I have to admit. I'm a little disappointed with the world right now. Lies. Deceit. Spin. Complicity. No bueno. The curse of growing up in a different generation (I'm turning 50 this July) and being raised, predominantly, by my grandparents is that I was taught and adopted a set of morals and standards based on old ideals like truth, integrity, respect for elders, and respectful greetings like "Pardon me," and "Yes, sir/ma'am" and those dinosaurs "Please," and "Thank You." They were, are, and will always be the cornerstone of how I interact with my fellow man and I will always assume the good in people FIRST until they prove otherwise. I'm sure this is why I have a therapist on speed dial and an appointment every Tuesday morning to talk through the aforementioned disappointment with the world from the previous week.
I recently watched a rather fascinating YouTube video featuring Dr. Cornell West, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, and Peter Thiel. Quite the motley group on paper, but the brainpower and ethos delta made the 1:56 guest panel at Harvard University well worth the time investment. Cutting to the chase, there was a question from a female student that, essentially, pointed out the lack of diversity in business, specifically women in leadership positions. She wanted to know how he would approach rectifying the problem. One thing I appreciate about Peter Thiel is, like me, he doesn't mince words. His answer: "More women should start companies." At first his answer seemed a little flippant, but he offered an explanation that really resonated with me. He said, with certainty, that inequality in business won't be hired away. It will happen by example, as that's the way the modern world experiences change.
I couldn't agree more. In fact, I had just had this very conversation with my mother a few days before. I recently posted a book club review of Robin Diangelo's brilliant book "White Fragility; Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism." Even after posting the date 1.5 months ahead of time, plenty of time to read (even skim) the book, and with plenty of fake (?) interest in attending the session, only a few people attended. Yes, the topic was crunchy AF, but my goal wasn't to excoriate anyone or "play the race card." Instead, it was to offer people a safe space to talk openly, share their experiences, challenge some of their own misconceptions, and leave the chat feeling like they'd learned something valuable even if it didn't dramatically change their views. The lack of interest while disappointing only validated something I witness every day. A tacit acceptance of, complicity with, and inaction toward changing any of the inequality, inequity, and downright wrongs we profess wanting to change.
The conversation with my mother was a really good one as it touched on many topics like race, gender inequality, the lack of real change to diversity in business I've witnessed over my 27 years as an Executive Assistant, and what I perceive needs to happen in order for some sort of conspicuous change to occur. Peter Thiel's answer, specifically re: closing the gender gap, perfectly aligned with my thinking. If we honestly believe the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, then women and minorities need to stop trying to infiltrate and fix a busted-ass system that has been stacked against them for generations and start building competing businesses that serve as an example of the kind of excellence they wish to see in the world. It's not an easy fix. I'm not delusional. However, I believe it will be a much faster route than trying to create forward momentum in a system that provides an insanely powerful headwind. Ever run against a strong headwind on a super windy day for longer than 15 minutes? Imagine doing it for 15 more years. It's analogous to that.
Candidly, mandating women into a Boardroom not only feels like a placation, but low key disrespectful and condescending to me. While I understand and appreciate the efforts, the fact that it took a mandate by some states should be an embarrassment to every company currently guilty of the disparity in their Boardrooms. If this is what it takes to grease the wheels, I get it. But, #sorrynotsorry, I'm not standing on a chair applauding the move. In fact, I'm doubling down on my efforts to teach women and minorities how to start businesses of their own, tribe up, and support one another on a grander scale in an effort to create inclusion from the top down, not from the bottom up.
Then we need to talk about the other, big ass, pink elephant in the room: Privilege. I'm never one to mince words so here ya go. Just like when women obtained the right to vote via the 19th amendment (1920), it originally only allowed White women to vote legally. Minority women didn't gain full suffrage until the 1960's. (Peep this Wikipedia for a reality check.) I've done copious research for the 3 books I'm writing and come to the conclusion that the same "hierarchies of change" that existed during the women's suffrage movement are just as valid and in play today. As evolved and "post-racism" as we profess to be as a country and individually, the reality is we're not. I'm not going to harp on this subject because very few people care, especially those who swim laps in privilege. And, to be quite transparent, I'm over the race issue. It's not going to change in my lifetime. Perhaps in small increments, but nothing of real value. I'd much rather spend my time and energy teaching people how to GO AROUND.
