I worry about writing too much about bias and gender equity. Frankly, in my experience, talking about these topics has been career limiting. It’s why women stay silent, why they ignore it and push through. It also explains why we haven’t made any substantive headway on this issue in the last decade. I first heard about the mediocre man phenomenon, at my first Women in Management panel in 2002 in New York City.

Indra Nooyi, who is now the CEO of Pepsi (how is that for a name drop) was on the panel. She, along with all the other women, joked about how guys apply when they are half qualified and women when they are overqualified.

Haha… Er … it’s been over 14 years now, why does it feel like the jokes on us?

How has nothing changed?

Building on the discussions that emerged from these kinds of workshops. I pulled together a journey map of sorts to demonstrate why the qualifications gap and perception bias really is a problem and how it destroys value and perpetuates bias.

The table below shows how the Nina’s of the world, the well- and over-qualified, get screwed.

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 8.54.12 PM

As you can see from the example above “Finn – 50%” has earned the promotion, but the truth is “Nina-90%” is wallowing in the shallow end and bored. Her value and contributions are being wasted. Unless those without power can break the negative cycle (either getting a manager to recognize them and/or have the will and coaching to break the cycle and create their own opportunities), the Nina-90s are destined to become fodder to be leveraged.

Maybe she really should go off and pop out a couple babies.


Of course, not everyone wants to be engaged or in a state of flow. Some women actually find “relaxation” ideal while they raise a family. Unfortunately, that choice is often made for them.  Do I even need to suggest this is wrong? Organizations need to have that discussion rather than assume that preference.

It’s frustrating being told to “lean-in” – especially considering how in the example Nina did lean in – taking on additional work, job crafting to demonstrate value, that was overlooked. You could argue that Nina should have held out for a better job or applied for a job that she was only 50% qualified but that assumes that there is no bias in the hiring process and that Nina does not perceive bias in the hiring process, which would be naive given both her experience and the evidence.

It also assumes she has the financial luxury of holding out (money being another form of power). This example plays with gender power dynamics, but the truth is it could also be played with racial or socioeconomic power dynamics.

Yes, we need to coach our women to be brave not perfect however that is only part of the equation. We can’t keep putting the onus on those without power. Organizations need to step up to plate. They need to use analytics to recognize, reward and empower their talent in a way that mitigates power from compounding and perpetuating bias.


  • Calibrating talent internally and externally – they also need to look at impact through the lens of equality of opportunity
  • Hiring in “pools” – interviewing for strengths and inclusion – as opposed to interviewing based on an outdated perception of confidence
  • Hiring that is forward-looking, based potential as well as AIQ and EIQ for cultural fit.
  • Measuring and recognizing job-crafting contributions
  • Using analytics to set “alerts” for potential system and organizational bias
  • Creating an atmosphere where folks can manage their “engagement” based on their life stage (i.e. family obligations) and get back on the “fast track” when ready.

I mean, isn’t this obvious? What isn’t this more of a thing?