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Diversity and Inclusion…Again

I can’t stop returning to this topic because every week I am stunned at what I read and hear. Beyond surprised I am also depressed. For those of us women who were the first ones to graduate from professional schools and enter traditionally male fields and people of color who ascended in a sea of whiteness it is hard to believe that we are still having the same conversations we were 50 years ago. Except today they just sound crazy and out of touch.

Just a few examples:

  • The political debate about women’s health and birth control and equal pay is between older white men and the rest of the country. How backwards and out of step do you need to be to defend completely irrational positions?
  • The presence of women and minorities in the C suite still lags in the single digits even while their representation in the work force climbs ever higher. And don’t even get me started on boards.
  • Whenever a woman or minority takes the top role it is a big deal because it is so rare. The scrutiny that follows is unlike anything a man experiences. Marissa Mayer makes one unpopular decision and she is vilified while Jamie Dimon gets pass after pass (not to mention an enormous amount of money!).

You get my point. And then I read this interesting report from McKinsey this week about gender and leadership.

Here is the summary paragraph: “Female executives are ambitious and sure of their own abilities to become top managers, though they are much less confident that their companies’ cultures can support their rise. In our latest survey on gender and workplace diversity,1 the results indicate that collective, cultural factors at work are more than twice as likely as individual factors to link to women’s confidence that they can reach top management.”

Bottom line: there is a pool of very competent and confident women fully prepared to lead but the the forces at play make that difficult (at best) or impossible. (I would venture that a similar study would reveal the same issues for people of color.) “Forces at play” means the attitudes and actions of the majority culture (sic. men).

This is not a woman problem. This is a man problem…especially older white men. I would like to educate the men out there by putting the shoe on the other foot. Men, imagine that every day at work you encountered these things.

  • While you are giving a presentation people are staring at your penis and whispering about the clothes you are wearing.
  • During your performance review, after receiving uniformly high ratings, you ask your boss about your next promotion and she says, “You are highly qualified but there are so few opportunities coming up. You need to be patient.” And when another woman gets the next promotion you ask your boss why you weren’t considered. You are told that she had more “fire in her belly” than you demonstrate.
  • You look at the composition of the leadership team and you see all women except one man. You try to get him to mentor you but he is busting at the seams. He suggests that you seek out one of the women execs instead. When you do you are greeted generously but told that she simply doesn’t have the time and suggests you seek out a colleague a few levels down in the organization.
  • You become aware that a female counterpart who has the same title and similar responsibilities is getting paid significantly more than you are. You raise the issue with your boss and HR and absolutely nothing happens to change the situation.
  • When you speak with your boss about wanting to expand the diversity on the team she readily agrees but cautions you that finding “qualified” men or minorities will be very challenging. She also warns you about reverse discrimination.
  • The rumor mill is abuzz because one of the female execs is having an affair with a subordinate. Everyone is wondering why the lawyers haven’t intervened and why this woman is still working at the company. Amongst the leaders the talk is “girls will be girls”.
  • Your child is the star of his soccer team and you want to leave the office early one day a week so you can catch his games. You agree to come in extra early so your work is covered. Your boss says, “I don’t want to make a habit of this. If I let you leave then every man in the department will make the same request. How about if you only do this every other week?” When your peers see you regularly leaving early they all question your dedication to the job and grumble about how they have to fill in for you when you are out. “See, you just can’t count on fathers to have their priorities straight.”
  • You observe the female executives being blunt, direct and at times aggressive. When you act in the same way everyone calls you a bully and out of control.
  • Most meetings you attend and most teams you are on are over populated with women. You try your best to just be an effective contributor and ignore the imbalance. But you find that you are ignored, talked over or marginalized. You wonder if you are invisible.
  • You’ve decided that the formula for your success is to be twice as good as any woman. You work longer hours, see your family less, don’t take care of yourself as you should. When it is time for the succession conversation you are told that your work is fantastic, that no one is more productive or well respected than you are. It’s just that your style doesn’t resonate very well. You don’t push your way into conversations, you defer to your team too frequently, you don’t appear firm and decisive enough. Maybe a coach can help you modify these more “male” traits so your leadership style would fit in better.

For our companies (and society) to move beyond outdated ideas and glass ceilings it is the older white men who have to make the changes. They need to understand the message their words and actions are communicating. “No girls or people of color allowed! on the clubhouse door. It’s just for us guys who don’t have to worry about being politically correct or polite or less macho in our closed society. You women and minorities just make us have to change how we think, what we say and what we do. You have upset our world order and we are going to hang on to our way of doing things as long as possible. Period.”

Look, I get it. Change is difficult especially when it means you have to share power and control. So it is easier to look at women and minorities as somehow less-than what is required for C suite responsibilities. Personally I’m looking forward to the under 45 crowd taking over. They grew up in a different time when men, women and multiple ethnic groups were all represented in college and the early phases of their careers. They look at colleagues as either talented or not. Their underlying attitudes are generally gender and color blind. In my fantasy world things will look different when they are in charge. I’m just not sure I have the patience to wait that long.

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