Oprah once said, "Never walk over people. Go around." I have adopted that phrase as a mantra my entire career and it has served me quite well. It has allowed me a perspective that is empowered, crystal clear, and able to adjust my intent, focus, and efforts accordingly. Bigotry is stupid. Bigots are ignorant. And I have no time for either. Instead, I'm happiest when people reveal their true selves, views and intentions so that I can figure out how to circumvent that which I perceive as intent to oppress me. My focus is that seat at the table, not fighting and clawing my way to get there, rung by rung, through a bunch of idiots.
Women and minorities need to accept that despite the various placations du jour that are being mandated by our more liberal states and legislatures, they're still not truly welcome at the party. And that's okay. Because, again, knowing this information and seeing it for exactly what it is allows both groups to start devising separate plans to GO AROUND and create their own ecosystems that allow them to create a table of their own, not simply sit at someone else's who really doesn't want them there in the first place.
This platform is rife with misogyny and low key racism. Pay not even close attention to the comments sections of various posts, specifically about women. One of my favorite people, Dr. Carey Yazeed, was almost run off this platform for daring to post her entrepreneur training classes specifically targeted at businesswomen of color. She endured endless verbal assaults by a bunch of privileged men blithely posting blatantly racist/misogynist comments to her articles. Again, a pretty strong headwind, but nothing that stopped her train. She's succeeding in spite of the hate by simply going around and allowing a disturbing number of people with C-level titles to hang themselves and torpedo their brands for all to see in the comments section. #besttheatreever
Watching Theranos' Elizabeth Holmes be cursed for filth and dragged by the media, men and, disappointingly, other women is quite the head scratcher for me. I'm certainly not condoning the fraud she committed or the lives she endangered with the fraud. It's inexcusable any way you cut it. But this "monster" was allowed to exist and grow in size and influence by a bunch of entitled men who happily handed over the funds and access in an attempt to profit wildly off of her and her team's efforts...largely unchecked. Now, she's a convenient pariah whom everyone has nailed to a cross, blithely forgetting their own complicity in her rise and fall. I believe that had she experienced the support of a (separate) community of equally powerful and influential women she may have made wiser choices from the jump and personally understood the gravity of her actions and the responsibility she had to all women to do the right thing. Instead, she played the boys' game, got caught up in it, got caught, and is now paying a price I'm not convinced she will be able to afford and reconcile over the long term.
We won't fix gender disparity. We won't fix racism. Not in the lifetimes of anyone reading this article. Let's go ahead and accept that, shall we? And within our separate groups let's acknowledge there are disparities that also exist and need be addressed before truly achieving among ourselves that we continue to seek from the current business environment. Instead of wading through a bunch of decades-old bias that has actually been baked into every generation reading this article to some degree, let's focus on a solution that allows us to circumnavigate it. I've always loved the command, "Take me to your leader." I coopted it ages ago from some rando cartoon about aliens landing on earth and blithely bypassing the plebes and going straight to the Head Fool in Charge. It's one of the secrets to my success and something that I teach, to some degree, in my workshops. Put me in the room with the people who make the decisions, not the ones jealous that I got the meeting.
This article is not meant to generalize anyone's intentions. I'm not here for it. It's more to implore people, especially women and minorities in this case, to focus on the ultimate prize. If you truly want parity and equality, stop bumping your heads against the same wall that's been in place for decades. GO AROUND. Learn and master the game, the players, and the plays and start a team of your own to compete on the same field. That's how you eventually create champions and command the respect from all of the other teams in the league.
More importantly, pay it forward. Teach others how to circumnavigate the same obstacles you faced in your rise to independence and help them to succeed just as wildly. In time, with more teams in the game the landscape will diversity and be one based more on one's ability vs. their gender and/or skin color. Until then, we're simply kicking the can down the road, getting concussions, perpetuating the same Groundhog Day scenario, and waiting for people to do the right thing who have no real, vested interest to do so.
We learn by example now. It's a fact. #becauseFacebook We are media-raised and media driven generations who learn by (targeted) videos and online content. It's time for the narrative to include anyone other than Elon, Jack, Zuck and Jeff. Let's get some other success stories at the top of the feed more consistently based on their individual badassery vs. being mandated a spot at a table they should have been gratefully invited to 10 years ago.
So, kudos, Jacinda Ardern. Kudos, Oprah. Kudos Ana Devarney, Shonda Rhimes, Mary T. Barra, Kimberly Bryant, Indra Nooyi, Geisha Williams, Lisa Su, and so many others who've either gone around or fought their way to the top rung. Thanks for being gleaming examples of not only what can be done but how to do it just as well and, in most cases, even better.