The fact that it’s 2020 and we are still fighting for gender equality is…troubling. Much like the early days of the #MeToo movement: each step forward seems to reveal an ugly, darker past. This past week has seen some key victories, but also reminders of how far we have left yet to travel.
Equality is not just a concept in the public square: businesses that fight for gender equality will out-perform those that do not, from a recruiting, retention and performance perspective. This is not a “nice to have” or “optional” concept – it is a key reason folks are engaged at work, and often the absence of gender equality creates a toxic environment that can persist long after offenders have left.
The good news is that it doesn’t take an entire organization to embrace equality: as individuals we can influence our peers, redefine cultural norms and ultimately make equality a natural part of our professional life. Each one of us has the ability to impact this organizational culture for the better, and it starts with the recognition that we can all do better – regardless of where we sit in an organization.
This isn’t a new concept, and dovetails with the culturally American notion that a business made up of a diverse set of stakeholders is stronger than a misguided pursuit for workforce homogenization. Here we instinctively root for the the junkyard mutt, because we believe she works harder than dogs of a distinguished lineage. (I personally tend to root for the junkyard cat.) Over time, folks at an organization who don’t get this mindset, who believe innately that gender inequality is inevitable, are making a mistake, and may poison an organization from within. Not focusing on those people, or sweeping problems under the rug, will result in talented staff leaving, or worse.
Folks in leadership need to recognize that just because anyone at an organization can help with gender equality, those of us lucky enough to lead have a special responsibility to show, by example, our commitment. That means not only doing this the right way, but actively seeking out feedback from folks to learn what we could be doing better. Intentions aren’t the issue here: plenty of men, with the best of intentions, would hire other people who look like them and are the same gender, without realizing their unconscious bias. Many folks are familiar with the “blind hiring” which resulted in a rapid increase in female musicians in classical orchestras, based solely on removing the image of a person from their performance during auditions. These types of moments expose that no process is truly neutral: we all have biases we bring to the table. Correcting for them leads organizations to have a makeup that resembles the public square more broadly.
And that, believe it or not, is the most obvious example of gender equality. When folks walk into an organization, and meet with key stakeholders, or sit through onboarding videos, or chat with partners and customers: if there is a gender equality issue, it will be obvious to all parties. Recognizing an issue exists may be clearly apparent to the majority of staff, despite a gap in leadership. Calling that issue out, naming it, and committing to do better are table stakes for organizations looking to be competitive in this environment.
Gender equality isn’t here today. The more folks who step up and fight for it, the better.