Happy International Women’s Day!
I spent the morning at a Women’s Day panel event promoting #GoSponsorHer - a social media initiative promoting senior leadership in organizations sponsoring emerging women leaders in their careers in order to pave the way for meaningful connections and professional advancement….and to be loud, proud, and social with it.
(You can get involved here: gosponsorher.com)
The discussion today was about gender equality and diversity in the workplace and the message was loud and clear: not only is gender equality the right thing to do, it is also good for business.
The panellists shared various stats about the impact of diversity on a company’s bottom line, including this comprehensive study by McKinsey & Company, Women Matter: Gender diversity, a corporate performance driver.
The McKinsey & Company study presented evidence correlating the number of women on management teams and how well companies perform.
The study says, “Gender diversity is not just a social concern. Our new study suggests that it could create a competitive edge to address the global challenges that companies will face in the near future.”
As shared by Mark Wiseman, Senior Managing Director, BlackRock, “Gender equality is not a women's problem, it is not a men's problem, it is a business problem...it is a business opportunity."
Altruism is my default and of course I wish that organizational leadership would strive for more diverse and equal representation all the way up from interns and new hires to executive and C-Suite positions simply because it is the right thing to do. However, the pragmatist in me understands this is not the world we live in...yet!
If presenting the case that more diversity = more profits will perk up the ears of business leaders then let’s start there.
However, as I was taking in the complex and urgent need for diversity in the workplace I was reminded of a frustrating aha moment I experienced recently that quite frankly took me way too long to understand.
While attending a special "Men Lean In" panel at Lean In Canada event last winter 2016, one of the panellists said something that got my blood boiling. He referred to women in the workplace as “diverse”.
I was shocked!
Having women in the workplace is considered diverse?
Women make up 49.6% of the population. How can having women in the workplace be considered diverse when we are half of the population?
What I really heard was that I'm not a human being. I'm something else. A box to tick or an obstacle to overcome. I am not a part of the world. I am an inconvenience.
(enter aha moment)
It hit me: if I feel this diminished over a single statement, how does any one else who's ever been labelled "diverse" feel?
What is the message for anyone in this world labelled as a minority who deal with this label and prejudice 24/7?
Aha. So this is what white privilege feels like.
I began challenging my own biases while I sat there stewing in frustration and disgust over the word diversity. Really, why is this word even necessary when referring to human beings?
I started noticing this word everywhere...
The word was starting to feel like nothing more than a buzzword; a box to tick. It began to feel dirty.
Is diversity really a dirty word?
I began to wonder how other leaders perceived diversity? Was it seen as a gift or as an inconvenience?
Were organizations simply paying diversity lip service? Or are there leaders out there truly championing and celebrating the gift of diversity and the progress inherent in inclusion when everyone has a voice and is considered?
Enter Katie Telford, Chief-of-Staff to the Canadian Prime Minister.
At yet another fantastic Lean In Canada event in February this year, Katie Telford rocked my world.
Katie talked about diversity, equality, and inclusion in politics and business. Here are four powerful messages I took away from the evening:
1. Katie shared her own mission to get more women at the table. She reminded us that diversity requires awareness, intention, and active choice. Diversity and equality don’t happen by accident, but by design, and she is working hard to make it a reality.
2. Katie challenged impostor syndrome among women admitting that she herself was feeling that familiar fear before coming to speak with us that evening. While Katie recognizes that feeling like an impostor, like a fraud, is all too real and felt by so many women, the bottom line is we need to get over it. We’ve got too much work to do!
(More on Impostor Syndrome later, but for now here’s a great article on the subject)
3. Katie championed learning the stories of our superheroes, the women in the world who are rocking the boat and shining brightly in politics or in business, and then sharing those stories.
Reminding the world, and our young girls and boys, that there are powerful examples of women in leadership who are busting through ceilings and changing the world. We need to change the paradigm for the next generation and keep this momentum going.
4. Most importantly, Katie reminded the room that getting to the table was not enough. Women need to be bold, be vocal and stand out! No blending in allowed until gender equality and diversity is normal.
As we celebrate the badass women who have come before us this International Women’s Day let’s join hands and celebrate diversity as we step up to the challenge of normalizing equality, inclusion, and a voice for everybody!