Concerns that the #metoo and the Times Up movements have gone too far are rising. We’re hearing that men are ostracizing women from meetings and not including them in conversations out of fear of being accused of doing the wrong thing. In tandem, the “Pence Rule” – where men will not meet 1:1 with a woman without others present – seems to be growing in popularity.
Sheryl Sandberg reacted to this recently, saying, “Don’t want to have dinner alone with a female colleague? Fine. But make access equal: No dinners alone with anyone. Breakfast or lunches for all. Or group dinners only, nothing one-on-one. Whatever you choose, treat women and men equally.” Good point, Sheryl.
Most disturbing of all for me is that these concerns come from women, too. They worry this backlash will exclude them from having a seat at the table. (Although, I don’t know how we could possibly have fewer seats than we already have.) To that end, I recently heard a woman comment that we need to stop reporting on harassment stories. This stopped me in my tracks, as it does not solve the problem or make it go away.
Let me offer an alternative.
The solution needed to normalize relations in the workplace is to make sure the leadership in the company is representative of the population – gender balanced and racially diverse.
I’m not talking about including a token woman on the C-Suite or the Board of Directors. I’m talking about reaching real representation, an equal number of women and men, where diversity through race and ethnicity is the norm. A balanced leadership team sends the right message to managers below them, inspiring both women and men to reach for the top and leading to an atmosphere of tolerance and respect.
It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing. In a recent interview, MIT professor Evan Apfelbaum discussed his work on homogeneous teams. He found that homogenous teams – where everyone thinks and acts alike – are actually dangerous to a company. His research suggests that when teams lack diversity, they will be more susceptible to making flawed decisions.
This is one explanation for findings of a study from The Peterson Institute that reveal a significant correlation between women in corporate leadership and profitability. After surveying 22,000 companies around the world, the study found that companies with at least 30 percent representation of women in senior roles including the C-Suite and the Board showed 15 percent greater profitability than those that did not have any women in executive roles. As it turns out, a lack of gender parity actually hurts a company.
Differing viewpoints are essential to a respectful culture and a healthy bottom line. Sexual discrimination and inappropriate behaviors toward women are by-products of homogenous leadership teams and boards.
Companies that understand this create cultures of inclusion. The companies that have made a public commitment to close the gender gap at the top, like the ParityPledge, are out in front of this issue. These CEOs and their leadership teams are role models—willing to make a public commitment—even before they’ve reached gender parity—that they will work to achieve it. Instead of considering the Pence Rule or something similar, I’m seeing the opposite in these organizations. They’re creating new rules of inclusion, tolerance and respect so that their company will be stronger and smarter. Rather than retreating, they are rising above that, and in so doing are carving a better path for their employees by making gender diversity at the top a priority.
By Cathrin Stickney, founder of Parity.org