I know, I know. You’re in shock from that title, but it’s true. We don’t. Minorities don’t know everything about diversity.
Black people don’t know everything about black people. Women don’t know everything about other women. Gay people don’t know everything about LGBT, etc. We can’t. There’s too much information for one brain to hold, even if that brain is a genius.
This was brought home to me just this week. I was talking to a very intelligent black man, someone whom I look up to and admire as a business brain and an extremely knowledgeable diversity executive. Our conversation moved around to gender, specifically leadership differences between men and women and an article he’d seen that boldly claimed “women aren’t ready.”
He didn’t quite get it. I did. I’ve covered the issue as a journalist, and I’ve run into it personally. The gist of this particular piece is: If men and women share a similar ability to drive business, meaning one does not have a monopoly on leadership skills, why aren’t more women rising beyond lower management?
I told him most of the reasons why we don’t ascend the career ladder are quite superficial and are the result of socialization, how men see women and how they think we should behave, what they think we should or should not have. He said he thought we were beyond that. I said really? The same way black people should be beyond racism, and poor people should be beyond classicism? He laughed. He understood my sarcasm.
I told him not to feel too bad. He doesn’t have to know this facet of diversity. “You’re lucky,” I said. “You’re exempt because you’re a man. You’ve not had to deal with this personally or professionally, yet.”
And in a perfect world, my friend never would have to deal with gender bias. Hell, in a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to. Nor would any of my female peers, nor would the idealistic and fabulous young women coming after us, eager to make the world a better place and set the global marketplace on fire with their passion and ideas.
But we do because leadership skill on its own is not necessarily the only gauge by which women are judged. We’re judged by our appearance, our bodies, our hair, our makeup, how we raise our children, our clothes, by the sound of our voice — insert obvious Hillary Clinton reference here.
There is the “pink tax,” where products geared toward girls or women are priced higher than similar ones made for boys or men. But I believe there’s also a “red tax” — and if I’m the first to use the phrase, I’m hereby claiming ownership and copyright — a tax where your female blood costs you in the workforce because the unaware, the unenlightened and the uncaring, insist on subtracting from your accomplishments, your performance and your potential just because you’re a woman.
Sometimes it’s not obvious. Not at first. You might not notice the discrepancies because on the surface things make sense.
That promotion for my male peer? It was deserved. That new opportunity to lead that fabulous new project? I didn’t get it … I’m here, holding down the fort while people around me jump into what’s new and exciting. And after it happens a few more times, and you absorb a few more backhanded compliments and sexist remarks, after you’re called on the carpet for things that your male peers get away with, you can’t help but wonder: Why not me? I’m as qualified, as capable, as dedicated. I’ve paid my dues, shown my loyalty. What’s the difference here? There’s only one logical answer.
That’s why I told my friend, it’s OK that you don’t know all this. All minorities don’t know everything about diversity. I’m a woman, and beyond creating awareness through my blog, beyond pointing out the disparities, tweeting the articles discussing the issue, and advising young women how to finagle specific situations to their advantage, I don’t know how to fix this problem.
It’s too big for me alone. I’m missing some strategic information and know-how. And even if I had some specialized gender-based solutions in mind, the issue is too big for women alone. We need men to help squash this one, and men are a huge part of the problem.
Men hold much of the power to change things. But if they don’t know there is a problem, if they’re not aware of its severity or its ubiquitous nature, if they don’t see the value in them stepping in on our behalf, they won’t help. How can they? They’re ignorant.
I’m ignorant. I don’t know the best way to help women get past these leadership hurdles. I can offer some extremely valuable advice to younger women who haven’t come as far as I have in their careers; much of that advice is personal. But I don’t know enough. So, I didn’t condescend to my black male friend. Some might have said, well, why didn’t he know? He should have. He’s a diversity executive. And he is, with a storied pedigree, a ton of experience and a high-brow education. He’s also a minority, and minorities know about being marginalized, denied promotions and all that other stuff. Right?
Right. But minorities don’t know everything about diversity. It’s a big, unwieldy beast. And to tame it, we all have to be open to the idea of continuous learning. It’s the only way we’re going to get along, create and sustain progress, and get things done.