When I was approached about serving as a guest editor for this issue, I was really excited. I love technology and innovation and the series of business philosophies that has guided the startup movement over the past decade or so. I believe we are starting to get some things right about the relationship that business is supposed to have with the consumer society.
The new era of technology companies, both in Jacksonville and globally, has seen the inclusion of all sorts of arduous and exciting language about how we work, how we think, and how we can change the world. I’m a believer. This industry might be one of the only areas in my life where I slip into idealism over rationalism. But, I truly believe we can do better for the planet and its people and we can use technology and organizations to support that initiative. We can look at social problems perpetuated by outmoded business practices and disrupt them with innovation in our products, services and team models.
In some ways, we are already doing a good job of this. Uber is shifting the balance of power from taxi dispatchers back toward the consumer and the driver. Vinny allows prospective used-car buyers to make better decisions by giving them access to real pricing data. HubSpot has built a marketing philosophy and platform around the concept of openness and the consumer experience. We are seeing a shift toward operations that work on information parity and transparency. We are disrupting the notion of the trade secret.
But there is still so much to do. Even with all of our language about openness and transparency and innovation and culture we still see little elevation of anyone but charismatic, tall men to executive leadership roles. We set up cultural events that center around heteronormative behaviors like drinking whiskey and beer. We create metrics for leadership evaluation that celebrate traits that don’t necessarily indicate decisionmaking capacity or intelligence, but skew culturally masculine. If we were going to build metrics off of what actually contributes to good executive decisionmaking we might see adjectives like sensitivity, thoughtfulness and listening, and the people in leadership roles might begin to look and sound a little bit different.
The volume of writing and conversation on these topics is daunting, but two important, actionable articles have come out on the blog publishing platform, Medium, in the past few months. “What Men Can Do” from Shanley Kane, outlines specifically how men can change behaviors and professional culture in order to undermine sexism in the workplace. Her position is intense and pulls no punches, but what she says needs to be heard. It is a great starting point for how people, like myself, can stop being a source of the problem (I drew on this piece heavily because of a keen awareness of the fact that a white male in leadership writing this article could be construed as…disingenuous).
Lucy Chung talks about the massive rethink that Undercurrent is engaging in right now in “Starting the Conversation.” Undercurrent is at the forefront of organizational innovation in many ways, so it is outstanding to read how they have taken an honest look at themselves and are seeing the devil in the details. It is sobering how they recognize that even their crest-like logo might be a celebration of patriarchy. Chung advocates for intersectionality and openness, recognizing that the problem is not only sexism, but any number of aribrary selection criteria that get in the way of a diverse team.
There is hope. More and more I’m looking around Jacksonville and seeing organizations making moves that would put a smile on Chung or Kane’s faces. In the technology space we have the leadership and influence of women like Paige Calvert (former Undercurrenter!) at CoWork or Eleanor Vajzovic at Ignite. In advertising and media there is Jessica Thomas (full disclosure: she’s kind of my boss) and Void’s own Blythe Brumleve. Aschelle Morgan is driving the downtown development conversation and is a cultural force in moving the city forward. These are just a few of the people with whom I interact on a daily basis who are making their companies, their communities and our city better. And, we’re lucky to have them.
It has to continue though. Like Chung suggests, grand overtures aren’t enough. We need to all be willing to take a hard and ongoing look at ourselves and the cultures over which we have influence. We need to intentionally understand how we are stifling success. We don’t need to do this because it is in the best interest of women or any other group that has been the subject of marginalization. If innovation is our goal, then we need to do this because it is in the best interest of our entire society.
Inclusive, open environments make better businesses because they allow for creative rather than heuristic problem solving. Diverse communities are better than flat ones because they allow for intellectual mixing and evolution. Mixed groups challenge one another to perform better because they represent the intersection of different sensitivities, backgrounds, cultures and biases, and the resultant tension generates really exciting and unique outcomes.
We all benefit from diversity, but it doesn’t happen passively. Anyone in a position of influence or leadership needs to intentionally and actively work to make sure we are evolving our communities and our companies – and even our language – to drive openness and inclusiveness.
Let’s rally and expect one another to support this evolution in big and small ways. Let’s build a better future.