Episode 219: Best Practices for Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives
By Will Bachman
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We just heard from today’s guest, Ripa Rashid, the Managing Director at Culture At Work, which works with Global 500 organizations to build cultural change strategies to maximize their Diversity and Inclusion efforts while generating positive business results.
Ripa is the co-author of three books: Disrupt Bias, Drive Value (Center for Talent Innovation, 2017), Growing Global Executives: The New Competencies (Center for Talent Innovation, 2015), and Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women Are the Solution (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011)
She is featured often in the media as a thought leader, and has appeared on BBC, NPR, CNN, CNBC, Harvard Business Review, and Bloomberg. She is cited widely in mainstream and management publications such as The Economist, Forbes, Huffington Post, Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, HR Matters and South China Morning Post.
In this episode Ripa explains to me what the research shows on the benefits of increasing diversity in the workplace, and what diversity and inclusion initiatives tend to be the most successful.
Will Bachman: Hello Ripa, welcome to the show.
Ripa Rashid: Will, thank you for having me.
Will Bachman: Ripa, I want to start, help unpack for me, the term diversity, when we talk about diversity inclusion. What are we really talking about here? It’s not diversity across every dimension, right? We’re not trying to get low IQ people into our workforce, right? I mean, that would be diversity, but that’s not what we’re looking for. So, what specific dimensions are we talking about when we talk about diversity?
Ripa Rashid: That’s a great question, and let me start by framing it as my work really defines this in the context of the workplace, corporate America, and more broadly, the corporate white collar environment of global organizations. What diversity means there is really the representation of populations of individuals that reflect the demographics of consumers and the talent pool. The marketplace and the talent marketplace. That’s what diversity is. I think what you’ll find increasingly, is the pairing of the diversity with the word inclusion, and diversity and inclusion has morphed now in many organizations into inclusion and diversity. Sometimes the word diversity has been taken out altogether, and people are now entitled Chief Inclusion Officers or Chief Inclusion and Collaboration and Culture Officers. So, there’s real flux and morphing in the definition.
But I will leave you with a very short definition. It’s from Verna Myers, who is now the head of culture and diversity and inclusion, we’ll have to check her exact title, at Netflix. She is a Harvard trained lawyer, and she’s always defined it as diversity is being asked to the dance, so being invited to the dance, and inclusion is being asked to dance. Meaning actually being engaged once they’re inside the walls of that organization.
Will Bachman: Okay. And then, in terms of when you talk about the demographics of the talent pool and of the consumers that you’re serving, what dimensions are we primarily talking about? Is it getting more women at top ranks? Is it more African Americans? More Hispanics? There may be some dimensions that are part of the talent pool, like a political diversity or socioeconomic diversity, both kind of a corporate environment, or are we trying to get geographic diversity? More people from certain parts of the country? Which groups are we talking about primarily?
Ripa Rashid: The common denominator for most organizations around this is gender, because women have been 60% of college graduates, in fact women have been the majority of college graduates in the US since 1987, and we’re still only 6% CEOs and 23% of the C-Suite, of which most are HR roles. So, there’s still a huge under representation in terms of decision making roles for women. Gender is the common denominator. Others in specific professions like teaching, nursing, human resources, which are female … they’re female uber representation, the vast majority of professions you will see a steady decline in the representation of women as you go up the hierarchy. So, gender is a common denominator.
In the United States, ethnic minorities, and we’re actually talking about … you asked a good question, is it African Americans, is it Latinos, is it Asians? It’s actually all three categories. The issues are different for each category of ethnic minority. In fact, I’ve been having some recent conversations with clients where they’re actually shying away from the current minority as the US moves toward becoming a so called majority/minority nation. As certain states like California are already majority/minority, what does it mean to be a minority?
But, in the corporate context, where I play, this really is around under representation of people of color overall, at leadership ranks, and then in the high point, it is primarily LatinX and African American populations that are not necessarily reflective of the talent that is being generated either by higher education or just in our population overall.
Will Bachman: Okay.
Ripa Rashid: But the other dimensions are really … there is a more forward thinking companies that are really ahead of the curve. They’re thinking of other dimensions of difference. There’s neuro-diversity, this is really looking at how do you … you mentioned do we really need to have everyone in the workplace? And the idea is we need to have everyone in the workplace who wants to be there and contribute in some way. Neuro-diversity has become a really interesting dimension of it, and there are certain organizations out there who are creating workforces of people who are on the spectrum of Autism, and they’re incredibly good at certain kinds of tasks. Large corporations are now hiring these pools to do certain kinds of analytic tasks, process driven tasks, which are great strengths for certain Autistic populations.
