Why I Wrote a Book about Fixing Gender Inequality At Work
Years ago, my last full-time job was in an industry that has now become infamous for hemorrhaging women – technology. Coming in as a highly motivated, self-sufficient person, I quickly saw my confidence dip, an uneasy demeanor takeover when I was in meetings, and a multitude of my close friendships wither away as I was too overwhelmed at work all the time. As the only woman of color in my department, I saw firsthand how the American workplace was different for white women too.
In 2015, while the concepts of Diversity and Inclusion existed academically, I saw very few managers and leaders around me actually take into account why there were so women, people of color, and people from other underestimated backgrounds, represented in their organizations. I knew something had to change.
So with three-quarters of my stock options on the table, with an imminent promotion and salary bump on the horizon, I quit my job to write a book about fixing gender inequality in the workplace. My hypothesis was that companies didn't know how much they could stand to gain from hiring and advancing employees from diverse backgrounds, nor how much innovation and profitability can be achieved in inclusive environments. I also wanted to create a "how-to."
My book didn't become a bestseller – as I didn't expect it to – but the importance of Diversity and Inclusion as organizational priorities, rather than something individual women should fix, has gained traction. There's a lot I've learned in the three years since the book released.
Here are some of the key takeaways on why and how fixing gender inequality in the workplace must still be front and center for all innovative organizations.
The Economics of Including Women at Work
Close to a billion women will enter the global workforce by 2020 –– that's next year. But without making fundamental changes to organizations today, these women are likely to drop out or get stuck in dead-end jobs.This is because gender inequality is rampant in the workplace today, even among the world’s most developed economies. Over 50% of university graduates are female in developed economies, but the number of women in senior leadership or board positions within the Global 2000 is alarmingly low. In addition to this, women are largely paid less for equal work—and this number decreases significantly for women of color.
And while gender equality is a human rights issue, engaging women in the workforce is primarily an economic issue. Diverse leaders drive financial growth and innovation for global corporations. Diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s a financially savvy strategy in today’s hyper-competitive digital marketplace.
The Case for Advancing Women Leaders
McKinsey research finds: Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their industry peers. Indeed, there is a link between companies committed to diverse leadership and financial success. But it goes beyond this.
In a customer-centric world, companies lose out when they lack representation of their largest customers. This is at the heart of why a diverse workforce is so necessary. Women in America have immense spending power today, ranging from between $5 trillion and $15 trillion annually. And it’s growing. Approximately two-thirds of consumer wealth will be controlled by women in the next 10 years. If your leadership team doesn’t have enough female representation, consider the tremendous missed opportunity to get into the mindsets of your largest customer base.
The Number One Similarity Across All Gender-Diverse Organizations
Here's a secret I found when I researched my book – across geography, size, industry and market, there was only one overlap between all gender-diverse organizations I spoke with. Leadership buy in.
Fostering a culture of inclusiveness starts at the top, Shellye Archambeau, CEO of MetricStream, told me when I interviewed her. Archambeau said modern workplaces must encourage hiring managers and human resources support functions to start looking beyond their traditional networks when creating the talent pipeline. “Recognize and reward managers that are creating diverse teams." It’s a missed business opportunity if your team is homogenous, while your clients and consumers are of different backgrounds and genders.
Archambeau also added something that I now know – but didn't focus on back then nearly as much as I should have – the importance of ethnic and racial diversity alongside gender. She said: “Diversity really helps teams thrive. Even an all-female team of the same ethnicity is not as successful as a mixed team.”
As I've spent more time understanding the unique challenges that women of color face at work since I wrote my book, I'm gaining a deeper understanding of why taking an intersectional approach to workplace diversity and inclusion is critical to drive change for women at work.
For an expanded, in-depth look at women in the workforce, finding diverse talent, and inclusion strategies, you can purchase my book, "The Diversity Advantage," on Amazon. To book me to speak at your event, please inquire here.