Scene: A nondescript meeting room in a generic office. White walls, digital equipment, one sad potted plant, glaring electric lights, cups of coffee, a few biscuits.
Enter: a prospective supplier, represented by an all-white male team of presenters.
As they start their pitch, introducing their company and the key stakeholders you would be interacting with, it becomes apparent that women and other minorities are something of an endangered, if not an extinct species, in their ranks. Or maybe they just haven’t discovered them yet.
You: are listening to the pitch and notice the imbalance. What do you do?
1) Have a Don Draper moment. What’s the problem honey? Ask these gentlemen how they’d like their coffee.
2) Despair but don’t show any outward emotion. This is what most meetings look like, this is the demographic of most existing providers. How will your protestations change anything?
3) Challenge them during the Q&A at the end of the presentation. Do you employ any women or minorities? No, I didn’t mean your PA but that’s good to know. Next question.
4) Talk to their bottom line. My company values diversity, real diversity, at all hierarchical levels, and I can’t imagine partnering with a provider, even a leader in its field, who doesn’t. (NB: Only works if your company actually values diversity. If everyone in the room is a white man, it will sound like a sick joke)
If you work in a corporate environment, chances are you’ve been in this meeting. How you react doesn’t just depend on your values and your beliefs, it also depends on your company and your standing within it.
I’ve been in this meeting and I have found that it is always easier to notice and shut up than protest, even during the closed door choice of supplier meeting that follows.
As an underling, there to take notes, it’s probably better not to speak out of turn.
But if you are higher up in the hierarchy, and have a decisive voice in the suppliers you pick, not saying anything would be just as bad a choosing one job interview candidate based on nothing but race or gender.
The makeup of the panel you sit with - in majority male or female - is another variable. Picture the meeting, as an all male, one woman-audience. As this woman, even if you take issue with the absence of diversity, you probably won’t challenge it because your colleagues might not side with you, or it might start defining you. You don’t want to become known as the bitch around, still too common a problem in offices. Picture the same meeting, with only women in attendance. If you are one of this women, you are more likely to find echoing arguments, or at least sympathy, around the table, and therefore more likely to protest.
This is common day sexism and racism. Whether you are sitting in this meeting not seeing issues, whether I am sitting in this meeting and shutting up, whether you are the supplier who thinks it’s ok to have an homogeneous workforce or the company who doesn’t make its employees comfortable about speaking up in such situations, we are part of why there is still a 15,7% wage gap between men and women, and why people of colour earn less on average than white people. Isn’t it time we start protesting?