That’s the very cutting edge, and in between other elements of diversity that are looked at are things like veterans status for instance. You might qualify yourself in that category. There’s also looking at generational diversity in the workplace, organizations like Ernst and Young and Deloitte, the big four, those are now 70% Millennials. What does that mean for Gen Xers like us and Boomers who came before us, we’re now becoming minorities in terms of culture and what our opportunities are.
There’s multiple dimensions, and we find that when you go global around this, the ethnic minority category is obviously very US specific one, but we’ve started to track some data on minority populations in Western Europe and in Latin America, and we find very similar dynamics, both in terms of representation and cultural issues and barriers as ethnic minorities in the US. But the common denominators and entry points for the conversation outside of the US really are still around gender. And now, increasingly around generations and parenting. Parenting is another common denominator. That is a new dimension of the diversity inclusion space if you will.
So, it’s a constantly morphing set of boundaries here.
Will Bachman: Okay. So, parenting in terms of trying to have a diversity of both childless as well as employees who have kids? Is that what we mean?
Ripa Rashid: Well, the workplace has been designed to assume that workers are … the met men model, that workers are traditional white males in the 1950s who have a stay at home wife in the suburbs. That is where contemporary work paradigms in America and beyond, the idea of having to have a full life where you have … you are a parent and will have responsibilities requiring you to take parental leave or a Sabbatical or have flexibility. Those are things that have not by any means been baked into the design of work today. So, a lot of what diversity inclusion does is try to fix that and create the solutions that evolve the work model to one where the workforce is not primarily white men with stay at home wives. Today we have a workforce that is vastly more diverse. 48% of the entry levels of large corporations are women. Men and women are choosing to be more involved in parenting, so the parenting groups are very interesting.
I just had a conversation with a client yesterday, one of the world’s largest insurance firms, and they are starting a parenting group. One of the pieces of counsel we gave them was, it’s great they’re doing that, because what we find is that when new parents come back to the workplace, they’re addressing a different set of challenges. Having some kind of network internally, getting advice around nannies, support groups, lactation rooms, men being more involved as parents, babysitters, all that stuff helps create community and engagement among the workers.
But the other dimension we urged this client to consider is beyond just parenting, caregiving. The United States and Western Europe have increasingly aging populations, and so increasingly, we’ll find people in our generation are going to be crunched. We’ll have eldercare responsibilities as well as child care responsibilities at the same time. How does that all fit in with the work? People no longer want to choose between work and life. They want to have both. And they want to have ways to create autonomy in decision rights, so they can flourish in both dimensions. That’s really where I think my fascination and passion for this space comes in. I came into this really as someone who had been in a very male dominated environment in management consulting. An environment you know as well. From the gender perspective. But I’ve stayed in it, because I think what we do in diversity and inclusion, we’re futurists, we’re really about the future of work and how we, as human beings in 2019 and 2020, create meaning and contribute to the society in our lives. That’s what this field is about. It’s about how do we create the environment where we can be the people we want to be?
Will Bachman: Yeah. Could you help me summarize the literature on the following question. For a board that was deciding among multiple different places to put investment energy, as we’re thinking about diversity inclusion, let’s take just gender in particular. I imagine that work has been done to say for companies that increase their representation of gender, more women on the board, more women at senior ranks, looking at the outcomes of that. I can imagine that if you think it were just multiple choice being collectively exhaustive, there’s three possible answers that you could … it may be the case that if companies that increase their gender representation to new levels, actually have better financial results or better performance? In that case, obviously it would be a very positive argument for doing it.
You could say that it actually doesn’t make much difference in the financial results, and that would actually probably still be a positive reason to do it, just for equity reasons, right? We should do this, it’s a good thing, it’s the right thing to do and it doesn’t hurt our results.
Or the outcomes could be actually companies do worse, where they might say we’re even willing to accept worse results, because it’s equity, it’s the right thing to do, but I don’t have any sense of what the answer is, is it kind of A, B, or C? Or maybe a fourth answer is, it’s just too hard to sort out, there’s too many confounding factors. Can you help us understand what has been the impact on companies that make an effort to increase gender representation? Does it make a difference? And what is that impact?
Ripa Rashid: I’m so glad you asked that question, because it still surprises me that people aren’t aware of the data that has been around for over 20 years, and been repeated in dataset after dataset after dataset. Gender diversity in companies, actually translates into ROI, better financial results. So, I’ll tell you the data from McKinsey, which has been around, shows that gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers. Ethnically diverse companies, they’re 35% more likely to do so. That data has been around forever. Catalyst has been tracking gender diversity’s impact on return on equity and return on investment for companies, and it’s about a third increase for companies in the top quartile in terms of gender diversity at the top.
