Embrace your femininity.
Be one of the guys.
Be assertive. No, that’s too aggressive.
Don’t be demanding. Don’t threaten men.
Speak up for yourself.
I once worked with a business coach who told me I had to stop smiling at men during meetings because it was perceived as my flirting with them and it was giving them the wrong impression.
STOP SMILING AT MEN!
What is the world coming to when a smile is misinterpreted as flirting in the business world?
Needless to say, that coach didn’t last very long.
Women get a lot of advice about how to succeed at work.
Much of it conflicting. More of it extraordinarily offensive.
And, even though we’ve come a long way even during my career, we still have a long way to go.
Women’s Brains Are Like Pancakes
A few weeks ago, an article ran in the Huffington Post about how women working at Ernst & Young are instructed to behave, dress, and act.
As of 2018, Ernst & Young has had a very low proportion of women in their workplace.
To “empower” the women who do work there, and I would guess to try to build morale and an inclusive culture and attract more women, they instituted an internal program called: Power, Presence, Purpose.
The purpose of the PPP program is to help women learn how to grow their networks, negotiate, and build stronger, high-performing teams.
Unfortunately the PPP program has done the exact opposite of what they intended because of the “advice” they provide.
Allow me to provide some of the quotes from the unbelievably misogynistic presentation that was obtained by the Huffington Post.
Women’s brains absorb information like pancakes soak up syrup so it’s hard for them to focus. Men’s brains are more like waffles. They’re better able to focus because the information collects in each little waffle square.
Don’t flaunt your body―sexuality scrambles the mind. But do look healthy and fit and have a good haircut and manicured nails.
Yes, all of this—and more; lots and lots more—was included in the training on how women can behave at work around their male counterparts.
Not only does it enforce outdated stereotypes and hold women to an impossible standard, it also completely ignores other areas of privilege such as race, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Equality Is Still Just An Idea
Ernst & Young is hardly alone in doing this, however.
Across industries, business categories, and even in government, there are still white men in positions of power who think women and other minorities are the ones who have to change.
Here are some interesting stats, according to American Progress:
- While women are 44% of the overall S&P 500 labor force, only 25% are executive- and senior-level managers, they hold only 20% of board seats, and are only 6% of CEOs.
- In the financial services industry the number of executive-level positions is slightly higher at 29%, but only 2% are CEOs.
- In legal, only 22% are partners and only 18% are equity partners.
- Venture capital firms are losing women. Only 6% are partners, which is down from 10% in 1999.
It doesn’t matter the industry, the idea that there should be equality for women and other minorities is still just an idea.
And, while there are lots and lots of men who understand and support equality, the statistics prove we just aren’t there yet—and that we have to shift from the expectation that the change must come from women and other minorities.
The Communications Industry Isn’t Free, Either
The communications industry isn’t free of this problem, either.
I wrote about my experience at the Cision World Tour a couple of years ago.
It clearly demonstrated to me that even in communications, where women make up most of the workforce, we are still under-represented on stages, on leadership teams, and in boardrooms.
I have some theories on that, AND it’s the bane of my existence.
I cannot understand how event coordinators will invite me to keynote their events—yes, invite me—and, when I quote them my fee, they balk and ask me to lower it.
When I won’t budge, they go on to some of my male counterparts and end up paying them more—sometimes double my own speaking fee.
That just screams sexism to me.
It could very well be there is a different reason, but these are the facts: I quoted you my fee, I wouldn’t lower it, and so you went to a male colleague and paid him double what I quoted you.
How would you perceive that?
It sure doesn’t scream inclusivity or equality.
It tells me you don’t value my expertise as much as you do some of my male counterparts, even though I clearly was your first choice.
A Case Study of Diversity
So what is empowering, supportive, and useful for all minority groups?
My husband runs a political action committee that provides free training for people who want to run for office.
During their work—and through his own experience—they discovered that young professionals who work on campaigns are mostly rich white kids—because they’re the ones who can afford to work on a campaign with little money, no benefits, and little sleep.
But as we look at a world that desperately needs different ideas and is genuinely diverse, one place to start to fix that is at the campaign level, allowing all young professionals—not just rich, white kids—to volunteer and then work their way up.
This year, his goal at work was to launch Staff Academy, which hires, trains, and places young professionals on campaigns.
This allows them to provide inclusivity and equality at the campaign level because the PAC pays them and provides benefits, while they learn the ropes of campaigns.
As you can imagine, there are tons of benefits—the campaigns have different voices from all walks of life, those voices affect the decisions our elected officials make, and they may one day become elected officials themselves.
Suddenly, we’re looking at a government that isn’t run mostly by white men.
It’s Not All Bad News
Of course, there are many other organizations that are making a genuine effort to foster diversity of all kinds.
Accenture was ranked the best S&P company on 24 different measures of diversity and inclusion by Reuters in 2018, and they have specific programs to ensure women, people with disabilities, and LGBTQIA community members are all represented.
Plainly, it’s possible to make this happen.
And more than morally being the right thing to do, it tends to be more profitable in the long run.
If you work at a not-very-diverse organization, here are several things you can do to help build diversity, inclusion, and equality:
- Talk about it—the more people around you learn, the better opportunity you have to change minds and hearts.
- Mention it in performance reviews and during meetings. If your boss and their boss and their boss and so on knows that you value diversity, inclusion, and equality, they’ll start to think about how to take action on it. It will be top-of-mind for them.
- Suggest books, videos, training, and resources developed by members of marginalized groups. This can be a great way to both get more professional development and enhancement, and support diversity, especially in a small organization.
- Support and advocate for colleagues. It’s not always easy for people to advocate for themselves, so make a point of supporting your colleagues, by making sure they get airtime in meetings, get credit for all of their contributions, and back them on their ideas and projects.
How to Improve Diversity and Inclusion at Work
Owners and managers have considerably more power to improve diversity and inclusion.
And they should use it.
- Hire people different than you. This can be challenging because we subconsciously look for similarities, and we have company cultures that we’re looking for “fit” with. If diversity and inclusion matters to you, then making a culture that embraces differences in people is the best way forward.
- Actively make sure different groups are represented and included. This can mean evaluating your current culture to make sure that people from marginalized groups are genuinely comfortable.
- Provide diversity and inclusion training and opportunities for your team. Even if you’re not hiring, you can provide resources developed by people from marginalized communities, and work with suppliers and other business owners that prioritize diversity.
I have a friend who makes it part of his job to look at the “about” pages on websites of the companies they’re considering working with.
If it’s all a bunch of white people or, worse, a bunch of white people with the token person of color, he moves on to the next.
He has sent me so many links over the years exclaiming the hypocrisy of it all that I have started to do the same when we’re considering a new vendor, partner, or supplier.
It’s not something that is going to happen overnight—and we still have a long, long way to go.
But the more attuned we are to racism, sexism, misogyny, and even our own inadvertent biases, the better we’ll all be about making sure our colleagues, our clients, our vendors, our suppliers, our colleagues, our events, and our websites are inclusive of everyone.
Now It’s Your Turn
Have you ever experienced sexism, racism, or worse at work?
How did you handle it? Did anything change for the better? What do you look out for now because of it?
I’d love to hear your stories, if you’re willing to share them.
The comments are yours.