I have been in the startup community (NYC and LA) for nearly 20 years, first as an operator and now as an investor. There has always been a diversity issue (a very big one) so I am, of course, thrilled that it has been getting so much attention as of late. Though I am eager to move from talking about it to ACTING to eliminate it.
I am a strong believer that each of us is responsible for putting into the world more than we take out. That each of us can, and should, make a positive impact – whether that means on a community, industry, state or global level. Obviously, it is easiest to make a difference locally, in an area that you are passionate about and familiar with. Starting out in early-stage tech in the late 90s, I have countless stories about being the only woman in my company, at a party, or at a conference. Because of my experience, I dedicate a good deal of my time to advising and mentoring both my female colleagues as well as the many existing and aspiring female founders I meet. I want more women to join / start / invest in tech startups. The more women that do so, the more that will follow in their footsteps (see my post “Choose Possibility”). Of course, we should all want this, not just women, as the numbers show that companies with women in management report higher returns on equity and better net income growth than those lacking female leaders.
Last year, I had the good fortune of meeting a “soul sister” by the name of Shelley Zallis. Shelley built and sold an online research company and, for the past few years, has been producing “The Girls Lounge”, a destination for female executives to connect and inspire one another, at a handful of major industry conferences. As everyone does, I immediately fell in love with Shelley. I believe our meeting was kizmet, as we met right at the time I began to think about gender equality on a national and global (not just tech ecosystem) level and right at the time Shelley was just beginning to think about how to build her Girls Lounge into a much bigger initiative.
Just before Christmas (and exactly one year after our first meeting), Shelley invited a group of 35 female executives to join her on a trip to DC. This was a venerable crew of badass women from Fortune level companies including IBM, Viacom, iheartmedia, Unilever, The New York Times, and Caterpillar (to name a few). I was honored and elated to be invited.
The purpose of the trip was to bring women from the public and private sectors together to begin to formulate a plan for moving beyond articles and studies and into creating an executable corporate roadmap for achieving gender equality. The first day we met with Megan Smith, the CTO of the USA, and discussed/brainstormed topics ranging from STEAM education to how to involve big media companies in bringing greater visibility to workplace diversity. The second day was spent with US Treasurer, Rosie Rios. She is the woman behind the initiative to get a female on our currency (if they see it, they can believe it!). Rosie had McKinsey & Company come in and present to us. If you don’t already know, McKinsey has a partnership with LeanIn.Org and, together, they produced a study called Women in the Workplace 2015.
The study is a short read, chock-full of charts and to-the-point summaries – definitely worth 15 minutes of your time. Check it our here. I will provide you with the take-away sentence that is most important: “Based on the slow rate of progress…it will take 25 years to reach gender parity at the senior-VP level and more than one hundred years in the C-suite.”
This is absolutely NOT OK. That’s four more generations of our daughters being passed over for high-visibility projects/promotions, feeling like they cant take reasonable maternity leave without it impacting their performance reviews or career trajectory, and working just as hard (if not harder) than the guy next to her while earning 77 cents to his dollar.
The good news is that workplace diversity and gender equality are hot topics today. You can’t peruse the tech pubs on any given day without an article on this topic. And there have been a multitude of high profile articles on diversity (or lack thereof) in Hollywood this past year. These are the two industries in which I play – I am hoping, and assuming, the same goes for all industries.
The bad news is that we are at a stage where many companies are just providing lip service when they are publicly claiming diversity is a priority. In fact, according to the McKinsey study, “74% of companies report that gender diversity is a top CEO priority, but the message is not reaching the majority of employees. Less than half of workers believe that gender diversity is a top priority of their CEO, and only a third view is a top priority for their direct manager.” One example here is Twitter. Twitter joined alongside several Silicon Valley heavyweights in releasing their diversity numbers (which were beyond dismal) and proclaiming that diversity was a key priority. Recently, an employee (now ex) posted this resignation letter that went viral stating that he was leaving the company because he believed its diversity initiative was more talk than action. To be fair to Twitter, tackling diversity in the workplace is a huge task and one that won’t happen overnight. The company did release an apology letter and just this past week announced that they hired away Apple’s Worldwide Director of Inclusion and Diversity.
There have been lots of folks hired in the last year with fancy titles like the one above. But what can and will these people actually do to implement change. That’s where we are back to the good news. There are action items that can be taken – and companies like Facebook (go Sheryl), Salesforce, Netflix, Goldman Sachs, and Intel are leading the way. What we need is for these major companies to be transparent about what is and is not working – and to track and report their progress – all the way down to the bottom line. We must prove to CEOs (and shareholders) that diversity strengthens a company in every aspect, including financially.
And this is where The Girls Lounge (consisting of leaders across multiple industries) and Megan & Rosie come back in. Having corporations and organizations tackle this issue in silos is a sure way to get to 100 years before we create the change we want to see. I will not share the plan for more unified action here – as it is still under construction and it is not mine to share. But it includes bringing together companies, organizations, and the government to evaluate, promote, and enact best practices for eliminating the gender/race wage gap, building corporate practices that promote diversity and eliminate discrimination (including changing Family Leave Policy – for more on this, watch this TED talk), and tackling the very difficult subject of unconscious bias.
As Shelley likes to say #TogetherWeCan
As I like to say, let’s #GetShitDone
And be sure to follow The Girls Lounge: Twitter / Instagram / Facebook