That number has been there over and over. The more recent version of this, because the hard numbers are great, but you need to add some other elements, so what I call … you’re essentially asking me about what is the business case for diversity? Is there one?
There has been some really great recent studies around this. I did one of them myself, where we really looked at how diversity inclusion drove innovation, as well as bottom line results through some other metrics, other than just traditional ROE and ROI. We did a piece of research which found that companies that had both what we call inherent diversity, those are the kinds of diversity that we’re attracting more traditionally, ethnicity, gender, things that are usually visible. As well as acquired diversity, and that acquired diversity is the type of diversity you get from having lived in another country, so some kind of cultural fluency. Or having been a veteran and coming into the corporate workforce or vice versa. That gives you a sense of openness and inclusion that people who have been in homogeneous environments do not.
When companies have both the first type of diversity, inherent and acquired diversity, we call that two dimensional diversity, at the top of the house, there are some very specific things that happen. They are 75% more likely to capture new markets, and they are 35% more likely to grow in their existing markets. So, there are numbers. These numbers have been out there forever.
I think I’ve never seen any numbers in the 15 years in my profession that show a downside of diversity and inclusion in terms of representation and in class. I’d be hard pressed to think of a single study. The only downside that has come up is that diverse teams are often more complicated to manage. It takes longer to get to decision making. You might be able to speak from that from your own experience managing teams. I certainly have seen that. Groupthink is a lot easier to manage than multiplicity of voices and discourse.
But, time and time again, the results and outcomes are better. There was a study done at London Business School by Elizabeth Cueon, a professor, where she took 50 teams in multinational companies, and she found that teams that were the best performing in terms of outcomes, in terms of innovation outcomes, were 50/50 balanced gender balanced teams. Those teams often took a little longer to gel, because there’s the norming and the storming aspects of teams, but you’ll get a much better result every single time.
Will Bachman: So, with all these different dimensions of diversity to think about, you talked about parent status diversity, gender, different groups such as African Americans or LatinX, whether you’ve worked overseas or not, if you speak foreign languages and have had international experiences, kind of neuro-diversity, how should senior leaders think about prioritizing all those? If they have kind of one extra, one open spot on the senior team, and you have all these different dimensions, okay which do we try to prioritize?
Ripa Rashid: I think you need to look around at what your context is right now, and what is your business priority? There is no one right answer for this. So, if you’re an organization that already has let’s say three women on your board, and very limited ethnic diversity, that might be a direction you want to go in. If you already have achieved kind of ethnic diversity and gender diversity, you might go broader. So, it really depends on what your starting point is. If your starting point, this year was the first year that every single company in the S&P 500 has a woman on its board. There was one hold out company that had an all male board, and they decided, “Oh, we can’t be the only hold out in the S&P 500.” And they actually went out and made a very active effort to recruit a female board member. That was their priority. They did not want their brand to be associated with the hold out in the S&P 500. So, it really depends on what you’re trying to achieve out of this from a business perspective.
But the starting points are always going to be gender and then the next point, and I think that’s becoming increasingly important, and where the lag still is phenomenally huge, is around the ethnic representation, minority representation in very senior ranks. I mean, we find it industry after industry, organization after organization, that the gains of civil rights, the gains of the feminist movement, the gains of diversity and inclusion as a profession, have been necruing primarily to women, but primarily the white women. The groups that have been left out of that one, are the “ethnic minority”. Ethnically and racially diverse is another term I’ve heard recently.
But also, we need to really understand where kind of white men fit into this picture, because you’ve seen phenomena like James De Moray, who wrote his piece in 2017 about Google’s ideological eco chamber, which really slammed Google’s diversity efforts and made some very dubious remarks about differentiated abilities by gender, etc. but he was a cry for help around, as a white man, is the slice of pie for me, what does this mean for me in terms of my opportunity arises to help? Am I not part of the future?
Will Bachman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). On that, I think you’ve said before that this really requires a culture change, how do you structure a diversity and inclusion program, or consulting project with a client? What are the main stages, if you will? If a company is saying, “Hey, we want to increase our diversity and inclusion performance, we want to get better at this.” How do you help them on that path? What are the main steps on that journey?
