Pioneering Women Will Appear on US Quarters

Pile of US Quarters spread out on a table

The US Mint is creating some new designs – featuring women – for the “tails” sides of quarters that will start circulating in January 2022 and run through 2025. The first two honorees have already been chosen: poet Maya Angelou and astronaut Sally Ride.

The other female honorees will be decided by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen – with input from the American public. To read more about the initiative, check out this article from CNN. Want to submit a suggestion for a nominee? Fill out this brief form provided by the National Women’s History Museum.

Do Men and Women Have Different Brains?

medical image of a brain

There have long been claims that women’s and men’s brains were different. leading to differences in personalities and abilities. While men’s brains overall brain size is a little over 10% larger than women’s, no specific brain areas are disproportionately larger between the sexes. In fact, brains are proportional to body size and when properly controlled, no individual brain region varies by more than about 1% between men and women.

Why does this matter? Have you ever heard,”women aren’t as good at math”? Or, “women are natural caregivers”. Or, “men are better with tools”? Turns out that there are no data to support those statements. In fact, according to this article from The Conversation, each brain is a “mosaic of circuits that control the many dimensions of masculinity and femininity, such as emotional expressiveness, interpersonal style, verbal and analytic reasoning, sexuality and gender identity itself.”

There is certainly more work to be done – but untangling some of these long-held beliefs is a great place to begin.

Big Bird and Impostor Syndrome?

Sesame Street characters including Big Bird

This article from Fast Company shares an example of how many women feel they stand out like Big Bird (a 8’2″ bright yellow bird featured on the children’s program, Sesame Street) in the workplace. Whether they are presenting in a boardroom, returning from maternity leave or simply navigating the day-to-day, many women feel disproportionately affected by impostor syndrome.

In this piece, Mark McClain (CEO of SailPoint) shares three tips for how leaders can help their employees overcome impostor syndrome. Specifically, he mentions making space for people to share their authentic selves, encouraging balance and practicing small acts of kindness.

Advice From Walgreens’ New CEO

Headshot of Rosalind Brewer - soon to be new CEO at Walgreens

At the end of February, Rosalind Brewer, who is currently COO at Starbucks, will leave that position to become CEO of drugstore chain Walgreens. Once in this post, she will be the only Black woman currently serving as a Fortune 500 CEO, and just the third Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 firm in history. (There are currently only 37 women in CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies)

According to this CNBC article, during a recent speech, Brewer commented on the reality that many women experience bias and gender discrimination in the workplace. She said that her most critical message to women in business is to “stay steadfast” and know that “your voice matters.”

Link to Webinar – Codeswitching: Navigating the Dynamics of Workplace Norms

Headshot of Professor Courtney McCluney from webinar given through eCornell

In this webinar from December 15, 2020, Professor Deborah Streeter had a conversation with Professor Courtney McCluney about the concept of codeswitching and how it affects the everyday realities of marginalized, devalued, and underrepresented employees at work. To view the recording, click this link

Resources mentioned during the discussion included:

  • Book: “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo
  • Book: “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Book: “The Souls of White Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois (link to NPR piece discussing book with Ibram X. Kendi)
  • Essay: “The Souls of White Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois (link)
  • Publication: From Harvard Business Review – “Advancing Black Leaders” – (available for purchase via this link)
  • More information about Professor McCluney and her research can be found on her website or you can follow her on Twitter at @CL_McCluney

Podcast Featuring Melanie Hart

“If your life is your currency, decide how you want to invest and spend it.”

Melanie Hart
W.O.C at Work podcast logo

In the W.O.C @ Work podcast, Rai King and Dr. Blanca Ruiz explore what it means to be a woman of color in the workplace by elevating the voices of female-identifying leaders of color in order to shed light on their common experiences as they push for transformational change in organizations across the country.

In this episode, Rai and Blanca talk with Melanie Hart ( Chief Diversity Officer and Sr. VP for Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice at The New School in New York City) about traversing white-dominant education spaces as a confident woman of color. Melanie also reveals what it looks like to take off that cape and rest to help heal from a traumatic event. This podcast is a must listen for all women.

Brené Brown Interviews Elizabeth Lesser

Book jacket for "Cassandra Speaks" by Elizabeth Lesser

Professor and best-selling author Brené Brown recently shared an Unlocking Us podcast where she interviewed author Elizabeth Lesser on her recent book entitled Cassandra Speaks: When Women are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes.

Cassandra Speaks looks at the cultural stories we all know and often blindly believe – from famous myths to religious parables to fairy tales. Each story shares specific lessons about gender roles, power, leadership and other values. Yet all of these stories throughout history have mostly been written by men. Despite our evolution as a society, these stories and the way we carry the lessons within us endure. This book – as well as the podcast – is about what happens when women become the storytellers and explain what it is to be human from their perspective.

