August 31, 2011 by Ilene H. Lang
How do you approach your boss or other leaders about the value of diversity in a work environment that doesn’t think it’s important?
This is a vital question—and I believe it merits a frank response, with input from a range of experts.
Catalyst’s researchers and consultants—experts on women’s leadership and inclusion—work on the front lines with companies and employees to change workplaces and lives. Practical, real-life solutions are their currency. Below are some suggestions on how to say something—and do something—from three Catalyst All-Stars:
Brande Stellings, J.D.: “If you’re starting from scratch at a place where no one gets it, it’s best to start with how diversity benefits the whole company and everyone in it. If you’re a high performer, I’d work from that angle—something along the lines of: ‘I love this company, and I want to make my career here, but when I look up I don’t see anyone who looks like me. Is there a place for someone like me here?’ See what kind of response you get. And I would try to find allies. Are there like-minded women? Counter the old boy’s club by starting your own informal women’s network. Meet regularly for lunch with other high performers—talk up each other during meetings and in the hallways.”
Laura Sabattini, Ph.D.: “Every organization, culture, and team is different, and sometimes an approach that works in one place doesn’t work in another. Carefully observe the environment to figure out how best to communicate with the leadership. Alternatively, find a trustworthy person within the organization to ask for recommendations on how to approach the topic.”
Meryle Mahrer Kaplan, Ph.D.: “Complaining is not likely the best strategy—unless you are in a position to be the messenger who cites meaningful data in a way that is helpful to the company, or if you have allies who will take you seriously and see your commitment to the organization in the process. If not, or in addition, consider how to show off your strengths and your commitment. Volunteer to do a tough job that others are not interested in. Invite feedback. Champion others. Think about the stereotypes and assumptions that people may have about you and confront them: You just had a child and your colleagues might assume you don’t want to travel? Speak up!” --- The bottom line: be strategic. Lead with action—you can make a difference.