A lack of diverse teams unequivocally hurts business innovation — yet many firms are still using excuses to keep women, people of color, and other minority groups out of the boardroom and leadership. In our conversations with corporate leaders and talent managers, we’ve heard it all. From “Of course we want diversity, but we just don’t know how” to “Women just don’t fit in”, companies will often deflect the blame for their diversity problems.
This mentality distracts people from the real culprit of underrepresentation in the workplace: unconscious biases and outdated stereotypes. Creating an environment where group members outside the homogenous majority can lead requires that we stop shifting the blame. It starts with debunking the excuses that feed into systemic discrimination, so corporate executives can’t rationalize away responsibility and instead take action. Here are our top ten:
Excuse #1: “There are no women/people of color in this field.”
We hear this over and over again. Companies will bemoan the difficulty of finding a candidate outside the “typical”, such as women engineers or black coders, yet the evidence suggests otherwise. We show organizations the data. We explain how recruiters need to be proactive and creative in their hiring practices, such as widening their talent pools and advertising through different channels. Even things like job descriptions can weed out diverse candidates before they apply.
Excuse #2: “We promoted a woman/person of color once before to achieve numbers and they weren’t ready so they failed.”
Leaders often assume that a token individual represents an entire demographic group. The truth is, we often hold “out”-group members to a higher standard, noticing them only when they do anything less than perfect. Instead, we should be supporting people throughout their development and recognizing that promotion without support can set anyone up for failure. We should be providing extra support for the individual and coaching the other group members on the unconscious biases that might exist.
Excuse #3: “We never told the bidders that this was a criterion for the project so it wouldn’t be fair to use it.”
Let’s face it – if bidders have to be told to diversify their teams, it’s not something they naturally want to do. This likely leads to tokenism, or doing something “unnatural” just to meet the objective on paper. In fact, some women-owned or minority-owned businesses are actually not that diverse. Diverse teams produce better products that serve everyone. So just take the helm and start hiring diverse supplier teams, forcing everyone to get on board if they want your business.
Excuse #4: “Our customers aren’t comfortable working with women or POC and we let them choose who works on their accounts. We can’t risk arguing: They will just go elsewhere.”
People become more comfortable with diversity when they are exposed to it. The key to building diverse teams is spending extra time investing in and modeling positive behaviors and relationships. The majority group can smooth the pathway as an ally: Pairing a majority group member with a fresh face can help make diversity the norm.
Excuse #5: “We don’t have any open positions in leadership and our existing leaders aren’t going anywhere soon.”
Role modelling has a critical self-reinforcing influence on organizations – diversity will die if the team at the top is homogenous. So, you need to get creative to make your senior team diverse. Add more positions (but make sure the new ones have teeth – you can’t fool anyone by making up token, powerless roles for the minority group members). You could even reallocate 5 jobs paying $1 million into 10 jobs paying $500,000. Get creative with opening up positions — using mergers and restructuring as the backdrop. Where there is a will, there is a way. But you can’t be committed to diversity if it is everywhere except the top.
Excuse #6: “That guy is a bit of a racist, but he brings in a lot of money for the firm so we all just ignore him.”
What they’re really saying here is: we ignore bad behavior when we’re afraid of losing money. Assuming that a single individual is the reason for a company’s success reinforces dangerous conformity and groupthink. And, it’s superstitious. Rarely have we heard people comment years down the line, “We wish we hadn’t got rid of Joe because he was such a producer.” Instead, they usually wish they would’ve got rid of him sooner because of his toxic behavior and influence. No one person is really that valuable that they should be untouchable but a single person can poison the entire culture if they are toxic.
Excuse #7: “We have a work hard/play hard culture – that’s just how we are. Women often don’t “fit in”
Culture fit is consistently used in hiring practices, but it’s often an excuse for discrimination. Without having to define what “culture fit” actually means, organizations can use it as a cop-out to uncritically reject people who are different from the team. Likeability is an unfortunate outcome of familiarity and sameness and irrelevant to discerning capability. Diversity is going to mean different ways of doing things, and that’s good so consciously expand your definition of culture.
Excuse #8: “Our competitors aren’t very diverse so our problem doesn’t stand out.”
Setting yourself apart from the crowd is Marketing 101. By promoting diversity in your organization, you’ll win over customers who are increasingly prioritizing it too. You’ll also gain a competitive advantage by attracting employees, such as millennials, who want to work for a diverse company.
Excuse #9: “But women have babies….so…….”
Pregnant women and mothers are assumed to be less committed to their careers, which leads to a decision-making process that’s based on gender stereotypes. Women lose out on about 4% on lifetime earnings per child, even when they aren’t working fewer hours or taking on more “family-friendly” jobs. Not all women are parents of newborns, in fact, the proporation is tiny. And other than a very short time, (when the baby is actually born) there is nothing different between male parents and female parents in terms of career attention, potential, and the need for work-life balance (and note paternity leave is increasing making any perceived difference even lower). These outdated gender roles are just that, outdated. Everyone has a valid reason to integrate work with life and supporting all people in this is good for business. Excluding women from leadership and rewards systems because they are parents is unfair and discriminatory.
Excuse #10: “It’s a meritocracy. If women and POC aren’t in leadership, it is because they chose different paths, like motherhood.”
In reality, childless women have a promotion record no better than mothers. We need to reframe the conversation to match the facts. If we truly want a meritocracy, then organizations will need to commit to changing the broken system. Start today by fixing pay imbalances and making numbers representative at all levels.
It’s time to shed the excuses and take action to address underrepresentation in your organization. Our Inclusive Assessments help leaders reflect on their inclusion and allyship skills to start their journey towards a better, more diverse organization. Your business will benefit from the new innovative ideas, viewpoints, and solutions that you can only get from diversity & inclusion.
Learn how to address current workplace challenges during this challenging work-from-home period. Our Leadership & Organizational Development for the Pandemic offers virtual synchronous workshops tailored for your organization. Contact Us to learn more.