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‘Ditch the Ping Pong Table’ and Other Tips for Making the Workplace Better


NFLX 3.66%

United Airlines Inc. and

Pacific Gas & Electric

PCG 0.28%

together employ more than 100,000 people, and their top bosses are thinking about better ways to manage their workforces. At an event in San Francisco hosted by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, these CEOs and other business leaders shared their advice for how company leaders, managers and employees alike can do better.

Their remarks follow the latest study from McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org and from the Journal report on women in the workplace, which found that progress for women at work has stalled. More than a third of working women reported having experienced harassment in their careers, and one in five executives in the c-suite is a woman, with far worse results for women of color.

Though experts agree that many changes need to come from senior leaders, these are tips directed to men and women at all levels in the corporate world to improve workplaces.

•Convince with stories, not figures.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said stories are more powerful than statistics in highlighting the pervasive nature of sexual harassment. He offered the story of one employee who had been harassed for two years by another employee, who was later fired after another co-worker reported the harasser. When the harassed employee was asked why she didn’t report it herself, she answered: I like my job. “Statistics don’t move people. Stories move people,” Mr. Hastings said. So in making the case for things like diversity and inclusion, ground your request in specific anecdotes.

Executives from Netflix, Gilead Sciences and Zillow, among others share their advice for creating creating a more inclusive work environment in the #MeToo era. They spoke at The Wall Street Journal’s Women in the Workplace event.

•Leaders, make the tough calls.

A number of employee-harassment complaints at United Airlines are directed not at fellow employees but at customers, a tricky situation according to CEO Oscar Munoz. “If, god forbid, you accuse someone of saying something or doing something, and they say, ‘No, I didn’t,’ here you have a ‘he said she said.’ Here you have a public-relations disaster if someone sues you. All that aside, we have truly zero tolerance,” Mr. Munoz said. The airline acts quickly, calls the police right away and responds in ways Mr. Munoz believes others won’t out of “a fear of retaliation and PR.”

•Men, step up.

Pacific Gas & Electric’s employee resource group for women recently launched a MentorHer chapter of LeanIn.Org that has been matching male mentors with female employees. “If we can have more males mentoring women, it makes them champions. It makes them think of women’s issues in a very different way, brings them in and makes them part of the solution,” CEO Geisha Williams said.

•Find (or be) a sponsor who will say, “Stick it out.”

Airbnb Inc. Chief Operating Officer Belinda Johnson told the story of leaving a law firm for her first tech job, at Mark Cuban’s startup After a few months, she started regretting her decision and called the law firm’s partner, asking to come back. “I was thinking, ‘What did I do? It was insane,’” Ms. Johnson recalled. The partner told her she could come back but encouraged her to stick with it, ultimately launching her on her career in the tech sector.

•Look for values fit, not culture fit.

For those in a hiring position, focus on bringing in a “diverse group of people but people who work under the same type of ethos and believe in the same things and the same goals,” said Amy Bohutinsky, chief operating officer of

Zillow Group

“We internally talk a lot about core values more so than culture, because culture implies that we want to hire and bring on people who are just like us,” she said.

•Ditch the ping-pong table.

When asked about workplace amenities like ping-pong tables, Erica Joy Baker, senior engineering manager at crowdfunding platform Patreon, gave a hard “no.” Office perks like food, laundry and haircuts on-site encourage workers to stay at work. For company leaders, “bucking that trend means caring about inclusion and work-life balance,” Ms. Baker said.

•Diagnose correctly before prescribing.

Unconscious bias training is good only if bias is what’s holding people back at work, said Frances Frei, senior adviser at Riot Games and a professor at Harvard Business School. Ms. Frei gave the example of Harvard Business School, where, at one point, men were being promoted at twice the rate of women. Although some faculty suspected bias, further investigation revealed that promotion is partly based on paper publications, and men were publishing more papers. Both men and women would be “about 80 percent done with their papers, and a woman would hold on to it,” self-sabotage by perfectionism. Bias wasn’t a factor in their unequal promotion rates.

•Don’t be afraid to say “no.”

Robin Washington, the chief financial officer at

Gilead Sciences

told the story of how she got a board seat at


She had previously interviewed with Salesforce Chief Executive Marc Benioff for a financial position, which she ultimately received and turned down. “We had a debate, and I said I wanted to be CFO,” a job that wasn’t available at Salesforce at the time, Ms. Washington said. She and Mr. Benioff remained in touch, and he ultimately asked her to join his board, which she said happened because she was clear about what she wanted. “There’s a way to say ’no’ and articulate what you’re looking for … and now I get to work for an amazing company as a board member,” she said.

Source : WSJ

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