As I waited to present to a group of male CEOs at a conference, I listened to several men complaining about how hard it was for them to attract a diverse workforce and integrate them into their current culture. One man said: "It took me three months to finally find a capable woman of color. She was great but lasted three months. She just didn't fit with the rest of the company. What am I going to do? My board is urging me to diversify and change my organization. Where do I begin?"
Probably a familiar story requiring new leadership skills
For a large part of our history, women and minorities have often lacked representation in the upper management of organizations. But as more businesses put diversity and inclusion at the forefront, women have been able to pursue previously male-dominated careers. The pipeline is slowly filling. And with it, the number of women in senior management positions. But the road is not an easy one and the challenges are significant.
How do women pursue leadership roles in companies today?
The process is an important one to watch. As women move into the C-suite, other women can see what is possible and aspire to do the same. The data is compelling. As one example, in Deloitte's 2019 report on leadership roles held by women in the financial services sector, "strong evidence of the multiplier effect in the financial services firms was found: Each woman added to the C-suite led to three more women being added to senior leadership. A 2021 analysis reaffirms this finding."
Women need to see what other women are doing and how they have done it. They also need to believe that they are capable of achieving successful careers beyond the middle manager level. As too many colleagues tell me, the workers are all women and the managers are all men. That seems the case in staffing agencies and real estate firms and even accounting firms.
Corporate cultures have to change
As highlighted in my book, Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business, for diversity, equity and inclusion to become something more than just aspirational words, corporate cultures have to change. Organizations are responsible for providing equal opportunities for advancement for women. Expanding the talent pool of women to fill leadership positions should be intentional, with sponsorship, not just mentoring.
As one woman said at a recent conference where I spoke, "I am over-mentored and tired of the advice. Let me see some action." She was not alone. Companies that develop programs built on the thinking that one and done is what DE&I is all about are completely missing the point. Changing a culture is a process that takes time and consistency. It is about persistence.
Men's role in supporting women in business
Men also play a significant role in breaking down barriers for women in business. Men can support their female colleagues through mentorship, trust, listening and communication.
What's more, male executives must realize that diversity is more than a number, and fostering a more diverse and inclusive workplace requires more than meeting quotas. Organizations must deconstruct systems that exclude women and minorities on an organizational scale.
What do you say to your male CEO?
Let's reflect on the fellow bemoaning his fate trying to build a diverse and inclusive workforce. As I spoke to him and his other CEOs, I remembered how painful change is for people once again. We know what we believe to be the "way we should do it." The unfamiliar is frightening, and our brains hate it. It hijacks even new ideas that could be better than those from the past. The only path forward is to push ahead, test new ideas, and embrace those that work, discarding those that don't.
Change comes in small wins, a step at a time. But these are times for change, and women, women of color, LGBTQ, and people from different backgrounds can bring a richness to your organization that will help it thrive in fast-changing times. Your leadership is essential, now more than ever, to see the future and head there with confidence.
Want to read more about changing your corporate culture?
- 10 Steps to Change Your Corporate Culture
- In This Current Crisis, Will You Lead Or Stick Your Head in the Sand?
Ready to boldly embrace change? Let's talk.
At Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), we are culture change experts who specialize in helping companies and the people who work for them change. We invite you to contact us to discuss how our team of specialized corporate anthropologists and business change management advisors can assess your current culture and suggest ways you and your business could change it to capitalize on today's many challenges to achieve greater success. We look forward to hearing from you.
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