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The Shadow

Actions to Disrupt the “Maler and Paler” Effect

Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Companies: we believe in meritocracy around here; but, image shows pyramid of faces, white males at top, woman and bipoc below

1. Set up a reverse mentoring relationship

Many leaders genuinely believe they’re creating meritocracies, where women and people from other underrepresented groups can get ahead on their merits. However, when you look at the data, many organizations become “maler” and “paler” the closer you get to the C-Suite.

This image by Braveen Kumar, who works on growth at Shopify, says it all.

Whether your organization looks like Braveen’s image or not, here’s an idea for better allies everywhere. Set up a reverse mentoring relationship with a member of an underrepresented group. In What’s Keeping Black Workers From Moving Up the Corporate Ladder?, Rachelle Olden, a marketing manager at Microsoft, told the Wall Street Journal:

“Certain gestures, even when small, have been meaningful, she says, such as when a senior white executive in a group video chat corrected someone who had mispronounced her name or when another leader asked last year if she would be interested in a ‘reverse mentorship’ relationship with him. The two meet via video regularly to swap and learn from each others’ experiences. ‘These are the things that add up and make me feel included,’ she says.”

2. Endorse someone who receives patronizing or hostile questions

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and author, recently tweeted:

“People often take men’s expertise for granted, but expect women to prove theirs. New study of econ presentations: women aren’t just interrupted more. They’re asked more hostile and patronizing questions. Respect shouldn’t be contingent on identity.”

When we hear condescending or antagonistic questions, let’s speak up in support of the presenter. Share what you just learned from them. Praise their strategy. Mention what actions you’ll take because you attended their presentation.

In other words, endorse them publicly.

(To read about the study Grant mentioned, check out this New York Times story.)

3. Share your salary

You’ve probably heard the stats about women earning less than their male counterparts and that women of color earn even less. And you might have thought, “Okay, but that doesn’t happen at my company.” Well, are you sure? Here are just a few data points:

  • Women software engineers receive 83% of the salary that male software engineers receive. source
  • Women financial managers earn 71% of what their male counterparts earn. source
  • Women EMTs and paramedics earn 66% of what men receive. source
  • Since 2000, US income growth for Black workers has been slower than for white workers in every wage bracket. source

If your company hasn’t already instituted a pay equity review, you have work to do. Do you have the power to make this happen for your team — or, better yet, for your larger function or business unit? If so, use your privilege to move your organization toward pay equity.

Here’s another idea that a software engineer tweeted this past week, “Share your salary with your woman and BIPOC colleagues.” Give them the data points they can use to negotiate or decide they should go somewhere else to get the pay they deserve.

(BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.)

4. Understand if women are leaving your organization in record numbers

As US Vice President Harris recently said, the 2.5 million women who have left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic constitutes a national emergency.

Allies, I encourage you to look internally. Are women leaving your organization in record numbers? Consider asking about it at your next all-hands meeting. Also, ask what’s being done to retain women going forward.

5. Got a new wellness perk? Push for more investment in inclusion.

In The Rise of the Wellness App in the New York Times Magazine, I learned about the history of employer-sponsored health insurance and corporate wellness programs in the US. TL;DR? The former started as a strategy to attract workers given labor shortages post World War II. The latter emerged in the 1950s to increase worker productivity and reduce ballooning medical costs.

Fast forward to today, and we see corporate wellness programs surging in popularity because of COVID-19. I get it. Pandemic fatigue is real.

Yet, this quote from the article is telling.

“There’s simply no amount of free therapy or other corporate wellness perks that can offset the toxicity of racism and sexism in the workplace.”

Allies, we’ve got so much work to do. If you have a corporate wellness program or hear about a new wellness perk, ask if your organization is making an equal investment in inclusion programs. Programs to help create a workplace where everyone can do their best work and thrive.

That’s all for this week. I wish you strength and safety as we all move forward,

— Karen Catlin, Founder and Author of Better Allies®

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Better Allies®

Better Allies®

Everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces. Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies® approach.