The Gender Divide: The Problem

I recently read an article published September 23, 2017 in the New York Times with the headline, “Push for Gender Equality in Tech? Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far.” The article referred to how the Silicon Valley, the nation’s technology capital, has long operated as one of the more hostile environments for women to work. Which isn’t far from believable when you consider the current slew of discrimination and harassment claims coming out of corporate giants such as Uber, 500 Startups, and even Google.

Although hostility and discrimination are not limited to specific regions or corporations, women have a long way to go to reach any sort of workplace equality—regardless of the industry’s dominant gender. According to current statistics, women make up nearly half the American workforce and hold nearly half the mid-level management positions. However, according to Catalyst, women still lag behind men in the upper ranks of leadership, holding only 5.8% of CEO positions in S&P 500 companies.

What is being done to actively support women in their climb to executive levels? Not only what is being done, but what is being done that works? Are mandatory hiring quotas and forced diversity trainings effectively supporting us in our race to the corner office? I argue that they’re backfiring on us and creating cultures of resentment and hostility—they’re actually resulting in the opposite response to the desired effect.

Why is that? When you boil the issue down and really get to the heart of expanding diversity initiatives, we’re doing it all wrong. Mandatory efforts to reduce workplace discrimination date back to the 1960s; as a result, corporate diversity training programs became prevalent in Fortune 500 companies as well as some small to mid-sized corporations. Diversity training is responsible for the majority of corporate diversity expenses, despite the fact that studies repeatedly suggest that forced training does little to alter behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. The three most common interventions currently used, mandatory training, testing, and grievance procedures, are not only insufficient in meeting determined goals but have the propensity to alienate non-protected classes.

The Solution:

Although organizations have added a few new approaches here and there, the same ineffective approaches continue to be used. As evidenced, these efforts are exacerbating the problem, not solving it. So what’s the solution? I believe it’s all in the way it’s presented. In this Here are a few steps to take to change the narrative and increase buy-in.

1.    First, stop mandatory training.

In theory, having employees attend mandatory training sounds ideal; however, it is a method that often backfires. The desired effect is a deeper understanding and acceptance of the differences in others. Unfortunately, research has shown that the opposite effect generally tends to occur. When people are forced to do something that is not their idea, or possibly even goes against their beliefs, then odds are pretty certain you’re not going to successfully change anyone’s attitudes or behaviors. Diversity trainers often report that many participants express increased anger, animosity and resistance toward other groups of people afterward.

2.    Introduce voluntary involvement

Voluntary trainings elicit the opposite effect of mandatory trainings—people believe if they chose to participate in the effort then they are pro-diversity. Obtaining employee and management buy-in is critical to having any successful initiative.

Employees should be asked to participate and encouraged to become involved in such activities as leading lunch and learn discussions, developing mini-trainings, being involved in self-managed work teams, or various other inclusive tasks. When employees and upper-level management have involvement and buy-in to in creating a more diverse culture, the dedication increases to ensuring the initiative is successful.

Bringing it All Together

           Current diversity efforts, as we know them, are… well, so 1960s. In order to get a different solution we are going to have to try a different approach. It’s no secret that forcing employees to participate in training against their will is going to have to change.

Next up, getting buy-in.

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