My network of fellow women engineers continues to be a huge support for me, something that began when I was studying Electrical Engineering and was one of just a handful of women in the classroom. Recently I was connecting with a long-time friend and colleague who works at a different technology company. Her management recently changed and she’s finding her new manager unfortunately inept managing a workforce that is different than himself. He’s a super nice person and may be good at what he does, except that he’s stumbling over managing my friend and she’s quickly gone from motivated and high-performing to disempowered and feeling excluded. What she’s discovering however is that it’s not because of any conscious behavior on the part of her new manager, it’s all unconscious behavior to which he just is not aware. Fast forward in time, and she carefully laid out for him specific examples of what was happening in a manner so not to put him on the defensive. He listened attentively hanging on to each of her words and ultimately expressed gratitude for her sharing. He had had no idea what was going on nor why or how he was contributing. While his actual behaviors will have a long way to go, he is now conscious of how he is affecting others and he is asking for feedback. This is excellent! He is trying and he is learning. Unfortunately for my friend, while it’s appreciated and she is happy to see this beginning of transformation, she’s already moved on. Hopefully though his growth will help foster an inclusive environment to keep all of his employees engaged and high-performing in the future.
This story is one that too many of us can probably relate to and one that continues to frustrate me. It’s often not a blatant behavior making it all the harder to pinpoint and name. Instead, it’s the repeated references and actions that reveal underlying bias. While my friend did a great job managing the situation and taking care of herself – both by finding something better for herself in which she can once more thrive, and also helping to make the environment better for others – the responsibility should not have been hers in the first place. It is important to discontinue the assumed responsibility of the already marginalized to “educate” or “take care of” those to which she/he is different. We each need to take responsibility to recognize how we might be influencing a culture of inclusion or one of exclusion.
I’m grateful to work in a corporate culture where one of our male executives inspires other men to “listen up” to become advocates for women and turn awareness into action, and where I get to represent our company in a long-standing strategic relationship with the Society of Women Engineers. That relationship helps us learn and take action. And as Karen Horting, Society of Women Engineers Executive Director & CEO, stated in her recent Forbes Article “What Role Do Men Play In Creating Diversity In The Workplace?”, "the more we work to achieve diversity, the more we realize the important role men must play in achieving this.” To all the women, may we be courageous self-advocates. To all the men, may we proactively become aware and then move quickly to action. And to all of us, may we each take on the responsibility ourselves and not expect the person who is marginalized to become she/he who educates us on that particular facet of diversity.