about it, we’re on the path to rectifying the problem.

If we are oblivious, argue and disagree, we can’t make progress.

Conversations about gender and bias can be contentious. Nobody wants to see themselves as biased, as flawed. And while most of us mean well, that doesn’t mean that we have the conversations that we need to have or that the conversations go as we would like them to.

I’m encouraging leaders to face into the difficult conversations and have them rather than avoid them. We need to give up the idea that we can have the perfect conversation, the idea that this conversation will be the one to fix everything. Instead, those interested in more inclusion and better decisions can use their motivation to increase the number of positive conversations they have.

We can stop feeling like we’re walking on eggshells, look at the data, make the facts transparent and that will go a long way to equalizing opportunities and rewards.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Become more aware of your own potential for bias.

At the most personal level, I recommend that people get curious about themselves and their own potential for bias. You can do a quick online assessment of your unconscious attitudes at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/. About 75% of us have traditional gender associations and this is what can lead us into biased decision making.

When I conduct training on inclusion, I usually ask people to complete this before we start. There is always a really interesting discussion as people consider the idea that they have attitudes they’re not aware of. Women in particular find it confronting; perhaps we have the bias that it’s men who are biased, but if anything, the data shows that women are more likely to hold these traditional attitudes unconsciously. Women are less likely to have these as conscious attitudes — the ones they know about — so it’s intriguing to explore the interplay.

You can always try the story that’s used a lot in diversity training as a way to bring the unconscious to life. This is the story of the boy who has a terrible car accident in which his father dies. He’s taken to hospital and the surgeon says I can’t operate on him, he’s my son. Who’s the surgeon? I’ll leave that with you…..

The point of becoming more aware is that if you become more attuned to the possibility of bias, you are more likely to notice it. If you notice it, you can then make a choice about what to do about the bias.

2. Make it safe for people to share their views.

Attitudes and beliefs are contentious, and we are all entitled to what we believe. If people don’t feel this level of respect, conversations about gender beliefs and pay are too much of a struggle.

To set up a safe way to have these conversations, encourage people to be curious, ask ‘what can we learn?’. Encourage candour. When we’re dealing with contentious issues, it’s really important that people feel that they can say what they think without reprisals. We need to be able to name the elephant in the room. It’s better to know than not to. If people feel they have to suppress their true beliefs, they won’t tell you what they think. The bigger downside of this is that suppressing beliefs actually increases them. It’s counterintuitive I know, but if we ignore biases they have a bigger effect.

I was asked to ‘coach’ a senior male executive whose CEO considered him to be a ‘resistor’ to his gender diversity strategy. The executive started our conversation on the defensive, yet when I made it clear that I wasn’t going to tell him what to do and instead asked him, with curiosity, about his own experience of diversity, he told an amazing, positive story. Over time he went on to repeat that story to peers and colleagues and has since become known as a champion of gender diversity. What was the difference? For him, being guided by his own experience, and locating the value of diversity in that experience. It was also not about imposing a strategy on him; he felt like he would be saddled with targets that he wouldn’t be able to meet, affecting both his sense of status and self-esteem.

3. Be an ally

It can be threatening for people who feel excluded to speak up about their experiences, or their different needs. When women ‘raise the gender card’ they may well be greeted by eyerolling. Women may be reluctant or not know how to take action if they believe they are not being paid fairly.

With allies around you, it’s easier to speak up about different experiences. Allies share information that they have access to. Allies notice when someone’s anxious or upset and ask why. It’s much easier for someone who feels annoyed, threatened or unsafe to reach out to an ally.

Being an ally means that you are proactive in your support, and you call injustice out when you see it. By being an ally, you reduce bias. You show people that support counts. You show people that it’s safe to speak up about concerns and questions about identity and opportunity. You make inclusion matter.

Everyone in every conversation can make a contribution to supporting others. You can notice when others don’t get a turn, when they are talked over, when they don’t feel safe, or seem frustrated by not ‘being heard’.