Ripa Rashid: Yeah. Well, traditionally, the way companies have done it, which is why corporate America spends $16 billion a year on diversity and inclusion, but still has had, sadly, not very spectacular results. Leadership still remains pale, male and sorry to say, somewhat stale at the very top. Because traditionally the way diversity and inclusion programs have been structured, have been based on a couple of factors. One, benchmarking with my peer group. I’m Goldman Sachs, what is Morgan Stanley doing? What’s Merrill doing, etc. Or I am a pharma company, what are my peer pharma companies doing?
They’ve also been based on looking at some of the lagging indicators around what’s my attrition rate? What’s my promotion rates? What are the gaps? What can I do?
Then they’ve looked at some external research. Okay, so what’s driving those gaps that I’m seeing in terms of promotions and retention and attrition? That’s all good, but it isn’t enough. What we’re really advocating for organizations to do, and we work with about 15 to 20 forward thinking companies a year, hopefully many more, but we’re still small and starting out, and have been in business for about 10 years, but really under our current brand for the last year. Our real point of view here is that you’ve got to have the benchmarks, that’s great. But frankly, nobody in your peer group is working for this. No one’s done this really well. So, doing the same program that bank A is doing if I’m bank B, isn’t really going to help you move the needle. It’s going to help you maybe not get worse, but it won’t help you get better. Same with the data around you need the data around what the gaps are to fill, but what you really need from our perspective is to listen to the voice of your employees.
Take the example of you would never go to market with a product without doing some kind of user testing. Unilever is not going to launch a new shampoo without testing the market. Every single day, companies go out and introduce programs around people, around talent, around culture, without necessarily asking the recipients, the market, for those programs, what they need. They think they are doing it, because they’re doing employee engagement surveys, but we’ve all been in organizations where we’ve filled those in, and employee engagement surveys are at best, they’re very shallow and wide measure of how things are going, and frankly, employee engagement surveys have been giving the thumbs up to organizations on you’re doing okay for years, but still MeToo happened, misconduct happened, bias happened, and all kinds of inequities happened.
Engagement surveys are not an adequate measure for listening to your people. What we do is, we actually listen to organizations and employees differently. We’ve developed a tool called an employee voice session. These are anonymous, online focus groups, where up to 50 people can be on real time, on a live session, like what you and I are doing, but they’re on a computer, where they are taken through 15 screens of questions. Everything from survey questions which are yes/no, scaled questions, Likert scale questions, but also answering anonymously into chat rooms.
These are moderated sessions by myself or my team of experts, who are all researchers, practitioners, who when they see a response, for instance, if we ask a question around how ambitious are you? And you have a five point scale, and people are putting in their responses, “I’m very ambitious, extremely ambitious, not ambitious at all.” We have a chat room which says, describe what drives your ambition. And then people will respond anonymously “My ambition is driven by the thought that I grew up as the only girl in a family of etc, etc.”
Our experts can probe into that and say, “Well, how does your ambition play out here in your current environment? Do you feel you can reach your ambition at this organization?” So we can actually do the best of both worlds of a survey and a focus group. Traditional surveys leave you with more questions than you have answers. Why did people answer this that way?
Focus groups don’t give you the numbers. They just give you a bunch of really deep, meaningful insights, but you don’t know how prevalent they are. You also don’t know if people have actually told you the truth, because these a participant dynamic that goes on if you’re sitting next to a colleague, you may not want to really be candid. So, we developed these employee voice sessions to really correct for some of the gaps in other ways of listening to your employees. So, we ask, in a very specific way, and in an anonymous safe space, we ask in a way that’s real time, so it’s iterative, we ask quantitative and qualitative questions, and we also do it across sample size that you can extrapolate from, so you get a real portrait of your culture.
We did this recently for a global law firm, and the managing partner of the law firm, we did 31 of these sessions across 15 geographies, spent a couple of months digesting it, analyzing it, working with his internal team to really build a story, an interpretation around it, and we shared the findings. I asked him after he’d gone through all of the details, we had 500 plus in the conversation, and I said, “How did that make you feel?” Because there was some really good news in this portrait of the culture that we showed, which was that the associates at this firm have loved working for an amazing global firm where the opportunities were constantly evolving in new domains, they loved the caliber of their colleagues, but they also felt that there were certain real issues that I won’t go into, in the culture around equity inclusion bias.
When I asked the managing partner, How did you feel? He said, “This was hard. This was hard for me as the leader of this organization to have this portrait, this mirror, of what my people are feeling. But I am so glad we did this exercise, because all these years we’ve been doing other kinds of surveys and focus groups, and I have never felt that I have seen my organization in the true light before. Thank you.
