I drove by a construction site on my way to work this morning. The crew was building a beautiful office building – there were trucks and people coming and going.
A piece of safety equipment caught my attention.
It was a cone that read: ‘Danger, men working above’.
On the surface, it was accurate. I should be careful, and the people working above the sign were men. It also made me consider how it would feel to be one of the few women working on the site. To walk by an overt reminder that you are different. Every day.
In corporate America, the signs are not so obvious. The reminders come in the form of statistics on the number of women CEOs, or articles about how it is harder for women to get venture funding. Or by counting the number of women sitting around the conference table in a meeting. Different symbols, same message.
Building blocks for progress
We can do better. The good news is, the building blocks for progress are there. I talk about inclusion a lot and have found that most people:
Have good intentions. I have yet to find someone who purposefully creates a culture of exclusion. When teams end up this way it is unintentional or the result of narrow thinking.
Have experienced ‘otherness’. Sometimes the source is not visible. It can come from differences in country of origin, upbringing, education, sexual orientation. Really anything has the potential to make people feel like they are in or out.
These things are true for both men and women – so, what can we do together to make real progress?
- See everyone as an ally. Because we all have experienced ‘otherness’, everyone is a potential ally. I recently gave a book on how women experience the workplace to some of my male colleagues along with a note asking them explicitly to be allies. This sparked great conversation, and brought a bigger group into the solution.
- Start with facts, not judgment. This might look like starting a conversation on how we can get to gender balance for our college hire class by showing that more than 50% of graduates are women and brainstorming how we can get our fair share.
- Don’t forget the big picture. I fall victim to this. I see little moments of exclusion and start having fatalistic thoughts about society careening back to the 1950’s. Sometimes I end up on the floor – in my Snuggie (yes, this has happened at work, not my proudest moment).
I have to remind myself that we are making progress, and it is my job to keep the conversation going. Then I put the Snuggie away and get back to work.
And now for the obligatory Powerpoint: