On March 8, 2022’s International Women’s day, from social media posts with the year’s theme of #breakthebias to the New York Times Crossword puzzle theme of women in history, we saw friends, colleagues and leaders across the country proclaim their respect for and commitment to women. It was inspiring to see. However, let’s remember it is what comes after the day of celebration that really matters. The #metoo movement got the ball rolling beyond a special day or month for women in many ways, but are we still talking about it? My friend Susan’s callout of Uber in her famous blog post in 2017 lit a fire that led to lawsuits and the start of some regulatory changes in the heat of the moment, but when the party is over and we’re sweeping up the confetti, are we still keeping the momentum?
Recently on social media, I saw several fundraising announcements that made it all too clear that many companies are talking the talk but not walking the walk on creating equitable working environments. The dichotomy between the images of those who raised extreme amounts of cash for a pre-PMF (product market fit) company to those who raised modest seed rounds for their post-PMF company was infuriating. The posts about someone’s upcoming participation on a “mannel” (all male panel) or their new Crypto team (left) are cases in point. Why don’t they notice what they are doing?? How do companies allow this to happen? Has anything really changed despite all our efforts for equal rights?
This morning, one of my coaching clients sent me a picture of how he planned to show up at his board meeting today (below, right – shared with permission). It was great to see his solidarity in this moment. In this case, I know Nick’s business, Help Scout, is on the bleeding edge of striving for equality. The company has made conscious efforts to prioritize hiring, culture and product decisions to be sure they remain 100% focused on a diverse team and providing an equitable and inclusive environment for their employees and their customers. They are transparent about how they do this and the metrics they track to stay on top of this focus. More importantly, they keep the beat every single day. Not just during International Women’s Day or Women’s History Month or Black History Month. Every. Damn. Day.
As I looked at the t-shirt Nick was proudly displaying, I asked myself “Do people know that Nick truly lives the slogans on his t-shirt? Are other companies doing what Help Scout does, but not sharing it broadly to inspire? Do other companies that are announcing mannels or their 5th, homogenous, executive hire despite public proclamations that they understand the practical and ethical importance of diversity simply not believe what they are saying?? Do I give them a pass and hope they’re working hard every day just like the team at Help Scout? Or, do I call it out when I see it? Do I run the risk of getting dismissed as a “salty old broad” or keep challenging this behavior because I just have to do what it takes?” Every. Damn. Day.
My dear friend Kim Scott’s voice rings in my head frequently reminding me to care personally, to challenge directly and not to display obnoxious aggression. I try to embrace Radical Candor every chance I can (I promise, Kim!), but there are days where I don’t care personally. I am fed up. Tired. Pissed off. I’ve been at this business of combatting bias, sexism, gaslighting and outright discrimination for over three decades. It’s exhausting! I have hope, though. I see more action than I have ever seen. Part of what gives me hope are, to borrow a phrase from Kim’s new book Just Work, “upstanders” like Nick. I don’t have to do all the work, leaders who identify as men understand that they will find more success and also do the right thing by hiring and promoting more diverse people.
The young people I work with also inspire me. I was conducting office hours with an exceptional student of mine the other day who is a Freshman at Harvard and cross-registered in my graduate-level course. As a young woman of color, she is breaking barriers in many ways. She aspires to be an entrepreneur and can actually believe that this is possible for her. When I was her age, few women dared to have the hopes and dreams that she has. The stories about how I was treated in the executive conference room when I was a college intern would shock her. The kinds of egregious things that happened all the time 30 years ago are unimaginable to young people today.
I have tremendous hope for her and her generation of women; for my own three daughters who are already fighting this fight in their early adulthood, and have far more options (and regulations and guardrails) than I ever did at their age. We are shifting, albeit slower than I’d prefer. What can I say, anyone who really knows me knows that I am impatient as hell!
So I ask you, what are you doing on March 9, the day after International Woman’s Day, to affect change? How about on April 1, when Women’s History Month is another moment in the history books? How will you continue to foster growth of your teams and embrace diversity “Every. Damn. Day”? For me, I will continue to push every daily, but also remind myself that change is happening, and celebrate it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I just hope I am around long enough to see what broken bias really looks like. When this topic is no longer a “thing”. That the shift has happened and things ARE in fact as they should be. Equal and just.