The discussion around the impact of the political climate in corporate America often leads to the discussion of those with and without power. With the 2016 presidential election bringing about a new climate, the long-term effect on women in corporate America has yet to be fully experienced.
However, through the experience of new interactions and exchanges, we can begin to analyze the new trends at hand. Understanding how these interactions affect women in corporate America, and how women affect corporate America, can impact the value your company creates on the competitive level.
We spoke with Doug Harris, CEO of The Kaleidoscope Group. For almost 30 years, Doug Harris has impacted the American workplace with his work in Diversity & Inclusion (D&I). Combining compassion and a keen business sense, he has shepherded organizations, teams and executives forward as the diversity dialogue has evolved from compliance, to fostering inclusion and, ultimately, achieving exceptional business outcomes.
The energy and passion for his work have been described as “contagious,” and few have walked away with anything less than an unforgettable experience. His work extends back far enough that he was a part of the movements and conversations that birthed and developed the industry that has grown from what was once called “Affirmative Action: Next Phase.”
Christopher P. Skroupa: You talked about the political climate encouraging a “finger pointing” environment, but how has this new environment affected the way women are treated in corporate America?
Doug Harris: Women have always been the subject or object of subtle disempowerment. It comes by way of not hearing their voice in meetings, or by hearing another voice or by making another more important than theirs, and there was never really this consciousness as it relates to just demeaning people overtly.
I think what has happened is that when you start to do it so overtly in the name calling environment such as with Hillary [Clinton] and “ugly so-and-so,” and don’t have any understanding of the impact it makes. It is so much easier for people to feel good when all of their behavior is subtle.
We’ve gotten to a place where people were attempting to address the subtle issues at work, and that create inequity. I think his [Trump’s] way of being demeaning also includes positioning women in a way of being lesser people, and that is very impactful. What also is challenging is how, like with any issue, there are many women who are still supportive [of the president], which also creates a division between women based on receptiveness to finger-pointing.
So people, who are empowering leaders and colleagues in the female community, sometimes face a challenge, because they’re questioning their female colleagues saying, “I can’t believe you’re okay with that.” A second colleague might reply, “Look, that’s just the way things are going to be. That’s just male talk, I’m fine,” and a third colleague says, “No that’s not fine at all.” It’s creating division in ways that we don’t even have a total understanding of the long-term impact.
Skroupa: We talked about the concept of power, and how it exists in the thoughts of those who have it. How can we mold that thought so women on boards are viewed as value creators?
Harris: Most organizations who put women on boards are keen to, and aware, of the extreme value that they [women] bring to the table. I believe that, in order to maximize value, it has to be consistently sought, assessed, respected and valued as part of key decisions.
Sometimes, even when people exist at the table, the power of their voice is based on many factors other than qualifications, talent and the value of their voice. So we have to almost redefine power as the ability to empower others.
Historically power has been seen as how much of it can I get versus how much can I give out or how much can I help the esteem of others. Now these statements aren’t about “okay, let’s take care of our poor women they can’t handle themselves.”
It’s more so about, “let’s not think that the subtleties that create inequities do not exist.” And so let’s become a lot more conscious of how we hear, listen, value and then how we touch base with our women colleagues to make sure our voice are heard in equitable ways.
Skroupa: The “bridge builders” can’t be “finger pointers” when trying to help their clients. How do you work with your team so they operate with higher levels of impact?
Harris: Today, a lot of things are taking place in our society which are creating some ill feelings in many different directions, and the intensity of those feelings are growing based on the consistency and frequency of these negative viewpoints being shared. So, one of the things that you can easily fall into is going into a feeling of hatred and dislike that leads you to be just as exclusive, even though you believe you’re living on the best side of the inclusion world.
So operating at a higher level of impact is all about being open, and what makes it easier to be open to all is to understand that people are just a product of where they came from, what they experience and who they respect – and it could be that some people are instilling messages that might not be in line with the norm of inclusion.
If we’re going to be able to impact people, because inclusion is about having everybody in the game operating at their best, we have to meet people where they are and not get personally impacted to the point where we can’t understand those we disagree with, even if that disagreement is pretty strong.
Finger-pointing is not the answer, bridge building is just being able to bring people into understanding. I was at a panel that was attached to racial equality in the town of Oak Park, Illinois, and one of the individuals on the panel was an ex-skinhead, and there were people in the room talking about how we need to call him out. Or expose him.
There was another man who was a diversity consultant who said, “Calling it out and exposing them just leads them to dig deeper and get stronger and feel as though they are successful.” Their hatred, in an attempt to be matched, only empowers those who are in a hatred mode.
The consultant said there were individuals who came to him with love, and understood where he came from; which was place of loneliness that the skinheads took advantage of and brought him into their fold. So we have to be able to share with people in a way that gives them the value, gives them respect and brings them in because of our understanding versus our insights around being correct. That is a true bridge builder, and that is how we operate with our clients.
Skroupa: Finally, we talked about operating with love. How is operating with love going to lead to positively impactful outcomes?
Harris: Love is a powerful word and it has a lot of different looks to it, and I think the key to love is that we address behaviors, versus people. When you operate with love, the key thing is you avoid the judgment of others. Most people believe their opinion is right, versus their opinion is right for only them.
Once you truly embrace love, you gain the ability to understand where everyone is coming from. All you do then is begin, through that understanding, to package messages and your desires in a way that is better understood by those you’re trying to inspire and move.
So in this space of operating with love, people feel love. People feel love even in disagreement. People feel love when they know you are in a very different place than them, and your outcomes might be different than theirs. Sometimes it may not come right away, and it may not work with every single individual, but if we can share love we can then get the best out of individuals.
What’s taking place today in our society is, if you make a mistake, there’s name calling, there’s finger pointing, there’s no love attached to it. How could I crucify you based on the mistake you made, whatever that mistake might be? What love does is just reverse that process.
It starts with understanding, but it also starts with the courage to correct. So instead of being mad with individuals, be willing and courageous enough to say, “It’s love I got, but at the same time I’m trying to impact the direction we’re going.” I had a conversation with a few colleagues around freedom of speech, and do we still believe in freedom of speech?
Now I believe totally that we still embrace the concept of freedom of speech, but there’s also a concept called disrespectful communication. Disrespectful communication might not be against the law, but disrespectful communication can have some consequences, and so the mindset has been the attempt to create freedom of speech should not come with consequences.
An example I often share is about a guy working a clothing store. He’s a new employee, and on his first day a customer comes in looking for a new suit. The new salesperson says, “I hope you are because the one you have on right now looks pitiful on you.” So, he has the freedom of speech to say that, but his manager has the freedom of choice to fire him.
So, if you’re not aware enough to understand the difference between disrespectful conversation and freedom of speech, you’ll probably be able to figure that out while you’re in the unemployment line. Love is founded in respect. Love is founded in a way where people are able to express where they’re coming from, and not a way to hurt, but to build up. Not a way to fight, but to encourage and love. Apply this to business operations, and I believe love can make positive impacts.
Doug Harris will be giving a presentation entitled The Male Perspective About Women’s Issues: The Role of Men as Ambassador’s of Change, as well as be a moderator and panelist for Chief Diversity Officer: Influencer, Leader and Change Agent and The Political Climate: How It Impacts National and State Policy on Gender Equality, respectively, at the Gender Equality in the C-Suite & Boardroom conference on November 15-16 in Chicago, IL.