Friday, August 28, 2015

Business & Baseball - Part 2: The Diversity Question

To pick up where we last left off – yes, that was me on TV asking the last question of Jack Welch and John Henry at the Business & Baseball talk in April, moderated by Brian McGrory of The Boston Globe. It might air again, maybe during a rain delay someday, if you missed it. I’d just witnessed an interesting exchange between Jack and John, which had triggered my question about diversity:

You’re both very successful leaders, but also very clearly have different styles. Given that studies show that increased diversity on teams leads to increased creativity and productivity, and yet studies also show that people are most comfortable working with those who are most similar to themselves, given all of that, how do you encourage diversity within your organization?

Jack gave his standard answer: “Get everyone in the room together, have a food fight up front, get input from many different minds, then decide on a course, and get everyone on board! You want to get every brain in the game!” John answers that he “knows that the decisions he makes every morning have far-reaching effects on many people,” and is “always thinking about who will be affected and how.”

Again, their answers weren’t wrong; they just could have been so much more, given that it has been such a hot-hot-hot topic, especially within the tech world, after numbers were released last summer showing how non-diverse many of the companies are. So, I felt somewhat validated when several articles came out in the succeeding weeks, such as the one about Google’s diversity initiative in USA Today, titled “Diversity Gets Googled,” by Jessica Guynn, just two weeks after the talk, with a little tag line on the front page, “Google spends $150M on diversity.” Of course, there were a few other articles of interest in the news that day, too.

 USA Today continued with a series of articles about the Google initiative in May, and The Sunday Boston Globe devoted an entire section to DiversityBoston on Sunday June 7, 2015. Even the humble Quad Cities Dispatch & Rock Island Argus carried a Brandpoint article, titled “Why a diverse workforce works,” in its May 10, 2015 edition.

And, for that matter, there have been a number of articles in the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere, about the opportunity divide, and the cost of college education, some of the other timely and relevant hot-button topics touched on in the talk. Now that I’ve read Jack and Suzy Welch’s book, I feel bad that Jack didn’t just point to Chapter 8, where he cites an example of a leader drawing out a dissenting opinion from a woman who might otherwise have remained silent at the table, stressing the importance of getting input from everyone. Looking around online, I see the terms “integrated diversity” and “thought diversity” associated with him. I have a feeling that Jack would describe himself as “blind” to any individual differences, and that he focuses only on the ideas and value that each person brings to the table.

Speaking from personal experience, though, it can be exhausting. When a woman manager says she needs to hire or make a purchase, she’ll probably have to talk to her management chain two or three or four times before being allowed to do so. It happens on the technical side, too. While helping to facilitate a study being conducted by a team of engineers, I raised an issue, and just as we had for prior issues raised, we discussed the validity of it. However, unlike the other issues raised and found to be valid, the lead engineer didn’t add it to the list. I was going to let it go, but the very respected senior male colleague in the room asked the individual if he thought it was a valid issue, and the individual said “Yes,” to which he said, “Well, then, write it down!” It sounds like a trivial thing, but imagine having to say everything two or three times before it gets heard or noticed. It’s tiring. And, this individual was a really nice guy. I’m sure that it wasn’t intentional, but it’s still frustrating.  

Even the night of the talk, while at dinner, Susan noticed the group dynamic at a nearby table, where the men were literally holding a separate conversation with each other, talking over and above the women sitting at their table, as if they were not even there. Even when a woman gains a seat at the table, she still may not be heard. This is likely the case for other minorities.

And, this is here, in a modern, civilized, progressive society. Reading the book, The Underground Girls of Kabul, by Jenny Nordberg, makes you appreciate the rights and freedoms enjoyed here, and makes your heart break for the plight of women in horribly backwards countries, such as Afghanistan, where a woman’ s worth is defined by her wedding dowry and her ability to birth sons. Jenny Nordberg is part sociologist, part anthropologist, and part reporter. Her book takes readers on a journey to explore the practice of parents ‘turning’ a girl into a boy, by dressing the girl in boy’s clothing, in order to gain greater honor for the family (a family with no sons is looked down upon) and possibly, magically, make it more likely that the next  child born will be a boy. This entire structure is based on bad science, given that the sex of a child is actually determined by the father’s sperm, and yet the blame for not birthing boys is placed entirely on the mother. One of the greatest challenges to change there is that it is impossible to hold a scientific or rational discussion with people who refuse science and are not rational.

These girls, dressed as boys, are known as bachaposh, and get to enjoy all the freedoms and liberties of boyhood – going to school, playing outside, flying kites, helping out at their fathers’ stores, and being treated as a boy. Until puberty, when they are turned back to being girls, and get married shortly thereafter. A hard transition, after living life as a boy.

Even in the U.S., there are differences in the way that men and women are treated, but it is far more subtle. Elizabeth Gilbert, before Eat, Pray, Love fame, wrote an article, titled “My Life As A Man,” for Gentlemen’s Quarterly (August, 2001), and reported on how differently she felt as she got into character, and how differently she was treated.

