Type above and press Enter to search. Press Esc to cancel.

April 2, 2024 | 7 Mins Read

Q&A: A Kellogg Professor Weighs in on How to Support Women in the Workplace Every Day of the Year

April 2, 2024 | 7 Mins Read

Q&A: A Kellogg Professor Weighs in on How to Support Women in the Workplace Every Day of the Year


We sincerely hope you enjoyed our month-long focus on covering themes relevant to International Women’s Day 2024 and Women’s History Month. As we started the month, we asked the opinions of the Future of Field Service LinkedIn community on the current state of diversity in their organizations, and here’s what they shared:

Q: How strong do you feel the diversity in your organization currently is?

  • Very – 47%
  • Good, but could improve – 24%
  • Mediocre – 18%
  • We’re really struggling – 12%

On one hand, these numbers show that almost half of respondents feel their organization is very diverse – and that’s great! Another 24% would categorize their company’s diversity as “good but could improve.” This may well reflect that companies are making strides in the actions that help create a more diverse workforce.

On the other hand, while we can’t see who responded to this poll in particular, if you look at the overall makeup of the Future of Field Service audience, it tends to be male-dominant. So, could it be, if that representation held true in the responses here, that the perception could be skewed? Perhaps respondents view their companies as very diverse, but in reality – are they? And does that persist throughout various categories and all roles? No way to know the answer, but it’s an important point to reflect on.

Another important point, as we close out our March focus, is that the importance of gender equity – and all diversity – should be a focus year-round. We should all be looking for ways to elevate diverse voices and support our under-represented team members each and every day.

To help us in considering how to support women at work all year long, I’m excited to share the insights of Ellen Connelly Taaffe, who is a Clinical Associate Professor at the Kellogg School of Management, where she teaches Personal Leadership Insights and is the Director of Women's Leadership Programming. Prior to her academic career, Ellen spent 25 years with Fortune 500 companies holding the top brand management post at divisions of PepsiCo, Royal Caribbean, and Whirlpool Corporation.

Outside of Kellogg, Ellen serves as an independent board director for two public and one private company boards, runs a leadership advisory consulting, speaking, and coaching business, and is a TEDx speaker. She shares her insights on leadership, careers, and advancing women and inclusion through her writing and speaking, having been featured in media such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Business Insider, and more. She’s also authored the book, The Mirrored Door: Break Through the Hidden Barrier that Locks Successful Women in Place, to use her vast experience to help women understand and navigate through internal and external obstacles to create the future career they desire.

Future of Field Service: Despite huge gains, 73% of women continue to experience microaggressions and everyday comments rooted in bias. Can you explain why microaggressions matter so much?

Ellen: Microaggressions matter so much because they add up. One brief comment that questions a woman’s credibility, ideas, or ability might be overlooked in the moment. When it happens repeatedly and comes from multiple people in an organization, it becomes exhausting, frustrating, and wears women down. It can lead to less engagement, lower belonging, and can seed an interest in new opportunities outside of the company for a better culture.  Whether women experience or only observe these slights, it could lead them to question whether they can truly succeed in their organization.

Future of Field Service: Could you share three key strategies for employers to champion their female workforce all year-round?

Ellen: Employers can champion women by solving the issues they face, coaching their development and potential, and creating an empowering culture.

  1. Analyze the numbers to celebrate progress and fix the pain points. The best employers review employee data to see what levels and at what intersections the pipeline narrows. For example, the numbers may show that there have been huge gains in parity at junior levels but a big drop off at the Director level and further narrowing at VP. Deeper analysis could uncover the whys behind the gaps to be fixed to target solutions.
  2. Train and incent people leaders to giver better feedback especially to women, who research shows receive more vague and subjective feedback. This includes acknowledging their career potential, providing specific guidance to build their skills, and understanding of the promotion process, and sharing a caring yet candid perspective on how they can grow their influence and careers.
  3. Build a psychologically safe culture where everyone is empowered, encouraged, and see a level playing field. This includes stamping out microaggressions by modeling a “see something, say something” approach. It prioritizes a learning culture where people grow from successes and failures to enable the company to become more innovative and deliver against the goals.

Future of Field Service: As a mom who struggled so deeply when my kids were little to make it work because I worked for a company that didn’t create a supportive culture, how do organizations cancel the ‘motherhood penalty’ and support women’s career trajectories?

Ellen: Employees’ child raising years have become increasingly difficult due to cost and availability of day care, the need for dual incomes and career trajectories, and the complexities of changing workplace flexibility. Adding the motherhood penalty adds more difficulty to this normal stage of life impacting both women and their companies.

This biased mindset impacts recruitment, return to work, retention, and promotion practices. Companies that hold pregnancy or parenting against women will eventually lose the war for talent as they limit engagement, compensation, and careers along with their own reputation.

Today’s strongest organizations understand employees’ challenges, make a commitment to pay and promotional transparency, and create cultures that provide flexibility and the belief that one can both parent and deliver results in ways that fit both individual and team needs. Forward-looking companies develop policies and practices that support working moms through their return-to-work, embrace parental leaves that lead to shared work at home, and ensure equitable practices that remove the biases that limit job offers, pay, and promotions.

Future of Field Service: It’s important to understand that better workplaces for women mean better workplaces for all. Can you share how so?

Ellen: Women want to be valued, have purpose in what they do, feel they belong for who they are, and believe they have a fair shot at joining, developing, having an impact, and succeeding in an organization. Workplaces that are better for women do all these things well and everyone benefits.

Regardless of gender, today’s employees want a culture that values them as human beings and enables them to thrive in work and life. This is especially true with Gen Z. Biases against those not in the majority along with outdated workplace practices built for another time prevent that from happening. The opportunity companies have is to make work workable for all.  

Future of Field Service: For a woman who is struggling with feeling unsupported in any way in their workplace, what advice can you give for moving beyond self-doubt and taking action?

Ellen: In my book, The Mirrored Door: Break Through the Hidden Barrier that Locks Successful Women in Place, I’ve identified a dynamic that many women feel. It’s when faced with an opportunity like raising our hands or posting for a promotion, we think we aren’t ready or worthy enough then hesitate. Frequently, this is a distorted view from the conditioned assumption that we can’t move forward unless with do it perfectly with 100% certainty and no risks to reputation or relationships. In reality, we are more ready than we realize.

My advice is to:

1) reflect realistically about your performance, career potential, and real risk in sharing an idea or going for a new job.

2) Seek out people who have seen you in action to gain feedback on how you are doing and what you could do in the future developmentally.

3) Identify that doubting message inside you and create a counter balancing message to disrupt it. When that doubt creeps in, remind yourself of the opposite. Imagine you believe that new message vs. that harsh critic. If so, what is the next best action you could take? Tap into your courage and take that small courageous step into action as you open the mirrored door.  

I can’t think of a better note to leave off our month of focused content and discussion. Huge thanks to Ellen and the others who have contributed! If you missed any of our earlier articles or podcasts, here’s the list with links:

  • AI’s Unique Opportunity to Shape a More Inclusive Future: Q&A with Angel Vossough, CEO and Co-Founder of BetterAI
  • A Look Back at 32 Years as a Woman in Service – Podcast with Dot Mynahan, recently retired from Otis Elevator
  • Article – The Pressure for Women to “Have it All” is Alive and Well – Is the Possibility?
  • Equity is Everyone’s Responsibility – Podcast with Daniel Trabel of Thermo Fisher Scientific
  • Article – 6 Actions that Have Spurred One Company’s Success in Hiring More Women into Field Service
  • A Multifaceted Approach to Creating Sustainable Service – Podcast with Sarah McKay of Concentrix