I've been on the women's conference circuit (TEDWomen, Forbes Women, etc.) where there is one prevailing (and frankly, troubling) message in regard to women's rise in the workplace -- "Women, you can do better!"
These confabs are focused on inspiring women to change. And boy-oh-boy (or should I say girl-oh-girl), there is no shortage of acknowledgement of the odds, measuring them and detailing them, decrying them and documenting them in photos, videos and tearful testimony.
As an entrepreneur who sold a company for hundreds of millions of dollars and has chosen to focus her energy and attention on making the workplace more reflective of our collective talents and life experiences, I find this fixation on inspiring women to change decidedly misplaced.
Let's start with the numbers: women represent about 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. Minorities represent approximately 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. Therefore, only 9 percent of the biggest companies in the U.S. have CEOs who are not white men.
Women's leadership conferences are well attended by powerful women from the world's most powerful companies. But how does assigning the responsibility of change to a group that makes up 5 percent of the whole lead to any sort of systemic progress?
Gender and racial diversity are still grievously lacking across all sectors of the United States, and that is not going to change by asking the minority to "lean in". Instead, let's reroute that guidance to the 91 percent of leaders in the workforce who are white men, and place that responsibility in the power of the majority.
While women are often the ones who are encouraged to change their behaviors, the corresponding advice to men might actually make a difference in the workplace.
1. Women, be more assertive. Sometimes you let men talk over you (see manterruptions). If you would speak louder, you would be heard more.
Men, be more observant. If there are people in a group who are not being heard, go out of your way to ask their opinions and then value them when you hear them.
2. Women, have tougher skin. We all face rejection. Realize that, get past it and be stronger when people reject you.
Men, be constructive in your rejection of ideas. If you need to reject an idea, find a way to do so that moves the idea forward instead of sees the issue as good or bad.
3. Women, take more risks. Women tend to be risk averse and that is holding them back.
Men, listen to alternate viewpoints. Studies have shown that men take too many risks. If you listen -- and really hear -- alternate viewpoints, the research shows that your decisions will be more reasoned.
4. Women, lean in. If you don't opt out so often, you'll have more opportunities in the workplace.
Men, understand that there is immensely valuable talent that can't thrive in the traditional work environment. By relaxing expectations on where and when work gets done, you'll reap huge rewards from this underutilized workforce.
5. Women, take a seat at the table. If you don't grab a seat at the table you won't have the influence you want to have.
Men, give a seat at the table. By making sure a diverse set of viewpoints is heard your organization will be more innovative, more productive, and more profitable.
Need inspiration? Consider this: Fortune 500 companies that value diversity -- that elevate talent and ability above all -- have stronger teams, make smarter business moves and ultimately deliver a higher return for employees, executives and shareholders. The push for diversity within all of our companies is in the hands of the majority -- it's up to you to foster this invaluable shift and ensure that all qualified candidates have a seat at the table.