I’ll admit it’s become rather rare for me to finish a whole book these days. Running Fairygodboss has swallowed up every minute of “free” time I have, but over the long holiday weekend, I finally got the chance to finish a great book I started a couple months ago.
Ruchika Tulshyan is a writer I got to know last fall. A journalist for Forbes, she is also the author of “The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Diversity in the Workplace.” She was kind enough to send me a copy, and while I knew Tulshyan’s writing well enough to have expected a well-written, researched piece of work, what surprised me was how much her book resonated with me on a personal level.
“The Diversity Advantage” is very clearly meant to be a business book. As the title suggests, Tulshyan takes a pretty level-headed and dispassionate view of the business case for fixing gender inequality and improving gender diversity in the workplace. As the introduction to her book states plainly:
Make no mistake. This is no feminist manifesto. Sure, gender equality is a human rights issue. But engaging women in the workforce is primarily an economic issue. Diverse leaders drive bottom-line growth and high-level innovation…
As I read through a well-organized, coherent catalogue of the systemic challenges that women face in the workplace, I found myself nodding along. The things that Tulshyan identifies from social science research and expert testimonials is reflected in the workplace opinions and employer reviews that women share every day at Fairygodboss. From unconscious bias to unequal pay, and outright discrimination, Tulshyan lays out the challenges that cause many women to “opt out” or simply never advance to their full potential in leadership positions.
Along the way, Tulshyan elicits the expertise and wisdom of change-makers, leaders, non-profit organizations, and diversity and inclusion professionals to not only catalogue the problems but also to ultimately lay out solutions and ideas for change. That is the ultimate goal of “The Diversity Advantage”, after all: to make all of us aware that employers can -- and do -- play a role in helping meet women half-way in their efforts to combat the problems they face. She describes programs such as flexible work policies, formal sponsorship programs, extended parental leave policies, flexible work cultures as well as quotas on boards to illustrate the wide range of programs and “best practices” that forward-thinking, successful companies have implemented.
So what made the book so personal for me? To be honest, that reaction snuck up on me. But as I moved from chapter to chapter, reading through her summary of research studies, expert opinions and corporate programs was like taking a trip down memory lane of my own Inbox and schedule of calls and meetings. It turns out that I’ve had the privilege of getting to know most of the people and organizations she cites in “The Diversity Advantage”, sometime over the past 2 years. In fact, I couldn’t help but think I could have saved a great deal of time and effort had I simply read Tulshyan’s book in the founding days of Fairygodboss!
Reading the book also reminded me how far many women are from seeing the situation as something that can be changed. I know, because I’ve been in their shoes in the not-so-distant past. I’ve been pretty open about the fact that during the first decade of my corporate career, I was not very informed about gender equality issues. Like many women in the workplace, I was so busy working hard and “leaning in” that I really wasn’t paying attention to whether I was doing so on a level playing field. In those few rare moments I did have to reflect or question the fairness of my work environment, most of the time I simply assumed that any inequities were set, entrenched and systematic in society. In other words, these were things I couldn’t do much about.
Alice Walker once said that “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Ruchika Tulshyan shows us that encouraging women to “lean in” is only half of the equation. Companies benefit when they, too, lean in. Employers are not monoliths. Companies are comprised of groups of individuals who can decide to implement policies and programs that will improve the way that half the labor force and half (if not more) of their consumers and customers work and live. Doing so is not just the right thing to do, but as Tulshyan illustrates convincingly again and again, it’s the right thing for employers who want to retain valuable employees (women and men alike) and generate the best ideas, products and services.
If more women were to read Tulshyan’s book, perhaps we would all be a little less inclined to brush off things as “given”, and realize that positive change is something well within our reach.
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