This is the kind of thing that helps me wake up in the morning. That’s the kind of thing I want to do. I want leaders to be able to see the reality of their culture, what the good stuff is, as well as what they could do, because at the end of the day, what every leader in every organization wants to do is motivate and create engaged committed people who are happy. Are happy and gain meaning and purpose out of waking up every morning and coming to work there. So, if there are gaps, there are amazing opportunities for leaders to discover. That’s what we try to do, is create these rich quantitative, qualitative portraits, which are numbers and narratives, that help move organizations both from an intellectual perspective, because you know, as an ex management consultant like myself, you know that change management is about the head, the heart, and then what my old boss used to say, the hand.
The head is about intellectual aspects, we really need to do this because it’s important from a numbers perspective, it’s unfair if we have gaps. The heart is the emotional, the moral. If I were in that situation, how would I feel? And I don’t want my child to go into that environment. If I have a daughter, or a son, I don’t want them to experience a culture like this. That’s the heart. And the hand is really the accountability. What am I going to do about it? What are the solutions? What does it mean in terms of how I behave differently, how I hold people accountable, what kind of support I give them, the training, etc?
Will Bachman: So, having done this sort of research in multiple companies, what do you feel is the primary driver or drivers, the root causes, of the low representation of women at the more senior levels? Particularly if we say, the input to the company is it’s roughly 50/50 women and men employees, and companies that have more women in more senior positions actually perform better, says the research, so what’s the root cause that’s filtering out women on the way up?
Ripa Rashid: There are a couple of trip wires that women experience in the workplace. I actually just was part of a piece of research we published this summer called the gender gap at the top. What’s keeping women from the top of corporate America? And the key factors there were this. One is that there is a kind of internal off ramp that happens for women. From line and profit and loss worlds, the worlds which are in the business of the business, two more back office administrative roles. The clearest example of that at the C-Suite level is being the CHRO versus being the president of a region who reports to the global CEO. So one is a line position, the other one is not a line position.
What we find is that delineation A, is not clear in organizations, and women are much less likely to be in a line role than men. 71% of men in our sample, nationally representative sample, of over 3,000 white collar professionals, were in line profit and loss roles. The number for women, 31%. So, men are more than twice as likely to be in the kinds of roles that position them to get to the very top and to decision making. That’s one.
The second big factor is really around relationship capital and having those advocacy networks and report networks. We find in research time and time again, and I’ve been doing research in this particular space for over a decade now, that women are not building the types of strategic relationships in the workplace that men are. Women and men, equal, even Steven in terms of mentors. 56% of women in corporate America have mentors, 56% of men. So, that doesn’t account for it. The real difference is, in a type of relationship that we’ve called sponsorship, and that’s really a much more invested relationship where someone more senior gets to know a high potential talent, one or two levels below them, and takes a bet on them, invests in them, and says, “Hey, I’m going to be the person in the room advocating for them when they’re not there.” Whether it be in a promotion decision, a pay raise decision, a stretch opportunity or visibility, you become their advocate, and theu do this because, not just out of the goodness of their heart or build the next generation of talent, but because having someone like that is also helpful to a leader.
What we found in the research is that that sponsorship dynamic is a two way street. That leader to have pools of proteges, people that they’re advocating for and getting to know, who are part of their A-Team, are generally also more successful in terms of satisfaction with advancement rate, etc. so, the key thing that we find missing for women is, along with sponsorship, we found in the original research in 2010, it was published as a Harvard Business Review research report called the sponsor effect, breaking through the last glass ceiling, we found that in corporate America, 13% of women have sponsors, and 19% of men.
While that 6% difference may not seem like a massive difference, what happens is, it has a cumulative impact. For every decision point in your career, stretch opportunity, mobility decision, advancement, coming back from a leave and being put on the right assignment, every single one of them is enhanced if you have a sponsor or a pool of sponsors. So, if every single point, that 6% gap makes a difference, that’s what leads to the big gender gap at the top. Those two pieces are the big drivers. The types of roles women take on, as well as the relationship capital, the strategic nature of what we do with that capital and do we have access to it? Women have less access to strategic relationship capital.
Will Bachman: I want to dive into both of these a little bit. In common tools, lean operations is the five why’s. Let’s do that a little bit on number one. So, you talked about how women are more likely to go into staff roles and men are more likely to go into these line roles. But what’s the root cause of that? I mean, I could imagine these a spectrum of reasons, like at one end of the spectrum it’s sort of employer driven, employer saying, “Oh, we think that this person is more suitable to a staff role.” At the other end of the spectrum, it could be employee driven, where people are opting in, like certain people might be fighting harder to get a line position, and some people, maybe women, are, at least the perception could be, more likely to sacrifice, women do more housework, even in two income families, so women might be kind of making strategic choices and positioning themselves for staff roles to have more flexibility.
