A colleague suggested that we might attract more people, particularly men, to our cause if we emphasize, not gender diversity, but the business benefits of gender inclusion. Another author and facilitator reminded me that we get better results by focusing on what we want rather than on the “problem” we are trying to solve. Help me apply these two insights. If we invite people to a workshop about organizational culture and results, do we indicate up front, or once they are in the room, that the drivers we focus on are inclusive leadership and gender diversity? I want to focus on the desired outcome (businesses that thrive because of gender diversity) and not the “problem” (unconscious gender bias). How do we effectively address unconscious bias?
In a recent luncheon conversation, I had the impact we aim for in our diversity training. I was speaking with an attorney about the disappointing pace of achieving gender diversity in the legal profession. He asked me why I think law firms have not been more successful in promoting and retaining women at the partnership and leadership levels. I noted that McKinsey & Co. says the reason is unacknowledged “mindsets.” Asked for an example, I talked about what I call the “comfort principle.” He left our lunch aware of how important comfort is in getting opportunities at work. Awareness of this and other “mindsets” enables us to do something about them, lowering obstacles to diversity in the workplace.
Unconscious and invisible “mind-sets” explain the obstacles for women aspiring to business leadership. They explain why we still do not have gender diversity at the top. Unconscious mental images of how leaders look and act can create barriers for those who do not “look the part.” Leaders who are aware of this natural tendency can stop automatic thinking and look at a person’s results rather than whether they fit the image. Those affected by unconscious images can avoid violating norms of appearance at work; be sure the boss knows their skills and results; and collaborate with others to talk about successes.