Will you take the dangerous path or the smart track toward gender equality and diversity?
Healthy organizations are moving toward gender equality and eliminating bias regarding race, ethnicity, religion, profession, geography, age, etc. 21st-century organizations may well be the first to experience the profound benefits of inclusion. Bias will not ever be completely eliminated, but the more inclusive organizations will thrive while the exclusive (and abusive) ones will wither.
You have a choice to take one of two paths toward a more inclusive workplace. One track is risky, costly and painful. The other route is just straight-up, disciplined work. Most people understand what the first path looks like, but we rarely get a view into how the best companies build inclusive and thriving cultures.
We know what the first steps on the dangerous path look like because we read almost daily examples in the news. The recent #metoo disclosures, Uber, and Fox News all come immediately to mind and the devastating accounts of the biased and abusive behaviors. We rarely get to see what the second path looks like because well-run and inclusive workplaces are less newsworthy.
The Dangerous Path (avoid this!)
This journey begins with lawsuits, terminations, customer revolts, brand destruction, and, ultimately, destruction of shareholder value. Unfortunately, for these cases, the responses rarely address the root issues. External audits and recommendations don’t fix broken cultures. We want to believe we can pull out a few bad apples, but the problem is with the lousy barrel and the biased barrel makers. Disciplined leadership, distributed throughout the organization, acting over time, is the only solution to these entrenched, systemic problems.
The Better Path (do this!)
The better first step toward an inclusive workplace demands the engagement of the powerful. If the influential people don’t care, then very little will change. Start with the board, executive team, and key employees. Set diversity goals immediately: 50/50 male-female and other diversity to match the communities in which you operate. Set realistic milestones and hold each other accountable.
Building diversity at the top can be a struggle at first, but it is much easier than most people think. Let’s take an extreme (but still too familiar) example of an all-male executive team. You don’t have to fire 50% of the top team to make room for others. Instead, look for creative ways to distribute power. Most successful organizations are moving toward network leadership models and away from pyramid or matrixed hierarchies. Use these organizational shifts to your advantage and promote or import diverse employees to influential positions in the network. Seize opportunities like HP did in 2015 when it diverged into two companies. Each board retained some original members and added women and people of color to reflect better the communities that the companies serve.
Diversity by itself won’t ensure an inclusive workplace culture, but it is the first step on the path. Once the diversity goals, milestones, and methods are in place, then you can begin to build a multipronged approach toward a thriving and inclusive company culture.