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The Secret to Diversity … Is Us.

The Secret to Diversity … Is Us.

Last week, I was on a panel at at CEO Summit titled “Are we being honest about diversity?” (Short answer: Sometimes yes, sometimes no.)

The final question to the panelists was whether we were optimistic about the progress of diversity in corporate America going forward.

One of the other panelists said that, yes, she was; and it was in part because we were having these types of conversations on a stage in front of CEOs.

My answer was different.

I am also optimistic about the progress of diversity in corporate America going forward. But not because we were talking about diversity with CEOs.

I believe that most of these CEOs believe in the power of diversity. I really do. And I believe that most want to build more diverse teams. I really do. But I also think that many have believed this for a some time … but, regardless, progress on diversity has stalled.

One reason is that, in the name of “meritocracy,” they have allowed their managers a great deal of latitude on how they run their businesses. Yes, the CEOs have told middle management that diversity is important, and some have even paid middle management some portion of their bonuses based on diversity targets.

Regardless, middle management is where diversity goes to die: Our “intuitions” (some would say “biases”) about who the right person is for the job are just too strong to overcome.

Time and again, I’ve witnessed the manager who interviews the woman or person of color for the job … but gives it to someone who looks, acts, and talks like he himself does. But he swears that he will promote “a diverse individual” next time … until his intuition tells him that the next promotion should also be someone who looks, acts, and talks like he does.

So it’s not that I’m optimistic that we will change human nature. Or even that we will renounce meritocracies and manage our managers more closely.

I’m optimistic instead because women are recognizing that we have the power to change the game.

It’s by coming together and working together — sometimes by using our financial power, sometimes by using the power of social media, sometimes by deputizing our diversity councils to act on our behalf — that we can shift the existing power structures.

The women at The New York Times successfully argued for a more generous family leave policy by coming together. The women of Nike are changing their culture and have toppled a number of senior managers by coming together to demand it. Susan Fowler, backed by a large number of women (and our allies) who supported her and who “deleted Uber,” toppled the CEO and changed that company’s toxically masculine culture. The list goes on, from the the change that is being driven by #MeToo through to Time’s Up in Hollywood to All Raise and the work of Melinda Gates in Silicon Valley to change the venture capital game.

This is what lies behind our thinking on #DisruptMoney at Ellevest: that each of us acting on our own — asking for the raise, raising our hand for the promotion, taking that seat at the table — has taken us a good way … but not far enough.

It is by coming together that we are stronger: Buying from women-owned businesses, investing in women-owned businesses, supporting each other, recommending each other, promoting each other, even talking with each other about money to break that taboo.

Recall the old proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Let’s go far.

This article was originally published in Ellevest's newsletter, What The Elle. You can learn more here.

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