This is a story about men and women and work. It’s not every day that something happens that exemplifies great 21st century leadership. But it recently did for me in a manner so simple and unassuming that it wowed me.
A colleague of mine, a man that I’ve come to know recently and admire greatly for his talent and people-skills, but not someone I’ve known a long time or particularly well, asked me to be on the Board of a not-for-profit technology organization he’s starting. I knew as soon as I heard his reasoning that his organization would be a success. He explained to me that his original Board didn’t have any women on it and … drumroll here…. he wanted to ensure that both men and women were well represented. He understood clearly that having a fair number of women on his Board would 1) result in a better organization, and 2) send the right signals regarding gender diversity to the young men and women he intends to reach with his new organization.
As a woman in the tech industry, discrimination, sadly, isn’t unfamiliar to me. It’s often been couched in legal lingo like, “This Company is an equal opportunity employer and does not make hiring or promotion decisions based on gender or any other protected classification… Employment decisions are based on merit, qualifications, and abilities…” That sounds so fair, doesn’t it? But this type of boilerplate is used often to excuse some pretty glaring deficiencies. Indeed, this is an exact quote to me from a private tech company in which I own stock in response to my inquiry as to why there were NO women on the Board of Directors and less than 15% of the C-level employees were women.
Knowing a bit about the company, I can assure you that it doesn’t lack for qualified women either at the Board or the C-level. What it lacks is, well, you can fill in the blanks.
Real leaders build organizations that reflect the world they hope for, which isn’t always a comfortable or familiar place. Great leaders accept that they don’t always get it right the first time, but acknowledge their room for improvement and improve. Exceptional leaders lead through their actions. They recognize that while words are cheap, actions are priceless.
It’s so often the simple acts that net the greatest results. So, thank you to all the great leaders out there who are counting the number of women in their executive ranks and on their Boards and casting a wider net if the numbers fall short. That’s not political correctness run amok. Having both men and women in the room leads to better business results. Period. It also has the added benefit of building a world that we hope for. It’s not complicated; it’s just what exceptional leadership looks like. And, thanks Rob for walking the walk. You made my day.
~ Diane Smith