Is Your Company’s Decision-Making Dominated by the Usual Suspects?

The field of health-care workers that my publication is written for quickly is becoming majority female, and young. Before the last five to 10 years, the field was dominated by white men, often at least 50 years old. Now the readers sound a lot like me—female and early forties or younger. Despite this, when my editor looks for speakers and other business contacts to present at our events, he turns to the small circle he is comfortable with.

As a white man, over the age of 60, who brags that he stopped listening to music when the Beatles broke up, this statesman of my company is not unique. There are many others like him at my company, and yours, too, probably. As the corporate populations shifts, with many more women and people of younger ages and diverse backgrounds moving into decision-making roles, those older people who are clinging to their positions of power longer than any generation before them are still deciding who gets a platform.

Harvard Business Review has looked at the issue of race in corporations, and how to create a truly diverse company that goes beyond feeling good that many women and people from diverse backgrounds have been hired. These new additions to your company aren’t going to make an impact unless they are asked to the table where opinions are shared and decisions are made, and given opportunities to speak publicly.

My editor, who has been charged with organizing speaking events, videos, and podcasts, prides himself on being a progressive, sensitive, champion of women. Yet, he, and the other men of his age, race, and background, are not brave when lining up people to present on behalf of the company. They turn to the safe choices most often—meaning people who look like them, and are, indeed, often demographic replicas of themselves.

The danger of adding a diverse set of employees to your company, while leaving the same people in charge of handing out communication platforms, is that nothing changes, and faulty decisions are made. For example, I’m the only woman younger than 60 who works on our publication. We have an editorial advisor, who is a woman, albeit over 60, who I greatly admire, but she isn’t a primary contributor to the publication. As a result, I find myself constantly pushing back and explaining the approach I take to the publication to three people—all male and over 60—who do not represent our changing readership, who look, and probably think, a lot more like me than them.

People of different ages, genders, and race, have greatly different perspectives. I’ve noticed that our women readers closer in age to myself tend to be drawn more to sharing their experiences from a first-person, experiential, anecdotal perspective, rather than from a charts-and-numbers perspective. The problem? My collective of nearly senior citizen, male colleagues prefers to speak in charts and numbers. To preserve my job, I fulfill their wishes, but realize that the vast majority of our readers want stories, feelings, and personal perspective much more than financial figures and graphs.

Similarly, while we do occasionally have women around my age who speak at our events, it seems we too often see the same people on the stage—again the demographic replicas of the decision-makers at my company. In addition to the reflexive tuning out that can occur when you are being instructed by a person with whom you feel you have little to nothing in common, the advice given may be dated. Many of these people might not even know how to post a picture on Facebook or have an Instagram account or any apps on their phones that didn’t come already loaded.

In addition to hiring an admirably diverse group of employees, it’s important to think about how those people can immediately begin influencing corporate decisions and public communications. How do you do that?

Fast-tracking promising young employees into leadership roles can backfire, with unqualified people being set up for failure. One thing you can do is regularly (every month or every quarter) invite new hires and high potentials into meetings where marketing and other decisions are being made. Doing so provides them with leadership training, and sets your company up to be a business that people (other than those awaiting a Beatles reunion) will want to support.

How do you ensure you’re giving a public communications platform and decision-making voices to younger, more diverse people in your company?


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