It is so inspiring to see leaders step and take responsibility for diversity. Recently, at an alumni event in California, Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria admitted that women had been discriminated against at the elite business school and offered a public apology (see story here and here). As reported last year in the New York Times, Dean Nohria launched an ambitious inclusion initiative in 2010 to reduce the gap between male and female students in terms of grades. After putting several structural, behavioral, and cultural changes in place, the gender gap in grades was erased for the 2013 graduating class. The Dean is now focusing efforts on including more women in HBS’ signature case studies, increasing the number of women serving on corporate boards, and establishing a mentorship program for female students and alumni. Bravo Dean Nohria!
Many senior partners in law firms ascribe to the notion that new attorneys will “sink or swim” in their organization; that the good ones with potential will outperform the rest. Underlying this deeply entrenched belief is the notion that they were swimmers; they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and succeeded on their own merits and everyone else should too.
What actually happens is that some attorneys swim – but only because they get swimming lessons and water wings; they even get life rings thrown at them when they make mistakes. Those without this favored status are left to drown and soon leave the firm. Without the benefit of the (largely hidden) opportunities given to the select few, it is soon clear that there is no real hope for advancement in the firm.
Eight national research studies demonstrate that female, LGBT, and racially/ethnically diverse lawyers are disproportionately left out when it comes to the intangible but critical opportunities given to the usual favorites.
It is time the legal profession come to terms with this favoritism, caused by affinity bias (an unconscious preference for others who are like you and share common backgrounds and interests). Indulging in this convenient myth is keeping the legal profession from optimizing talent and achieving business goals.
A recent survey of law students at UCLA documents serious issues disproportionately impacting students of color.
The survey was spearheaded by a group of students, in conjunction with a research institute at the university, because administrators were not responsive in meetings where student complained about race-based issues. According to the students, law school administrators told them there was “not enough evidence of student discomfort to warrant a response.” The student survey was designed to provide tangible evidence of the perceived problems and it did document significant discrepancies between the experience of students of color and white students at the law school.
Three hundred randomly-selected students (out of 1003 enrolled) were emailed the survey. Responses were gathered from 178 students (106 white, 67 of color). Some of the results include the following:
- 49% of the students of color described the classroom environment as only sometimes or never welcoming to students of color (24% of the white student respondents agreed with this perception)
- 67% of the students of color agreed that non-white students face challenges at UCLA Law School that white students do not face (42% of the white student respondents agreed)
- 64% of the students of color disagreed with the statement: “When I am at law school, my racial identity is unimportant. I am just another student.”
- 43% of the students of color had an experience at the law school where they felt unwelcome or disrespected
- 33% of the students of color reported feeling unwelcome or disrespected by a professor
- These experiences disproportionately impacted students of color; causing them greater emotional distress, negatively impacting their ability to study and learn as well as their class participation, and leading them to cynicism about the law school’s commitment to equal treatment.
In a story published in the university’s online newspaper shortly after the study results were published in a law review article, the law dean’s response was tepid at best:
In an interview, Dean Rachel Moran acknowledged the survey, saying it highlighted room for improvement in the context of campus climate.
“We have a longstanding commitment to developing diversity, and we’re always working to improve,” Moran said. “At any institution in America, there’s always room for improvement.”
Moran said the survey also yielded positive results. She noted that most students did not feel disrespected by professors or administrators, according to the survey results.
Months later, when the story reached the national press, Dean Moran chose to defend the law school by pointing to the diversity of the student body and faculty:
UCLA dean Rachel Moran said the law school encourages “thoughtful examinations” of this and other matters of importance to society, but defended the law school’s record on faculty and student diversity.
“UCLA has the fifth highest percentage of students of color among the top 20 law schools, and we are tied for the second largest percentage of women in our entering fall class, according to 2012 ABA data,” she said. “We are also very proud of our diverse faculty, which leads the top 20 law schools in the nation.”
