Q: What’s The Only Thing That Should Be All White?

A: The White House building, not our workforce.

Just the facade, not the interior. That’s mostly marble.

This sentiment was shared on April 12, Equal Pay Day (yes, it’s a thing), and it is one that has shown to be backed by years of exceptional research.

I was one of 130 people who had the immense privilege of diving into that research at the Diversity in Corporate America briefing in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building today.

The discussion was brief, the cellular service choppy, but the message rang loud and clear — diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not just a nice-to-have anymore; it’s a must-have.

Here are the stats to prove it:

1. Diversity makes more money.

And no, I’m not talking about university ads of students sitting on the grass.

An extensive study by the Peterson Institute of 22,000 companies in 91 countries yielded some starting results: Diversity actually makes companies a lot more profitable.

Companies with more women leaders can expect up to a 6 percentage point increase in net profit. In the study, each percentage point represents a 15% boost, which translates to a whopping 90% increase in profitability.

So yes, it does make business sense to hire ’em ladies.

Why didn’t I think of this before?!

2. Gender balance is crucial for good teams.

Tried and tested by the 18th largest employer in the world.

As one of the world’s leading food and facilities management companies, Sodexo has a steadfast commitment to gender diversity in the workplace — and they decided to justify it.

They ran an internal study covering 100 entities and 50,000 employees in 80 countries, and discovered a shocking fact: Gender-balanced teams with a male-female ratio of 40% / 60% perform significantly better.

They had higher engagement rates, brand image, client retention, organic growth, and even profit.

Most surprisingly, gender balance only improved team performance when 50/50 balance was achieved. When a particular gender skewed above 60%, the team’s performance plateaued.

This just goes to show that no gender is better than the other; diversity is what really matters here.

You go, Glen Coco.

3. Promoting diversity at work can be risky.

At least, if you’re non-male and/or non-white.

A fascinating study by the University of Colorado-Boulder sheds light on a dire issue: If you’re a white and male executive, you are not rewarded for helping non-white or non-male colleagues; in fact, if you’re non-white or non-male, you actually get punished for it.

350 executives took a self-reported survey on respecting differences in the workplace. Ironically, the more accepting of diversity they were, the worse they were rated on performance reviews by their superiors and peers.

However, this only applied to non-whites and non-males. They were judged really harshly if they advocated for people who were perceived as ‘the same’. But it was perfectly fine for white men to speak up for other white men.

For all our talk on promoting diversity, it’s unconscious biases like these that eat away at any progress we might make.

“Yo sista, I really wanna put in a good word for ya, but…”

4. The “minority” in the pool won’t get hired.

Diversifying the pool by adding one or two “qualified” minorities won’t help.

There’s a status quo when it comes to subjective issues like hiring. It’s our availability heuristic at play––if we only see white male CEOs, we envision future CEOs to be white and male, too. But that does nothing for diversity.

The solution? Status Quo Bias Reversal.

We can flip status quo bias by looking at a microcosm of it––selection bias. In an interview setting, what happens when all the finalists are women and only one man? Most times, interviewers would choose the man, even if he was the most unqualified. But if it was all women (a.k.a. the status quo), they would choose the most qualified woman. Strange, huh?

The team at CU-Boulder tested this IRL, and these were their results: If there were 3 women and 1 man, the man was hired 25% of the time. 2 women and 2 men, a man was hired 44% of the time. 3 men and 1 woman? She is never ever hired, because it’s too salient when there is only one lady.

The interviewers are thinking, “Why is this girl applying? Does she know she is female?” (The speaker’s words, not mine.) In such a situation, the woman needs to call the interviewer out and say: “Look, I know I’m a woman, but I am qualified. Let me show you.” That act alone breaks the unconscious bias and allows them to really focus on her credentials––which should be the real qualifier for the job in the first place.

“You’re getting the job, Peter, but only by a slight margin — there are two ladies present here today…”

5. Women are less likely to negotiate salaries.

This is something we should fix, instead of just accepting it as the norm.

In honor of Equal Pay Day, I’ve decided to end on this note. Statistics by the nonprofit Catalyst are horrifying: Women on average earn $4600 less than men when they first graduate. Later, the pay gap widens to $430,000; for Latinas, in particular, it’s an astounding $1,000,000.

According to Carnegie Mellon University, there are two reasons for this:

  1. Women are much less likely to initiate for anything—pay, promotion, opportunities, assignments—which has consequences for pay equity.

The solution is not as easy as “asking women to be bolder”. It turns out most bosses have a very negative reaction to women asserting themselves; more often than not, the result may be more detrimental to the woman’s job.

A potential solution? Transparent market data on salaries. This can keep employers accountable in their decisions while providing women a referral point for salary negotiations.

The devil is in the details, and sometimes, the devil is women’s adherence to the rules. If we can change the game by opening up salary data, then maybe women can start playing by a different set of rules.

2. There needs to be more “work-work” balance from men and women.

Work-work balance can be defined as how you allocate your time across a set of tasks at work. There are two types of tasks: promotable tasks (what you’re evaluated on) and non-promotable tasks (service jobs like refilling printers). Unsurprisingly, more women spend time on the latter, which leads bosses to think that women are ineffective and underperforming on the job.

Why do they spend so much time on non-promotable tasks, you may ask?

Just like the chores in most patriarchal households, when there is a NPT to be done, most bosses ask WOMEN to do it — and most of the time, they say yes. It’s a case of “damned if they do, damned if they don’t”. If they reject their bosses, they’re being disrespectful; but if they do it, it gives others a reason to call them out.

The best way forward is for everyone to rotate through the tasks. That way, you get to #sharetheload (S/O to Ariel) while promoting *true* equality.

“Hey, let me help you with that printer…”

At the end of the day, diversity in the workplace isn’t the job of the whites, the management, or even the government: it’s the job of every single one of us. We need to wake up and realize this is important––not just for our companies and economies, but for the world to reach its fullest potential.

Diversity and inclusion isn’t a singular act. It’s in the opportunities we share, the company we keep, and the choices we make.

I hope we all make fair, objective, better-informed ones.


Gwen Yi is a KL-born, SF-based writer, entrepreneur and community builder. Her skillsets are as diverse as she hopes our workforce to be. Contact her with opportunities at me[at]gwenyi[dot]com.

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