WorkPlace 3.0: It Is About Inclusion, Not Diversity!


the same old thinking and disappointing results, closed loop or negative feedback mindset concept - a napkin doodle with a cup of coffee

For decades, we have argued that we do not have enough women and minorities in companies, startups, and in the STEM professions. To address this problem, we set our sights on ‘diversity.’ We have formed countless not-for-profits to increase the number of women in STEM and executive positions. I, myself, have been a member of many such organizations for a long time, including as a founding board member of the Anita Borg Institute and a host of other organizations to help solve this problem.

But the diversity approach hasn’t worked. While it may seem like a logical remedy to what is superficially a numbers problem, this categorization has proven totally ineffective in resolving the underlying issues. It has raised awareness and made a few surface-level changes, but has not achieved deeper systemic change. [The issue is not just about women, but rather it is also about different backgrounds and races. To date, as an angel investor I have met and worked with only 3 African American men. Why is that? All 3 experienced an unusually hard time getting funding by the way.]

Despite the efforts of the diversity movement, the situation is still largely the status quo from 10 years ago. My own experiences drive home this sad fact every day. As a female executive in tech, I continue to deal with only a handful of women. Whether I am sitting in a large corporate boardroom or with a bunch of totally fantastic startup guys (because I rarely see women as tech founders), almost always women are missing.

Yes, there are a few of us, but VERY few. When you read tech news, you almost forget that women can be leaders of startups, because women are shying away from being founders. I remember when I founded my first tech company, the first set of questions I was asked by the top VC’s (all men) was: “So, who is taking care of your child while you are CEO? How is this going to impact your family?” Seriously?! (Fortunately, I never worked with these VC’s. Many are still there and their record of investing in women-led companies is extremely poor. Equally so, there is a very low female partnership rate in VC firms. See Chamath Palihapitiya’s spot-on discussion of this issue.)

In other words, whether it large corporations, venture capital firms, startups, board of directors, consortiums, or universities – the fact remains that a huge majority of the individuals I work with globally are men and the number of women has been steadily declining. This after decades of trying to solve this problem with the diversity approach.

Let’s face some facts:

Fact 1: The diversity angle has not worked (or I should say, has not worked well enough). The diversity discussion has brought awareness, but not resolutions.

Fact 2: The new generation of young women entering the workforce are free of bias – so we need a new approach! These 20-something year olds are confident and excited, and the decades-old discussion about diversity neither resonates with nor inspires them. My daughter clearly does not think of herself as a member of diversity; as a young woman entering the tech world, she is free and clear of any such notions! Confident in her abilities, she is entering the workforce as herself and what she brings to the table!

Fact 3: From my personal experience, a large majority of men are very eager to have more women in executive and decision-making positions. Why propagate a system that nurtures separation, segregation and creates a culture of alienation? Truthfully, all the men I work with have daughters and they really want this matter resolved- beautifully.

Fact 4: Unless we disrupt, nothing will improve and nothing will change! That is what I discuss in my book ProVoke.

Fact 5: Success is inspiring women to become leaders. It is not a game of meeting numbers and quotas. Women are fantastic when they are on-fire, so let’s light the flame and not limit the conversation to numbers shall we?!

Progress Bar Loading with the text: Inclusion

So how do we disrupt the diversity-mindset? With the inclusion-mindset. Let’s replace diversity-based thinking, with it’s convenient numbers and targets to reach with a culture of inclusion -one that focuses on including women in all aspects of business at all levels. Think of it as the super-set of diversity.

Fact 6: Inclusion-Mindset assures influence and effective participation by women at all levels and all organizations. Changes the dialog.

To me, diversity-thinking is as simple as saying, “I need to have x number of women in my organization at each level: done.” WRONG. Just having women in an organization is not enough. We need to have women included meaningfully in our businesses. Whether it is a startup, a large corporation, a VC, or a board of directors, we need women to be actively contributing to and leading the dialogue.

Recently, there has been a lot of press about women getting equal pay as men. That’s great, but it does not solve the problem. Just because a small number of women executives get paid the same as their male counterparts, does not mean the overall issue of inclusion is solved. Fact: as you go up the executive chain, the numbers and effective influence of women drop massively. To get a sense of how real this is, take a look at any company of any size. Check out their executive management team or board of directors; see how many (or rather, few) women there are. You feel the shock factor strongly in the startup scene and in the venture capital world. We need more women as managing and senior partners and not just as partners, or associates. We need to change the paradigm across the board.

So, let’s change the dialogue from the comfortable diversity-mindset to a culture of inclusion.

In the inclusion-based mindset, I expect to see individuals of different gender, race, and background in all aspects of business. The essential ingredient of the inclusion-mindset is that my goal is not to have x numbers of different categories of individuals; rather, I want to have full representation and inclusion in decision-making across the board. For example, as a CEO I would want a culture where I have individuals involved in a highly collaborative environment and included in decision-making. In a board of directors, I would look for not just x percentage of certain types of individuals, but more importantly I would consider how included are these individuals in the board’s decisions.

So what is the inclusion-based mindset? This is a mindful effort to ensure that all individuals at all levels feel included in decision-making. And no, I do NOT mean decision-making by consensus (which, as we all know, is fraught with issues). Rather, it means that the same people that we are so focused on hiring and bringing on board due to diversity concerns, feel included and feel part of the organization. They are actually contributing, not just helping HR check another box. I could have 1000 great women engineers in a great technology company, but if these women have no role models to look up to and excel, have we succeeded? Yes, we have met our hiring objectives, but nothing has improved in reality. In a VC firm, not having women in key managing and senior partner roles excludes women’s contributions. So a VC firm may have women employees (i.e., “diversity challenge met – check!”), but women are completely absent from making investment decisions. A mindful culture of inclusion would solve that.

In short, ‘leaning in’ is not enough and diversity efforts to date have not solved the problem. We need a better and more effective way to tackle this issue. We need to accept the poor results of our efforts so far and disrupt the way we have addressed this for decades to achieve meaningful improvement and lasting change. The new generation coming into the workforce is not going to stand for anything less. Let’s be courageous enough to demand inclusion and accept nothing less!

It is possible that the current diversity-mindset is hurting the problem rather than helping solve the problem. Right?!

You will hear me talk more about inclusion and the inclusion-based-mindset. I was energized to write this post by my experience over the last two weeks, as I sat in over ten technology and executive meetings globally at small and large companies, startups, VC firms and others. I interacted with ZERO women and other members of the diversity classification.

I am a woman and it is 2016. This is totally unacceptable. It’s time we changed the dialogue big-time. More on this soon. I can tell you one thing, the journey ahead is extremely exciting and energizing as the incoming generation will accept nothing less!

Disrupt | Innovate | Lead

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