Ready to join the team?

  • Let go of being right and notice your own unconscious bias. One humbling way is to take the 15-minute Implicit Association Test from Harvard.
  • Notice unconscious bias out loud. Notice it out loud in person, share it with us on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Change the what. What’s one thing you can do NOW to change the environment, change a system or change a process? Do it and share it!

For more, here are all the things that went into designing and delivering a TEDx Talk for me. Here are the links to the research and more resources to notice and change the impacts of unconscious bias.

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Women’s Momentum Has Stalled

The Wage Gap: A History of Pay Inequity and the Equal Pay Act

Until the early 1960s, newspapers published separate job listings for men and women. Jobs were categorized according to sex, with the higher level jobs listed almost exclusively under “Help Wanted—Male.” In some cases the ads ran identical jobs under male and female listings—but with separate pay scales. Separate, of course, meant unequal: between 1950 and 1960, women with full time jobs earned on average between 59–64 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned in the same job.

It wasn’t until the passage of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963 (effective June 11, 1964) that it became illegal to pay women lower rates for the same job strictly on the basis of their sex

“The gender wage gap was wider in 2011 than in 2010 and was actually at the same level as in 2009. Back in the 1980s, the gap narrowed by more than 10 percentage points. But it’s only closed by about one percentage point since 2001.”

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tedx stage

TEDxPasadenaWomen on May 30, 2015. One of 250 independently organized TEDx Women events happening across the globe in connection with the main TEDWomen event in Monterey CA the same week. 14 speakers, 3 special guests, 100 in the audience. What a day.

In a few short weeks, around the fourth of July, you’ll be able to view videos of all the TEDxPasadenaWomen speakers, guests, and interviews too. In the meantime, here are a few of my own highlights and some of the other speakers I am looking forward to sharing when the videos are up.


The title for my talk is “How Unconscious Bias Puts Us on the Same Team.” I spoke about how unconscious bias is stalling women’s progress but that noticing out loud the ways unconscious bias impacts ALL of us, puts us on the SAME TEAM where we can change the WHAT (the processes, systems, environment) not the WHO (each other) to make difference for everyone.  But really I told stories – a story about Kate and her Equal Pay Day t-shirt, two stories from high school basketball that taught me lessons about dealing with unconscious bias, and a story about my husband David.

Favorite quotes from people after my talk:

“You knocked it out of the park.”

“I felt like I just had a talk with my best friend.”

“I want to be on your team.”

IMG_6453My daughter Kate attended as my guest, and she wore the t-shirt she made for Equal Pay Day (Women, Like Men Only Cheaper) which figures prominently in the talk I shared with the audience. So after my time on stage, everyone wanted to talk to her. They even interviewed her on camera as part of my post-talk interview. I knew it would be great to have her there, but it was absolutely incredible – she thought I was cool for a day, we got to share this amazing experience, she got to talk with people who cared what she thought as a person – not a IMG_6508.copykid, and she got to be part of a room full of people who believe you can make a difference if you speak up.

Favorite quote of things people said to Kate:

“You and your mom are badasses.”

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Panel on Women and Pay Equity

Right to Left: Gloria Feldt, Kimberly Bryant, Kristi Mitchem, Victoria Pynchon

On February 24, I spent the day in Silicon Valley at the Watermark LeadOn Conference for Women (#LeadOnCA) along with 5000+ women listening to speakers like Hillary Clinton, Brené Brown and Diane Von Furstenburg.  Gloria Feldt led a panel discussion on women and pay equity. Gloria is co-founder and president of Take The Lead, the new women’s leadership movement to prepare, develop, inspire and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025. In my interview with her, we discussed negotiating for pay, Patricia Arquette and unconscious bias.

~ Kristin

How does unconscious bias play a role in the internal, external and systemic barriers facing women?

I am more and more working on unconscious bias from two angles, because railing about it doesn’t change anything.

First is for women and men to understand what unconscious bias is. And by that I mean men are not bad guys, but we all grow up in same cultural soup and end up with the same types of bias. The first step is to unpack unconscious bias and have a laugh about it. In a training, for example, I’ll ask women to sit like men and men to sit like women and they crack up and we go from there.

The second angle is to teach people to be able to communicate with each other. Oppressed groups have to understand the language of the group with all the power. Then you can teach them YOUR language. Bring them over to your ideas and your experiences.

Then there is also the hard work of organizational culture. Creating ways to look at resumes, ways to build your talent pool that decrease unconscious bias.

