Women's Network

Chicago Booth Alumni Special Interest Group

Janet Pucino, '94

Janet Pucino's, '94, new book Not in the Club: An Executive Woman's Journey Through the Biased World of Business won the 2012-13 Los Angeles Book Festival Award in the Business Category. Janet was inspired to write a book after spending a weekend with fellow women MBA students and alumnae from Chicago Booth and recognizing "Not much has changed." Her book draws on her own experiences and conversations with men and women in the workplace, as well as research. She took some time recently to tell CWIBAN more about her book and insights.

Q: What prompted you to write a book? Was there a precipitating event or had the idea been incubating over a long period?

The inspiration for Not In The Club began during a weekend I spent in Chicago as part of the Chicago Booth Executive-In-Residence Program. I heard a great deal from women students and alumunae about the challenges they were experiencing in the workplace; some felt their contributions were being diminished, many felt their male peers had easier access to the boss, and most felt excluded from the social connections they needed to be effective at work. After sharing my front line experiences with them and suggesting solutions for their particular challenges, they asked me if I had a PowerPoint presentation to leave behind as a guide. I hadn't prepared a presentation, and instead offered to write a book that would help prepare women for leadership roles, define the critical elements needed for success, and raise awareness in both men and women about the behaviors and biases that limit women's contributions.

Q: Can you explain what "The Club" is and how it impacts men's and women's careers?

"The Club" is comprised of a group of people in an organization who may or may not have direct power over other individuals, and yet the group shepherds its member to new growth opportunities and career advancement. You won't find The Club on an organization chart. It exists in the group of individuals who freely share information and value each other's contributions. To grow our businesses and sustain economic growth, we need to continually develop talent. The Club often minimizes and excludes contributions from non-members, which limits their ability to expand their skills sets, effectively impacting the bottom line and their career progress.

Q: It feels like the public conversation about women and leadership tends to emphasize what women are doing "wrong". You point out that women have already done more than enough to prove they are "educated, able, and worthy of leadership positions." What do you make of this mismatch? 

I believe it's a matter of awareness. Women have been in the corporate workplace for over 90 years, hold 61% of MBAs, an equal amount of PhDs, and have already figured out how to manage a family and career, although they are still being economically penalized for having children. If you search on key words "career advice for women" you'll see hundreds of millions of results directing women on how to dress, network, collaborate, ask for a raise, be a team player, etc. From my experience, women have heeded that advice, and in spite of doing all the right things, women represent less than 4% of CEO's and hold only 16% of Board seats.

I don't see women as defective. The road to a senior leadership position is longer and more arduous for women than their male counterparts due to many external factors within our organizations and culture that perpetuate biases about the value of women's accomplishments. We have decades of research on gender bias (e.g. blind auditions studies in the '70s, the attitudinal studies from the '80s and resume studies from the in the '90s etc.) that seems to end with similar conclusions – if you disassociate contribution, work, or performance from gender, there is a greater chance women's contributions will be perceived as more valuable. Women can't change this without awareness in our culture that biases continue to exist, and without an intervention from our organizational leaders, schools, and government.

Q: Recognizing and correcting biases is a central part of your book. Can you recommend a good starting point for employers/employees who would like to take corrective steps in this regard?

Awareness that bias exists is the first corrective step for employers and employees. Companies need to evaluate their practices and train their management teams to recognize and correct biases. An inclusive, cultural tone has to come from the top. You can't be successful if you're not accepted, and having a diversity program isn't enough. Club behaviors that create the "Lethal Barriers" I outline in my book are not necessarily overt. "Resistance" for example, manifests itself in many ways, and the process of determining who gets an opportunity or promotion typically isn't scrutinized in terms of how many women were considered for the short list, which relegates women to "Being in the Audience."

For women who are experiencing Club behaviors, I recommend what consistently worked for me - draw attention to the behavior. When women's resumes are missing from a potential candidate list, ask your recruiter or HR team to provide them. When I asked to see women candidates, dozens of resumes would appear the next day. If you're being excluded from the decision-making process or your contributions aren't being recognized, it's appropriate to raise the issue directly with the person who needs to hear the message, or, you can enlist the help of your team mates, manager, HR, or any other person of influence to help you change the behavior.

Q: Do you feel that affinity groups can be effective tools for helping organizations achieve gender parity?

I lead a Women's Affinity group for a large corporation for a time. There were about 400 members, and they were mostly focused on events – enlisting guest speakers from the business units to discuss their business models. There clearly was a desire by the members to be proactive in seeking career opportunities across the company and in managing their career progression. I think Affinity groups could be used as a platform to raise awareness within companies providing they have the diversity data to support their discussions, and a culture that is willing to consider the financial upside of having a diverse management team and board. A recent article called "The Leadership Gap" by the Catalyst organization, noted that companies that "achieve diversity in their management and on their boards attain better financial results, on average, than other companies". They went on to say that "three or more women board directors in at least four of five years—significantly outperformed those with no women board directors." One would think that this type of data would drive significant change in the composition of most senior management teams and boards.

Q: Any words of wisdom for women (or men for that matter) who want to channel their career efforts most effectively when they are not in The Club?

The eight "Critical Elements of Success" described in my book are applicable to both men and women who are "Not In The Club". They are meant to help us create an effective work environment that focuses on business objectives and company priorities, while we're busy raising awareness of biased behaviors. The Elements address different aspects of work, and I would offer two as food for thought: "Match your work ethic to the business strategy and expectations for your role so you don't overwork and spend time in areas that are not important to you or your company", and "Stay calm, carry on, and remain fierce: Block out the noise and stick to core management principles." They're not necessarily easy to do, but they can provide a framework to solve a challenging problem.

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