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Beyond Patricia Arquette’s Oscar Speech: The Next Steps for Changing the Conversation

Developing Connections in the Workplace

Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech at the Oscars on Sunday has sparked a lot of controversy because of her focus on equal rights and equal pay for women.  Having worked in the business world for many years, I am sorry to say this conversation is still very much alive in the minds of women and minorities.

Changing the Conversation
Helga Esteb,

Recently, I attended a lunch with a number of successful women at various points in their careers ranging from associates at law firms to CEOs.  A large part of the conversation was devoted to the topic of how women are treated in the workplace and how they manage their careers and their families.  Underlying this conversation is the experience that many women have of trying to manage their careers in a way that keeps them on pace with their peers and an underlying difference in how they are viewed and treated.

Many sources have made a strong business case for diverse workforces that include not only women but also reflect the demographic of our society including people of color and LGBTQ. We hear from many of our CEOs that one of the biggest issues is recruiting and retaining key talent.  In embracing diversity, you significantly widen the talent pool and make it much more likely that you will be “employer of choice” in a world where young people expect diversity and will vote with their feet against workplaces that don’t embody this.

What would change this conversation in your company and what are some simple things you can do to embrace diversity in your workforce?

  1. Be willing to step into what is not naturally comfortable for you.  Often leaders choose people who are similar to them because it feels more comfortable.  What might you learn from choosing a woman or a person with a different background for a role?  How might your business be enhanced by a different perspective?
  2. Don’t make assumptions and be willing to have very open, honest conversations.  Often, I hear business people make assumptions about what it means for a woman to have a child. The truth is we are all wired differently.  Some men want to work less when their kids are born.  Just because someone has a child, it doesn’t mean they are no longer committed to their work.  They simply might need more flexibility.  Be open to talking about that.
  3. Have a market based compensation system which is clearly articulated and understood.  Having a market based system and a process to review each employee’s compensation against it, helps you to ensure that all of your employees are treated fairly from a compensation basis.  As part of your annual compensation review, ask Human Resources to identify any people whose compensation seems out of alignment with that of their peers.  Be willing to both make adjustments based on what you find and have direct conversations with managers when there seem to be discrepancies in treatment.
  4. Make diversity an objective in your organization and enroll not only your management but your entire team in embracing this.  My own personal experience with diversity programs is that they are a great way to increase employee engagement.  Many organizations utilize Employee Resource Groups (i.e., Hispanic Heritage, African American Heritage, Women) and organize events around these groups.  Ask a few key leaders in your organization to take this on and let the employees tell you what they would like to see.  Including development events and conversations about career advancement can give diverse candidates more insight into managing and advancing their careers.
  5. Assign mentors to key diversity talent.  Studies have shown that for women in particular having a mentor (male or female) can make a huge difference in the trajectory of their career.  Having a resource to help navigate career challenges and choices, can make all the difference in retaining this talent.  Make this part of your culture.
  6. Be willing to address bias (intended or unintended) and bad behavior.  Nothing will impact your ability to retain and engage diverse employees more than how they are treated.  Often when employees do not fit the standard mold whether due to race, gender or sexual orientation, they are excluded from informal activities that allow relationships to be built.  An example of this might be a culture which is very focused on golfing or sports events which are solely male focused.  If all of your employees are not invited to participate, this creates bias in access to opportunity.  Be willing to look at how you can be more inclusive.  Finally, if there is any inappropriate treatment of diverse candidates in your workforce, you need to be willing to address it.  If inappropriate behavior is allowed, people often assume you know it and are looking the other way.  Make sure your staff knows what you expect and encourage them to live by this.

How are you changing the conversation in your business?



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