I don’t think I am alone in saying the last year for me has been full of reflection. One critical component has been thinking about my values and my work and where the two intersect. Until the end of February 2020 I worked at a large consulting firm where I enjoyed my coworkers and, for the most part, my work. But despite spending 80% of my life (or at least what felt like it) doing my job, I didn’t feel like my work self was my true self. I often made jokes about just being a cog in a corporate machine and the indoctrination into the company I had undergone. Once I left my job, however, I found that there were some routines and behaviors that were further ingrained than I had thought.
In my early days working with Vicky, the founder of SheSyndicate, I found myself getting frustrated with the lack of direction she was giving me. I had an “aha” moment when I realized that I was so used to modifying my way of thinking and doing things to please the people I was working with that I had lost touch with what I was authentically interested in, capable of and even thought; and I felt this way as a able-bodied, white woman with a cookie cutter resume! The most dissonance I felt between my work environment and true self was a difference in values that ultimately led me to leave the company. I took for granted how lucky it was for me to feel generally comfortable in my working environment as I know that is not everyone’s experience.
Given the amount of time many of us spend working it is inevitable that there is an exchange of behaviors and ideas. For example, I don’t know when I switched from saying synergy ironically to earnestly but here we are. However, in many cases, those exchanges are not innocuous nor are they bidirectional. Coded in the idea of work culture is the concept that there is an established way of being or behaving. Despite the oft-quoted studies that cite the business case for diversity, many companies are also looking for a “culture fit” which, in the case of the tech and finance industries and I have primarily been a part of, look primarily like college-educated men, especially in decision-making seats.
While long overdue, in the wake of the press over the Black Lives Matter movement, I was excited to see that companies were coming forward to talk about how they were reflecting on culture and diversity in their organizations and how they had been shaped actively or incidentally by systems of oppression. This resulted in many companies updating or reinforcing stated diversity quotas which directionally may be the right step, though risk viewing hiring from a tokenistic perspective. Hiring companies must consider how their culture has to evolve and support new employees in order to reap the benefits of diversity, both economic and social, that they hope these hiring initiatives will bring. Stressing the importance of “culture add” instead of “culture fit” may help broaden the space for new voices and different backgrounds.
At SheSyndicate our focus is on women, but it would be naive to think that all women carry a single identity and their other identities don’t have a specific and often compounding impact. There is a reason that diversity is mentioned in the same breath as equity and inclusion. Knowing that people are different and means their experience will be inherently inequitable in myriad ways, equity strategies must take into consideration that all policies will not benefit all employees the same way. This includes parental leave, flexible work schedules, dress codes, accommodations for physical disabilities, and more. Creating policies that acknowledge and support different types of workers are likely to help establish loyalty, drive retention, and create an environment that fosters the authenticity needed to realize the bottom line benefits of having an authentically diverse workforce. At SheSyndicate, any advocacy we do towards changing these and other policies must be thoughtful so they do not become exclusionary by being singularly focused on gender.
Reflecting on my experience at my previous job, we certainly spoke about diversity during recruitment and I have participated in more than one unconscious bias activity but these exercises were siloed and certainly never resonated across the way we did business. Rarely did we explicitly reflect on how work products or practices tied back to values. Speaking with my network over the last several months, the things I have heard most often when asking about what they see their employers doing to bring diversity conversations to the fore are:
· Recruiting more actively from HBCUs
· Hiring diversity consultants
Unfortunately, I also still commonly hear about how there is a lack of good or qualified candidates (a pipeline problem (21:00)) that limits the efficacy of diversity efforts and the need for women and BIPOC to go above and beyond to prove and advocate for themselves in order to succeed.
I am, however, still optimistic that there is an opportunity to capitalize on the current momentum and conversation about workplace culture, retention, and hiring processes both to combat systemic oppression and acknowledge a multitude of different identities, including gender. Changes and commitments made in reaction to current events must have longevity to be effective and continuing to discuss and prioritize initiatives towards these goals will be critical to continue to pursue progress.