Equality, outcomes and the absence of leadership.

reality check

I have been thinking about the importance of our beliefs, especially beliefs regarding equality.

This is the scenario I threw out in my last post:

I once worked for an organization that was close to 50% male and 50% female. As you worked your way up the organizational chart there was less and less gender balance, and by the time you got to the senior leadership team there was not a single woman to be found. How would you explain this?

Is there anything wrong with this outcome?

Is this unacceptable, or no big deal?

If you believe there is something wrong, where is the wrong to be found?

  • Is there something wrong to be found in the values, culture or practices of the organization?
  • Is there something wrong to be found in the beliefs and behaviors of men?
  • Is there something wrong to be found in the beliefs and behaviors of women?

I encounter demographic outcomes like this all the time (because they are everywhere), and when I sit in conversation with the H.R. and/or management folks the conversations are remarkably similar. In most organizations, it’s no big deal. Beyond a small handful of folks, there is not an ongoing conversation about it, specifically among senior leadership. There has usually been no effort made to understand what kind of things might be causing this outcome…no focus groups, no review of exit interview data, no surveys, no exploration of related research.

Since there has been no effort to fully understand the situation, belief comes into play again through the explanations that are given for this outcome. I generally hear one of, or some combination of, two answers.

1) Talent! “We do not really get wrapped up in race and gender, we really try to put the best person in the job.”

Sound familiar? This is what the absence of leadership sounds like. If you ever hear yourself saying that you do not care about race and gender (or whatever), while a group of the same gender and the same race (or whatever) continue to select folks of the same gender and same race for senior leadership roles, please stop talking and take a long walk. Race and gender are real things, worthy of being cared about, and beyond that, “talent,” comes in a lot of different packages. If you are not willing and able to find and acquire talent in different packages, you are choosing to compete for a small and shrinking portion of the talent pie.

2) You know…women! From the politically correct (“research shows that men apply for jobs they are not qualified for far more often than women do, so women just need to apply for more stuff, step up to the plate ladies!”), to the less politically correct, women are often believed to be the cause of this kind of outcome.

Sound familiar? This also, is an absence of leadership. Anytime that you are faced with a skewed or non-inclusive outcome and you justify it with something that you believe you know about the group that is not being included, you are demonstrating zero leadership. Absolutely zero.

Is there leadership in your organization?

Be good to each other.

  1. Stuart Chittenden

    Hello Joe,

    I enjoyed this reflection, as well as your last post. You prompted my thinking about the dynamics of the landscape in which people hold the beliefs that you mention, and why we lean upon some of the examples you offer. I wonder if part of the reason is the hopelessness that we feel to make change at the level where it really needs to happen i.e. at a socially systemic level.

    It is daunting to make a change at an organizational level when every function of social codes and governmental policy mitigates against it. How are we to make changes that truly alter the organizational belief system when at a national level it is a struggle to pass legislation that recognizes a woman deserves the same pay for the same work as a man? How to make sticky changes for women when the social and policy discussion is about whether women are even entitled to self-determination for their own bodies?

    Then again, having said this, perhaps the best place to start changing the system is to tweak it so much, so often and in so many places that it becomes systemic… Clearly there is more to think about, and I shall. Thanks, as always Joe, for the thoughtful nudge.


contact       brand management by venn market strategies