Where would you see is the root cause of that number one?
Ripa Rashid: You know, it’s interesting that you talk about both what we call, in our research, push factors, which is the stuff that goes on at work, and then the pull factors, which is the stuff that goes on at home, outside of work.
I actually internally off ramped early on in my career when I was a management consultant, from a client facing role. I was at Booz and Company and a media practice that I loved, but for personal reasons, for my first child, I stepped back and took an internal role. It took me a long time to get back into a client facing line role, which is now heading up my own consulting firm as a partner. So, you’re very right, it’s a complicated array of factors. In the research that I just mentioned, these three factors that we unpacked behind what creates that internal off ramp if you will.
It’s one, awareness. Not necessarily knowing as a woman that that decision I made would have very big repercussions further down the line in terms of my income capacity, in terms of my advancement capacity, in terms of my own agency of what I wanted to do. So really not having clarity around any of that. I mean, I don’t think, even after coming out of a top business school, I knew the difference between what those career paths would mean. So that’s one.
Two is, we found that between men and women, men were getting a lot more encouragement to take on those, and this goes into the relationship capital. They had a network of sponsors and mentors, actually with whom they were having more frequent career related conversations. And also, being encouraged more systematically to apply for those kinds of roles that are decision making line roles.
In terms of the pull factors from the research, that was actually true. I think when we were coming up, but I think it’s shifting, because one of the other data points from other research I’ve done is that 40% of women in corporate America, who are at age 40 and making above $100,000, so people who are in their career, who are kind of near the end of their child bearing years, and fairly successful. 40% of them don’t have children. The idea that it’s the housework and the children, it isn’t so. We also find that when we slice and dice our data between women who have children and those who don’t, women without children still lag behind men in terms of professional outcomes. It’s a little smaller, but there’s still a lag, so children are not, and the pull factors at work are not the only dynamic here.
There’s, I think the factors that are going on are still lingering traditional perspectives around what does a leader look like? What is the archetype of a leader? It’s much harder for me as a woman of color, regardless of how many degrees I have and how many books I’ve published, to be viewed as a leader, when 93% of leaders in corporate America are white men. I don’t fit into that paradigm. So the perception of what it is to be a leader is one that is slowly shifting.
In some of the training that I do, I show a slide which has a series of magazine covers from all the top business magazines in the world, Harvard Business Review, Inc., Fortune, pulled from the last five to ten years, and the archetype of leaders that is on those covers is very much a white man between the ages of let’s say 40 and 60. Think of an Elon Musk or a younger Mitt Romney type. That’s the archetype. I’ve been teaching about this for many years now, and this was the first time I taught recently, that one of the associates on my team said, “We need to change this slide, Ripa, because times are changing.” She gave me, on this cover, this slide of a woman who was the first pregnant woman to be shown on the cover of Inc. magazine. She was the CEO of the Wing and had raised over $140 million. She was the first pregnant woman ever to be on the cover of a business magazine anywhere in the world.
Things are changing. Things are changing, but the archetypes are still, unfortunately there. They’re subtle. I hate to use the word unconscious bias, because I think it’s a little overused, and it absolves people of a little bit of responsibility from having to be more inclusive. But there are biases that people walk into every day, and there are stereotypes and assumptions still made about women and people of color. I mean, some of the research we do in companies through the employee voice sessions I mentioned, we find over 50% of women and minorities are still experiencing what I call micro biases. Things like being not included in a water cooler conversation. Not being backed up in a meeting. The traditional one of having your words appropriated, repeated by someone who’s a majority person, and that person getting the credit.
All the way from that, to being given feedback around things like a Latino in one of these sessions said to us, that he was gesturing in something, and his boss said, “Stop gesturing. It looks like you’re doing gang symbols.” So, those kinds of micro explicit biases, are ones that women and ethnic minorities still encounter day in day out and we’re beginning to quantify those. It’s pretty eye opening. A term came to me in an article I was reading recently, about the Salk Institute on the west coast, one of the preeminent scientific research institutes in America, where they actually are contending with a class action suit by female scientists who, over the years, documented systematic bias on many dimensions.
