Often lost in the discussion of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, is her call for companies to do more to encourage women to “lean in” & pursue leadership roles. I was discussing gender diversity and the book with a CEO over coffee recently, and he asked me if I could think of any examples of companies that are doing a really good job nurturing cultures that encourage women to lead.I’m not sure any company is all the way “there” yet; it’s a journey. There are certainly numerous lists published every year, using varying criteria; I have seen companies embark on PR campaigns to “make the list” with all the fervor of a military campaign, so placement may or may not reflect meaningfully on their cultures.
I’ve seen numerous depictions of the “continuum” of diversity. One I like a lot is this by Diversity Partners, an Australian consulting firm (why can’t I find one a little closer to home??).
This continuum ignores the “-1” stage, where companies are not only failing to recognize diversity as an issue, but openly hostile to people of “other” groups outside their core, but hopefully that’s a pretty small group in the 21st century. This model really speaks to the way a business works and the way leaders think, not to quotas or boxes checked. If I have any problem with this, it’s that there are probably companies out there that can document themselves into Level 5, & whose leaders honestly believe they’re there, but whose boards of directors and management teams are still filled with all white males, or all any “other” flavor – I’ve got nothing against white males, just against “all” anything. If they are truly at Level 5 as depicted here, I believe the numbers will get there soon enough.
This is really the next level of leadership where diversity & inclusion is concerned. How do companies continue moving along this continuum? What behaviors and processes are needed to bake diversity and inclusion into the culture so deeply that it’s just a part of “how we do things,” vs. “another thing I need to do?” How do we help companies nurture that sort of culture and stick with it long enough to reach the point of parity in leadership and board ranks, and reap the rewards?
For 9 years I have served on the board of directors for The Leadership Investment, a Denver-based organization that was a catalyst in my own professional development. We truly believe that this is not just about what’s good for women; shared leadership of businesses between women and men is the key to sustained economic prosperity. The organization has been helping women develop at all stages of their careers for 15 years, connecting them to a community of inspiring leaders. We recently broadened our mission to encompass this focus on corporate cultures, recognizing that the women themselves are only part of the equation.
I know there are great companies out there – our member companies have made amazing strides and seen the results. I’m always inspired by the lists of “Most Powerful Women,” and the stories these women share. Lists of “Best Companies for Women” are a little less inspiring, as they’re focused more on how those companies have checked off boxes. Without the personal stories, it’s hard to get a sense for the real culture behind the numbers. So I thought I would use this post to ask my readers what companies they’ve worked with that really “get it,” where they really felt that there were no limits to a woman’s success, and saw that come to life every day.
What companies are the role models? Share your stories & nspire me!