It’s always darkest before the dawn. This proverb from the 1600s reminds us not to give up during hard times because things are hardest right before they get better. The current state of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in corporate America feels a lot like the darkness before the dawn.
There is no doubt that we have made progress in D&I over the past few decades. But the progress has been too slow and uneven. We still see too many organizations that lack basic inclusion practices, let alone advanced ones. This is particularly true for organizations led by white men. Organizations aren’t doing a good enough job of creating an inclusive environment, given the daily headlines about sexual harassment, unconscious bias, and racial discrimination.
The good news is that there is a growing movement of inclusive leaders who are committed to creating more diverse and inclusive organizations. These leaders come from all walks of life and all parts of the world. They are men and women, old and young, gay and straight, white and people of color. What sets inclusive leaders apart is their willingness to challenge the status quo, speak up for what’s right, and take action to create change. They are the backbone of the D&I movement. If you’re an inclusive leader, we need you now more than ever. We need you to continue speaking up and taking action to create change. We need you to be the backbone of the D&I movement. If you’re not an inclusive leader, then we need you to become one.
A Flicker of Light in the Darkness
After years of being in denial, some companies are finally starting to face up to the fact that they have a gender pay gap problem. And it’s not just a few companies—according to a recent study, almost half of all businesses in the US have a gender pay gap. The problem is especially prevalent in the tech industry, where women are often paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same job. This was highlighted recently when it was revealed that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff initially disputed the existence of any gender-based wage gaps at his company. But after an internal audit found that women were paid less than men at Salesforce, Benioff acknowledged the problem and said he would take steps to fix it. Equalizing pay wasn’t an easy process, or a cheap one. Salesforce spent $3 million to bring women’s salaries in line with men’s, and it also increased its overall budget for raises by 9 percent.
It’s not just big companies that have a problem with gender pay gaps, though. Small businesses are also often guilty of paying women less than men for doing the same job. In fact, a recent study found that 34 percent of small businesses in the US have a gender pay gap. One of the reasons that gender pay gaps exist is because women are often undervalued in the workforce. This is especially true in male-dominated industries like tech. The good news is that more and more companies are becoming aware of the problem and taking steps to fix it. This is a positive trend that needs to continue if we want to see real change in the way women are treated in the workplace.
It Goes Far Beyond Women and Pay
It’s not just gender-based pay gaps that are hurting American businesses. We need to take off the blinders and denial around the issues of systemic racism, sexism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia in our workplaces. In these cases, we are still woefully behind in making any real progress. For example, a recent study found that only 1 percent of venture-funded tech startup founders are Black. And only 2 percent of startup founders are Latine. This is despite the fact that Black and Latin-American people make up 13.4 percent and 18.3 percent of the US population, respectively. The lack of diversity in tech startups is a reflection of the larger problem in the tech industry, which has been accused of being exclusionary and discriminatory against people who are not white and male.
We need to reckon with the ways these systems of oppression show up in our organizations, and we need to do the hard work of dismantling them. This is not going to be easy, but it’s necessary if we want to create workplaces that are truly inclusive and equitable for all. Organizations that have the will to hold up a mirror to themselves and reckon with their own complicity in these systems of oppression will be the ones that thrive in the years to come. How do we know this? Data show that more inclusive organizations outperform their peers on nearly every metric, from employee engagement to innovation to profitability. Why is this the case? Because organizations that embrace diversity and inclusion are tapping into a vast pool of untapped talent and potential. When we create workplaces that are truly inclusive, everyone wins.
We can no longer afford to ignore the problem of inequality in our workplaces. It’s time for a reckoning. It’s time to face up to the fact that we have a lot of work to do if we want to create workplaces that are safe and welcoming for everyone. It’s time to take action and make real change.
What can you do to help create more inclusive workplaces? Here are a few ideas:
- Educate yourself and others about the systems of oppression that exist in our workplaces.
- Speak up when you see or hear something that is exclusionary, discriminatory, or offensive.
- Challenge your own assumptions and biases about people who are different from you.
- Make an effort to create opportunities for underrepresented groups to succeed in your workplace.
- Support organizations that are working to create more inclusive workplaces.
- Tune out the negative noise of social media that can breed division and hostility.
- Focus on building relationships with people from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.
- Lift as you climb, and use your privilege and platform to create opportunities for others.
This is a call to action for businesses large and small to reckon with their own complicity in systemic racism, sexism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia in the workplace. We need to do the hard work of dismantling these systems of oppression if we want to create workplaces that are truly inclusive and equitable for all. When we all commit to doing our part, we can create workplaces that are truly inclusive and equitable for all. It’s time for leaders to grow a backbone. It’s time for a reckoning.