One of the remarks that one of the female senior scientists was part of the suit, said in the New York Times interview really stuck in my heart. It said each of those biases was like a feather. But a ton of feathers still weighs a ton. That’s what I think it feels like to be a minority or “outsider” in corporate America, where the paradigms and design of the whole system, it’s still not designed for us. So, each of those micro biases, one or two you can brush off. But, a ton of them still weighs a ton, and that often makes us either fight harder or say, “You know what? I’m done. I’m going to become an entrepreneur.”
Will Bachman: Yeah. We’ve talked about how you do diagnostic, with the survey tool that you developed, and we’ve talked about some of the primary root causes, both in terms of for some reason, women are more likely to get kind of shifted or steered, potentially, towards staff roles, and also less likely to have that relationship capital. Let’s talk about some of the programs or actions that a company can do that actually work. I can imagine there’s all sorts of things that have been tried, to your point of having a mentorship program for women managers, or implementing different policies regarding maternity leave or parental leave. All sorts of different things you could do, but what have you found are things that actually work?
Ripa Rashid: Well, you know the bottom line here is no organization has gotten it all figured out, right? That’s why we still are where we are. So, there’s no one organization or cluster of organizations that are doing this right. What we do have, are pockets of things that are working really nicely, which has measurable impact, which are moving the needle, if you will.
One set of things around it, and this has been a big positive movement. I wish it had happened in time for me to have kids, but to have equalized parental pay. Sorry, parental leave. Having parental leave accessible both to men and women, both to birth parents and adoptive parents or surrogate, people going through surrogacy. And really not just having it on the books as a policy, but tracking and encouraging uptake of the policy, because you can have all the best policies in the book, but if no one is taking those policies up, it’s not going to have an impact.
We know from actually a piece of research we’re about to launch called best dads, that some companies that have introduced parental leave that’s equalized, and also working on the cultural part of reducing stigmas associated with breaks. Giving people the option to toggle their breaks with their spouse, so taking two weeks here, two weeks there, and really spreading it out over the course of the year. Kind of really giving a lot of flexibility and cultural support around it, also ensuring that you have role models, senior level men or senior level adoptive parents who are taking these leaves and not being penalized for it.
So, all of that is actually leading to really good numbers in some of the professional services, where you have large percentages of new dads now taking the leave. So, equalizing of parental leave is one.
Two, the pay gap stuff. Sales force’s Mark Benioff, I think has been a trendsetter and role model, and I give him a lot of kudos, because his HR lead came to him a couple of years ago and said, “We have real gaps. Women are not being paid equally.” And he had them do a full pay gap analysis, and not only did he do the analysis, he actually allocated funds to close the gap. And they do this in a rigorous way. Now, there’s an entire group of consultants that work with large companies on pay gap analyses and closing those gaps. So really, working on that, because that’s a critical part of the quality of the workplace.
There’s a lot of transparency around it. You need to have accountability though, around the pay gap. In the UK for instance, there was a big move around disclosure of pay gap for financial services firms, and there was a lot of disclosure that happened the first time around last year, when they did it. But, everyone had big gaps. They all shrugged their shoulders and moved on, because there were no penalties and no accountability. No consequences to having the pay gap. So, you’ve got to do pay gap with some kind of consequences and accountability..
The two other things I’ll tell you that I’ve seen work really well, one is around doing sponsorships, really making sure that being a sponsor to an inclusive talent pool, is part of every leader’s competency. So every single one of your leaders should be sponsoring two to three people. And of those two to three people, at least two of them or one of them needs to be someone different. It can’t be a mini-me. Because sponsorship and advocacy in organizations has really followed lines of similarity, which leads to the replication of the traditional paradigm of leadership, which leads us to where we are in 2019.
But, if you can actually create an environment where everybody wins by sponsoring more inclusive pools, the sponsor wins, the person who’s being sponsored, the protégé pool wins, the organization wins by getting better innovation, a more diverse representation on the top with better bottom line outcomes that we talked about, everybody wins. So, creating real sponsorship and a culture of sponsorship that’s inclusive is one we’ve seen large companies like Amex do and really move their numbers on.
The final piece I’ll say, is really around accountability at leadership ranks. It’s the cliché what gets measured gets done, the other cliché, money talks louder than anything. So, you really need to put money and you need to get your leaders involved. PWC has launched a CEO action pledge in the wake of racial atrocities in the US, all the atrocities that happened in 2015, 2016, to really have a pledge for CEOs to commit to certain dimensions of equality in those organizations. It’s an amazing initiative that has now 800 signatory companies.
