Three signs your progressive organisation might not be as progressive as you think it is

Thoughts on #pinkwash.png

"Bah." "Humbug." "Pink wash!"

No-one sets out to be the squeaky wheel. I certainly don't want to be tarred with the angry woman brush, as prejudice and bias abound against women who are perceived as angry. As a society we dismiss female anger as if it's a sign of being out of control, over emotional or irrational (witchy, whiny or wild).  Whereas, research shows us that angry men are more likely to be perceived as powerful, authoritative and highly credible.  Another double standard to be sure.

But every now and then a woman's got to call a spade a spade.  And today I call "pink wash" to highlight a really common issue.

A few weeks ago I attended a dinner held by a self-proclaimed progressive business organisation. I was under the impression that I had been invited because the organisation had identified that they had a gender diversity problem in the membership and at their events and I was 1. helping make up numbers of women and 2. would be asked for my recommendations at some stage down the track.

Indeed, the organisation does have a gender diversity problem. At the dinner, at a rough guess, there were 250+ men in the room and about 40 women, even with quite a few women like me invited to make up numbers. The pre-dinner foyer area was a veritable sea of grey with male business leaders and politicians.

It was when we entered the dining room that the issue really began to unfold and made me wonder if the self-proclaimed progressive organisation might not be as progressive as they imagined.

Sign #1 - I was seated at a table of all women. Yes, that's right. Despite the hugely obvious gender imbalance in the room, I was seated at the girly table - just like the kids table at Xmas dinner!  In fact, we were all women who had been invited to make up numbers. And yet there we were making up numbers in a corner of our own.  I had imagined I'd be spending the evening having meaty discussions with business and government leaders of both genders. After all, what could be more progressive? However, that was not to be.  Thanks to the conversation at the table, a good time was had by all, but at what cost?

Sign #2 - I turned to comment to my accompanying guest, and she was even more frustrated than me. She exclaimed that it had been the same the previous year, so she (and several of the other women at the table) had given their feedback and recommendations about the perceived archaic segregation of the sexes, and yet their advice had obviously not been listened to. Another missed opportunity.

Sign #3 - Finally, I commented to one of the representatives of the hosting organisation that perhaps integrating the invited women onto other tables might have been a good idea.  She replied that seating us separately had been a deliberate initiative because they wanted to start a separate women's network and were using us as a test case.  Finally, the information I needed to understand. They had an another agenda entirely, possibly a financial one, and this had become a misguided attempt at creating gender equity, but totally missed the inclusion piece of the equation.

And this gets my goat.  

I see many examples of companies spruiking gender equity when in fact they are either chasing the pink dollar or merely doing window dressing:

  • Manufacturers who charge more for products for women than men - in 2016 this sexist surcharge was measured at a whopping 37%.

  • Commercial conference producers who run Women in Leadership Conferences, charge top dollar for attendees, but who don't pay (or offer peanuts) for female speakers.

  • Conference producers and associations who pull their entire conference program together with a token female MC or only one or two female speakers.

  • Banks who announce gender equity targets such as 50:50 by 2030, who run advertising campaigns to highlight gender inequality etc, yet minimal (if any) budget is allocated to actually achieving said targets.  Insider anecdotal evidence from staff suggests that they are far more heavily invested in winning female customers than meeting their internal gender equity targets.

  • Peak bodies, think tanks or firms who publish ground-breaking research and white papers on the benefits of gender equity, and hold themselves out to be leading the way, yet their own structures and cultures demonstrate the very antithesis of diversity and inclusion.

And the list goes on.

The women I speak to and work with are discerning. They've been around long enough to know the difference between actually doing something about gender equity and window dressing, with a side of pink opportunism.

My challenge to men and women everywhere is to call "pinkwash" when you see it -  

  • where organisations who are unintentionally getting it wrong, or

  • those who simply aren't listening, or perhaps

  • those who have an agenda of their own that is counter productive.

The double standards you walk past are the double standards you accept

And to the progressive organisation who invited me to dinner? You've got a branding problem.  Progressive is as progressive does.  In this instance, the term progressive was a noun and not a descriptor.  Whereas a truly progressive company wouldn't need to call themselves progressive, because it would have been obvious throughout the entire evening.
YOUR THOUGHTS?   When was the last time you called "pinkwash"?  And what was it for?   Drop me a note and let me know.

#womenofimpact #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes #pinkwash

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