It takes a tough man to make a diverse top team.
That is if, as so often remains the case, the current top team is all or almost entirely male despite the best, sincere efforts of all concerned to find and elevate more women.
Shared below is the lightly edited (and disguised) note that I just sent to a senior level woman tasked by her CEO with leading a diversity effort. The well-intentioned CEO’s original request was for more women at the top (there is only one female on the senior leadership team); the brief quickly expanded to be “more diversity in general” and ultimately morphed to “more diversity of thought.” Here is my reaction to the situation:
Some thoughts to continue the conversation. First, thanks again for meeting. I really appreciated all that you shared, and I am impressed with what you have done.
Second, I agree that diversity of thought is the real end game here. The ultimate goal should be that your company evolves to a point where diversity of thought can flourish, and where ideas, energy and action become the points of distinction — not gender, ethnicity or any of a host of what are now called “differences.” When you think about it, however, starting with diversity of thought as a short term goal is putting the cart before the horse. It is an outcome of other steps that must be successfully undertaken first. Chief among these steps is the issue of getting more women to the top. Why? Because as we discussed, women by definition bring diversity of thought to the top team when it is overwhelmingly male — you have experienced that personally. It has been amply proven in many studies conducted by major and well-respected institutions that women and men as a group tend to think in ways that are more complementary than identical: they each bring different ideas and perspectives to the table. Therefore, advancing a critical mass of women into the top team is a vital first step toward your ultimate goal. Advancing women in sufficient numbers will allow them to act as their true selves; when they are in too small a minority they must either conform or simply not be heard. Getting enough women into the top team will start to free up the thinking that can immediately lead to better outcomes (wiser decisions, better communication, flatter teams), and create the conditions for other forms of diversity to flow through. And, fact is, you can only tackle so much at once, and women are half of the workforce – you will get a lot of results for the effort.
Why do organizations so often quickly move past the issue of getting more qualified women to the top and go straight to diversity of thought? Frankly, because gender is such a hot potato. This does not need to be the case. It is possible to handle the gender politics with more cool: with sensitivity and more “clinical analysis”. The more that the strengths that each gender brings to business discussion and decisions are understood, the more that gender differences can be valued in ways supportive of both men and women, then the more that positive change can occur.
By the way, developing the ability to hold these conversations and do the right analytics around gender (and, when the time is right, other forms of diversity) will also be of great help to your CEO Jerry. Clearly, his heart is in the right place: he wants to tackle the issue of diversity. It also seems to be true that he is not quite ready to take it on with the boldness that a real diversity effort requires of its CEO.
It takes the leadership of the CEO to overcome the cultural inertia and organizational systems that bias the organization away from diversity. From what I understand from our conversation, he may not truly feel fully confident through and through of the “case for change”, or how to make the case convincingly (especially with his alpha male colleagues). Jerry needs more ammunition — which you are in the process of skillfully providing him in the form of the internal “case study/diverse team guerilla action”. We also need to gather the well-researched external case into a form that he can internalize and share.
These are my thoughts at the moment. Would love to hear your reactions, and I am afraid that this note is already too long!
Let’s keep talking. Kate