COVID and Working Women

laptop on table with coffee mug and children's toys

Growing research has found that COVID is having a disproportionate impact on women. Given the demands of modified work environments, hybrid/virtual schooling models, health concerns for self and family, as well as socioeconomic impact on employment and small businesses, it is not surprising that there would be an impact – though the numbers that are being shared are daunting.

According to this NPR piece, in September 2020, 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce – which was four times more than the number of men who left. The piece goes on to share that “the pandemic’s female exodus has decidedly turned back the clock by at least a generation, with the share of women in the workforce down to levels not seen since 1988.”

Another impact that the pandemic is having is inequality in workplace promotions. This recent piece in Forbes highlighted an August study which found that “men have been promoted three times more than women during the pandemic.”

Clearly, the pandemic is teaching us that “traditional” 9-to-5 structures don’t serve all workers equally and that there is a need for a more reliable home support structure if we are ever going to fully realize the advantage of having all willing workers active in our labor market.

Time to banish “badass”?

cartoon image of a female chef

On November 11, 2019, NPR posted an article about a question posed to 100 female chefs and food writers by author Charlotte Druckman in her new book Women on Food. Druckman asked if there were any words or phrases that should no longer be used to describe women in the culinary field. While many words made the list, one word sparked a lot of discussion: “badass”.

As Druckman shared with NPR, “Badass is a detonated way to describe a kind of cultural male whiteness — an aggressive, swaggering one…and then it gets put onto women, as what feels like a tarnished ‘badge of honor,’ or backhanded compliment. Calling a woman — chef or otherwise — ‘badass’ is a way to signify that she’s cool or relevant because she’s acting like a man (specifically, an aggressive, swaggering one); that she is only of interest or worth consideration because she’s going against whatever ‘type’ it is she’d otherwise be categorized as because she’s a woman.”

Code Switching: Your Voices (Results from Our Investigation)

Dahlia flower with two colors - yellow and red

A few weeks ago, we asked Institute participants some questions about “code switching,” including:  Have you found it necessary (or important) at times to use code-switching in certain parts of your entrepreneurial journey?   Do you make conscious decisions to code-switch (or not) in certain settings? How does code-switching impact your feeling of authenticity? The answers surprised and intrigued us.  Below is a summary of some of the themes.

Everyone uses “code switching” (but for different reasons!)

Virtually every respondent said that she uses code switching, although the term was new to some.   The main difference in what people wrote about was whether a) they see code switching as an option they can choose to employ or b) they feel code switching is a mandatory activity,  thrust upon them as a necessary technique for survival.

As an example of the first group (mostly Caucasian), one woman wrote that she simply sees code switching as good business practice:   “If you’ve got high EQ, you’re going to try to make your message resonate with your listeners… I believe you can still be authentic and who you are really are and, at the same time, adjust the way you’re saying whatever it is you are saying so that the other person can hear it and use it.”  In this way of seeing things, code switching can be a sort of secret weapon to put into use when one is in a selling mode, relating to clients, dealing with co-workers or trying to reach another group. 

In contrast, the comments from women of color (about 85% of our respondents) indicated that code switching is less an optional strategy than a mandated way of life. As one woman put it, “For a black female entrepreneur, code switching is not an option, it’s a necessity for survival.”     This was echoed by many other comments that indicated that they were taught to code switch by their families and through their experiences: “Code switching is and has been a part of the African American experience for a very long time. We were taught it is more important to make others feel comfortable with us than it is to actually be comfortable with ourselves.”  

In particular, black women learned that fitting in with the majority culture was particularly important in order to combat racial stereotypes, such as the “angry black woman.”  Respondents shared stories of how this was reinforced through life experiences: “I didn’t even know what code-switching was on a conscious level until undergrad and my professor explicitly said you’re black you need to smile more so you come across less threatening and it’s very important for you to do this so that you’re perceived as less threatening. ” As one woman expressed it,  “When we are working in spaces that are not designed for us we understand that there is a responsibility to speak in a way that makes others comfortable and is seen as non-threatening or confrontational.“  Another woman pointed out that people often have a preconceived notion of black women “in regards to our attitudes and level of intelligence. I was once told by a white man that I wasn’t ‘like he thought I would be’ before he met me. I asked what he meant by that and he said that I was ‘a sharp tack, and not like normal black girls.’ The respondent was proud to have her ideas and intelligence respected, but irritated by the concept of ‘normal black girls.’  She went on, “I feel like we do have to mask a piece of who we are upon trying to get our foot in the door and to be respected on a certain level.”  A similar response portrayed the stress created by the pressure to code switch: “I’ve also been told that I’m different from other black people because I speak well. It all takes a toll on your self-identity, self-esteem, and idea of self-worth. It causes stress in daily life that those of the majority culture are privileged not to experience.”

Several women wrote that code-switching extends beyond language to encompass issues of appearance, including dress and hairstyles: “Switching language, clothing, hairstyles is a common practice. I once worked for a major organization where I was told that I looked ghetto for wearing braids.”