I think the real impact of that will begin to happen when these people hold each other accountable. If you aren’t able to reach some of the milestones and goals that are provided, that there is some kind of consequence and that the people who are doing it run well, are the ones who are going to win, not just in the marketplace, but in terms of branding, in terms of being employers of choice, and in terms of really being at the forefront of creating the workplaces of the future, where everyone wants to be part of it and not want to run away and create their own separate small universe where a different culture prevails. I think there is real hope in leadership accountability and ownership for these issues. For that I’d say it’s kind of the fourth part of the quadrant of change. The pay gaps a piece, the leave piece, the sponsorship and relationship capital piece, and leadership accountability.
Will Bachman: On the sponsorship piece, I think I’ve seen some articles suggesting that the MeToo movement, admirable in kind of calling out terrible behavior among men, may actually be making sponsorship more difficult or maybe more problematic, where some men are kind of backing off and avoiding taking on a younger woman at the company, for fear of just the perception of that. Tell me your thinking around that, and observations of how to still encourage men to sponsor up and coming women executives and avoid that kind of perception there might be some MeToo stuff going on there.
Ripa Rashid: Yeah. It’s an excellent, excellent and subtle point of the MeToo movement, because I’ve been doing a lot of work with companies in the wake of the MeToo movement to really create better cultures where bias is mitigated and this conduct is mitigated. But this issue has come up all the time, and one of the main issues I’ve heard and adopted about that issue of men being afraid, concerned about the danger, sensitive nature of advocating for more junior women in the wake of MeToo, it’s been called the Mike Pence syndrome. Mike Pence refuses to spend time alone with another woman, right?
Will Bachman: Right.
Ripa Rashid: So, the Mike Pence syndrome is really an unfortunate outcome of the MeToo reality, and it’s one that organizations are raised. We haven’t measured it in terms of impacts yet, but we do find anecdotally and in all my interviews and conversations with leaders in corporate America, that it is an issue. I think the solutions we’ve seen around this is frankly, white men are going to have to sponsor women for the dynamic to change, because they’re still running most of leadership across not just the corporate space and politics, across the board. In every industry. So, if men stop sponsoring women, our progress will stall or reverse. That is just not an option. The option is to make it safe, and make it transparent. And make it in some ways, more of a norm.
Organizations should be professional places. They should not be places where leaders abdicate their responsibility and become the types of predator that Harvey Weinstien, or the Les Moonves’ of the world were, right? What we really, I think suggest is that organizations do not in any way give up on sponsorship, but create environments, ways to do this is to do group sponsorship, so instead of having one on one, have one on two, or one on three. So, have two or three sponsors. Make that pool of sponsors a man and a woman. There are ways to get behind it.
Involve a coach for the sponsor and the protégé. The more structure you put around this, the more transparency, the more of a business imperative, the more you’re going to ward against some of those more sensitive issues. Frankly, I was on CNN when MeToo first broke, talking exactly about this topic. It was one of the first things that came up. I think it’s actually a red herring. It’s one more excuse for a lot of men not to do the right thing, which is … because it’s uncomfortable to advocate for and sponsor across differences. It’s not what anyone’s used to. Very few people are comfortable with sponsoring across differences, across lines of gender, across lines of ethnicity, but the ones that do win. I think if we can make it safe and comfortable, please let’s not use MeToo as an excuse to get away from it.
Will Bachman: All right. Well said. Ripa, you’ve written books, you’re consulting. Where are the best places for people to find out about what you’re doing, and to connect with you?
Ripa Rashid: Oh, my website, www.cultureatwork.com is a great place to go to. We are owned by Working Mother Media, so they have amazing resources as well. And LinkedIn is probably the best place to find me. Ripa Rashid. I’m very responsive if you want to follow me there, send me a message there, I really love to hear how my work is landing, impacting things, and welcome any comments, feedback, and outreach and how I may be helpful.
Will Bachman: Ripa, you’re doing such important work, and it was so informative having you on the show. I really, really appreciate your time.
Ripa Rashid: Oh, thank you so much. It’s been a privilege and so much fun to boot. Thank you.
To Listen to the Podcast, please visit Unleashed Episode 219: Ripa Rashid at Umbrex.com
About the Author
Will Bachman is the Co-Founder of Umbrex- the first global community connecting top-tier independent management consultants with one another. 85% of Umbrex’s members are alums of McKinsey, Bain, or BCG and includes members in over 30 countries.
Will Bachman resides in Astoria, New York and is the creator of Unleashed Podcast: How to Thrive as an Independent Professional. There is a new episode weekly and can be listened to on Umbrex.com, LinkedIn, and Itunes.