At a Google team off-site, we were asked to play a personality game that clearly revealed why it's so hard for women to reach the top

At a Google team off-site, we were asked to play a personality game that clearly revealed why it's so hard for women to reach the top

Marissa Orr

Courtesy of Marissa Orr

Marissa Orr.

  • Marissa Orr is a Facebook and Google veteran and single mother who navigated the world of tech for 15 years.
  • The following is an excerpt from her book, "Lean Out: The Truth About Women, Power, and the Workplace."
  • The book follows her journey discovering the systemic dysfunction of corporations, challenges what she calls the male worldview of "Lean In," and offers a new argument into why women aren't at the top.
  • Orr offers behind-the-scenes insight into working alongside Sheryl Sandberg, how promotions are really decided, and why she believes corporate attempts to close the gender gap are at the expense of female well-being.
  • In this excerpt, she describes a game that she and her Google colleagues played at a team off-site, and how it helped open her eyes to the real gender gap problem at work.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Several years ago, at Google, we had to fill out a personality questionnaire for a team off-site. When we arrived at the conference room at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, Margaret from HR handed us thick, black booklets with the results. They were stunningly accurate self-portraits: details of our likes, dislikes, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. Printed on the inside cover of each booklet was a color, which represented one of the four major personality types.
I was a Green. This meant I had a strong drive to help people, and my primary focus was on maintaining harmony. In other words, I was a hippie. To underscore the point, the color wasn't just called Green, but Earth Green. In the corporate world, this is akin to being a sex offender.
The polar opposite of Earth Green was Fiery Red. Reds are competitive and have a strong drive to be in control, and their primary focus is on results - as opposed to Greens, who prioritize relationships.We were told to sit in groups with our like-colored teammates. As I sat in the corner of the room with my fellow Greens, Margaret reminded us, "No color or style is better than the other; each plays an essential role. This isn't a competition." The Reds booed.
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My hand shot up to ask a question: "What are the colors of our executive leadership team?" Margaret shuffled her feet and hesitated before saying, "There are a few different ones ... but ... not all of them took the same survey. So, it's hard to say." Her non-answer answer only fueled everyone's curiosity.

As the "middle children" in our personality rainbow, the Sunshine Yellows started getting antsy for attention and began chanting, "Tell us!" in unison until Margaret cracked like an egg.

Turns out, 11 out of 12 senior executives in the sales organization were Red. The Reds in the room went wild. Suck it, hippies! A Green next to me started crying.Margaret cautioned us not to read a lot into it, but it was too late. We were stunned. It was laughable and made so much sense. I mean, what kind of hippie wants to be CEO? Red personality types want power, thrive in competition, and fear losing control. Isn't it obvious that they'd strive for roles in executive management and compete more fiercely to attain them?

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The colors exercise helped me better understand myself, what motivates me, and it provided a new way to articulate what I wanted and needed at work. As I've mentioned, I'd long been held back by Google's requirement to manage a team. Before the off-site, I struggled to explain why my distaste for being a manager didn't reflect a lack of ambition. And I didn't know how to make the case for granting an exception to the policy.

Armed with the insights from our exercise, I approached my manager with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. I figured that if I explained to her what I'd learned - that I'm motivated by building relationships and collaboration - she would understand that a managerial role would be more of a punishment than a reward, and somehow this would exempt me from the policy, and I'd finally get promoted. Perhaps more important, I hoped it would alter her perception of me. My hesitancy toward a management position would no longer be translated into "Marissa lacks ambition," and instead would be considered as, "Marissa knows who she is, and we need to give her rewards she actually wants."

Lean Out by Marissa Orr


Lean Out.

Once again, my manager indulged my naivete with characteristic patience and politeness, and explained that the policy was what it was, and that it was unlikely to change anytime soon. She understood my point, but it was ultimately up to the VP of the sales organization, who, despite having heard this argument before, remained steadfast in her view that managing teams was essential to one's career growth.

At first, I was dumbfounded. Why did our VP believe that everyone wanted the same things? Why wouldn't she want to motivate her best people to give their best effort? With time and experience, I learned what the academic textbooks and the studies could never teach me.
Our VP was a very smart lady. Of course she understood that not everyone wants to be a manager. But she wasn't about to change the policy to accommodate these people, because the policy was specifically designed to weed them out! What I saw as a simple difference in personality and motivation, she saw as weakness.

Convincing people that men and women relate to power differently isn't the problem - it's almost too obvious to deny. The real problem is that we regard men's relationship to power as strength and women's as weakness. And it's this value judgment, the association to weakness, that clouds so much of our dialogue on the topic.

Taken from Lean Out by Marissa Orr. Copyright © 2019 by Marissa Orr. Used by permission of HarperCollins Leadership.

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