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couple sharing choresBoth men and women rank sharing household chores as the third most important ingredient in our recipe for a successful marriage, right behind faithfulness and good sex. Yet the latest data tells us that in dual-earner couples, mom is still doing more housework and more childcare than dad does. Surprisingly, when mom earns more than dad, she does even more – not less – of the family work than other employed moms. As Amy Vachon, co-author of Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents says, “Sharing doesn’t come automatically, because our culture pushes us into traditional roles.”

For many mothers our approach to sharing chores and childcare consists of doing the tasks ourselves, nagging our partner to do them, and then resenting that we are doing and nagging. That is a recipe for failure. A recent UCLA study looked at when women are most satisfied with the division of household labor. Is it when she does everything herself, when her husband does many tasks but she manages all the tasks, or when the two of them are working as a team? According to Dr. Tamar Kremer-Sadlik, UCLA Professor and co-editor of the book Fast-Forward Family: Home, Work, and Relationships in Middle-Class America, a woman’s satisfaction is “not about an equal amount of labor but that there is a sense of coordination and shared goal of doing something for the family, of working as a team, even if the two of them are not doing exactly the same amount.”

If you would like to work more as a team with your partner, these six tools can help you get out of the rut of managing family tasks yourself so you can reap the benefits of sharing responsibility.

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I refused to be one of those people who criticized – or even commented too much – on Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, until I’d read it. Since my week included client crises, a non-profit board meeting, tap and drum lessons and oh yes, recovering from the hour we lost to Daylight Savings Time, I didn’t even pull it up on my iPad until late Thursday. I was pleasantly surprised to find many things I agreed with, yet often in the next paragraph I’d find something very wrong. Here are four of those Right/Wrong pairs.

1. RIGHT: Subconscious bias is at the heart of the problem.

“…research has already clearly shown: success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. …    I believe this bias is at the very core of why women are held back.”

Yes! Sandberg shines a light on the important research on implicit bias related to women and mothers. The challenge today is to help good people understand that they too act based on biases of which they have no conscious awareness.

WRONG: Asking women to challenge subconscious bias but giving up on the idea that we could also change processes and structures to mitigate for it.

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Our Wedding Day

I am so fed up with advice from people telling women that if they just make the right personal choices at the right time in the right order then there is no problem fitting career, marriage, and kids into our lives.

That’s a load of crap. If anyone had been able to figure out a way to PLAN her way through this worklife mess it would have been me.

Let me just take one example of this kind of advice – Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg tells women in commencement addresses and TED talks:

The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry. I have an awesome husband, and we’re 50/50…having a supportive spouse — a real partner — will play a huge part in your success.” 

The implication is that as long as you marry the right guy you’ll be fine, and if you aren’t fine, well, you made the wrong choice. Too bad.

My “awesome husband” David and I were married seven years before our daughter was born. While I don’t believe we thought of it as a “career choice” we certainly married because we shared a vision of our future together. And for seven years we shared household chores and generally tackled life together, as “real partners.” We always assumed we’d both have careers when we had kids, and that we’d share parenting “50/50.”

Then within a few short months of our daughter’s birth, our lives turned into something more like a 1950’s Leave it to Beaver episode.

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My friend Barbara was at a meeting of her fellow computer geeks. The speaker said to them all, “I’ll try to explain it so my mother could understand it.” It dawned on Barbara that she remembered others making similar remarks in her economics Ph.D. program, and then she said, “It was always clear to me that [the phrase] meant someone untrained, possibly stupid. This was the first time since I became a mom that I’d heard it. I felt kicked in the stomach.”

Barbara had run smack into a deep, common and largely subconscious stereotype  – namely that mothers aren’t very smart.

Why would that be?

A recent Harvard Magazine profile of social psychologist Amy Cuddy, The Psyche of the Automatic, highlights decades of research on automatic stereotypes and their impact on many different groups – including mothers and fathers – and explains what’s behind the “explain it so my mother could understand it” type of stereotype.

  • Warmth and competence are the two critical factors in how we perceive others.
  • It’s really hard to get people to perceive you as both warm AND competent. “People tend to see warmth and competence as inversely related. If there’s a surplus of one trait, they infer a deficit of the other.” (Cuddy quoted in a 2009 Harvard Business Review article, “Just Because I’m Nice, Don’t Assume I’m Dumb.”)
  • Others respond to you in distinctly different ways depending on how they perceive the warmth or competence of a group you belong to according to the grid below.

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In the New York Times piece “Till Death, or 20 Years, Do Us Part” Matt Richtel explores the meaning of marriage today, including proposals in Mexico City to create short-term renewable marriage contracts as brief as two years as a way to deal with how many marriages fail. Me, I’m not a fan of going into marriage with an arbitrary expiration date on the arrangement as if it can be tossed like a rotten carton of eggs.

