You accepted gender inequality and lost something even more important.

Gender inequality has been debated for decades. It has been included in corporate cultural agendas since before the space race. We’ve eroded the walls of prejudice and intolerance, but the wall, unfortunately, still fundamentally stands for one major reason: we allowed it.

I am completely unaccepting of inequality in all of its forms when it comes to opportunity, treatment, education, compensation, advancements, leadership, and contributions. It’s at the core of me, in my bones. It’s part of who I am. It’s not the product of professional education. It is not a statistic that I wheel out at bonus time. It is a personal choice, one of the core beliefs of my leadership philosophy, both personal and professional. And while it is critical that we swiftly demolish any tolerance of inequality in its various forms, I believe something even bigger is at stake.

I challenge you to be fiercely intolerant of any structure in your companies that create headwinds for any gender, culture, identity, orientation or religion. I doubly challenge my male colleagues who currently make up the majority of today’s leadership; you have the potential for swiftest impact and, like me, you have been far too silent. I challenge you to do this as a principle of leadership, as part of your humanity that will inspire others to follow you, and not as a matter of human resources and corporate policy. The change I am asking you for is personal. I’m not asking for your organizations to believe in equality. I’m asking you to believe in it, so that they might have the chance to as well. 

We’ve all seen corporate programs that track compensation and career level against ethnicity, gender, and the like. Tools like that are useful measures of progress. The problem is that the need to use them is a clear indication that you haven’t embraced equality at the core of your organization. If you essentially need to measure the amount of inequality in your organization, you’re already being too tolerant of its existence. I assure you, you cannot fix this with an evaluation, study, or a policy change; you cannot successfully alter centuries of intolerant belief systems and personal bias with a Chief Culture/Diversity/People Officer. That’s only a partial measure and it hasn’t worked.

But let’s face it, we’re not all really mathematically “equal,” are we? I actually believe that is a good thing. Every member of our workforce deserves equal opportunity and respect, no question. But it’s not equality that really drives us forward. A core belief in equality is merely a platform that allows us the vantage point to see that it is our differences that truly matter. The unique background, mind, identity, history, and choices of each individual allow for a mixture of perspectives and a diverse collection of talent that is the true goal. A team built around a combination of these differences is undeniably more potent than a team that lacks them.

Only through the lens of equality do we gain the ability to achieve meaningful diversity.

The truth is, I’m not really asking for equality; I’m asking you to believe in the power of diversity. I’m asking that you to lead with the belief that equality is a critical step on the path to something greater. I’m asking you to believe in the organizational power of our differences, to search yourself (and not your Employee Handbook) and ask the question, “Do I believe working with people different from me is valuable?” I believe it is absolutely critical.

Equality really is just the beginning, and we had better internalize it now or we will lose something precious, something human. We will lose something even more than the combined creativity that could drive our organizations faster, our revenues higher, and the reach of our products further. We will lose the ability to truly appreciate each other's differences.  And without the ability to appreciate the people we have been given the honor to lead, what kind of leaders are we?

 

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The ATOM Group, www.theatomgroup.com, combines a rare blend of business acumen and purposeful technical application. ATOM focuses on serving clients through technical projects and reserved capacity engagements for mobile and web software development, enterprise applications, business intelligence, compliance and security along with business strategy, technical leadership consulting, and corporate training.