A To-Do List for Gender Equity

By Alicia Bassuk

President Biden has indicated that he plans to support Vice President Harris for a presidential bid in 2024. Such a signal represents a dramatic step forward from the patriarchal retreat Biden made, when the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas devolved into a trial of reproach for Anita Hill. Biden’s trek from a detractor of gender equity in the workplace to an ally for equal recognition of leadership competency, marks Harris’s march from the District Attorney’s Office of Alameda County in California to the West Wing.

Nearly every workplace and board room from Main street to K Street has been dominated by, determined for and dictated to by white men in their positions as employees, supervisors, managers, administrators, executives, board members and owners. That white men can be presumed to represent, protect, and promote policies, laws, goods and services governing and consumed by women but not vice versa, will forever be an irrational proposition for progress. Gender inclusivity is a prevention for the obstructive outcomes of male presumption.

Girls and women have been pleading, protesting, lobbying, battling and dying for their value to be recognized for centuries. We have courageously pressed the cause of our humanity, frustratingly waiting for that insistence to be recognized by enough privileged allies, to override their mindset of inequity as status quo. For this to happen, a conversion of conscience will be necessary to create a critical mass point, in which women in power will no longer be a deferred aspiration. It will become a reality that is certain rather than extraordinary. Men must reconcile the inevitability of such a moment amongst themselves, for it to become a societal shift — — or women must leverage the sheer numbers of our collective populace, to make right what is our right.

I get a view into corporate hiring practices for leadership positions across all sectors, as part of my daily work. What remains unacceptable is that it is still history making for women to hold these positions. I try to prevent and intervene in the continuation of common patterns that negate women: being overlooked and penalized on technicalities men are often excused for; having leadership skills that are labeled and relegated as inconsequential soft skills; an absence of judgment that results in signaling an acceptance of being treated with second-class regard; incorporation of useless feedback from hiring committees and search firms.

Women and men have to meaningfully consider and earnestly answer the following questions, in order to create a gender-equal workplace:

1. What is the functioning mindset needed to do so?

2. Why hire women?

3. What are feasible solutions for immediate impact?

Mindset

Workplaces that are not inclusive of women, ethnic/race minorities and the LGBTQ+ community have a common culture. Inclusivity is viewed as an obligation, not an opportunity. The prevailing perception is that inclusion is an unworthy request leveraged by undeserving people, for an unfair advantage. Even more, an assertion for equal consideration and treatment is viewed as an infringement on a proprietary claim preordained by a preferred gender, race and sexuality.

Consequently, resistance and resentment become the determinants of hiring and promotion practices.

Consider this. When public schools were integrated by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the courts differentiated between de jure segregation and de facto segregation. De jure means that it legally exists because laws mandate it. De facto means that it socially exists because of custom, habit and voluntary conduct. This differentiation is relevant to every workplace. There are no government rules or laws that restrict or prohibit women from being in positions that have been historically reserved for men. However, there is a custom, habit and voluntary conduct that makes this our reality. When considering the outcome of the landmark Brown case, the choice between de jure gender exclusion and de facto gender exclusion can be thought of as a choice between being unconstitutional or unconscionable.

History and personal experiences have taught us that subsidizing bad behavior insures receiving more of it. A mindset shift away from a continuation of the customs and patterns of exclusion is fundamental for the creation of inclusivity. This shift is gradually occurring in some workplaces, but the pace of gradual has never kept stride with the urgency for equality. Now more than ever, in the midst of #MeToo and in the wake of #BLM, achieving this is within reach. Our will must initiate the conversion of conscience required and the speed of that conversion.

Why Hire Women

Women have pioneered, discovered and contributed to myriad inventions ranging from the first car heater to the circular saw and the foot-pedal trash can; from chocolate chip cookies to chemotherapy and the detection of sex chromosomes; and from square-bottomed paper bags to windshield wipers and wireless transmission technology. Our contributions for the advancement of humanity and their impact on the daily lives of everyone on the planet are as ubiquitous as they are undeniable. Far beyond being innovative lies a more compelling reason for us having an equitable presence and status in the workplace.

