In my previous two posts I’ve discussed two examples of discrimination my business partner experienced recently.  In the first, our landlords kept trying to contact me when I was out of the country even though Meredith was available – her name and phone number are on our front door.  In the second, I was contacted for mentoring someone on team dynamics and I offered Meredith because I would be out of town, but the person won’t respond to that offer.

So, what do you do in cases like these?

Joseph Juran, one of the founders of modern quality management, realized when he became a consultant that he couldn’t direct people like he had when he was a manager.  Instead, he had to acquire a finesse in handling people.

The first step, as Stephen Covey wrote, was, “Seek to understand, then be understood.”  You’re dealing with human beings – the most complex organism in existence.  Compared to humans, quantum mechanics and cosmology are simple – I know because I’ve studied both as a physics graduate student.

In the examples we’re discussing here, senior white males are being asked to interact with a young woman on a professional level.  And during their formative years they didn’t have to deal with professional women and they definitely didn’t have good role models – think of the TV series Mad Men.  Women were assistants, typists, receptionists – and were treated as accessories like the furniture.  Something to be used.  Business was handled by men.

Let me state up front that open warfare is not the answer.  Open warfare is only indicated when all other options have failed, your back is against the wall and you’re prepared to lose everything.

As Juran realized, finesse is needed.

With our landlords, I will make it a point to reinforce the fact that Meredith is a full partner and when they can’t reach me, she is fully authorized to act on behalf of the company.  And I will continue to reinforce every opportunity I get.

With the second example, a different approach needs to be taken.  I will handle the interactions and provide the mentoring, but I’ll include Meredith on an occasional basis and keep offering her when I can’t.  I’ll model the behavior that should be practiced.

I realize these tactics may not change the behaviors – we’re dealing with humans after all.  And, frankly, some people won’t change, and you just have to wait until you or they leave, retire or die.

And by the time someone is in their mid-to-late middle age, change usually only comes through a “significant emotional impact” as the futurist Joel Barker has shown.  Now, this can come.  But the cost will be high for all involved and must be weighed against the potential benefits.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.