Women Are Leading the Diversity Revolution!

It has been 54 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson issued executive order 11246, requiring government contractors and subcontractors to implement affirmative action policies to expand job opportunities for minorities. The order was amended in 1967 to include women.

Although there are millions of highly-educated, intelligent, successful and independent women in United States, women remain underrepresented in many corporate boardrooms.  This is not surprising when you consider that most diversity and inclusion initiatives are developed to comply with corporate governance and self-regulation, often under the heading “Corporate Social Responsibility”.  The problem is that in most organizations, these initiatives are usually poorly funded tactical initiatives disconnected from broader, more substantial, and generously-funded training and development programs.  Although well-intended they are misguided in their approach.

Evidence bears out what – on a practical level – we already know.  As global talent shortages grow more severe, new ways of engaging and developing tomorrow’s business leaders are needed if organizations are to have sustainable talent strategies.  Without clear policies on how to achieve gender diversity, businesses are unlikely to meet future needs and they are likely to fall behind competitors as global battles for the best talent grows.

Gender diversity policies are important because workplace culture has a profound impact on an employer’s ability to retain women.  As such, I applaud organizations such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Uber, American Express, Facebook, Nike and Amazon Studios for appointing women of color as diversity and inclusion officers.

  • Candi Castleberry Singleton, vice president of inclusion and diversity at Twitter
  • Rosanna Durruthy, head of global diversity, inclusion and belonging at LinkedIn
  • Bo Young Lee, diversity and inclusion officer at Uber
  • Sonia Cargan, chief diversity officer at American Express
  • Maxine Williams, global chief diversity officer at Facebook
  • Tamika Curry Smith, vice president, global diversity and inclusion at Nike
  • Latasha Gillespie, head of diversity, equality and inclusion at Amazon Studios

Congratulations ladies and about time!  Given the impact women have had in initiating and executing positive change around the world, I’m baffled by the apparent lack of confidence in women leaders – there needs to be more!  The snail’s pace of progress on gender equality results from a need to improve thinking at senior corporate levels. There should be no doubt that there are women who are adequately trained and experienced and are available high-level assignments.  The same is true for qualified black women. It is up to current corporate leaders and governing boards to assume responsibility for hiring, grooming and promoting underrepresented groups and opening the doors of opportunity.

As far back as 1995, author and women’s leadership consultant Sally Helgesen documented in her book “The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership” how women leaders excel over their male counterparts.  Author and speaker, Michael Stallard wrote in a March 2019 article for “Government Executive” that women leaders continue to outperform their male counterparts for the same reasons Helgesen outlined.

She found that women leaders:

  1. Place a high value on relationships,
  2. Have a bias for direct communication rather than following the chain of command,
  3. Put themselves at the center of the people they lead,
  4. Are comfortable with diversity, and
  5. Are skilled at integrating their personal lives and their lives at work rather than compartmentalizing.

As Stallard notes, these are now considered ideal leadership traits regardless of gender.

It is important to create spaces in which every candidate – regardless of gender or ethnic background – can bring his or her whole, authentic self to the interview process and eventually to the workplace.  Real inclusion is creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable and confident that they belong.  Organizations such as Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, American Express, Uber and LinkedIn have made great strides, but even they, along with many others,  need to do more.