Half the Money

On July 17, 2018, in China Gorman, Editorial Advisory Board, HRExaminer, by China Gorman



“But here’s the thing. When I saw that I received – for the first time in my career – a six-figure bonus, you know what I couldn’t help wondering? Was this a ‘half the money’ bonus?” – China Gorman

When I was in my early 30’s I was promoted and transferred to lead the turn-around of the second largest P&L in the world in my organization. Outside of the HQ location it also had the most employees – and everyone on my new team was older than me. Some by 30 or more years! Gender wasn’t my issue as I took the leadership reigns, age was. “What does this girl know?” “I have grandchildren older than she is.” “What customer is going to take this kid seriously?” These were just some of the whispers I heard in the hallways.

While I was in that General Manager position, my team not only turned the business around, but it re-captured – in 18 months – the position of the largest system branch office by revenue and profitability – at even higher performance levels. When I initially accepted the promotion, I mentioned to the regional guy who had promoted me that I appreciated the fact that he seemed to value women in the GM role more than his counterparts. I’ll never forget his response: “Are you kidding? If I have a man and woman both qualified for a job I’ll always pick the woman. She’ll work twice as hard, produce three times the results – for half the money!”

The next year at bonus time, I knew I would receive the largest bonus of my career. We had totally turned the business around and had received the organization’s coveted “Branch of the Year” award at the global leadership conference. But here’s the thing. When I saw that I received – for the first time in my career – a six figure bonus, you know what I couldn’t help wondering? Was this a “half the money” bonus? To be sure, I was pretty wowed by such a big check. But to this day, I wonder if the guy in Seattle whose tenure was longer than mine, did he get a bigger bonus? Or the guy in Boston who missed his plan and was embroiled in a discrimination claim, did he get a bigger bonus? Or the guy in Detroit, who missed his numbers again, did he get a bigger bonus? Instead of feeling appreciated, instead of believing that my boss and the leadership of the firm had my back, I didn’t trust that the discretionary bonus process had been equitable and that I had received my fair share. That six figure bonus was extraordinarily demotivating because I was never sure that it wasn’t a “half the money” bonus.

cartoon drawing of China Gorman on HRExaminer Bio Page

China Gorman, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

I remembered that experience as I was getting ready to moderate a panel of female CHROs for a keynote slot at a SHRM state conference on leadership and gender. In order to prepare, I’d been thinking about the ups and downs and sideways moves over my past 30+ years as a leader. This experience was one that stood out to me. And it got me thinking.

I’ve said many times that it wasn’t until I was in my late 40’s than I experienced gender discrimination. And I said that because while I was usually the only female in the leadership group, I was always the youngest in the group. My proof that gender discrimination didn’t enter into the equation was that, based on my results, I was always moving up in my career. I moved up faster than my peers – male and female – and I moved up into roles with ever increasing responsibilities and bigger titles. I didn’t feel discriminated against in my upward progress. In fact, there were times that I thought my gender gave me a competitive edge. But as I look back, I did experience a much more nuanced kind of behavior from the men around me that I always thought was age-related. But in hindsight I’m not so sure.

Because I was always the youngest to hold my position, I tackled the ever-present perceived lack of credibility by sharing stories of previous managerial challenges solved, told war stories of operational successes and engaged each of my new team members individually to join me in the mission – whether in a start-up, a turn-around, or a growth situation. By tackling age, I unconsciously also handled gender in both securing higher level leadership positions and successfully exceeding expectations while in those positions. In my mind it was all about results and effectiveness. My team and I always exceeded expectations. And I was rewarded with ever higher levels of responsibility and impact. So, no gender discrimination. Right?

But the truth is, despite my results, I do remember having to work overtime to be heard in meetings of my peers and higher level leaders. I remember having to fight my way in to conversations, having to repeat my points until I was heard, having to work hard to get “air time” so that my presence was acknowledged by the higher ups. And at the time, I didn’t think of it as discrimination, I just thought they didn’t listen because I was so much younger. In some cases, I thought they didn’t listen because they were just jerks and treated each other that way, too. And to be honest, I just powered through and didn’t think about it that much. There was work to do!

In retrospect, however, I see that my gender was an issue in far more situations than compensation throughout my career – I just didn’t see it. On the other hand, I didn’t let it get in my way; I didn’t let it define my experience; I didn’t let it hold me back. Rather, I was more focused on being the best leader I could be; more focused on supporting my team; more focused on creating a culture of excellence; more focused on developing and executing plans that had us exceeding our goals. And that worked. Big time.

And now that I’m the oldest person at the table (Jeez! And exactly when did that happen?), I find myself in a reverse behavioral role. I’m the person making sure that everyone is heard. I’m the person asking clarifying questions, especially when a great idea gets dropped. I’m the one drawing us back to that idea that didn’t get fully fleshed out. I find myself listening more and speaking less. Being encouraging, being empathetic, less concerned about the lessons from my own experience and more interested in the innovative ideas coming from the less experienced in the group.

So, as I headed to the conference, I went with a different perspective than I expected. A more realistic perspective, a more nuanced perspective. All because of that “half the money” bonus.


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