Tired of Talking About Diversity? Too Bad
As I was researching a story for International Women’s Day, last Friday, I was once again struck by the lack of energy around recent conversations about diversity.
It’s called Diversity Fatigue, and it’s a real thing. For decades, companies have promoted diversity workshops, sensitivity training, inclusion programs and hiring quotas. Here in the IT channel, there’s at least one keynote per year from a high-profile speaker standing in front of a crowd of hundreds talking about innovation bias and the diversity imperative.
I want to be clear: The vast majority of men I know respect and value their female colleagues, direct reports and superiors just as much as they do the males they work with, and when it comes to inclusion initiatives, they’re all in. But there are definite pockets of men in our industry who make it clear they’re tired of talking about diversity. After all, women hold some of the highest offices in the land and occupy executive seats in some of the world’s most valuable companies. What more do we want? More to the point, what more do we want from them?
To be fair, I hear this from many women as well. I’ve spent a great deal of my journalistic career talking to women in technology about their experiences, and you might be surprised at the number of females who tell me that women, in essence, need to suck it up. The door has been opened for us. It’s up to us to wedge our foot in there and shove.
In a sense, they’re right. It is up to us to push our way in; no one will do it for us. But no one is asking for that. All we want is our chance to earn the right to open that door, to walk through and be judged on merit. That simply is not yet a factual reality for women.
Last year, Atlassian’s second annual State of Diversity Report showed that Diversity Fatigue is real, but not necessarily the way you may think. It isn’t that diversity and inclusion efforts aren’t seen as worthwhile endeavors. People are just tired of all the talk without seeing many results.
What many don’t seem to understand is that we aren’t just fighting for equal opportunity in the workplace today. We’re struggling to come from behind, carrying the weight of generations of past women for whom a professional career simply wasn’t a possibility. And fighting to overturn a status quo, as any study of historical civil rights movements will show, doesn’t come easy or fast. We’re struggling to turn the tide of history and thousands of years of ingrained social structures designed to disenfranchise women. We don’t make 80 cents on the dollar because we don’t know how to negotiate or we’re less competent than our male peers. We’re working with a systemic handicap — not of ability, ambition or acuity, but of history.
Men have held positions of power in government, professions and the family unit for many thousands of years; in contrast, women weren’t even allowed to vote in this country until 1920. It was 1980 before the Supreme Court ruled that sexual harassment counts as sexual discrimination in the workplace. Companies until 1978 had the right to fire women because they were pregnant, and these women weren’t guaranteed their jobs until FMLA was passed in 1993. Let me put some historical perspective around that: That means the mothers of the vast majority of millennials in this country – you know, those lazy young upstarts no one can stop complaining about – had no legal protection in place guaranteeing they wouldn’t lose their jobs because they had a baby. It’s that recent.
No one is saying that the current social and political climate still supports that level of systemic suppression of women. But those who think 30 years of talking about it – and let’s be honest, conversations around structured efforts toward inclusion only really began in earnest in the last 10 years, probably even fewer in tech – is enough to reverse thousands of years of social habit occupy a space of significant naiveté about the glacial pace of social change.
Women are paid less than men. Promoted at lower rates. Offered fewer speaking engagements. Assumed to be primary caretakers yet not given the professional flexibility to continue to grow their careers during motherhood. In the infamous Elephant in the Valley study, which examines sexism and sexual harassment in the tech industry, 60 percent of women reported unwanted sexual advances, and one in three women said she feared for her personal safety because of work-related circumstances. Our own president has been accused of sexual misconduct 23 times. Our careers often rise and fall on how we react to sexual harassment.
There’s no question that things are getting better for women in tech, but it’s due to that relentless discussion around inclusion and the importance of diversity at all levels of organizations. Recent current events have brought that discussion to the forefront as women in all sectors and all walks of life demand their voices receive equal consideration as those of men. Progress is being made because of the same discussions so many are tired of hearing, and the conversation is only growing louder.
I reached out to some of the strongest women in technology I know to ask their thoughts on being a female in this industry. Their answers are frank, varied and insightful. Most importantly, they demonstrate the type of female in technology that has gotten us this far — the type of woman who will work to make sure our daughters won’t have to wedge their foot in a door and shove in order to be recognized for their talent and intelligence. Someday, they’ll be able to walk through side-by-side with the men and be judged on their performance rather than gender and with the unconscious bias that comes with it. And we will only bring that day about if we don’t stop the discussion.
There’s an annual spate of tolerance for diversity talk on International Women’s Day. Here at Channel Futures, we want to make it clear that conversation isn’t relegated to one day. Click through the slideshow above to hear the contributions these powerful women have to the ongoing discussion about gender diversity in the workplace.