July 21, 2020
Last September, Forbes published my article on “The Benefits of Creating a Diverse Workforce.” In less than a year, the landscape has changed. Social justice is demanded by our nation’s people, and we are on the verge of great, dramatic and long-overdue change. It is not about being for diversity for its business benefits; it’s about advocating for diversity because it is morally right.
As business leaders, we have an obligation now more than ever to stand for what is right and better promote diversity of people and perspectives. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Behavior we tolerate, we encourage. Just knowing better is not the same as doing better. So how can leaders ignite meaningful change?
1. Increase awareness.
There is so much bias all around us if we look for it — racial bias, gender bias, age bias — and as leaders, we have to have the courage to point it out and correct it when we see it. Bias gets deep-rooted in our thinking to the point that we don’t even recognize it. If we’re looking for it, we will see it. When we see it, we can stop it.
2. Understand roots of bias.
If we really want to evoke change, we have to understand how bias develops. Unfortunately, it is the natural human condition to fill the gaps in our minds about something or someone we don’t know with negatives — assumptions, stereotypes and fear. When we realize what is in our nature, we can challenge our thinking and ask ourselves questions that uncover our motivations. Then, we make a choice to either dig deeper into our biases or rise above them.
3. Speak out!
This is by far the hardest thing, but it is a must. There have been a few times in my career when I have had to speak out against bias, and when I did, it was uncomfortable but also eye-opening.
At a past company, one of my peer leaders and I were working on an employment offer for an employee who had left our organization and wanted to return. We knew firsthand she had remarkable capabilities and was a great culture fit. But when she worked to negotiate her returning salary, my peer was visibly disgusted. This 62-year-old white man was offended by the young Latina asking to be paid her worth. Having just finished my MBA paper on gender bias in salary negotiations, I simply and calmly asked him the question, “If she was a man, would you be so disgusted?” I didn’t have to say any more. He knew I had just called him out on his double standard. She did negotiate her offer, and I for one was proud of her for doing so.
Another time, I was sitting in a client company’s leadership team meeting of all men when the customer service manager announced that one of their customer service representatives just informed him of her pregnancy. The whole room let out a sigh of irritation. I listened as they complained about the inconvenience of covering the seat in her absence before I spoke up. “Fellas, you know that as of today only women can give birth, right? So rather than getting frustrated, we should be celebrating with this woman and giving her every reason to want to come back. If you can look at this right, and then get it right, you can turn your irritation into a Best Place to Work.” The room fell silent. All eyes were on me. Finally, the CEO said, “You’re right. Let’s discuss how we can best handle these happy life events and stop treating them like burdens.” The fact that he immediately changed his language to “happy life events” showed me he got it.