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If you are a business or a community leader, if you are someone who hires, or if you simply believe in diversity, you need to read this – though, not for the reason the author probably intended. The impact doesn’t come from the article itself but from the comments following it. The comments, one by one, raw and unfiltered, explain why diversity at all levels and positions in business – for women, in this instance – remains a struggle. The comments offer snapshots into the barriers and biases that thwart diversity.

Full disclosure: I am a woman who feels strongly that diversity and inclusion are good things. A female colleague of mine suggested I read this article because the research it presents shows that women in higher management positions help raise a company’s profitability:

  • McKinsey: “…For every 10% increase in gender diversity, EBIT rose by 3.5% and that ‘companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns beyond their respective national industry medians.’ ”
  • Credit Suisse: Based on analysis of 2,400 companies, “Organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.”
  • Peterson Institute, a US think-tank, and EY, the professional services firm: Based on a study of 21,000 public companies in 91 countries, “…More women in higher management boosted profitability…a company with 30 per cent female leadership could expect to add up to six percentage points to its net margin when compared with a similar business with no female leaders.”

Reading this, I was feeling good, even excited. Pleased about the research.

Then, I read the comments written by professionals, sharing their opinions on Linkedin. Of the 16 comments from eight males and three females, only three (two females, one male) were supportive. The others were negative, skeptical at best, and a few were downright nasty – filled with sarcasm and vitriol. The comments were jarring, especially since they were posted on a public website dedicated to networking and supportive connections. I wasn’t expecting this.

After a bit of serious reflection and a few laps around the block to quiet my outrage, I decided to show you some of the comments. I grouped them (all male, one female) into three categories for your consideration:

  • Mocking women’s abilities:
    • “This has to be a satire.”
    • “Lol. Repeating the same garbage like parrots isn’t going to prove your point…you know how you get more sales, you hire the best person for the job, period. Is the writer insinuating that women can’t hack it when compared to men? Otherwise she’d be arguing for that same thing.”
    • “Does the research suggest that corporate profits will be maximized if 100% of board & executive positions are occupied by women?”
      • “Why settle down for 100%? Let’s go for 250% at least. #notenough.”
  • Degrading the research:
    • “We can safely dismiss McKinsey surveys as an exercise in torturing the data til it confesses…McKinsey data is based on surveys and is no more than a collection of opinions.”
    • “Yes, we trust McKinsey and its new politically motivated research cranked out by feminists. Don’t believe your lying eyes if they contradict McKinsey ‘research.’ ”
  • Minimizing the reality and complexity of gender discrimination:
    • “I’ve brought more to the table due to my manufacturing shop floor and engineering experience than being a woman…Demographic diversity too often leads to stifling of the exchanges that lead to innovation when diversity becomes a virtue in and of itself enforced by strict ideological guidelines.”
    • “Women are underrepresented because they are judged by their sex. This article’s solution to that problem is MORE judging people by their sex…True diversity is when people are not judged by irrelevant criteria such as sex.”

I know these comments are from a small sampling of people. I don’t believe for a second they represent most men’s (or women’s) views about women. But, they do provide insight into the hurdles diversity faces in the workplace. They could have been talking about any minority group, but these men were talking about women. The same women who are their mothers, wives and daughters – women they likely love and admire in their private lives. And, yet, publicly they profess bias against working with women, seemingly oblivious to the inherent paradox. One can only assume these men carry their biases in their briefcases to the office each day, ready to use against the women they work with, perhaps with subtle remarks or overt actions.

Leaders, at any level in the organization, cannot tolerate this. They must step in. They must ensure the workplace they are responsible for is accepting and safe for every individual who works there. Leaders must also ensure that hiring practices and performance measurement systems are fair, unbiased, and provide every individual with equal opportunity. In addition, leaders must visibly and consistently talk about and demonstrate their advocacy for diversity – from the policies and practices they support or establish to the composition of their leadership teams to their public and private conversations. Leaders set the tone. Diversity starts at the top and trickles down from there.

Though leaders must set the example, each of us has a responsibility to speak out and do our share. Diversity is not a nice to have. It is essential to the success and wellbeing of individuals, businesses, our communities and our country.

Contact us and we can help you further understand how to foster an environment where diversity and equal opportunity thrive.