When our parents and grandparents were young, the U.S. workforce was dominated by Caucasian males, and most women stayed home to take care of their families.
Considering the racial makeup and the cultural mores of the U.S. during this period, it’s clear that the male-dominated workforce (MDW) was a product of its time and not a malevolent plan to exclude women and minorities from the top echelon of business. However, that is exactly what happened. The Center for American Progress says that only 14.6 percent of executive officers in this country are women, and a mere 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. In a February 2015 article, the Huffington Post stated that just .8 percent of our Fortune-500 companies would have CEOs who are African American by March of that same year.
Old Habits Die Hard
Today’s U.S. workforce is more diverse than ever, yet many workplaces are still playing by the same unwritten rules that were prevalent through the 1970s–some would say even longer. How is this still happening? One way is the subtle exclusion that occurs when mentees are assigned to, or selected for, management programs. To this day, the majority of individuals in top management are Caucasian males, and people tend to gravitate toward those who are like them. Therefore, the individuals who are selected for these coveted spots are also most often Caucasian males. This selection process is unfortunate because it perpetuates the behaviors of the dominant work culture and reduces the opportunity for an organization to build a diverse team of leaders. Another reason is that minorities, particularly females, are often not included in activities that occur away from the workplace. Key connections are made and deals get done during these activities, which take place at golf courses, gyms, sporting events, and happy hours.
Moving Past the Unwritten Rules of the Male-Dominated Workplace
How can your organization move past the unwritten rules of the MDW? First, change your template or your idea of a leader. Ask others what they think of when they hear the word “leader,” and you will likely hear many replies that include words like “strong,” “capable,” “aggressive,” and “confident”–all descriptors that are typically associated with males. Remember that leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and they can definitely have different leadership styles that are just as, if not more, effective than the styles of those we typically view as leaders. Just because a leader is not aggressive does not mean that she is not effective. A leader can prefer to lead by consensus and influence, yet be just as effective as other types of leaders. Get to know your top performers for their abilities, not their similarities to current management.
Next, build a culture of inclusivity. Think about ALL of your potential leaders. Are you currently excluding any of them from networking opportunities that would allow them to build relationships with top management? Consider where the key informal communication and relationship building take place. Is anyone being excluded from these opportunities? If so, make the necessary changes to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Instead of golf, choose a different activity; one where all feel welcome to participate.
Change is Difficult
If you are serious about pushing past the unwritten rules of the MDW, then you need to make lasting changes. In addition to being more inclusive, look for ways to develop the high-potential women and minorities in your organization. To accomplish this, ensure that executives participate in the training and growth of these individuals, and that these same executives are held responsible for the progress and ultimate success of your high-potential minorities and women. Organizations that succeed in developing and placing these individuals in top-management positions will be rewarded with the unique thoughts, opinions, and ideas–imperatives for continued success in our ever-changing, increasingly diverse world.