“Papa, why weren’t there any girls?"
When you are born and raised in a nation of billion people that’s home to hundreds of spoken languages, every religion or faith known to man and with people of distinctly identifiable physical features and skin color – it is quite easy to have a “holier than thou” going-in-position about how I personally viewed DIVERSITY or how it (or the lack of it) affects our workplaces among other things.
But it was an innocent question from my 6-year-old daughter that shook the “not too bad, we’d get there soon” attitude of mine towards DIVERSITY. It happened when we were visiting a famous monastery in the southern part of India, the largest teaching center of its kind in the world for that particular faith. We saw monks praying together, performing rituals and also read about their history. On the way back, I was asking how my daughter found the overall experience or if she had any questions. Before I could finish, she blurted out, as if genuinely perturbed by it – “Papa, why weren’t there any girls?”
Usually ready with a rational answer to her probing questions, this one stumped me. Just saying that it is a “religious thing” wouldn’t cut it, not for a 6-year-old because it would invite a far complex follow-up – “…but Papa, why?”
This led to a lot of uncomfortable questions, that were up until now only in my conscience’s far-field vision, to jump up front & center about how most of us typically viewed DIVERSITY in our immediate ecosystem, including our workplace. In the technology consulting industry for instance, the dismally low representation of women in specialized and high-value (hence, well paying) areas like “Enterprise Architecture” or “Advanced Data Engineering” or “Artificial Intelligence” and so many others, is pretty apparent and stark.
Going by the number of brilliant and smart women ahead of me in order of merit during my higher education, the argument that there just isn’t enough good women talent in the technology industry to begin with does not hold water at all.
It is surprising that we don’t see the obvious need to for a balanced representation from the society when the customers we strive to serve (or the end-customers of our customers, for those in the consulting world) are so diverse, with their unique preferences and choices. In one of my past organizations, it now seems so funny, that 4-5 men (yours truly included) brainstormed for hours on the right experience to provide the end-customers of a nail enamel brand we were consulting for, when we could have benefited immensely from the point of view of a member of the actual target audience. Too bad no women made it to that solution brainstorming session!
Having a team comprised of a diverse group of individuals is bound to make a greater impact in solving the problems facing an increasingly diverse world. After all, we can only bring to table things from our own unique world-view – richer the world-view (both depth & variety) – the more relevant we can be for our customers.
It really is that simple!
Latent biases that hold some of us back from decisions that could have made the difference must be addressed openly and challenged – not just in annual leadership meetings but in every day transactions. Few things I try and follow and may be relevant for others as well are,
- Don’t automatically assume that she’d not be prepared to make that 3-day trip for an important conference because she has young kids
- Pick her if she’s the one with the stuff needed to get the job done for that critical assignment even if it may take few days of working beyond “normal working” hours. You’d be amazed at her ability manage the outcome – she has been tested to balance work with her personal life, all her life
- So you made her a leader, good, but then don’t start assembling an all-women team for her – she can very well lead men with as much competence and impact
- If she was an awesome talent before she went on maternity leave, trust her to come back stronger and not conflicted with her prioritization
- Her requests for a day or a few hours off aren’t and shouldn’t be construed as lack of commitment to work because guess what, men take as much if not more time off!
- When you’re deciding who to promote – make it really about who deserves it more and not who you think can deal with the demands of the new role because of gender
- She doesn’t need you to jump in from time to time to strengthen her arguments in a meeting or client presentation, she can hold her own and kick some…on her own!
- You owe it to her to mentor, coach and show her the path just like you’d do so for him
I failed my daughter once getting caught off-guard on her very valid question hitting at the root of biases in our society – I won’t fail her again. I'd continue doing my bit at building a workplace that values and encourages talent – no matter where it comes from – gender, region/language, race, ethnicity, religion, color or sexual orientation.
Merit has to be the ONLY currency when it comes to professional success at our workplaces.