Recap: Fenwick & West Diversity & Inclusion Summit

April 26th, 2018

Last month, I had the privilege to attend a Diversity & Inclusion Summit, hosted by the law firm Fenwick & West at the Stanford Alumni Center. We didn’t yet have the blog live, so I couldn’t write about it immediately. However, I found the opening panel, in particular, especially compelling, so am sharing my thoughts now. Similar to Dani’s blog last week, I have structured this blog around three quotes that especially resonated with me.

Quote #1

“Gender diversity – it’s a man’s job.”

Anita Sands, Board Director at Symantec, ServiceNow, Pure Storage, ThoughtWorks

The Context

This comment came in the context of discussing gender diversity on Boards of Directors and in senior leadership roles within corporations. With this comment, Anita was essentially saying that since men are generally in dominant positions of power, it is their responsibility to find, promote, and support women in moving into more senior roles. While I have heard many people talk about how men need to be involved in supporting women, I don’t know that I have ever heard anyone put it so bluntly.

Why it Matters

If you agree with the quote, then it is up to men in positions of power to make fundamental changes that will get more women into senior leadership roles. One approach discussed was changing the requirements for women on boards (e.g., dropping the requirement for Board members to be a former CEO/CFO) and considering other meaningful experiences that could benefit the Board. Another approach was expanding beyond the existing Board’s network to find future Board candidates and perhaps engaging executive recruiting firms that specialize in finding high-quality female talent. Finally, the panel discussed moving beyond a “token” female member, but rather having a meaningful percentage (e.g., at least one-third) of the Board comprised of women. The idea is to fundamentally shift the culture and make it one where it was hard to ignore the perspective of female Board members and make it a group where the women would want to stay.

Quote #2

“If you’re not intentionally including, you’re unintentionally excluding.”

Michelle Skoor, Director of Programs, Lesbians Who Tech

The Context

Michelle was discussing how Lesbians Who Tech selects its speaker population for its annual conference, and how it should be gender balanced and have a high representation of LGBTQ individuals.

Why it Matters

This quote can be applied to almost any HR process, policy or practice. In particular, one speaker discussed how organizations need to re-examine all of their human capital management practices to identify where unconscious bias may exist. For example, in talent acquisition, companies can identify bias in job descriptions (Textio enables organizations to do this) or make salary offers based on the market value of a job, not a person’s past salary (using salary history especially negatively impacts diverse people – this practice is no longer allowed in California and Massachusetts).

In performance management, companies can begin to identify if certain language is used more often when giving feedback to women or men (Zugata offers a service that can do this), and to then coach people on how to approach feedback differently.

Companies can also, obviously, analyze compensation, and make adjustments, such as what Salesforce did recently. Another speaker mentioned the intentional changes that Harvey Mudd College has made to its computer science program to make it more approachable for young women, which has led to female enrollment increasing to more than 50% women.

Quote #3

“Diversity of thought is a thing, but not the thing we are solving for. Not when folks still struggle to get a cab in New York City.”

David Julius King, III, Director of Diversity and Belonging at Airbnb

The Context

This comment was made in the course of a “debate” about what it means when leaders use the word “diversity.” In essence, David was saying that while there may be value in diversity of thought, the big struggle – especially the one that Airbnb has worked to address on its own platform – remains visible diversity.

Why it Matters

In the course of the conversation, panelists shared that a focus on visible diversity as a proxy for cognitive diversity was deeply problematic. First, one panelist stated that people could all look different, but have attended the same schools and have the same training, making them more similar than different. Second – and this panelist’s comment was even more critical – was that for people who experience discrimination regularly, when companies focus on diversity of thought, it minimizes the importance of the discrimination, which is deeply off-putting.

This debate matters because many organizations today are talking about the value of diversity being in the resulting diversity of thought (and the connection between that and business outcomes). However, in trying to connect diversity to business results, these panelists raised the point that organizations may actually be alienating many diverse people. If true, this is a paradox that organizations need to consider.

Something new, remarkable, or that changed our thinking

Michelle Skoor shared information about, which was new to me. The organization is trying to address the problem that there are many people – and especially people from diverse communities – who may lack a degree or formal education, but have the knowledge or skills organizations need, obtained through community college courses, work experience, “bootcamps,” or the like. connects those people with mentors at corporations, to help them refine their skills and guide them on searching for a job.

The idea is that those mentors can then “validate” people’s skills, after having established a relationship with them. It’s an interesting idea, and may give corporations an actionable step for their employees to take to do good in the world, diversify their network, and connect with new talent pools.

Something I will do differently as a result of the event

Listen much more carefully / research more the topic of visible vs. cognitive diversity and diverse populations’ perceptions of it.

People or organizations of particular note

  • David Julius King, III, Director of Diversity and Belonging at Airbnb
  • Lesbians Who Tech

What resonated with you from this post? We’d love your feedback!

Stacia Garr Redthread Research
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst
Siddardh Alwar