I’ve been meaning to talk with you, he said, as I was exiting the double doors of the conference room. My chest swelled. This senior executive wanted to talk with me? I responded, Sure thing. And then he said, Can you arrange for a few Super Shuttles to take us to dinner tonight? Shaking off my surprise like a water off a rubber ducky, I replied, No problem, I’ll take care of it. I am not above arranging transportation but my immediate thought was, of everyone here, what made me the best person for that task? My second thought was, were I a (white) male would you have asked me to do this? Furthermore, isn’t there an admin who handles such things?
It’s hard enough to be the single female, but toss in black and your seat at the table can be mistaken for the court reporter. Or the person who will ask the hotel staff to bring more coffee. Or the person who will collect all the flip charts and pens at the end of the session, never mind the fact that you prepared the slides, ran the session, and documented all of the action items.
I recently attended a meeting with THE SENATORS. There were 28 attendees, 5 of which were female. Of the five, TWO were black females. I was not the only. At one point in the discussion, the comment was made, look around the room, we are at 20% (diversity) at best? A male colleague leans over and whispers to me, does this make you uncomfortable? Now, if I had been quicker on my feet I would have said, it should make everyone in this room uncomfortable, especially HR because she cannot explain what we are doing to fix it. Instead I said, A little. It makes me wonder how many years you all have been having this conversation. Everyone in the room should be uncomfortable. But how can you feel discomfort when you look around and everyone looks like you? It is shameful to be in 2017 the book barely closed on President Barack Obama’s service as a two-term president and in a corporate boardroom we are discussing diversity and inclusion. We are still uncertain how to find qualified candidates. Unsure where to look. As if we are on a scavenger hunt. I scanned the room and thought, there are five women and two of them are black. Is there really a mystery as to why we have an imbalance in gender and diversity?
If leaders with P&L responsibility are not incentivized or required to reach out to communities of color, to identify top talent and bring them into the organization, the composition of the organization will remain 85% white male with women holding the ladder steady while they climb. If women do not promote qualified women, if we do not seek out other women and groom them for the task at hand, we should not expect a different outcome. Change is incumbent upon us, we must build relationships with key influencers and bring the talent with us. Do not merely get through the door and allow it to swing shut behind you. Take someone with you. Mentor. Teach. Lead. Guide. Even if that was not your experience shift the atmosphere for the next woman. Women in leadership is not a purple unicorn, a chimera, an ethereal concept. It is a reality, and one that can only be accomplished when we make it a priority.