Wharton professor Adam Grant has teamed up with best-selling author Sheryl Sandberg to “lean in” to issues women face in the workplace.
The two have collaborated to create a four-part series for The New York Times, called “Women at Work,” which published its first installment in December and will end in March. The articles cover topics such as biases about female workers, getting women to speak up at work and the troubling phenomenon of assigning “office household tasks” according to gender.
Grant said the ultimate goal of the series is awareness — he hopes the articles will both show the prevalence of the and introduce effective ways to overcome it.
Although the articles’ publication will not immediately banish all issues women face in the workplace, they have the potential to make a real difference.
“These essays make clear that what is key is changing attitudes. The puzzle is how to do that, and the answer is going to vary from workplace to workplace and from field to field,” said political science professor and Director of the Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality and Women Nancy Hirschmann.
“They do communicate some specific information, of which even sympathetic readers might not be aware, and that information can fuel informal discussions in their own workplaces which may lead to change in attitudes and policies,” she added.
The roots of their partnership go back to 2013. When Sandberg published “Lean In,” her best-selling book about women, leadership and the workplace, Grant — who had already been conducting his own research on the relationship between gender and one’s career — noticed an interesting overlap between their work.
The idea to write a series together came a bit later, after Sandberg approached Grant for suggestions of relevant research on topics she was investigating.
“Her questions were incredibly insightful, and they got me thinking about some data I’d collected but that I’d never analyzed,” Grant said.
“So I analyzed all of my data... and I was stunned, but not in a good way, at the patterns that jumped out. Over and over again I kept thinking ‘How is this possible? We live in the 21st century!’ So I showed the results to Sheryl, and she said, ‘This is amazing! Amazing in a bad way, but people need to know about this.’”
Although neither Grant nor Sandberg felt entirely qualified to write the pieces on their own, Grant said their collaboration utilizes both of their strengths.
“It’s the most equal partnership I’ve ever had as an author,” Grant said. “We talk about the topics we want to cover, and Sheryl will share her experiences: what she’s seen, what she’s encountered. I talk about the research that I’ve been reading that I think is particularly insightful, and we basically put together the common denominator.”
Grant believes that the series has already caused positive change.
“We’ve heard from executives at several dozen Fortune 500 companies ... who have said ‘This has inspired us to take action,’” Grant said. “You can always question the power of the pen and what difference words will make, but it’s been encouraging to see that some readers are taking notice and responding.”
The series has also struck chords at Penn.
“I really appreciate the series. As women at a school like Penn, it’s hard to honestly believe that upon graduation, we might not be afforded the same opportunities as our male peers,” Engineering freshman Allison Schwartz said. “While it takes much more than a couple of articles to change corporate culture overall, it is definitely nice to see discussion being prompted, especially, in part, by a man.”
Grant and Sandberg hope discussion continues to spread, bringing policy change with it.
“Spreading awareness and sharing evidence of the best practices is part of the equation, but we also need a lot more leaders, managers and employers to take action,” Grant said
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.