The former COO of Pinterest is currently suing the company for work discrimination. In a blog post on Medium, Francoise Brougher alleges she was fired for “speaking out about the rampant discrimination, hostile work environment, and misogyny that permeates Pinterest.”
She says she was excluded from conversations, meetings and conferences. She also found her vesting schedule was significantly lower than her male counterpart. And she says she was criticized for her communication style and challenging of peers, saying her review “was a textbook case of the ‘abrasiveness trap.’”
“What happened to me at Pinterest,” she writes, “reflects a pattern of discrimination and exclusion that many female executives experience, not only in the tech industry but throughout corporate America.”
How can you identify potential problem areas in your own company? What can you do about it as an executive?
Know what work discrimination is.
According to Brenda J. Allen, PhD, Professor Emerita at University of Colorado Denver and owner of BJouA Consulting, the best way for you to know what work discrimination is, is to get educated and be well-informed. Even if you have the best of intentions, you may be unaware of certain behaviors you exhibit that might be considered discriminatory.
“It wasn’t until I got information about other people that I then could be more aware of ways I was perpetuating certain things without even knowing it,” Allen said. “When you have the lenses and the filter and some education and examples for how it occurs, you can be on the lookout. Once you know better, then you can do better.”
Professional development opportunities abound in which you can learn about how and where work discrimination occurs, and how you can be more alert. Clarify what discrimination is to your employees, and make sure they are aware of your company’s anti-discrimination policy. “You have to equip your employees to succeed,” Allen says.
Establish a culture of inclusion.
Perhaps the most important thing leaders can do, according to Allen, is establish a culture of inclusion. She says these issues should be baked into how you do business, and leaders should understand discrimination not only for the legal implications but for striving for inclusion and equity overall.
“My mantra is a strategic and systemic and sustainable approach to cultivating an inclusive organization,” she says. “’Cultivating’ implies you work hard, are committed, have a sense it is valuable.”
According to Allen, the research is very clear that promoting diversity and inclusion benefit organizations in a number of ways, such as profitability, positive brand imaging, higher market value, higher customer satisfaction and truly being able to recruit and retain a variety of talent. “There is a return on that investment in multiple ways for those who say they are equitable and really are demonstrating it,” Allen said.
Pay attention to patterns.
Allen says the types of behavior Brougher alleges are, unfortunately, textbook acts of discrimination. “Most of what she describes is nothing new, but we keep hearing these reports and having people courageous enough to tell their story,” Allen says. “Behind that are so many untold stories.”
She suggests starting with self-predictable behavior. “If you learn about things like microagression, gendered language and more, you can understand certain behaviors and patterns,” she said.
Using a “smart approach” by looking for biases through data can also help. Consider implementing a 360 feedback strategic metric or software in which everyone gets to weigh in and patterns can be revealed.
Take allegations seriously.
Empower your employees to speak up and have some kind of mechanism for people to report issues. Let your employees know you are open to feedback, and that if you have said or done something that seems to favor or disfavor an employee, you want them to help you understand that.
Allen says non-dominate groups routinely don’t feel valued or respected or empowered to speak up and speak out for fear of not being taken seriously, or worse, retaliation. “Develop guidelines and have everyone agree on value system and how it will be implemented,” she says. “Hold everyone accountable, and applaudable, starting with yourself.”
She suggested giving people, including yourself, a bit of grace in dealing with these issues. “Leaders have to understand what we are up against is as long as organizations have existed, you have certain people whose perspectives more valuable than others,” Allen said. “We have all perpetuated that and any work will take time and effort and true commitment.”
Being a leader means modeling appropriate behavior. Educate yourself and be proactive in curbing discriminatory behaviors. The more open you are about having the difficult conversations with your staff, the less likely work discrimination will be an issue.
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