Unfortunately, Dean Moran totally missed the point. You can have a lot of diversity but no inclusion. Until the law school administration comes to terms with the fact that the culture of the law school is not inclusive, the law students of color (who are paying customers by the way!) will continue to be marginalized and feel like outsiders.
The students who conducted the survey made four recommendations:
- Re-administer the survey annually
- Hire faculty interested in supporting all students’ well-being and improving the classroom climate
- Admit more students of color, and
- Change the internal conversation – from blaming students to examining the fundamental failures of the institution.
Even after “proving” a problem existed, law students felt compelled to institute a petition for a mechanism for students to bring concerns about law school climate to the attention of the administration. Over 25% of the students signed the petition.
Really?! Paying customers tell you they feel marginalized and that the environment is hostile to them, they “prove” it with statistics and still have to put forward a petition calling for change?
When the law dean defended the school by pointing to the diversity of the student body and faculty, she completely missed the boat. Diversity isn’t the problem; you can have a lot of diversity but no inclusion. The law school administration should take the students’ 4th recommendation seriously and get to the bottom of the root causes for students of color having a materially different experience at UCLA than their white counterparts – the structural, cultural, and behavioral issues that create a racially hostile environment.
Watching light bulbs go off for white men at my training sessions when they fully understand they have blind-spots in the workplace because gender isn’t a salient identity or because they unknowingly favor others who are like themselves due to affinity bias is so gratifying.
Once these realizations sink in, it is easier to understand how women’s career paths and organizational success are undermined. After all, it is hard to work on a problem if you don’t believe it exists.
Warren Buffett, a great white male champion, is using his position of power and influence by calling on men to invest in women in the workplace at the same level they are investing in their “mini-me’s” (other men for whom they have affinity bias because it is easier and more comfortable to develop deeper relationships with people who are like you). Buffet advocates for greater focus on gender equality, insisting in an essay last week that America’s future is bright but only if we work to dismantle gender inequities in the workplace and support women in “leaning in.” Buffet talks in terms of under-performance (see my first blog on this):
“So, my fellow males, what’s in this for us? Why should we care whether the remaining barriers facing women are dismantled and the fun-house mirrors junked? Never mind that I believe the ethical case in itself is compelling. Let’s look instead to your self-interest.
No manager operates his or her plants at 80% efficiency when steps could be taken that would increase output. And no CEO wants male employees to be underutilized when improved training or working conditions would boost productivity. So take it one step further: If obvious benefits flow from helping the male component of the workforce achieve its potential, why in the world wouldn’t you want to include its counterpart?
Fellow males, get onboard. The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.” (May 20, 2013 issue of Fortune, published online on May 2, 2013)
It is time to eradicate hidden structural barriers as well as lack of awareness and resulting mind-sets. Calling all white male champions and allies………………….
If white male leaders aren’t engaged in D+I and actively leveraging diversity in their organizations, they are under-performing. Driving business success means optimizing all assets, including the women and diverse people in the organization.
The gender equity movement got a boost in San Francisco when the Mayor announced a challenge to 400 companies to adopt gender equality measures. Creating a competition turned on men’s natural desire to compete and win, according to the observations of one participant (read blog).
Competitiveness is one of the traits discussed in Catalyst’s research on how to engage white men in diversity efforts. Catalyst recommends other success factors:
- Before they will support a change initiative (like inclusiveness), men have to first be convinced there is something wrong with the status quo (which means educating them about hidden barriers and blind spots)
- Men’s awareness of gender bias can be increased through dialogue with other men and cross-gender mentoring
- Men can be motivated to champion gender equity by heightening their sense of fair play and engaging them in solution-building
White male allies and champions were characterized by Catalyst as:
• Engaging in visible and “hands-on” leadership of organizational initiatives to reduce gender disparities in the workplace.
• Making continuous and substantive time investments in mentoring women.
• Easily recognizable by other women colleagues/peers as supporters of gender equality.
