In ‘That’s What She Said,’ Author Aims to Get Men on Board

Horror stories of workplace abuse and harassment have been capturing headlines in recent months, and rightfully so. But according to author Joanne Lipman, research has found that on a much larger scale and across industries, working women are marginalized, underpaid and under credited – even though hiring and promoting women makes businesses more creative, successful and profitable.

And, she says, since women already know all this, the key to making progress is getting men on board.

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Lipman joins us to discuss her new book “That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together.”

Below, an edited Q&A with Lipman. You can also read an excerpt from the book.

The introduction seems squarely aimed at convincing men there’s a problem. Why?

Because you need to get men involved if we’re going to solve this. … Women work in a world designed by men for men, and there’s a thousand things we do every single day (that men aren’t even aware of) to adjust to them.

When men were asked what would be a barrier to championing equality, 51 percent cited lack of awareness of the issues. Part of it is they don’t care, and part of it is that we’re doing it amongst ourselves. But 74 percent in that study cited fear, and part of the fear is loss of status, but part is fear of saying the wrong thing. If you’re in a mixed gender group and the subject comes up of gender equality, men freeze up, they’re terrified, they walk away, they get another drink – they’re afraid if they say the wrong thing they’ll get their heads bitten off. We have to make all these issues discussable for them to care about it, to fix these issues which should have been fixed, you know, decades ago.

This is a moment that we need to capitalize on. I’ve never worked on anything more important because we are at a moment where we could have societal change, all the issues I talk about in the book, these are systemic problems, not the extremes of abuse. Anytime you have a culture or organization that looks the other way for a Weinstein, they’re also not promoting women fairly, paying them fairly, there’s a respect gap. That behavior is the extreme, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s not a matter of cutting out the abusers and the problem is solved. It’s a symptom, not the problem.

(Cozendo / Pixabay)(Cozendo / Pixabay)

Why did you choose to include the extensive notes section?

I did a massive amount of research, for one thing. And I wanted a book that was readable; I wanted to impart some wisdom through stories, and to make it relatable so you get the broadest possible audience. But I spent three years researching it, and I think it’s important to show your work and be transparent, and also to be a resource for others working on this issue.

How have you changed your own work behaviors, both as a manager and as a working woman yourself?

I have definitely changed my management style. I think I was always aware you should have a diverse slate of candidates – I’m a big believer in the Rooney rule – but what I learned in researching the book, and I learned this from men who were successful in promoting and retaining women – is that you have to diversify the interviewers. When you have candidates come in, if you’ve got all white guys doing the interviewing you do not end up with an optimal result.

And research shows women are better than men at advocating. I always thought that was a special talent that I had, but it’s all women – women are as good as or better than men when it comes to advocating on behalf of others, but worse at advocating for themselves. I also thought that was just me, but it’s not. It’s all women. What I learned is that just bringing women in is not enough, because women come into a disadvantage since they have been historically underpaid. So you need to line up team members [with regard to pay]. It’s not enough to say that I got Susan a 15-percent raise, you have to say, well, now I better look at Susan next to Bob, next to Peter. If they all have the same level of contribution and if Susan is still making less than the guys, she is still not being paid equitably. ... Ignoring the problem ultimately hurts you. The men I spoke to, and I really sought out male executives who are working hard to get it right, said for business reasons, you will be more successful with diverse leadership. It will make you more successful.

Women are told all the time that OK, you’re underpaid, just demand to be paid what you’re worth. But women don’t know what they are worth. In the chapter on pay and promotions, I talk about an experiment done on first graders with Hershey’s kisses where they were asked to do a test and then to pay themselves in kisses, and at 6  years old the boys pay themselves in more kisses than the girls. The boys continue to pay themselves far more – 78 percent more! – over the year. At 6 years old, the girls have internalized that and then you wonder why you have a pay gap when you get into the adult world. So, much of this information is information you need to impart at a really young age and we need interventions in the young ages.

And I can’t pretend to speak for other underrepresented groups, but the research is incontrovertible that women who are in another underrepresented group are in a double or triple bind – the pay gap is extraordinary.

Below, an excerpt from “That’s What She Said.”

This book began with a flight to Des Moines. In most ways, it was uneventful. The businessman sitting next to me couldn’t have been friendlier. Over plastic cups of white wine, we chatted about his business, his new house in a New York suburb, and his kids’ sports teams.

Then I mentioned I was on my way to speak at a women’s conference. Suddenly my neighbor froze.

“Sorry!” he snapped. “Sorry I’m a man.”

I looked down awkwardly into the bottom of my wineglass. My seatmate gave me a sideways glance and reached for an explanation.

“I had to go through diversity training a few months ago. It was awful.”

The words tumbled out of him. The facilitator had beaten up on him and his male colleagues, he said. It felt like being sent to the principal’s office, or being sat in the corner. Hours of his life, wasted. And the message he and his male colleagues took away, he told me, boiled down to one accusation.

It’s all your fault.

My seatmate’s words struck me. The truth is, I’d heard some version of them dozens of times before.

I’d seen the body language, the Don’t yell at me! flinch, more times than I cared to remember. I’d watched self-assured, confident men curl into that defensive crouch when the subject of women—or God forbid, the phrase “gender equality”—had come up.

My seatmate and I spent the rest of the flight in awkward silence.

The next morning, several hundred women gathered in a hotel ballroom. I had been invited to speak about some of the most common issues women face at work—being overlooked in meetings, being underestimated, watching men getting credit for our ideas. As I spoke, I watched those several hundred female heads nodding in recognition.

I stopped right in the middle of a sentence.

“We already know all of this,” I said. “We need men in this room to hear the message instead.”


First things first: There will be no man shaming in That’s What She Said. No male bashing. No finger-pointing.

For years, the fastest way to drive men from a room has been to mention women’s equality. And who could blame them? The conversation implicitly made men the villain. Long before my epiphany in Des Moines, back in 1859, a Harper’s Weekly cartoon depicted men cowering in a courtroom while suffragettes berated them. In an 1875 cartoon, a gaggle of women yell at a wincing man, above the caption: “Female Suffrage, Male Suffering.”

Men felt demonized. They still do. A recent Harvard study found that corporate “diversity training” has made the gender gap worse, in part because it makes men feel bad about themselves. Which, as it happens, is what it was engineered to do. “We used to do it with a two-by-four,” Howard Ross, a veteran diversity trainer, told me. “We beat ’em up until they saw the error of their ways. If somebody cried, that was great.”

Women, meanwhile, have pretty much wiped our hands clean of men, cutting them out of the

conversation altogether. An entire industry of books, conferences, and networking groups has blossomed to tell us that closing the gender gap is up to us, not them. We’re told we need to speak up, to be more confident, to demand to be paid what we’re worth. We talk endlessly among ourselves about all of this. What we don’t do is talk to men about it.

That disconnect between men and women makes no sense to me. If women only talk among ourselves, we can only solve 50 percent of the problem. We need men to join the conversation, to be our partners. And as for the men, most of them aren’t anywhere near villains. They don’t need beating up with a two-by-four. They’d like to see an equitable workplace, they just can’t figure out what they’re supposed to do about it.

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