As Richtel also concludes, I prefer the approach that Stephanie Coontz, the research director at the Council on Contemporary Families, shares in his article, “…there is value in asking people to consider and regularly assess their commitment, not necessarily based on a timetable but around life events: when you have kids, one spouse gets a new job or starts to work more hours, a family member dies, the kids leave home.”

Modern marriage has changed in ways that require regular remodeling of the contract.

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In the summer of 1997, a few years before our daughter was born, my husband David and I went with some friends to the game that launched the Women’s National Basketball Association. The Los Angeles Sparks were playing the New York Liberty at the Great Western Forum, the arena where the legendary Lakers played. We got our popcorn and gooey nachos. We found our seats. We laughed and talked while the players warmed up. Then we all stood for the national anthem.

As the first notes played, I started crying.

My tears took me by surprise. I watched the players with their eyes on the flag and their hands on their hearts. I took in the packed stadium and the TV cameras. I realized that if I ever had a daughter, she would never know a world where girls couldn’t play basketball.

The tears ran down my cheeks and wouldn’t stop.

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What’s stunning about the reaction to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” and the news that new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is pregnant is the size and scope of the reaction itself.

And I can explain that reaction with a screen shot.

Tweets from Marissa Mayer on July 16

Those two tweets.

The first one she sent broadcasts competence “I’m a new CEO tomorrow.” And the second one suggests warmth and caring “I’m going to be a mom.” Right next to each other. Tweeted within 7 hours of each other.

A woman who embodies competence AND warmth and caring. In our collective cultural subconscious that does not compute. And that combination has people’s heads spinning and their tongues wagging.

Marissa Mayer and Anne-Marie Slaughter have provided two amazing high-profile examples of one strategy for breaking through subconscious stereotypes – exposing people to examples that don’t fit the stereotype. You can do that too.

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When I speak to groups of young women and men, more and more frequently the question I get isn’t “Can I have it all?” it’s “Should I have kids at all?”

Young women and couples watch as friends have children, and see new mothers and fathers completely stressed out juggling work and family, marriages unraveling, bank accounts strained, careers derailed, and hobbies and exercise and sleep and friends pushed aside. They wonder if they really want to sign up for that.

Couples that already have one small child ask me a different question, “Can we afford to have another child at all?”  They know from experience what having a child means, and they are thoughtfully and fretfully adding up the childcare, the bigger house, the college education, and the possibility that a second child will be the straw that breaks the back of at least one of their careers and thinking the math just doesn’t make sense. They want me to double check their calculations.

In a big sisterly way, I tell these women and men to consider an option they probably haven’t.

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I grew up in a small town in Minnesota in the 1970’s, the oldest of three girls. My father was an athlete in college, so I played ball from the time I could walk. Although Title IX passed in 1972 when I was four years old, it didn’t matter much to me at first because everything I played was outside school, like Little League and the YMCA basketball league, and coed. There just weren’t separate leagues for girls so the small numbers of girls played together with the boys.

By the time I started middle school in 1980, my school had already added girls’ teams in everything, including a girls’ basketball team. Basketball was my passion and I was eager to play on a school team, but when it came time to sign up I discovered that the boys’ team had twice as many practices, twice as many games, and practiced in the big gym with the shiny wood floor. The girls got the cramped old gym with the concrete floor. One night over dinner I told my parents, “I want to play on the boys’ team because they play more and get the good gym.”

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My Gen X peers and I come by our skeptical – okay our cynical – world view honestly.

My childhood was bookended by 1979’s energy crisis and the Three Mile Island disaster on one end and 1987’s Black Monday stock market crash on the other. While Boomers experienced the triumph of a man setting foot on the moon, I was watching live on TV with my classmates as the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated in a plume of smoke.

As a kid in a small Midwestern town, I had one friend whose parents divorced and we thought that was odd. Halfway through my first year in college, I realized nearly all my friends had divorced parents – I was the odd one. The fear of AIDS was so pervasive that the way we knew a relationship was serious in college was when both people got tested. College was the first time, but not the last time, I knew a family that went bankrupt. I graduated into a job market defined by waves of corporate layoffs and the idolizing of Jack Welch “Neutron Jack” style management. My young adult life began with watching the OJ Simpson verdict live on TV.  I then rode the waves through the Internet boom and bust and the housing boom and bust and entered mid-life during the deepest recession in a generation.

Ah, Gen X, we are easy targets for propaganda that we can’t count on Social Security to be there for us. We’ve learned the hard way we can’t count on any institution to be there for us.

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