True confession: The very first moment SheEO launched, I watched as people signed up and uploaded their pictures. Almost everyone looked like me, a blond(ish), white woman. (Poor) optics aside, this glaring lack of diversity begged another question, one that we have and always will, ask: do we draw in people who look like us and if so, what do we have to do to make sure we draw in those who represent women in all their gloriously diverse ways?
The answer to that question is incredibly important in an organization that is setting out to create a radically different model for women: women of varying colours, orientations, ages, ethnicities, intellectual or physical abilities. We say SheEO is a place for all women but saying it isn’t enough. We want it to be in the fabric of our being, in our DNA. So how do you do that?
As we grapple with this question and move towards answers, we are learning. Sometimes we are embarrassed by our naive assumptions, sometimes we come to see things in an entirely new way, and always, we are encouraged by what we are discovering.
So in this, the first of what will become an ongoing series of blog posts around the topic of diversity, I thought I’d share a little about what we’ve learned on this journey so far, warts and all.
It’s Not a Checkbox
When we say we are here to create a new world, it’s not just lip service, we mean it. And part of that is truly being an organization built on diversity, not just checking a box. In fact, we see lack of diversity as a significant risk factor at SheEO. In other words, we don’t want it to just look like we’re diverse, we really do want to be diverse.
As we developed RadGen, for example, we made an intentional choice to co-create this program, which brings the SheEO model to high school girls in grades 10-12, with a diverse group of girls and women representing different backgrounds, ages, cultures, races, interests, experiences, academic levels, skill sets and areas of expertise, to be co-creators with us. What we wanted, and what we benefited from, was a group that wasn’t so much like-minded as it was “like-spirited”, who embrace Radical Generosity, who understand our histories and destinies are wound together, and who believe that by working together, women and girls have all they need in order to change the world.
We trusted that not only would this level of diversity work, but that RadGen would be that much better for it. Not only do we know the strength that comes from bringing multiple perspectives together, we believe it’s the only way we’ll succeed.
No More Panels of White Women
I’ve already mentioned that I was dumbfounded by the lack of diversity in our numbers at the time of SheEO’s launch. And I’ve continued to observe this phenomenon in the business community in general. Case in point: A quick scan of the room at a recent business luncheon revealed a room in which almost every woman was white. Really? In 2018?
It reaffirmed my belief that it will take a conscious effort to address this and grow a diverse culture. From the images we use on our website to the panels we host and participate in to ensuring our Super Activators are acting with diversity in mind, we need to make an effort – and I don’t use the word “effort” lightly here – to get outside of our bubble. If we each make a commitment to get outside of our comfort zone, to engage with those we don’t normally engage with, to reach out and invite women IN from all communities, we will not only transform ourselves, we will also transform our organizations.
The Multiplier Effect
Earlier this year I met with a number of Indian-Canadian women at an International Chamber of Commerce International Women’s Day event. These women were incredibly excited about SheEO and wanted to support Indian women in business. What excited them most was the prospect of bringing the model to India and supporting Indian women in their country of origin, rather than Indian businesswomen located in Canada. It was a lesson in understanding that diversity is a two (or three or four) way street. As we invite and welcome a diverse group of women into the SheEO network, they too invite us into their network. What an amazing ecosystem this creates.
The Next Generation Will Do Better. Or Maybe Not.
Younger men and women have a much greater awareness around diversity issues than my generation did at their age and in that I take heart. Younger SheEO staff, Ventures and Activators can help lead the way. But let’s be realistic. Diversity and issues around white privilege in our society is a layered and nuanced thing and it’s not a given the next generation will necessarily be different. We can all learn from each other. And we need to do so now. We can’t wait another generation.
We welcome any and all comments as we move from intention to action. And stay tuned. The journey continues.