Jasmine’s story is a good example. She was feeling more and more uncomfortable when she walked into the tearoom. Several times she’d interrupted conversations in which women’s bodies were being derided. It was clearly inappropriate. There were a couple of senior managers involved in the conversations. As a relatively junior staff member, Jasmine just wasn’t sure what to do about it. She felt embarrassed both by the topic, and by walking into the room in the middle of such conversations. She raised it with her team leader, John, who then raised the concern with the senior leaders. They claimed to be “just joking” and saw it as “harmless fun”. John disagreed with them and called them out for their inappropriate behaviour.

It was David Morrison as Lieutenant General of the Australian Army who popularized the saying “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. Let it go by once, and that gives permission to repeat these behaviours and for others to join in. Be an ally, call it out, and you can help make work experiences more inclusive.

4. Make people decision-making transparent

Given that many critical decisions, such as performance evaluations, leadership potential assessment and pay are often made without much recourse to data, that’s an important gap to fill. And the more transparency there is, the fairer decisions become.

If there are clear criteria for people decisions, the right measures can be developed to help make the decisions. Holding managers accountable for making fair decisions puts responsibility on them to do so. Their decisions can then be assessed for their fairness and support, and advice provided to rectify inequities. When such decisions are openly reviewed for fairness, again, the evidence is clear that fairness does increase.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, pledged to create equal pay. He thought that it was equal, until he saw the data, that showed a 6% inequity in salaries. Two years later, they did the same review, after company acquisitions and salaries again had to be adjusted. As Benioff says, all CEOs have to do is press a button and they get the data. Measures are important and continuing to pay attention to them over time is equally important.

5. Advocate for inclusion

As humans, we have traditionally related to each other based on how similar or different we are. People are categorized as either ‘like me’ or ‘other’. This may have had advantages in the past. We now live lives that are highly interconnected and the social boundaries and role ascriptions that served us in the past no longer serve us. Diverse groups are of much greater importance to our future, which is exciting.

Inclusion promotes appreciation of different perspectives. When people feel a sense of belonging and that their uniqueness is recognized, they are more engaged. That is when the collective intelligence of a group to perform and innovate is more likely.

As an advocate you can:

  • Engage people to create their own solutions to inequities.
  • Work with volunteers and use curiosity as a key hook.
  • Increase contact and connection between under-represented groups and ensure that they work together; this minimizes status differences and focuses on work and learning.
  • Make responsibilities transparent and make people accountable for their actions — this will tap into their desire to look good to others.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Check your privilege. There’s a strange psychology of privilege that works like this: when we see group disadvantage, we tend to minimize the group’s disadvantage and play up our own.

We fear that others will see our privilege as unearned and in a sense, we dissociate ourselves from it. For example, people who use family connections to get a job don’t see that as advantage; they believe that they have won the job on merit. When they hear of others who used family connections to get a job, they see them as benefiting from advantage and judge them as less qualified.

The rules applied to others’ behaviour are different from the rules we apply to our own.

If we reflect on the privilege that we hold as part of a dominant group, such as men or whites, then we are less likely to minimize our advantage. We can reflect and remind ourselves of our values (for example, fairness) or we can reflect on our personal successes.

Checking your privilege means reflecting on the ways that you may have relative advantage in your workplace.

Metaphorically give yourself a pat on the back for what you have achieved, and it will be easier to see the disadvantage that others face. You might believe that others around you would also benefit from checking their privilege. Give them a pat on the back for what they have achieved. Then talk to them about group advantage and disadvantage. They will be more likely to appreciate their personal advantage and be more open to seeing the disadvantages that others face. If they can check their privilege, they are more likely to notice the disadvantage, and then they can act on it too.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Gloria Steinem’s ‘There’s no greater gift than thinking you had some impact on the world, for the better’ has been a guiding philosophy. I can be better, enjoy my life more and feel satisfied in my achievements if I can make a positive difference to others’ lives.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

The person that I would most like to have a private meal with would be Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. Her leadership style, particularly through the coronavirus crisis, has been noted by many. She stands out as a beacon for gender-inclusive leadership. I hope that her role-modelling encourages many younger women to consider pursuing careers in non-traditional areas, and younger men to consider different ways of leading. And all of us to lead with greater compassion. She’s showing the world that our notions of gender are outdated, and it’s a pleasure to see her in action.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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