Nations that most severely repress and oppress entire segments of their populations lag behind technologically, economically, culturally and politically than nations that don’t. The same is true for workplaces. Maximum productivity and purpose can only be reached when the total population is tapped for ideas, talents and skills instead of being limited to the consideration and input of a single gender, race or ideology.

Academic research supports this legitimate phenomenon. In fact, groups that are at least 50% women have the best results with collaboration. A possible reason for this is an area of performance women consistently demonstrate having an advantage over men, an area that is at the core of leadership success — — soft skills.

There are several skills of this type: comprehensive listening, cogent speaking, body language discernment, creativity, critical observation, conflict resolution, mentoring, honesty, motivation, adaptability, reliability, emotional management, patience etc. Each skill enables and exhibits one very critically important interpersonal trait — — relatability. How well and easily social, emotional connections are established and maintained is a direct measure of effective leadership.

Relatability is a composite of several “intelligences” or competencies: coalition building, communication proficiency, problem-solving aptitude, promoting civility, situational awareness, collaborative facilitation and task execution. Successful leadership is dependent upon having multiple, active competencies that structure and support solidarity and goal achievement. According to research by the Hay Group, women outperform men in all areas of soft skills other than emotional self-control, where both show equal results. Having these enhanced competencies enable women to promote better teamwork and more fruitful partnerships to the creation of responsive rather than restrictive work cultures.

Solution

Close the logic loophole. Efforts for greater inclusivity often evidence the scheming fraudulence of patriarchal reasoning. It defends exclusivity by promoting a “diversity” in regional backgrounds, education/work experiences and cultural upbringings within a homogenous group, white men, as being morally equivalent to fostering a comprehensive application of those same qualifiers, to include women and people of color. This logic loophole allows white men to rationalize a claim of social accountability with a self-exonerating, self-dealing self-exemption.

This deliberate negation cannot be excused by its ensnaring justification. Its pretense ordained the birth of the nation, as the phrase “all men are created equal” was never meant to apply to the indigenous people of this country, the people enslaved to build it or the women who literally birthed it into existence. Every legislative body, boardroom and executive suite, in every human resource sector all across the country, has been manpowered by this duplicitous dodge. If one were to consider “affirmative action” to literally mean affirming the action of advancement for a specific group of people, then, since the landing of the Mayflower, white men have had the most successful and longest running affirmative action program in American history.

Women can reduce and even eliminate the logic loophole, if we are committed to capitalizing on the potency of one powerful truth:

Women constitute 51% of the U.S. population. Given women constitute a slight majority of the population, we can drive gender equity into existence if we move to action.

Consolidate: There are three concerns few, if any of us disagree about: equal pay for equal work; proportionate representation at all decision-making tables; a workplace without sexual discrimination, harassment, coercion, and harm. With our spending power, our womanpower or our vote power, we must insist, with exacting accountability, that our concerns become the convictions of anyone seeking our support. Acting with solidarity, we can apply leverage for the implementation of laws, policies and practices to remedy our concerns and effect a reality of our making.

Coordinate: The social, political, financial activism of women is evidenced by the thousands of groups we belong to. Should most or all of those groups work with sororal cohesion, then the possibility of transformation would become actual. While we have always made our pleas, requests and demands for equity scheduled for “now”, we have never set a deadline for determining it for ourselves. Until we set a term — — 5, 10 or 15 years, we will not implement an axis-tilting, autonomous, unified plan for self-determination. We have the numbers. We need the locked-arm execution.

Control: To engineer and acquire power, we need a sobering comprehension of one word, equality. The longing for it, by anyone or any group unlawfully, inhumanely and systemically denied it is understandable. However, the problem with equality is its duality. First, equality in humanity. Everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, culture or age has an existence based upon the same physiology and physical requirements for life. We all have hearts, and we all need water. Second, equality in society. This means having the same access to resources and protections afforded by law, to actualize a destiny. Given that no society exists without a power hierarchy, those at the top define society with privileged ownership. Consequently, equality becomes something requested for rather than created. Therein lies the dilemma. The pursuit of equality is often the frustrated realization of a repeatedly declined request for our equality in humanity to be recognized and qualifying for our equality in society. A more potent pursuit would be for parity: a corresponding capacity for self-sufficiency and a parallel ability for self-determination. Consider the Biblical Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is an instruction for equality. Now consider the Social Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold, makes the rules. Gold exists in many currencies: a wealth of will, the fortune of way and an affluence of mass. For women, the capital of our resolve applied to the investment of our unity, multiplied by the remunerative magnitude of our population will allow us to acquire a rule-making position in society. That position will allow us to close any loophole.

