Take the Cellophane Standoff and other ways to root out gender biases at work (review of You Should Smile More)

Your partner takes a month of parental leave and gets a Husband of the Year trophy and induction into the Great Guy Hall of Fame.

You take the other 11 months of leave and get interrogated by family, friends and coworkers.

Why aren’t you taking the full 12 months? Did you force your partner to take a month off? Are you comfortable putting work ahead of family? Will you stay home once your leave is up? Or at least work part-time?

Do you even need to take 11 months off? Can’t your partner spare more than a month? Are you comfortable putting family ahead of work? Aren’t you worried about losing out on promotions and being seen as less than fully committed?

And by the way, are you sure you’re not having twins? You’re absolutely huge.

“While companies can’t legally have policies that discriminate against pregnant women, the practice still happens,” say the five senior executives who wrote You Should Smile More. Dawn Hudson, Angelique Bellmer Krembs, Katie Lacey, Lori Tauber Marcus, Cie Nicholson and Mitzi Short – who call themselves the Band of Sisters – first met while working at Pepsi.

“Most women in the workplace recognize that despite laws to the contrary, pregnancy is something that can derail them at work. It was as if by getting pregnant they had been moved back to square one in their jobs. Indeed, many women believe that getting pregnant will unravel all the hard work they have done to convince their bosses and coworkers that they are valuable and reliable.”

If you’re the boss, don’t shy away from this topic. “Creating a culture that is supportive of pregnant women is part of your job,” say the authors.

For everyone else, we can do our part by avoiding and dispelling assumptions. “If you hear chatter about a colleague who is pregnant that suggests she’s now unreliable or uncommitted, call it out. Be a voice for challenging bad assumptions.

“And no tummy touching. At all. As they say in preschool, keep your hands to your own body.”

The authors call out dozens of gender biases in the workplace that don’t get flagged as issues or even noticed by men. “They are not ‘#MeToo’ moments. But they are not ‘nothing’ either. They are the particles that collect around us and create barriers to our careers. They are the walls that go up, one grain of sand at a time. They are the moments that slow-build until the unwelcome environment takes hold and women disengage.”

The authors draw on their own experiences to offer bias-busting strategies for women, leaders who want inclusive workplaces and witnesses who are ready to become allies.

Here’s a good test for your workplace. The authors call it the Cellophane Standoff.

Before the start of a meeting, put a cellophane-wrapped tray of cookies on the table. Watch what happens when your male colleagues wander in.

Do they unwrap and pass around the platter? Or do they stare at it and then look to you? Do they tear a hole in the cellophane to pull out a cookie for themselves? Or do they do nothing?

“The Cellophane Standoff is the unwavering obliviousness of our male colleagues when it comes to anything related to food services,” say the authors.

“Why focus on this rather benign behavior? After all, it’s not as if the men stand there and loudly demand a woman serve them. It’s more a matter of neglect. They’ll just avoid the chore rather than talk about who should handle it.

“We raise it because it’s part of a larger office phenomenon. It’s an example of the ways in which women are nudged towards doing the office housework.”

So it’s time for men to end the Cellophane Standoff and do their share of office housework. Don’t just unwrap the tray – be the one who buys and brings cookies to the meeting. And then encourage everyone around the table to join you in reading this essential how-to guide for dismantling gender biases in the workplace.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999