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A simulated workplace shows how sexist slights can cripple a woman’s career

October 15, 2021, 12:46 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Australia pulls ahead on board diversity, Netflix employees plan a walkout, and an author shows how unintentional sexist slights add up over time. Have a great weekend.

– It all adds up. They are common, everyday slights that just about any working woman can reel off: the golf outing invitation that never came, the performance penalties for ‘aggressive’ or ‘bossy’ behavior, the usurped credit, the interruptions (so many interruptions!), the expectations that you—of course—will be the one running out to buy a colleague’s birthday card.

Such instances of bias are subtle and all too frequent, but there’s little data to capture their combined effect. That’s what journalist Jessica Nordell found when researching her new book The End of Bias: A Beginning. Without past workplace data to reference, Nordell and University of Buffalo computer science professor Kenny Joseph captured their own by creating a computer simulation of a fictional workplace she called NormCorp.

As Nordell writes in the New York Times, she baked gender bias into the model. For example, women were penalized slightly more when they failed, and as the share of women decreased, those left endured more stereotyping. Nordell’s simulation—that you can see play out here—visualizes how all these unintentional slights add up over time. If a woman’s performance is undervalued by 3% over 10 years, it will take her 8.5 years to climb from entry-level employee to executive; a male peer will get there in four.

Such a poor outcome occurs even without “egregious” incidents or official policies that are discriminatory, Nordell says. In that sense, Nordell’s novel experiment reinforces what we’ve long known; that laws and corporate policies against bias are necessary, but on their own they’re not enough to close the promotion gap and ensure women reach the highest rungs of management. Only real cultural change that eliminates everyday sexism, especially from the tippy-top of the organization, can do that. Nordell concludes, “Interventions make a difference, but only if leaders commit to them.”

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@
clairezillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Data from down under. The latest data out of Australia shows women's representation on boards of directors outpacing board diversity in the U.S. Women now hold 34% of board seats at large companies in Australia compared to 30.2% in the S&P 500 stateside. Bloomberg

- Not for laughs. Some Netflix employees—trans staff and allies—are planning a walkout next week over the streamer's handling of Dave Chapelle's comedy special The Closer, which contains anti-trans content. Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos told employees that the company works to "support [creators'] creative freedom—even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful." NBC News

- Survivor's guide. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Allure has a new "survivor's guide to breast cancer." The package includes everything from how to manage hair loss and eyebrow loss; how to take care of your skin during chemotherapy; and reflections on scars, beauty, and appearance from cancer survivors. Allure

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Former Ancestry.com CEO Margo Georgiadis joined the board of Ro. Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, will be the next president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. Alphabet's CapitalG hired Lauren Illovsky of Gradient Ventures as talent partner. Newswire Stacker hired Galvanized Media EIC Jaimie Etkin as head of content strategy. ChowNow hired Anna Tauzin, former chief innovation officer for the National and Texas Restaurant Associations, as senior director of industry relations and community affairs. Leading Now hired Julia Lazzara as president.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Uneven rates. As New Zealand ends its "zero-COVID" strategy, Maori Party leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is calling the move a "death warrant" for Indigenous communities because vaccination rates there are far below the country's national averages. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she disagrees with the characterization, but is working to increase vaccination rates in those communities. NPR

- All about the whiteboard. Katie Porter—"and her whiteboard"—are just getting started. That's the conclusion of this profile of the California congresswoman known for methodically taking on big companies and corporate greed. Vanity Fair

- Getting the callLisa Byington made history as the first full-time play-by-play broadcaster for a major men's pro sports team—the Milwaukee Bucks—this year. Kate Scott, with the Philadelphia 76ers, was quick on her heels as the second. Byington recognizes the significance of her gender but hopes that storyline is short-lived. "[I]f you’re asking me the same questions 10 years from now—or even next month—then there’s a problem," she says. New York Times

ON MY RADAR

Thousands of people are trying to leave QAnon, but getting out is almost impossible Cosmopolitan

A new podcast investigates the corporate hellscape that was Victoria’s Secret The Cut

Why don't we know how periods affect exercise? The Cut

PARTING WORDS

"I might be those things, but I’m still everything else I was before, and I shouldn’t be relegated to that."

-Selma Blair on the acting roles she's been offered—"old woman" and "person in the wheelchair"—since revealing her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. She participated in a new documentary about her disease and treatment. 

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