Reimaging Diversity Initiatives in the Wake of the Anti-Diversity Screed

The many reactions, thoughtful op-eds, and often times angry commentary have been pouring in ever since the controversial Anti-Diversity memo from a now ex-Googler leaked into the mainstream last weekend and caused an uproar within the tech community.

As a woman who has worked in Silicon Valley and experienced gender bias, I’m the first to say that we need to invest in diversity.

And I understand why people immediately jump to the kinds of knee-jerk reactions we’ve seen, especially given the wrong and negative portrayal of female stereotypes in the Screed. But here’s the hard truth - you can blame, point fingers and even fire every offender you want, but that’s not a sustainable strategy to building inclusive cultures. We owe it to ourselves to answer the $60,000 question: Why aren’t our well-intentioned diversity and inclusion programs moving the needle in any tangible way and worse, creating a backlash?

If our goal is to increase women in STEM education, attract and retain more women in those fields, and move them through the pipeline into leadership positions, then we need to look at this issue from a deeper perspective.

1.  Invite men to engage as allies: It starts with inviting men into the conversation, not blaming and shaming them just because they are a product of a system not designed to value the strengths of women. Engaging men as allies and encouraging them to partner with women needs to be part of the solution, instead of blaming them as part of the problem. Up till now, diversity initiatives have traditionally been silo'd - with Resource Groups categorized by minority group - LGBT, African-American, Asian-American, Women etc. Not only does that separate the various minority groups which prevents any type of cohesive diversity strategy, it sends the message to the broader culture that these people are different and they need special attention. When it comes to women, most women's initiatives have been presented as a "women's issue" that women need to figure out through more skills training, mentorship etc. It has traditionally NOT included men, who by the way still hold 86% of leadership positions in Fortune 500's. Would you develop a product excluding 86% of the consumer demographic you were catering to?

The backlash we are seeing from white, straight males whether it's the Anti-Diversity Screed or the men and boys who participated in the riots of Charlottesville exactly one week later, is not happening in a bubble. We need to listen to what they are saying. We need to really hear what they are asking for - even if we think WTF! What do YOU have to complain about?! They are begging to be included, to be respected, to be taken into consideration.  And that is exactly what we should be doing.

2. Redesign the workplace:  Here’s another hard truth – the workplace was never designed for women. It was designed for men; to play to their strengths and their way of operating in the world. Same goes for leadership and how organizations have been traditionally structured – hierarchical, command/control environments designed for maximum output. In the 20th century, when many of the jobs were in manufacturing or factory type jobs, this top-down model worked really well and made a lot of sense. But as we have moved into the 21st century where output and competitiveness are measured by innovation and new ideas, we see that those outdated models no longer apply.

At the same time, women entered the workforce and empowered themselves through their careers. But even though they gained a seat at the table, nothing else around them changed all that much.

Everything from how people are hired, the way companies are structured, how jobs are evaluated, these are all predominately still based on male characteristics that will always play to the advantage of men over women.

Downplaying the biological differences that exist between men and women and pretending that men and women are designed exactly the same and therefore should be treated equally is a big part of the problem and a common response I’ve seen online. Ever since the feminist revolution of the sixties women have been trying to prove this and as a feminist I can understand why. It was something we needed to do to get to where we are today. But fast forward fifty years and we’re still fighting that fight, so maybe it’s time for another approach.

Latest neuroscience research shows us that men and women are wired differently and bring complimentary strengths to the table, which is not actually a bad thing – nature probably intended it that way so we could collaborate with each other for basic survival. When we translate that into the workplace we can see how that could benefit both parties as well – each gender playing to their strengths, being evaluated for their performance accordingly, and working together toward a shared goal. These studies do not show a difference in mental aptitude or intelligence.

But forcing women to think like men, behave like men, or compete like men puts them in a proven double bind that is not only exhausting to navigate, but counterproductive. One of my favorite articles in response to the memo is from a former senior engineer who argues that the strengths women bring are exactly the strengths that make great engineers. Things like understanding customers, working cross-collaboratively and good emotional skills are skills shown to drive organizational performance and are the stuff that make up great leaders.

3. Evaluate job performance on non-traditional competencies: The competencies used to evaluate job performance have traditionally been linked to male competencies, so being perceived different than men immediately puts women at a disadvantage. Competencies like assertiveness, risk-taking, quick decision-making play to male strengths. Feminine qualities like empathy, relationship building, collaboration, or long-term thinking haven’t really been at the top of the list when it comes to evaluating performance. Instead,  those with the loudest voice in the room, who aren’t afraid to say what’s on their mind, even talk over people, interrupt and generally act "alpha" are seen as leader-like or promotion material. Those people get ahead and over time the unconscious message to women is:  Show up like men or don't show up at all.

