Thursday, November 10, 2011

Diversity and the Doppler Shift

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was recently interviewed by Charlie Rose in an interview to be broadcast Friday, November 11, 2011. She was interviewed jointly with Mark Zuckerberg in a wide-ranging discussion including Facebook's competitive stance, Google+, gaming, and Steve Jobs. The entire transcript is already available on TechCrunch here.

As an employment lawyer, of particular interest to me are Ms. Sandberg's comments near the end of the segment that she believes women aren't always "ambitious" enough to succeed. She made reference to a Harvard Business School case study by Kathleen McGlinn in which a highly successful woman's career path was outlined for study participants, and the individual was alternatively given a female name (Heidi) or a male name (Howard) and the participants were asked to give their impressions. Sandberg commented

[T]he point of that study is that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. So as a man gets more powerful and more successful, everyone — men and women like him more. And as a woman gets more powerful and successful, everyone, including women like them less.

(To be fair, and not take her completely out of context, Ms. Sandberg elaborates on these issues in a TED Talk, "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.")

Too often individuals of diverse background who have made it onto the "success train" appear more concerned about saving their seats on that train than allowing anyone else on the train. Time and again, I have encountered women who faced more difficulties with women supervisors, and minority candidates getting a harder time of it from supervisors of the same race or ethnicity. It is almost as if these supervisors are saying "I've made it; one is enough." it is like the sociological equivalent to the doppler shift, where the motion through time and space changes the frequency of sound and light to the viewer without doing so for the one who is moving or advancing.

Sales training courses teach us that people want to do business with people like them. That's taking the easy way out, and completely fails to realize that the world (and the USA in particular) is becoming increasingly diverse.

I have participated in any number of entities who have established "Diversity Committees" to attempt to attack these problems. More often than not, the committees make recommendations, sometimes actually change their by-laws, but not their underlying opinions (and biases). More importantly, actual results are even more rare. But the participants wring their hands and say "but we discussed diversity!"

Talk is cheap. It also doesn't accomplish a whole heck of a lot.

To put it another way, I believe Ms. Sandberg is mistaken when she suggests women aren't as ambitious. They just don't seem so to her. I don't believe she is looking at the situation from a genuine diversity perspective.

Therein lies the challenge of diversity --- diversity implies seeing things from diverse points of view, not just one. If everyone saw things from diverse perspectives, change would be inevitable.


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