Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions — tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusivity.
- Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
- Inclusivity: bringing others along in the journey.
How To Get Executive Buy-In For Intersectional Gender Equity
There’s a lack of diversity in my company. It’s obvious to me but leadership seems unconcerned. Should I bring this up to them? How? I’m an individual contributor and mostly try to stay in my lane.
Thank you for the question and before I dive into the answer, I want to remind you that leadership needs to own diversity, equity, and inclusion. They control budgets, systems, and processes. And since intersectional gender inequity is a systemic problem, not an individual one, company leadership sets the pace for progress toward DEI.
In other words, executive buy-in for DEI is critical. Besides, it doesn’t make sense to ask employees, especially those burdened by the weight of inequity, to fix a system they didn’t break. (It’s a recipe for burnout at a time when 72% of employees say they’re currently overworked.)
That said, because you appear committed to improving your workplace through DEI, let’s walk through three key points to help you signal to leadership why they should care about intersectional gender equity.
Key point #1: Complaining is not the same as problem-solving
A problem only exists if there is a difference between what is actually happening and what you desire to be happening, according to Kenneth H. Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager.
You, me, and many others recognize intersectional gender inequity in the workplace as a problem. Not everyone sees it this way. So when you go to your leadership team, frame the conversation as “here’s where we’re at” and “here’s where we should be.”
Make the problem obvious by describing the current (suboptimal) situation AND the ideal after state.
If you only mention the former, you’re complaining. Complaining is not the same as problem-solving, and executives respond better to problem-solving than complaining.
Key point #2: Quantify the cost of inequity
Language helps us communicate. Speaking the same language helps us communicate better. So speak the same language as leadership by translating DEI into financial terms:
For every 10% increase in intersectional gender equity, companies can increase their revenues by 1% to 2%.
Show your executive team how intersectional gender equity is an investment because it improves business performance. It’s not a cost center. It’s a business imperative.
When something is a business imperative, it isn’t siloed inside a single department or condensed into a point-in-time training. Business imperatives are integrated into every part of an organization. They are meticulously measured and tracked against quantifiable goals. Which brings us to the next point…
Key point #3: You need data to close intersectional gender equity gaps
Only half of organizations set formal DEI targets and less than half (42%) of companies have documented, long-term strategies to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion at their companies.
Without DEI metrics, how can you quantify the size of the problem? How can you even be certain you have a problem? How do you measure progress between where you are now and where you want to go?
Without metrics, you have to rely on perception. And as Accenture found, perception isn’t a reliable measuring stick.
If you ask senior leaders, they’ll say that only 2% of their workforce doesn’t feel included. But if you ask employees, fully 20% say they don’t feel included. That’s a 10x perception gap.
Moreover, 68% of senior leaders say they create inclusive environments for their employees, but only 36% of workers agree.
If you decide to talk to leadership about the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion at your company, remind them of the importance of using objective metrics to benchmark and measure progress. Relying on gut feelings and perceptions won’t cut it.
At the end of the day, the responsibility for closing equity gaps rests with those in positions of power. It is my hope that your bravery will catalyze progress toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.