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Fridays from the Frontline: UC Berkeley Haas Professor on How to Shape Culture to Foster Gender Equity

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Fridays from the Frontline

Lots of U.S. companies are focused on attracting more female employees, and yet many still struggle to create inclusive cultures that encourage those women to stick around. Today’s Friday from the Frontline comes to us from Dr. Kellie McElhaney, a distinguished teaching fellow at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and founding director of its new Center for Gender, Equity, and Inclusion.

The center, which launched in November 2017, is focused on “agitating, activating, and fiercely turning up the volume and velocity on diversity and inclusion leadership in the business leadership world.” Read on for McElhaney’s thoughts on how men and women both have a role to play in moving the needle toward greater gender and racial equity.

The following post has been republished in its entirety from its original source, the Haas MBA Blog.

The Keys to Shaping Culture to Foster Gender Equity

by Dr. Kellie McElhaney

Unfortunately, the American workplace has not been making significant progress towards gender and racial equity. According to Catalyst, there are currently only 23 women CEOs leading S&P 500 companies, which makes for 4.6 percent of the total. In addition, women hold just 26.5 percent of executive/senior level management positions in the S&P 500 and 36.9 percent of first/mid-level management positions. Data from Deloitte show that Caucasian women hold 18.3 percent of Fortune 100 board seats—not a particularly enviable number—while minority women hold only 4.6 percent of Fortune 100 board seats.

While most of us thought that women would be much closer to 50:50 parity with men in the workplace by now, we have stalled out. It’s become less clear that we will ever reach gender parity.

Diversity vs. Inclusion

One of the big problems is that companies are focusing on diversity which is simply counting heads. They say, “Oh, we hired five more black women as coders last year,” but that’s a wholly insufficient component of gender equity. What’s even more important is inclusion, making those heads count. Most companies today aren’t looking at what’s really happening. Sure, they’re hiring more underrepresented minority women (at a really slow pace, by the way), but these women are leaving at faster rates once they get in. Once hired, many aren’t feeling a sense of belonging within their organizations or that they are valued and that their opinions count.

So, what can be done?

It’s my belief that each of us can play a powerfully positive role in shaping the cultures of the organizations for which we work, persistently nudging them in the direction of gender equity while dismantling policy and organizational obstacles that stand in the way for women in the workplace. There are a variety of ways that women—and men—can accomplish this.

As leaders, we need to support one another in the workplace. Emilie Arel, CEO of Fullbeauty Brands and a Haas School alumna, firmly believes that we have to pay it forward and help those who work for us. She makes a point of regularly having coffee and lunch with her people. “Getting to know talent and helping people in their careers is part of your job as a leader. It’s very important that we as women think that way, and also that we encourage people who work with us and for us to say what they want,” says Emilie.

We All Have a Role to Play

Men can and should play a key role in shaping culture in ways that promote gender equality. At Haas, we have what we call “manbassadors”—a program founded a few years ago by two 2nd-year MBA students. According to Patrick Ford, leadership coach, MBA 17, and one of the program’s founders, the goals of the organization are, “Getting individual men to educate themselves to become more aware of the reality of unconscious gender discrimination and of their own behavior, and bringing that awareness into the workplace to create a level playing field.” Imagine what an organization like this could do to shape the culture of your business.

Ultimately, women—and men—must speak up when they see things that aren’t right in their organizations. Too often, all of us have been guilty of letting sexist or racist comments slip by, or have seen sexual harassment happen. We fear the risk of retribution or don’t know exactly what to say or do to challenge it. We have to stand up and say, “That’s not okay,” or, “Here’s another way in which we might think about this.” I believe many men would welcome that consciousness-raising and feedback would use their power and voices as an advocate of change. Together we do have the power to shape our organization’s culture toward gender equity and away from the discriminatory practices of the past.

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.