Recently, Canadian Business magazine released its list of Canada’s Top 100 Highest-paid CEOs. As usual, we aren’t exactly tripping over all of the women on the list.
We have been talking about getting women into senior roles and getting women onto boards and getting equal pay for work of equal value for years and years and years. So why isn’t it happening?
I think it starts with our view of diversity. I’m a pretty smart cookie. I’ve received buckets full of scholarship money to get a fancy MBA. I’ve worked for blue chip companies and I tend to be promoted quickly. And I’m a keener. There is no reason that I should not be working for some major corporation in some highfalutin role. And yet, I’ve rejected corporate life in favour of doing my own thing. I’ve “opted out” and I suspect a lot of other women who might otherwise have been groomed for the c-suite have as well. My decision to leave came down to me getting sick of being asked to be someone I’m not: to be tougher, to be less emotional, to be more motivated by money, to be less concerned about other stakeholders, to dial down the stilettos, and to chop off my hair. And although I did well, playing the game, I found it exhausting. It’s exhausting to bring your best self to work when you’re asked to check parts of that self at the door.
For every woman I know who has leaned in and pressed through in spite of all the nonsense, I know many more who have opted to move into a non-business field or raise kids for a while or start their own businesses, because they could no longer stand being stifled. They said to hell with all that and they found out that there is a world out there — outside the corporate kingdom — where not only do you not need to cloak you unique qualities, but you are rewarded for them.
Our leaving corporate life matters. And it matters not just in a way that makes it embarrassing for companies when faced with statistics about the compilation of their executive suites and board rooms. It matters because organizations are cheating themselves out of one of their most powerful tools: the diversity of thinking that comes from hiring different types of people. Diversity of thinking prevents organizations from falling into groupthink or making assumptions based on similar biases. Diversity of thinking ensures that better decisions are made and projects are less likely to fail. In order to make great strategic decisions, we need men and women and people of different religions and cultures and political leanings and sexual preferences and economic backgrounds and styles and world-views and philosophies and personality types with eyes on our business. We should not have diversity policies in place because its embarrassing if we don’t. We should have them in place because it makes us better and smarter and more creative and more effective, and better reflects our client base.
The trouble is, people tend to hire in their own image. I worked as a recruiter for a number of years and most companies are insistent that the candidate be “a good fit” with their current corporate culture. This approach works if you have a steady business that is as successful as it could possibly be and is not expecting any change in the future. (If this is you, well done. You should stop reading and start on an immediate book and speaking tour. Suggested title – How to Be Build a Totally Successful Business Impermeable to Change, subtitle King of All That…) If you are expecting change (and you should be) or want to do better, however, consider expanding your corporate thinking by hiring people who think differently and bring a whole new perspective to the table.
Hopefully what we are seeing on the CEO list is the last of the dinosaurs. Tools like social media have given voice to so many diverse groups that before were silenced. We can not longer pretend that the entire world looks just like us (or should.) Smart corporations will listen to the voices and find ways to capture this diversity in their workforce to give themselves a competitive edge and over time the best of a broader group of people will naturally rise to the top.