Inclusiveness: Wall Street vs. Main Street

I recently read an article in the New York Times, How Wall Street Bro Talk Keeps Women Down by Sam Polk.

As the head of an organization dedicated to the advancement of women, I had to ask myself “Is this really 2016?” The article highlighted the misogyny that still exists on Wall Street, where according to Polk, “a woman has never been the chief executive of a major investment bank. Only about 2 percent of hedge fund managers are women.”

Polk pinpoints two major causes for the absence of women in high places: a culture that disrespects women and uses “bro talk” to objectify them… and an unwillingness by men to attack that culture because they will pay a substantial price, both financially and socially, for not going along.

That may be Wall Street.

But how about Main Street?
When I reflected further, I started to compare my experiences working with executives in some of the world’s leading organizations. (Yes, they are mostly men.)  Fortunately, what I see is a very different story. The majority of male business leaders are seeking to understand what they need to do to advance female talent. Yes, there is gender bias, along with other biases.  At the same time, there is an increasing awareness of the problems these biases create and a commitment to develop new strategies. The stumbling block is that often male executives do not see their organizations through the same lens as women.

Specifically, here’s what’s different from the “force field of disrespect and exclusion” Polk outlined:

More men in high places are understanding that bias must be attacked; that evidence overwhelmingly points to the need for a more diverse C-suite; that developing a pipeline of talented women is not just the right thing to do… it’s the smart thing to do.  What’s more, they are seeing to it that the inclusiveness message gets down to the level where the tapping of talented women begins.

Men who have it right
In our 22 years of helping organizations enjoy the benefits of advancing female talent, WOMEN Unlimited has worked with over 11,300 women and their managers, over 60% of whom are men. We have seen the veil of bias drop away as the managers witness first hand, the emergence of leadership talent in the women on their teams. We have seen more senior male executives choosing to mentor our participants and coming away with new insights on how to advocate for, and implement diversity initiatives.

Two specific examples
Bobby Rodriguez, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, was recently interviewed by WOMEN Unlimited. From his perspective, and it is a bird’s eye view, the over-all picture is a lot rosier than Wall Street: “I hope women know that there are many men – and women – who believe in them and who want to help them grow, develop and make it to the top.”

Tom Dybro, a long-time mentor to WOMEN Unlimited participants, posted a blog on our site and included this observation: “I see 80% of my mentoring job as holding a mirror up to a woman’s individual choices long enough for her to look at her assumptions and reflect on how and where to make required changes.

It’s Hard Work and It’s Starting to Get Done
Of course, I realize there’s a long way to go before true inclusiveness becomes ubiquitous. There certainly remain pockets of entrenched misogyny, like the ones Polk points out. But they’re starting to loosen up. For reasons both ethical and profitable, more and more companies are embracing the reality that female talent is a resource to be nurtured, developed and retained.

So, leaning on an old cliché, I choose to believe the glass is half full.

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi

President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.