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Startup Parenthood: Can Diversity in the workplace be legislated?

Gender balance in the workplaceWe are not there yet

After a hiatus in this series due largely to helping my team kick ass at RJMetrics over the past quarter or so, I’m back, and I’m fired up.

This 6th post was to round out a series of 3 posts about what does flexibility in the workplace mean about company culture.  I find myself in a place where I see the enabling of flexibility is not separate from the notion of diversity in the workplace.  At its most simplest level, the flexibility needs of an organization’s staff are going to be as diverse as the diversity of the staff itself.  If you have a team of that is made up 100% of nursing mothers, then you had better have lots of private spaces for them to do so.  If it’s made up of a bunch of intramural athletes, then being able to leave to play a sport at 5:30 or 6 is important.  And so on.

But that is at the most simplest level…what got me thinking about this whole thing is that I had a conversation with a new friend a few months ago who found her way to me by virtue of these posts and her own role in thinking about and helping to increase diversity in the legal profession.  Specifically, she asked, how did we build the culture at RJMetrics?  Did it take executive sponsorship, was someone in charge of diversity, or something else entirely?

I find it fascinating that she equated diversity with having a culture flexible enough to support parents.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized she’s right (see my simple point above).  But that begged the question as to how did we get here?  Am I an executive sponsor?  Am I in charge of diversity?  And as soon as one frames it in terms of diversity, then a whole new conversation starts about the different kinds of diversity, many of which have laws attached to them.  There’s even a conversation about how “diversity” has lost its meaning.

So I asked myself: can one legislate diversity in the workplace?

While this new friend may have viewed us as being at the “cutting edge” of this flexible culture thing, the reality is that we still have a roughly 70/30 ratio of men to women, and don’t break any Silicon Valley averages around other kinds of diversity.   And you’ll note that 11 months into this series, we’re still exactly where we were started from a gender ratios perspective.  I was sad about that for a while (not sure what I was expecting – 50/50 in 6 months or less?!).  But then I had the proverbial A-ha moment:  if you compare the office today to a year ago, there is a ton going on around diversity, supporting parenthood, flexibility and so on.  Here are some highlights:

  • We now have a recurring ladies happy hour that has yielded valuable togetherness these women needed, and insights for me about what we can be doing better
  • We have taken that recurring ladies happy hour and broken it out into departmental ones (combining some because, well, there are only 1 or 2 women in that department) – these have yielded department-specific insights that probably wouldn’t have come out in the all-company ones
  • We have had multiple diversity-related trainings with various team members (senior and not so senior) saying some really valuable things about how these issues strike them
  • We have a Head of People who was already fired up about these issues, but is now empowered to do something about them
  • We have a #StartupParenthood Slack channel, where just the other day a father posted a proud pic of what he did with his daughter’s hair
  •  We now offer Short Term Disability!
  • I now have 3 parents of very young children on my team

 

I am perhaps most proud to say that we’ve never had a parent leave RJMetrics after having a child.  While I 100% support any person’s decision to not work outside the home, I am really proud that we have been able to create a work environment palatable to parents – all of them!

None of these things were true a year ago, and they mean that we’re on the upswing in terms of the company culture as it relates to flexibility and diversity.  So back to the question – can you legislate diversity in the workplace?  I think the answer is that society must have legislation that prevents discrimination, but I do not think you can proscribe the type of changes and growth we’ve been experiencing at RJ.  My take on what has happened is that my focus on and vocal support of these issues laid the groundwork for a lot of independent initiatives to grow, but I did not proscribe anything.  Does that make me an executive sponsor?  I am hesitant to wear that moniker because I don’t do much else beyond make sure my voice is heard anytime an issue in this arena is brought up around me, and by doing my best to create an environment where parents are comfortable enough to talk to me.  I’m not starting any new programs;  I’m not leading any workshops.  I’m not setting an agenda for how we grow our culture in this way, but I am making sure I pay attention to how we develop this culture.  Most importantly, I act upon any negative potential trend I see right away.  As they say in AA, you have to take it one day at a time – and roughly 330 days later, I’m super proud of what I can say about our culture thus far.

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