Now I’m not saying that all men possess only one set of characteristics, or all women possess another. There are always shades of grey, behaviors can be learned and adapted and there are always exceptions to the rule. But because women are more often associated with communal traits like nurture, care and motherhood and men with leadership traits, you get a lose-lose situation for women: women have to work harder but are given less credit for their accomplishments, feel as if they have to prove their value, are criticized more harshly for perceived mistakes, and have to deal with maternal bias that says women can’t be good mothers and good performers. Being able to navigate subtle forms of gender bias (which women hold against other women as well by the way), is a huge feat. Women in leadership positions are usually there because of great sacrifices they’ve had to make along the way to get there, including leaving their strengths at home.

Until we begin to value the distinct strengths that women bring to the table, and demand that our workforce value those qualities starting from the hiring process all the way to the promotional process, women will continue to face these unconscious biases. You cannot train bias out of people, and in fact it can actually backfire and make the problem worse. But building an inclusive workforce is much more than that – it’s about honoring the differences that exist between all types of people, and making sure we’re leveraging their potential.

Redefining success and leadership to include women’s strengths is the first step to creating gender-balanced organizations.





How ‘Legal Tech’ Is Leveling the Field

As we look at the changing landscape of business, it’s hard to find an industry that hasn’t been affected by technological disruption. Sectors ranging from transportation to the music industry have had to accept and quickly adapt to the age of change. One of the latest fields currently undergoing a renaissance of sorts is the legal field, with the emergence of what insiders are calling “legal tech.” Turns out, disruption is not above the law.

Read more here.

Transforming A Dinosaur: How the Legal Field Is Embracing the Diversity Challenge

When one thinks of the legal industry, diversity isn’t a word that usually comes to mind. And perhaps rightfully so, as the legal profession is one of the few remaining industries to yet undergo a diversity revolution. According to the National Association of Women Lawyers annual survey, women make up about 18% of equity partners, an increase of 2% since 2006. Not great news for female lawyers who can expect to achieve gender parity by the year 2176 at the current rate of progress.

Read more here.

Got Vision? Three Tips to Effectively Communicate Your Ideas and Inspire Your Followers

We all know that vision is one of the cornerstones to effective leadership. Yet despite this well known fact, I’ve worked with many leaders who struggle to effectively communicate their vision, and I am always surprised at how often many leaders overlook this important step. After much analysis, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two types of thinkers: Big Sky Thinkers and Detailed Thinkers, and depending on where you fall on that spectrum, it could determine how well you communicate and execute your vision.

Voting Pink: How the Female Economy Can Change the World

Since the feminist movement began, the power and position of women has changed drastically. Today, women not only make up 51% of the population, they also influence 85% of all consumer spending in the US. Undoubtedly the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century for businesses, it is also one of the greatest opportunities for women. As more and more move into key leadership roles, they are changing the world as we know it, as we see in Marissa Meyer, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, and others.



The "Coach Approach" in Management

During a recent coaching session, a client of mine who manages several teamsexcitedly reported he was utilizing coaching skills with his direct reports. "Instead of just telling them what to do, or correcting their mistakes for them, I'm coaching them to learn from their mistakes, think outside the box, and take ownership."

The Future of Work: The Art of Collaborative Leadership


The way we work is shifting. We see that in subtle ways and other times in not so subtle ways. Even traditional companies like Deloitte are investing in people development, realizing that it is the best resource they have to stay ahead of the curve. Those with a real competitive advantage intuitively understand innovation and creativity as essential to meeting market demands and crucial in facing our collective sustainability challenges. The future of work as we know it is shifting from an outdated directive approach toward collaborative frameworks that inspire us to engage in new and different ways with our work and with each other. Read the rest of the article here.

What Women Know that Men Don't


Both men and women have qualities that are both over expressed or under expressed. When a woman takes on the qualities of a man in a leadership context, forgetting her natural feminine gifts of empathy, listening, or openness, she becomes imbalanced in her approach, and thus not as effective as she might be. However, these gifts and capacities that women bring to the table, when fully expressed and balanced with more masculine traits like being direct or decisive, make them better overall leaders.

There's lots of data to support this now and it's up to both men and women to embrace the qualities that make them more balanced. Read Tony Schwartz's opinion about this topic here.

How to Avoid Collaboration Fatigue


The biggest challenge people face during collaboration is direction, purpose and decision making. Without one person leading, those questions can sometimes stunt the collaborative process. What is our collective purpose and goal/objective? Who will make the final decision? What is my role in this group and how can I contribute well? All questions that need clarification early on or else they might lead to a circular process like a dog chasing its own tail.

Here are some good tools on how to address these challenges to make the collaborative process constructive and most of all, well, fun. Click here to read more.

4 Things you Thought were True About Managing Millennials


All of us have heard the stereotypes about millennials in the workplace: they are entitled, narcissistic, demanding and lazy. Recent studies show that not all of those are true, and that we might want to reconsider your world view about the "lost" generation. How would your relationships with millennials change if you let go of these biases and assumptions? What might be possible if you embraced their needs and values, and kept an open mind about how they work?

An interesting read that just might change the way you work, view the full article here.