I have the privilege of knowing many white male allies and champions who are working hard to create structural, cultural, and behavioral change to eliminate hidden barriers. Advocates are calling for men to “lean in”:
“We need a new, game-changing strategy. We need men. We need men to “lean in” – to join women as allies, advocates and agents of change. We need male leaders to understand their role in perpetuating subtle gender dynamics and master the strategies to interrupt them. And we need male leaders to take up the business case for how expansion of women in leadership will strengthen their organization’s performance.”
Nothing will change until more allies and champions become engaged. Be strategic in cultivating them – it is worth it.
According to a new study reported in the Wall Street Journal, 2/3 of men agree women are paid less for the same work. If that’s so, why do we still have large gender pay gaps? Structural impediments and lack of sponsors for women still play a large role. Inclusiveness initiatives, which make hidden barriers underlying gender pay gaps visible, are absolutely critical to eliminating inequity.
How Much of Your Identity Do You Have to Leave at the Door to be Successful?
Diversity and inclusion advocates routinely face a dilemma when encouraging women and diverse people to learn and play by unwritten rules in white male-dominated workplaces.
They know there is a price to be paid for this accommodation — time spent modifying behaviors to fit in takes away from bringing the full force of your talents and strengths to your work which could impact performance. Additionally, there is a personal cost to hiding parts of your identity in order to be successful. The tension is very difficult to resolve.
Hopefully, as organizations begin to add inclusiveness to their traditional diversity efforts, they will begin to address the hidden barriers that force female and diverse employees to walk this fine line. The benefits to the organization are significant – happier, more engaged employees and a healthier bottom-line. The culture shift begins with understanding the hidden barriers.
Brandeis Professor Andy Molinsky has written a new book on global cultural competence – Global Dexterity – that talks about individuals building the capacity to adapt their behavior to the norms of the culture they’re in without losing themselves in the process. He calls it “fitting in without giving in.” Although the book is focused on global cross-cultural situations, there are lessons that transfer to any workplace. Watch this video of the author talking about key concepts.
What has been lost in the intense dialogue about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book is that “leaning in” is only one aspect of the change needed to fully include and advance women in the workplace. According to research by McKinsey & Company, there are four major barriers to women’s advancement:
- Structural obstacles
- Lifestyle choices
- Institutional mind-sets (bias, stereotypes, and ingrained notions of what types of behaviors leaders exhibit)
- Individual mind-sets (women holding themselves back)
Once again, the debate will center on what’s wrong with women and how they have to change to advance, not on what needs to change within organizations – structural obstacles and institutional mind-sets. The McKinsey research suggests that the latter are the most important but difficult to overcome: “Of all the forces that hold women back, however, none are as powerful as entrenched beliefs.” The top structural barriers for women include their lack of:
- role models
- access to informal networks, and
- sponsors in upper management who create opportunities for them.
Organizations can and should focus considerable resources on eliminating these systemic roadblocks by instituting an inclusiveness initiative.
Resist the temptation to blame women for not “leaning in” and get busy creating systemic change to support their advancement.
The ABA Journal recently covered Georgetown Law School’s new study of culture in mid-size law firms which found that leaders in those firms believe their strong culture gives them a competitive advantage in attracting laterals.
Reconcile that with data from the National Association of Legal Career Professionals (NALP) indicating that mid-size law firms lag behind larger and smaller firms when it comes to diversity.
The disconnect – failing to understand that culture has everything to do with diversity results. Most mid-size firms are still engaged in traditional 20th Century diversity efforts – recruiting female and diverse candidates – but haven’t evolved to incorporate inclusiveness as a strategy to retain and advance female and diverse attorneys.
Inclusiveness and fundamental changes to the firm’s culture are required to make diversity sustainable. When will mid-size firms make the connection and create cultures of inclusion to attract, retain, and advance women and racially/ethnically diverse attorneys?