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Good Intentions & Paths To Hell

Late one night several months ago, I was talking to a friend. He manages a team, and he had a promotion to offer, wanted to talk out his options.

He told me there were three people on his team who were qualified candidates, and he was seriously considering two of them. One: he gets great results, but he’s difficult to get along with. The other: he’s slightly less effective, but builds productive, happy, successful teams. These gents, he laid out, are his two most viable options.

“And what about the third?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t want to add to her pressure. She has young kids,” he said, very matter of factly.

Insert Dramatic Head Swivel.

First, let me say this: this is one of the good guys. He works hard. Teaches his daughters well. Respects and supports his (very strong) wife. Is kind. Is involved. Is good. He, himself, had to take significant time off for an ill family member, and deeply understands the pressures on working parents.

This third employee - the woman - I know he really really wanted to do right by her. He thought that not considering her for the promotion was the KIND thing to do.

So, I took a breath. I (swiftly and gently and directly - somehow not letting the “late night beverages” make me go all arms-flailing-on-my-soap box) asked, “Why are you making the decision for her? Did she tell you she didn’t want the job?”

Blink. Blink. Brow Furrow.

Here’s the thing, Good Intent is Everywhere. It’s in the annual reports, it’s in the board strategy, it’s in HR. We want more women at our senior level! Women should sit on more boards! Diverse workforces are great!

Yet, what we’ve seen painfully missing is tactics to make it happen. A check list. A get-the-work-done plan. One that’s doable, and not full of strategy and big words.

So, let’s stop all this and get tactical. Here are three ideas for men and women leaders.

  • Make it We. This is a not a women’s issue. It’s a business issue. Change your language. “We must diversify to drive better decision making” vs “It’s important to (our CEO/Board/etc) that we have more women in the room.”

  • Focus on Pipeline. Write down the names of three women junior to you. Find them. Talk to them. More than once. Put it in your calendar.

  • Change the Criteria. If you find yourself (or your business) saying, “Well, no woman matched the criteria to make partner/director/vp this year.” Take a long, hard look at that list. Sit in a room - a diverse room - with a few studies in your hands, and hack through it (if you need help, let us know).

Now, back my friend, the one who had a promotion to give. The one who was horrified. The one that had no idea he was (an idiot) painfully biased. The GOOD one. I nearly saw his insides knot up when he realized it, and few other words were needed.

He went back, put all three into the candidate pool, and guess who ultimately said yes to the job?

We have to hold up the proverbial mirror continually up to ourselves, yes. And we also have to turn it around for others. Hold it gently in your hands. It's powerful. Make Good.

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