So, I can almost understand where a remark came from, after Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer, when Bruce revealed that he was transgender, feeling like a woman living in a man’s body, and wanted to transition to live life as a woman. One man was heard saying that he didn’t think many men would understand or be very sympathetic to a guy who wanted to be a woman. A friend who heard this remark responded, “How can you have anything but compassion, when you see someone hurting and in so much pain?”

I never did follow the Kardashians, but there was another unlikely source of wisdom as this story unfolded. Apparently step-daughter Kim Kardashian was very upset, and it was Kanye West who explained it to her this way: “I can be married to the most beautiful woman in the world, and I am. I could have the most beautiful little daughter in the world, and I do. But I’m nothing if I can’t be me. If I can’t be true to myself, they don’t mean anything.”

So, Caitlyn, welcome to the world, good luck, and just keep being you!

Or, to borrow a quote from Oscar Wilde:

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken!

 Be confident, even when you’re afraid. Don’t let fear stop you. Or discomfort.

One of the best experiences in my life was getting a part in our high school musical senior year: Showboat. It definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone. And now, when I need to be someone a little braver and a little stronger than I feel at a given moment, I go to that place, such as when I’m raising my hand to ask a question, and someone is handing me a microphone. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, and for what you need. Have the vision to see doors and windows where there are now only walls, and see that change is possible.

To be continued…

Coming Next
Showboat and New Orleans re-visited. Saturday marks ten years since Katrina made landfall and the levees breached that morning, Monday, August 29th, 2005.

Post-Post Script
Thanks to Taylor Swift for her great quote during her acceptance speech at the Video Music Awards Sunday night, August 30, 2015:

“I’m just happy that in 2015 we live in a world where boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.”
And congrats to the first two women soldiers to graduate from Army Ranger School! First Lieutenant Shaye Haver and Captain Kristen Griest were among the graduating class of 96 soldiers who earned the honor on Friday, August 21, 2015.
Post Script
I am embarrassed to admit that, upon seeing myself on TV, my first reaction was, “Dang, that haircut looks good,” followed by “Gee, I wish I’d been a little more eloquent in asking my question.” Anyway, quite apropos, as I’d landed a seat at the talk, quite by surprise, next to Kenneth Wildes, the owner of the hair salon where Susan and I have been going for years. I was delighted to find a friend in the crowd.

Since the talk, there have been many highs and lows on the diversity front. Frank Kameny, long-time champion of LGBT civil rights for federal workers, was inducted into the Department of Labor Hall of Honor on June 23, 2015.
And just a few days later on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court made its historic ruling on same-sex marriage. Truly, a historic day. Now, same-sex marriage is just marriage.
Since June, there have been other epic, pivotal, historic rulings by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July, essentially recognizing that discrimination against transgender people or on the basis of sexual orientation in the federal workplace is discrimination covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Macy v. Department of Justice; Baldwin v. Department of Transportation).
And yet, even as we enjoy these advances here, we see in the news and on Twitter, the recent reports of ISIS executing ethnic minority men and boys, and taking the women and girls as their sex slaves. Gay men are also reported to have been the target of exceptionally brutal killings (beheadings, stoning, being thrown from buildings), simply because they are gay. It’s easy to understand how futile the hopes for change might feel in so many corners of the world.

In times like these, we need art to lighten our soul more than ever, to connect, and express ourselves, saying what words alone cannot.

Advance Notices:

Art Exhibit: Out of the Earth
Artist: Joe Caruso
Sep. 2 - 27, 2015
Receptions: Sep. 4, 11, 27
Gallery: Galatea Fine Art, 460B Harrison Ave., Boston, MA

Oct. 3 - 10, 2015
Boston, MA
Check out the events posted so far, advance registration is available. Some are free and some require paid tickets. It’s an opportunity to get together with some of the great minds of Boston, use various locations across the city to gather in these various living rooms. The week-long event is described as “where art, science and technology collide” – or is it more of an intersection? Meeting? Merging? Fusion? What is the relationship between art, science and technology? What is our relationship with technology?

Registration is now open for 27 live events. My top picks right now are:
Sunday, October 4 - De-Stress Boston (hosted by Massachusetts General Hospital).
Sunday, October 4 – Fenway Forum: What’s The Right Thing To Do? A philosophy class at Fenway Park by Harvard Professor Michael Sandel.
Monday, October 5 - STEM Event (MGH)

Women In STEM Summit
Oct. 22, 2015
Bentley University, Waltham, MA.

Boston Book Festival
Oct. 23 - 24, 2015
Copley Square, Boston, MA


Brandpoint. 2015. Why a diverse workforce works. March 25, 2015.
Guynn, Jessica, 2015. Diversity Gets Googled. USA Today. May 7, 2015.

Nordberg, Jenny. 2014. The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. New York: Crown Publishers.

Welch, Jack, and Suzy Welch. 2015. The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

© 2015 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted. If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact me. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not reflect those of any other entity, person, agency, or organization.

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