Promoting Diversity in the Workplace
Highlights from Simeio’s September 23rd “Ask Me Anything Coffee Talk Series”
This week we bring you another timely and informative Coffee Talk session. Last Wednesday’s topic was “Promoting Diversity in the Workplace”. The session hosts were Christie Pugh, Analyst Relations at Solutions at Simeio Solutions, and Kay Chopard Cohen, U.S. Ambassador at Women in Identity. Here are some session highlights.
What have you tried in the past, in an effort to incorporate diversity in the workplace?
According to a 2017 report by ISC 2, only 11% of the global workforce the information security industry is comprised of women. The percentage of CEOs that are women of color is half that percentage. In Fortune 500 companies, there are more CEOs named David, than there are women CEOs. Unfortunately, it’s been this way for decades.
I have been a CEO for various companies for over 25 years, and have tried things that haven’t worked, and it’s difficult to understand why. For example, when hiring for a position, we always tried to have one woman in the candidate pool, yet that didn’t increase the number of women hired. It turns out, Harvard Business Research Institute studied this. They found that, if there is a candidate pool of four people, and one is a woman or person of color, they have zero chance of being hired. The Harvard study found if you have two women in a pool of four individuals, the possibility of hiring a woman increases 79 times. Today, if we are trying to hire women or people of color, our candidate pool will have two or more, and represent half or three-quarters of the application pool.
The same principle applies to teams. We tried having one woman on every team, thinking this would help our diversity. However, that doesn’t work either. The issue is, while you do get a more diverse perspective, the woman’s voice often goes unheard or ignored. There was another study done that evaluated the dynamics of team processes. It found that women in the group were interrupted 75 times more than men, and they were also very limited in being able to speak or participate in the conversations. So, now we try to have women represent fifty percent of a group.
Some of the things we initially thought we were doing right weren’t working until we made those changes. The research information has helped us better understand why and how this process works.
In the past, how have you promoted inclusion of women in the workplace?
One way to accomplish this is based upon whom you select to be the head of a team or working group. Another way to promote inclusion is to move to a consensus platform where everyone has to agree, rather than a majority rule. This allows everyone to have a voice and ensures the minority view is heard because everyone has to be on the same page.
I feel it is essential for the team leader to deliberately listen to the group dynamics, pay attention to who is being interrupted, and whose ideas are getting co-opted. Research shows that often when a woman has a great idea that no one else is listening to or accepting, it is often picked up by a stronger ‘voice’ in the group who gets the credit. The group leader needs to discern these situations and take control, so this doesn’t happen.
And by the way, other people in the group should stand up and acknowledge when someone is not being heard. When we stand up for people who are being overlooked or overrun because of gender or racial bias, those actions build their confidence and assurance in the process. Women, or people of color, aren’t going to solve these problems by themselves. We all have to come together and recognize that we do better work, have better products, and more successful companies when diversity works.
What are some actions you recommend to deal with these situations?
If someone is interrupting you, they may not even be aware of what they are doing. You can politely say to them, “can you hold that thought for a minute, I’d like to get my idea out there”. Sometimes when no one has picked up on an idea of mine, but then someone else has that very same idea, I’ve spoken up and said, “yea, that’s what I was trying to say, and so-and-so clearly articulated it better than I did. But I think that’s a really great idea”.
As I mentioned earlier, I think having a process based on consensus, rather than majority rule, helps overcome some of these challenges. But there are times when you may need to express your concerns privately with the group leader. Sometimes it might be better to find allies that are supportive of you, and talk with them individually, outside of the group. You can offer suggestions, or just find out if they have noticed the same things happening, and how it makes them feel.
Being the smartest person in the room doesn’t help in these situations. It’s not a competition, but rather how we communicate and interact with each other. You should aim for a posture of being assertive, without being divisive. Maintain a patient determination to be heard, rather than giving in.
Not only is it my experience, but research has shown, the best way to help avoid these problems of gender and racial imbalance, is to strive for a more balanced team, racially and gender-wise.
What are some challenging situations in the workplace you have had to overcome?
When I first began my career, I had a boss who called me into his office and said I was argumentative, aggressive, adversarial and arrogant. And he said those are just the “A” words. I realized he was saying I was not acting the way women are ‘supposed’ to act. My background was as an attorney, so in that context, these adjectives were actually complimentary. But I had to find ways to be more diplomatic.
At this same company, my boss recommended me for a promotion. However, his supervisor was a woman who lobbied against my promotion, so I ended up leaving the company. Much of what we experience when we are not listened to or progressed within an organization, is because of cultural biases that have been ingrained in us. We, as a society, have a mutual responsibility to change, in order to promote the equal opportunity and welfare of all.
For more information about becoming a member of Women in Identity, or to learn more about workforce diversity and inclusion from the Women in Identity organization, click here.
We’ve just touched upon some of the conversation. If you want to learn more, you can watch this, and other on-demand Coffee Talk sessions at https://www.brighttalk.com/channel/17142.
We hope you can join our next Coffee Talk where you can chat with IAM experts, ask questions and gain insights into how you can lower operational costs, and achieve greater security and privacy using IAM. Click here to sign-up.