Promoting an Inclusive Workplace: Advancing Gender Equality for Emerging Company Founders
By Amy Zhang, Founder of thecommandshift.com
As Founders and Leaders of emerging companies and startups, we hold the power to drive positive change in our organizations and society. While we’ve made significant progress toward gender equality and equal pay, it’s crucial to acknowledge that there is still much work ahead. As we build and shape our teams, addressing social issues like gender discrimination and equal pay among our leaders becomes paramount. In this article, we’ll delve into the challenges organizations face in tackling these issues and underscore the significance of educating and engaging leaders to foster an inclusive and equitable work environment.
This is my story with John*, who taught me the range of people’s understanding when it comes to gender equality.
*name has been changed to protect confidentiality
Recently, I shared a post on LinkedIn about the remarkable journey of the United States Women’s Soccer Team as they fought for equal pay. Little did I know that this post would lead to a spirited discussion with John, a leader in his field, who posed some thought-provoking questions about equal pay. I was taken aback, and I found myself questioning my role in his journey.
Initially, John’s response seemed supportive as he asked questions and appeared eager to learn. However, I soon realized that his questions were disguised as assertions. He argued that women’s sports shouldn’t receive equal pay as they do not generate the same level of sales. As a businessman, he compared the Women’s Soccer Team to a “failing product” that was “cannibalizing the profits of a higher-performing product” (the Men’s Soccer Team). Moreover, his question implied that justifying equal pay for women should also warrant “a requirement that the women’s product increase sales,” a condition that has never been imposed on Men’s soccer.
Navigating this conversation left me stumped. John was firmly convinced that equal pay depended on profitability, showing no understanding of equal opportunity and systemic marginalization. I questioned where to begin with him—should I address the inaccuracies surrounding US Women’s Soccer and educate him on the profitability of their success? Or should I start with the fundamentals and explain the systemic marginalization faced by various groups, going back to the basics of Title 7? And lastly, I hadn’t decided if I wanted to be part of his journey yet and if it was worth it to me.
Ultimately, I realized that as a coach and consultant, my job is to help others see new perspectives and educate, so I decided to help – but I had to be careful not to appear pushy or confrontational. My coaching style has always taught others to never assume intent and always ask questions. So, I opted for an open dialogue, asking him about his beliefs on equal pay and opportunities for everyone, regardless of gender or race, to understand where he was coming from.
As the conversation progressed, John shared that he grew up in the 70s when “fairness and colorblindness” were buzzwords. He made it clear that he had no patience for what he called “artificial disparities.” There was a gap in his understanding of the complexities of gender discrimination and ongoing systemic inequalities in the US. I ended up presenting real data on US women’s soccer to help inform his perspective and show how they achieved greatness with less support, outperforming the men’s team in revenue, viewership, and sponsorship. I highlighted the disparity in prize money between the two. Although I believe there’s still much progress to be made regarding John’s perspective and that of the world, his last statement to me was that he agreed equal pay should be granted for equal work.
Reflecting on my conversation with John, I realized that we have a long road ahead in understanding gender discrimination and equal pay. Some leaders, like John, might not fully grasp the social issues at hand, and that’s where education and engagement come into play.
While my conversation with John might not have resulted in immediate change, I am hopeful that it planted a seed of awareness. The journey towards equal opportunity and pay for all, irrespective of gender, race, or background, requires persistent effort and continuous dialogue. As I continue sharing my perspective, I am motivated to keep engaging with others, striving to create a more inclusive and equal future for all.
Here are some important lessons for Founders and leaders regarding their leadership and management, along with the significance of recognizing different leadership styles and behaviors:
Beware of Unconscious Bias:
Leaders, like anyone else, may harbor unconscious biases that influence decision-making. Founders should be vigilant about identifying and addressing any biases that might affect hiring, promotions, or compensation decisions within the company.
Watch for Inequality in Opportunities:
Pay close attention to whether certain leaders consistently offer better opportunities or assignments to specific individuals based on factors unrelated to merit or qualifications. Equal opportunity for growth and development is vital for building a diverse and motivated workforce.
Be Wary of Microaggressions:
Microaggressions are subtle, indirect expressions of discrimination or prejudice that can create a toxic work environment. Founders should educate leaders about these behaviors and work to eradicate them to ensure everyone feels valued and respected
Recognize Different Leadership Styles:
Not all leaders are the same, and some may naturally possess more inclusive and empathetic leadership styles, while others might need guidance in fostering inclusivity. Understanding these different styles helps founders better manage their leadership team and provide appropriate support.
Identify Leaders Who Champion Diversity:
Look for leaders who actively promote diversity and inclusion in their teams and departments. These leaders prioritize building diverse teams, creating a culture of inclusivity, and supporting initiatives that promote equity.
Look for Leaders Who Resist Change:
Some leaders may resist efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity due to personal biases or a fear of change. Founders should address resistance through open communication, empathy, and education to facilitate positive transformation.
Be Aware of Tokenism:
Tokenism occurs when individuals from underrepresented groups are included solely to give the appearance of diversity without meaningful inclusion. Founders should ensure that leaders embrace true inclusivity, valuing contributions from diverse perspectives genuinely.
Recognize Leaders Who Lead by Example:
Identify leaders who lead by example, demonstrating a commitment to fairness, equality, and respect for all employees. These leaders set a positive tone for the organization and inspire others to follow suit.
Beware of Leaders Who Create Divisiveness:
Some leaders may inadvertently or intentionally create divisions within the team based on race, gender, or other factors. Founders should address such behavior promptly, as divisiveness hampers collaboration and productivity.
Be Wary of Leaders Who Downplay Diversity Efforts:
Leaders who downplay the importance of diversity and inclusion initiatives can hinder progress in creating a truly inclusive workplace. Founders should communicate the value of diversity and emphasize its positive impact on the organization’s success.
In conclusion, Founders must remain vigilant about the types of leaders within their organization and their impact on promoting diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunities. Recognizing and addressing potential challenges helps Founders foster a more inclusive and thriving work environment, enabling the company to attract and retain a diverse and talented workforce.