A study from Pew Research recently demonstrated that the majority of professionals want to see more women in leadership. The study concluded that many believe that subconscious bias has played a role in stunting diversity. When coupled with insights from McKinsey, these findings make it readily apparent that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially.
Yet, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, companies still seem to struggle. Another McKinsey study revealed that more companies are committed to gender equality than in years past, yet progress will inevitably remain slow unless we address crippling blind spots related to diversity. Subconscious bias can unknowingly stunt a female’s career. Findings from both McKinsey and Catalyst Group found that “men get promoted based on potential and women get promoted based on performance.” This leaves many aspiring female execs left out of the necessary career tracks needed to get ahead. With subconscious biased sometimes they are even unaware that their gender played any role in the decision at all.
So how do we move forward? I recently had the opportunity to chat with Michelle Peluso, an incredibly inspiring leader whose resume covers entrepreneurial success on just about every level. Peluso was the CEO of Travelocity, CEO of Gilt Groupe, is on the board of Nike, and is now the SVP and CMO of IBM.
When I met with Peluso my goal was to gain entrepreneurial advice on how to effectively build a brand. As we chatted, our conversion materialized into an honest discussion centered on the reality of being a woman in a leadership role today. With scores of research supporting the importance of diversity and inclusion, women are incredibly underrepresented in leadership from a numbers standpoint.
The number of female Fortune 500 company CEOs plummeted by 25 percent this year, dipping to only 24 total. When I asked Peluso why she veered from building successful startups to working at a 107-year-old behemoth, a chief motivating factor was the opportunity to work alongside one of those 24 female leaders, Ginni Rometty, and her commitment to build a company that supports women in leadership.
The most interesting part of the conversation transpired when I asked Peluso about her strategy to solve gender equality in the workplace and addressing the female leadership gap. I was slightly taken aback by her response.
“The first thing we need to do,” Peluso said, “is to stop trying to convince everyone that diversity matters.”
Wait, what? Isn’t that the point? How can we possibly achieve inclusion and diversity in the workplace if we can’t get everyone on the same page?
Peluso went on to explain, “we need to stop wasting time with those that don’t find diversity important.” She candidly joked she wished there was a Twitter badge or some other identifier to label individuals who don’t see the value and importance of diversity.
Peluso argues that we can’t afford to focus on people who don’t yet see the value and importance of diversity. For now, she contended, we should focus on the people, especially the men, who do genuinely care about diversity-especially those who care not merely because they believe in being fair, but also because they’ve seen firsthand the value of having a boardroom full of differing opinions and viewpoints.
“I have come across really incredible male leaders who are making a difference when it comes to inclusion,” Peluso told me. “I want to support them and make sure other men who care about diversity see these leaders and can learn from them.” Peluso’s argument was, in hindsight, so obvious. Yet it felt profound. Stop wasting your limited time chasing an uphill battle and, instead, spend your efforts reinforcing and assisting those who care about your mission.
I have seen firsthand the importance of differing viewpoints and collaborative discussions. I have also witnessed many leaders of both genders who agreed with this philosophy and pushed to not only hire a more diverse workforce, but also to build a culture of inclusion. To Michelle Peluso’s main point, if we truly want to make an impact and shift the diversity norms, these are the people to support. Fuel their fire instead of spending all your time trying to spark the attention of those who don’t care or see the value in a diverse workforce.