Author’s note: This article is adapted from my book, Network Beyond Bias.
If you look at my resume or my LinkedIn profile, you will deduce that I am an experienced management professional with a background in Information Technology and the Insurance industry. On the surface, I may not seem a natural “diversity champion.” One need not look too deeply, though, to understand why I am on this path.
My Diversity Story, Part 1 of Many
In high school, I frequently heard that my first-in-class math scores were impressive…for a girl. When I was a Computer Science major in college, total strangers told me I should go into Nursing or Education. Because those were good fields for women. When I worked as a programmer, my bosses praised my work; my peers told me I was very analytical…for a girl. I moved into analysis and design roles based on my exceptional ability to solve problems from an end user’s point of view. I frequently heard that I had great people skills…for a programmer. When I first became a manager, some of my former peers said I was too young to lead them effectively.
But when I moved into management, I vowed that I would never qualify my feedback or pigeonhole my team members based on their demographics, their work histories, or their untried skills. My approach has always been to help each of my team members identify their strengths and contribute in ways that excite them. Along the way, I have built teams that turned into “talent factories,” mentored new managers, improved business processes, and bolstered the bottom line. I am convinced that this success was driven by valuing the diversity of my team members’ strengths, interests, and backgrounds.
Diverse Talent Gets Discouraged
Corporate culture can stifle diversity in so many ways. There is a lack of role models and mentors. Promotions and rewards are often based on “cultural fit” over performance. Managers don’t know how to cross cultural boundaries to cultivate potential. Job postings list geography requirements that candidates could easily overcome with technology and occasional travel. People fear having authentic conversations in the workplace. The diversity that could exist in many companies never gets in the front door.
I have worked primarily in two industries: technology and insurance. Both industries are struggling to find and retain talent. Both industries lack diversity in their executive ranks. I firmly believe the latter is the cause of the former. And I want to do everything I can to turn these tides.
My Journey as a Diversity Champion Is Taking Shape
Now, I am finally turning my passion into my purpose. Through Lead at Any Level, I am inspiring others to meet their potential at work, to leverage diversity as a competitive advantage for their own careers, and to build inclusive cultures from the ground up.
At first glance, I may not be an obvious diversity champion.
And that’s exactly why I need to be.