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.
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.