Women of color expressed exhaustion with the task of code-switching: “I code switch my entire work shift every day, seven days a week…The only time I don’t do this is during my lunch break.” And someone even commented: “Even now, while scribing this email, I code switch.” Another respondent offered a sardonic take, comparing the need to adapt to the white majority culture to taking a trip to France: “We grow up in these pods with our own dialects. So when we intermingle… it requires a shift to be heard and understood. And yes, generally it’s with the white majority because like in Paris… they prefer you speak their language.” 

Some women found it less necessary to adapt as they gain experience: “As I mature and become more confident I find myself code switching less.” Connections over time also seemed to matter:  “in the long run I do not need to code switch as our relationship grows.”  Others said they found code-switching less necessary as an entrepreneur and even felt that having their own business gave them freedom to be themselves as compared to other professional settings.  Entrepreneurship has provided an “escape hatch” to the need to assimilate to the dominant culture in corporate settings in order to be accepted/trusted.   “And honestly, it was this understanding that ultimately led to me quitting my corporate career and becoming an entrepreneur. I now own a business in an industry that allows for individuality and even requires it. I can be true to myself and easily attract my clients. I said all that to say, No. I don’t code-switch. Not anymore!”   A similar comment: “Most become entrepreneurs to do things ‘their way.’  When that’s taken away you might as well go back to corporate.”

Code Switching and Authenticity

Many women (especially African American respondents) wrote that the practice of code-switching impacted their sense of authenticity.  “Code switching can sometimes feel like it completely conflicts with who I believe my authentic self is. I often find myself desiring more authentic interactions and relationships.” Others said they felt inauthentic when code switching: “I may be telling the truth, but it’s my not ‘my’ truth. It’s not coming from my heart, it’s coming from my brains.”

As a result of the conflict between code-switching and authenticity, many women wrote about resisting the need to adapt. “I do find myself code switching way too often. It is actually something that I am struggling to quit.”  Others managed to use code switching without threatened their sense of self, ”I never lost myself in trying to seek approval… I simply saw it as part of being professional…” and “I would say a key with this approach is to let the person you’re interacting with lead and you follow suit (to an extent). The goal is to always present yourself in a way that you would be proud of later.” 

One woman experienced interactions in the workplace that led her to believe, “no level of code-switching made me appear less combative, less cooperative…less Black. So I stopped. My entrepreneurial brand is authentic and me. I am professional in all business but I do not lighten my presence and try to take up less space than my very Black self requires. If a business opportunity requires me to be someone other than who I am, I do not want it.”

The International Take on Code Switching

Markedly different responses to our questions came from women from other countries or cultures.  These women felt that switching from one language to another was just a natural way of life. If anything, they expressed a sort of wry fascination with why this act of code-switching would even be a subject for debate.  As one European woman pointed out, doing business with other European countries means she and others routinely code switch, even with friends and family. “Communicating in another language is fundamental at times, even when you can use the more neutral English, because each language has specific words and nuances that don’t exist in others, and cannot be replaced by translations. Conveying the perfect message, is often key to successfully closing a deal or forming a better human relationship, which translates in more trust, better workflow and eventually better business. Languages are part of our history, culture and every-day lives, therefore we, as Europeans, don’t feel less authentic by using different languages, if anything we feel more connected.”  Other respondents gave stories and examples of how being able to code switch to another language was beneficial, including knowing how to interact (ie bowing down to vs. hugging a relative) was practiced in different parts of Uganda

To end on a humorous note, we’ll share an anecdote about the advantages of code switching.  A woman who speaks several different languages told us this story:  “One day, my daughter and I went to get our nails done and we were speaking English and picking the colors.  While the nail technicians were working on our nails, they started talking about my daughter’s born-deformed toe and started laughing about her toe. Little did they know that I have the ability to speak 5 languages, I immediately confronting them that I was not pleased about them talking and laughing at my daughter’s toe, I asked them if it was normal for them to talk about people and make fun of them in their language?”  Touché!


In asking about code switching, we expected to hear about how women operate in environments dominated by men.  Instead, respondents fell roughly into three groups with three different reasons and perspectives on the topic.  It is fair to say that every entrepreneur has to communicate effectively with her investors, clients and co-workers.  No one would argue with the need for the entrepreneur to see things from the customer perspective, so that type of code switching is likely to be necessary and beneficial to everyone.  Furthermore, if code switching is actually based on different languages in order to establish trust and relationships,  it seems to make sense.  However, by placing code switching in a larger cultural context, we can see that sometimes it happens as a result of the majority culture imposing its communication styles on others.  This can threaten the feelings of authenticity of those who must adapt to fit in to gain access to opportunities.  Perhaps entrepreneurship provides a unique way to resolve the situation, providing both an escape from less inclusive corporate structures and also a means of staying true to oneself while still working to communicate in an effective way with customers, investors and co-workers.