Last month, I attended Boulder Start-Up Week, a free, five-day event to celebrate the thriving start-up culture in my home city. The event coordinators offered hundreds of sessions, from Managing Data for Intelligent Robots to Diligence for Dummies. I went to quite a few, but the one workshop that was hugely impactful for me was called #MeToo’s Hidden Opportunities: Unleashing Brilliance and Driving Company Growth.
Defining the Ins and Outs
During the session, our facilitators asked us to think of a time when we had been in either the “in-group” or the “out-group.” Then they broke us into small groups of 3-4 people and asked us to share our experiences. I told a story about a time, about 15 years ago, when I had just received a promotion into an existing executive team.
The team planned a trip to celebrate our president’s impending retirement and chose a golf resort in South Carolina even though women weren’t allowed to play or even stay there! No one considered how this would affect me. I’ve never been a golfer, so I didn’t care about playing golf, but I did care about feeling like part of the team.
While all the men bunked together at a condo on the property, I was stashed away at a less than deluxe hotel room several miles away. On the first night of our trip, we had a party at the condo. All the men were smoking cigars and drinking and having a grand old time. Nearly no one on the team was aware of a woman’s presence, let alone conscious of the fact that I might like a slightly different experience. Somewhere around 1 AM, I looked around and realized that no one was sober enough to drive me home. I was most definitely not a member of the “in-group” that night and it was highly uncomfortable for me.
Don’t Be Complicit, Be An Ally
When I realized that I couldn’t rely on any of my team members to drive me home, I found the house phone and tried to call a cab, but there weren’t any available at that hour. Luckily, one of the guys noticed the difficulty I was having and offered to give me a ride home. He’d only had one drink and, as he explained, he had four daughters – he hoped someone would do the same for them if they were ever in a similar predicament.
On the last night of the trip, there was a formal dinner. I wore a long dress that had a little bit of a slit up the back. As soon as I stepped out of the car at the venue, the slit tore up to my butt! The same guy who’d given me the ride home rushed over and went into Dad mode. He wrapped his coat around me and asked me what I needed. He was totally appropriate and incredibly helpful. He may not have been able to bring me into the “in-group” that night, but he was willing to step out of the “in-group” to support me and I felt a lot less alone.
You Can Bring the Outsiders In
Feeling like an outsider at work is lonely, disheartening, and demoralizing. Even if you’ve never been in an “out-group”, someone you know has. Maybe they’re a different race, religion, sexual orientation, or age than the majority. Maybe they simply have kids and no one else on the team does. Whatever the reason, having outsiders on a team has negative consequences for everyone, and so, it’s up to everyone to change it and be a part of the solution.
What I found most eye-opening about the Start-Up Week session was that of the 75 people who registered to attend, only 18 showed up. They were primarily HR staff members or facilitators or other people who already had a high level of awareness around this topic. Do you know who didn’t show up? CEOs, executives, and other leaders who really have the power to make a difference.
If you’re one of those leaders and you’re committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive work environment, but you want help getting started, call me. At the very least, you’ll walk away with clarity on what it will take for you to shift the needle in your organization. At best, you’ll find a committed partner who can help make it happen through a joint collaboration.
Photo source Community Foundation for Monterey County