After publishing her bestselling book Radical Candor in 2017, Kim Scott started hearing from readers that her advice didn’t work well for everyone.
For some women and people of color, being radically candid at work backfired, or carried risks that they’d be perceived as angry or bitchy because of bias that they face. “Radical Candor worked, but it was easier for straight white men to put into practice than anyone else,” explains Scott. “That was a problem.”
Now with Just Work, which is coming out next week, Scott is tackling how to recognize and eliminate the workplace injustices that engendered that problem. Her new book presents detailed recommendations for what individuals and organizations can do.
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The CEO coach and former Google and Apple executive writes that there are multiple causes of workplace unfairness, which merit different responses:
- Bias—The vast majority of us exhibit bias, which involves conclusions and assumptions derived from stereotypes. The way to respond to it is with “I” statements. So if someone clumsily called you by the name of a colleague of the same race, you might say, “I think you confused me with someone who looks like me to you.” (p. 40) Such a response is clear about the harm without being immediately antagonistic.
- Prejudice—Bias can harden into prejudice, a conscious and ingrained belief. The most effective responses to prejudice involve “It” statements, which emphasize the boundaries the person is crossing by imposing their prejudices on others, such as “It is disrespectful to call a grown woman a girl.” (p. 43)
- Bullying — Here, the person’s goal is to harm. A “You” statement in response shifts the dynamic, turning the focus back to them. “You need to stop talking to me that way,” is one example.
When people put their prejudice and bullying into action, it can take the form of:
- Discrimination, which is “excluding others from opportunities.” (p. 159)
- Harassment, or “intimidating others in a way that creates a hostile work environment.” (p. 159)
- Physical violations, such as inappropriate touching.
Scott details a range of useful tactics for individuals and organizations:
- Words that teams can say to call out bias, in a meeting for example, without escalating the situation. “Bias interruption,” is one sample phrase the team members might agree on. (p. 128)
- “Bias busters,” or individuals who can help you see your own bias. Scott recommends compensating them for the feedback they give you, and employed several bias busters to help her with the book.
- An organizational code of conduct. This sets out expectations for what people can and cannot do. Scott recommends that a business leader writes the code—keeping it to under 600 words so people can internalize it—and then asks colleagues to edit it.
- Checks and balances on management. “No one person in an organization, including its CEO, should be able to hire, fire, promote, or pay another person without oversight. Mechanisms that employees trust must be in place for reporting harassment or sexual violence,” Scott writes. (p. 165) She recommends committees to decide on promotions and 360-degree reviews so employees aren’t only assessed by their manager.
- Quantifying bias. OpenTable, for example, quickly improved gender diversity through a plan that included measuring its performance on hiring women every quarter.
- Hiring for specific traits. Scott cites psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s recommendation that interviewers assess a job candidate on a handful of specific traits, and hire the applicant with the highest score rather than who they like best.
- Transparent salaries. A simple way to address pay disparity is to post compensation for each role on your organization’s website, negotiating only on signing bonus.
- Seven steps for confronting discrimination or harassment at work. The first three are documenting the harm, building solidarity by getting support from others, and identifying exit options such as another job.
Scott toward the end of the book tackles a thorny problem that companies, including some in the media industry, are struggling with: identifying and ensuring consequences for bad behavior while figuring out how to deal with any shaming of the person responsible for the harm on social media or elsewhere. “If you notice an online mob forming on a Slack channel or an employee intranet at work, don’t pile on,” she writes. “Check in with the targets to get their perspective, even if what they did seems pretty terrible.” (p. 330)
Scott is generally against “zero tolerance” policies that result in people being fired for a first offense, arguing instead for considering violations case by case. In her critique of social shaming and her case for people getting to learn from their mistakes, she presents a view that’s less voiced in this moment.
To be sure…
- Scott acknowledges that as a successful white woman, she has doesn’t have direct experience of the racial and economic bias and discrimination affecting many workers.
- But the book is more personal than even Scott said she anticipated when she began writing it. It includes the stories of her own experience of sexual assault and an abusive long-term relationship. “This was a big part of my journey in writing the book — coming to grips with the things that had happened to me and how they had impacted me,” she said in a recent interview.
- Scott makes the case for why victims should report indidents of discrimination and harassment. But she repeatedly stresses that the decision to do so rests with the victims.
- An employee who was let go from a startup that Scott cofounded said she had contributed to a hostile working environment for women, and filed a formal complaint against the company. Scott recalls how she witnessed a male colleague harass this colleague, and hadn’t done anything about it. “I was setting a dispiriting example,” she acknowledges.
- OpenTable increased the portion of engineer hires who were female from 14% to 50% from one quarter to the next. The tech company analyzed job postings to eliminate bias, filtered out gender-identifying info on resumes before hiring managers looked at them, and required at least two female candidates be considered for each opening.
- Scott tried unsuccessfully to give equity in a company where she was working to the outsourced cleaning staff and found it wasn’t possible for legal and bureaucratic reasons. It took the CEO paying them cash from his personal bank account for individual cleaners to be able to share in the company’s success like employees did.
- “Homogeneous teams underperform.” (p. 10)
- “By effectively severing anger from ‘good womanhood,’ we choose to sever girls and women from the emotion that best protects us against danger and injustice.” —Soraya Chemaly (p. 42)
- “An ‘I’ statement invites the person to consider your perspective; an ‘It’ statement establishes a clear boundary beyond which the other person should not go. With a ‘You’ statement, you are talking about the bully, not yourself. People can let your statement lie or defend themselves against it, but they are playing defense rather than offense in either case.” (p. 53)
- “I might feel that I have to tiptoe around the ‘fragile male ego,’ even though such a thing is just a figment of my imagination. Moral philosopher Kate Manne calls this himpathy.” (p. 62)
- “When I’m about to behave horribly, there are usually two warning signs. One, I’m in the in-group. Two, I’m mad as hell.” (p. 109)
- “Too many leaders act as though creating a fair and equitable working environment is somehow separate and apart from their core job as a leader, as if their real job is achieving a particular metric, But more and more leaders are beginning to understand that they will have trouble getting sh*t done unless they first create a just working environment.” (p. 121)
- “My advice to leaders is this: stop disempowering employees by giving too much unilateral authority to managers.” (p. 164)
- “If you take a job and realize after a month or two that there are serious problems you couldn’t have known about when interviewing, especially if the problems involve workplace injustice, it’s OK to quit. You don’t have to wait a year.” (p. 228)
- “It would be denial to say that alcohol in the workplace doesn’t greatly increase the likelihood of everything from an unwanted, creepy hug to sexual violence.” (p. 240)
- “Don’t simply fire people because you fear the social media mob will come after you if you don’t. Show some leadership.” (p. 333)
The bottom line is that Scott’s book is full of useful practices for tackling unfairness at work, as well as stories from her own life and her time at Silicon Valley companies. More than might be immediately obvious, it is a logical sequel to Radical Candor, spelling out ways to improve the context for our interactions at work.
The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive this briefing by email. You can read all of our book briefings here.