The scope of this can seem so daunting, as to deter any one individual from considering it. Harriet Tubman was one individual. Rosa Parks was one individual. Malala Yousafzai is one individual. Stacey Abrams is one individual. Great movements always begin with one individual. They are sustained by the many individuals, who believe their participation is needed and matters. This is personal activism, and it can be initiated by many more of us. We need only heed this African American adage, regardless of our ethnic or racial identity:

Each one, reach one. Each one, teach one.

Every woman can make a contribution towards establishing gender equity, whether it be defending the dignity of someone mistreated; donating clothes and career counseling; starting a female owned enterprise or running for political office. It’s not what any one woman can do to help elevate some of us, but what each woman can do to help advance all of us. These are personal activism activities most can do:

Talk more. Workplace discussions about inclusivity are often met with disinterest and discouragement. Consequently, many women respond with surrender and silence, rendering us enablers to our mistreatment. Additionally, women are not prepared with well tested ways to respond to these issues. Speak up and speak out. State what you want, regarding positions, promotions and compensation. Diplomatically message, explain and inform to increase a gender equity IQ throughout your contacts, company and community. Counter bias and mistreatment in real time, rather than ignoring or internalizing it with the disproven hope that it will not occur again. Promote gender equity as being essential to enhancing the longevity, ingenuity, productivity, marketability and overall success of your company or organization.

Connect the connections. Become a source of referrals for women professionals. Invest time to identify and learn about who the current and emerging women leaders are, in other sectors and industries. This will not only expand the pool of candidates for participation, but will also create a resource for women professionals to find ceiling-shattering advice. Another benefit: end the “no available candidates” loophole men use to discount the presence of women in leadership positions.

Spotlight and highlight. Always invite other women who are otherwise passed over, to participate on panels and in conferences alongside you. Taking it a step further, those of us with know-how need to reinvest our knowledge and skills in the generations that will succeed us, through mentoring. Our knowledge capital is enormous. We can all become billionaires of ability and moguls of empowerment.

Start a debate club. Men are predisposed to believing in their preference in rationalizing. Subsequently, they stigmatize women for emotionalizing versus thinking. Because disparagements, intimidation and harassment can provoke strong emotions, we must prepare ourselves to counter and invalidate in a non-emotional manner. Debate engages in discussion about opposing points. It involves questioning to establish the subject in dispute and to have your challenger state, in their words, their disagreement. It requires objectivity to discern the conflicting perspective, so that it can be dissected and rejected for logical fallacies, unsubstantiated claims and deviations from relative facts. It allows you to submit your counterpoint and rebut responses with shrewd merit, instead of emotional reaction. It sanctions the ethical authority to indict, prosecute and convict inappropriate, abusive and denigrating conduct with preventative purpose. If women can create book clubs for friendship, we can create debate clubs for gender equity.

Hold history socials. The achievements of women are a rich resource for us to realize what we’ve done, and plan what we will do next. We can celebrate that we are leaders of nations, war heroes, scientists, inventors, political pioneers, extraordinary artists, city builders, revolutionaries and matriarchs of great wealth. We will not get to where we’re going without knowing where we’ve been. Herstory is the bridge between our proven ability and our untested capability.

Form a C-Suite incubator. Decisions that affect the lives of everyone are made in the chief executive suites of corporations and organizations. Fewer than 8% of Fortune 500 companies have a woman as the CEO. That paltry amount is further reflected through the ranks of women in decision making roles, in every sphere of influence and area of employment. We must coalesce to transform the boardroom. Through women’s studies programs at universities, workshops in sororities, seminars and webinars on virtual platforms, classes at community centers, and coffee cozies in cafes we need to identify, groom, sponsor and steer more women towards leadership positions in all sectors. Remember, we are 51% of the population. We should have a 51% C-Suite goal. We are not paltry. We are profound.

Special advisor to leaders, recipient of NBA Championship ring for her role as special advisor to the President, GM and Head Coach of the Toronto Raptors.

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