Combating sexism requires conscious and constant change

An argument broke out on my flight home. Two young professionals, presumably working at a startup, fought about scaling staff and securing funding. A white male lobbed cliches, anecdotes as evidence, lofty numbers between $50 to $100 million; then there was this gem:

“You’re the only person who doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say. This is about a big idea that will change the world,” exclaimed the white male who donned hipster glasses doing his best Steve Jobs-inspired monologue.

The other passenger, a young Asian woman persistently responded, “You don’t understand how each time you change direction it affects the rest of the team. We don’t need more capital. We need a defined strategy.”

“Women in the Workplace,” Harvard Business Review, Sept 2013
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“Women in the Workplace,” Harvard Business Review, Sept 2013

As a passerby, the conflict between the two passengers highlights a major issue in business. Men have long enjoyed — and maintain — a near monopoly in the corporate world; thestreet.com reports “Women hold just 16% of board seats in the S&P 1500, and in the S&P 500.” Among startups the picture is similarly bleak. In 2015, Sam Altman, Y Combinator, called out the noticeable lack of diversity in a seminar at Stanford University, using the classroom to highlight what he felt was a disconcerting trend across Silicon Valley. As of 2014, only 10 percent of YC-backed companies worth $100 million were led by women.

For top line diversity metrics to rise, individual behavior must change. It’s not just good for social equality, but it makes good business sense.

A study revealed woman-led firms yield 36.4 percent greater return on equity than their male-dominated counterparts. These types of outcomes heavily influenced my own decision to join my current employer, which is a certified women-owned business at both the state and federal level.

As a Korean-American male, I embrace the work required to keep my privilege in check; however, it takes a conscious and consistent effort.

I keep a Chinese proverb on my desk:

Your beliefs become your thoughts.
Your thoughts become your words.
Your words become your actions.
Your actions become your habits.
Your habits become your character.
Your character becomes your destiny.

I believe in an inclusive society. As a result, collaboration and transparency are always top of mind. I speak to the collective “we.” I seek talent and inspiration in both unexpected places and people. I remain committed to doing my part to help heal the world.

For the sake of the passengers’ business, I hope the young man confronts the tough, but essential challenges posed by his colleague. Moreover, I hope the young woman emerges as a leader in her future endeavors. In a few moments, she struck me as someone you’d want at the head of a team.

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