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Sorry, Not Sorry

Michael C. Bush  

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Michael C. Bush

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September 15, 2016

Sorry, Not Sorry

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How often do you say “I’m sorry” at work for the wrong reasons?

Kim Greenspan realized she said it a lot, and then decided to do something about it.

Greenspan is a marketing director at national accounting firm Plante Moran, No. 29 on this year’s 100 Best Workplaces for Women. After her epiphany, she put a “Sorry” jar on her desk and vowed to put $1 in it any time she found herself saying “I’m sorry” when she didn’t need to. “For example, saying ‘I’m sorry’ as a way to interject my opinion during a phone conference instead of just saying ‘This is Kim, I think…..’” Greenspan wrote to female colleagues. “Or saying ‘Sorry’ when I really mean ‘Oops’ or ‘Thanks for your patience,’ or ‘I apologize for missing that deadline and here’s what I’m going to do to make up for it.’

She invited other women she worked with to do the same.

The conversation about words and language Greenspan started with her “Sorry” jar is a vivid example of the open communication that exist at this year’s Best Workplaces for Women, communication helps female employees feel empowered.

A Culture Where Women Employees Feel Listened To

After analyzing hundreds of Great Place to Work®-Certified companies that we considered for this year’s list, we found a significant difference in communications at organizations that went on to be list winners and those that did not. Specifically, these workplaces cultivate an atmosphere where women feel listened to, which helps them feel like they have a voice in the organization.

At this year’s winners, 88% of women employees say management is approachable and easy to talk to. Women at winners also find managers keep them informed of important issues and changes (85%), give them straight answers to questions (84%), seek out suggestions and ideas (84%), and involve people in making decisions that affect them (79%).

Part of the reason for good communications channels at top workplaces for women could be the substantially larger presence of women in managerial roles. At 2016 winners, 54% of managers and senior managers or executives are women, compared to 35% at non-winners.

Winners also had more mentors and coaching, the better for women to see themselves in those roles further along in their own careers. Greenspan’s workplace, Plante Moran, hosts monthly networking breakfasts for women employees at all elves, and sponsors a Women in Leadership Committee that matches senior-level women associates with both male and female partners. Quicken Loans, No. 11 on the list, runs a six-month mentoring program that pairs women employees with senior leaders. Baker Donelson (53) offers women attorneys one-on-one mentoring and mentor circles, among other support.

All’s Fair at the Office

In our history of evaluating great workplaces, we’ve also come to know that organizations with open lines of communications are more likely to cultivate a climate of fairness. That holds for this year’s best workplaces for women, where 94% of female employees feel they’re treated fairly regardless of gender, and 83% feel they’d be given the opportunity to appeal if they were treated unfairly.

That atmosphere of open communications and fairness can help employees - women and men - get over insecurities they may have about their work and language at work.

The “Sorry/Not sorry” phenomenon has been kicking around for a while. One company used it in a TV commercial to sell shampoo. Another created a free app to block its appearance in email messages. It’s led to a public debate over whether or not women should censor what they say at work or how they say it. Some advocate letting women and men talk the way they want at work but focusing more attention on letting people be heard. Others think banning “I’m sorry” is the right thing to do depending on the circumstances.

At Plante Moran, Greenspan hoped her “Sorry” jar would trigger stronger voices for women.

“Join me if you like,” she told female colleagues. “I’m going to empty the jar out every month and buy a treat for all. Soon it should be empty, and we’ll be starving for sugar…but feeling so much more empowered.”

Whatever path employees choose, we’re behind workplaces that help women feel heard and empowered.

Read more about the 2016 Best Workplaces for Women and reviews of all 100 winners here.

Michael C. Bush
Michael C. Bush

Michael is the CEO of Great Place to Work for All®. Great Place to Work for All® serves over 10,000 companies a year in over 50 countries. Previously he served as President of the8Factors, an online learning organization, as well as CEO of Clark Sustainable Resource Developments, and CEO of Tetra Tech Communications which he grew from $40 million to $300 million in revenues. Michael is a founding board member of the private equity seed-fund, Fund Good Jobs, and taught entrepreneurship courses at Stanford University and Mills College. Michael is also a member of President Obama's White House Business Council..