Aug 042019 4 Responses

You Have to Ask a Woman

If you want to make good decisions, you have to ask a woman. When men don’t value diversity in the decision-making process, they are destined to make poor choices.

One of the privileges of the pastorate is I serve on various non-profit boards. My experience is often unique since my direct bosses are board members of our church, a non-profit organization. Working for a board is a unique experience. While members are often passionate and sacrificial, they often do not understand the uniqueness of the job nor the difficulty of working for a group of people rather than just one person.

As a board member, one of my goals is always to do everything possible to support the Executive Director rather than to micromanage that leader.

Recently one of the boards where I serve received a list of nominations for new board members from the nominating committee. As I saw the three committee members and six nominees, one thing stood out–they were all men. Even though the organization consists of 50% women, everyone recommended for leadership were men.

I objected. (See: Why You Unintentionally Hurt Other People)

It seemed like a fair objection, but what I didn’t know was that I was the first person in the history of the organization to ever object at the list of nominees. There was even great debate over whether my objection was in accordance with the bylaws.

In the days to follow, a great debate took place regarding my objection. While good people can disagree about things, I noticed a fascinating pattern of comments. Everyone assumed I wanted gender diversity on the board in order to give the public appearance of diversity, for the sake of political correctness, or so “the women” wouldn’t be upset. No one ever realized my main concern.

Funny Or Not

Tina Fey was the first head writer on Saturday Night Live that was a woman. In an interview with David Letterman, Fey spoke about the most important impact she had regarding changing the culture of SNL from an old boys club to a truly diverse setting.

Fey describes the process by which a sketch is accepted or rejected for the show. She calls it the fairest process ever created. A writer creates a sketch and then pitches it to the full assembly of other writers. If the table laughs, the sketch is included for the show. If people don’t laugh, the sketch is rejected.

When Fey first became a writer, the table included herself and one other woman. When the other woman pitched a concept, the fifty or so men didn’t laugh. Lorne Michaels, the Executive Producer, fairly judged the room and threw out the idea.

But Fey objected. (See: The Greatest Perk of the Pastorate)

She pointed out that the men in the room didn’t know how funny the sketch was. There was no way for them to know because the sketch was about a specifically female issue. Fey pointed out that while 98% of the room was men, at least 50% of their audience was women and 100% of the women in the room found the sketch funny.

Michaels agreed to allow it to air, but put it on as the last sketch of the entire show–airing at 12:30. The sketch became one of the most popular sketches to ever air and forever changed the culture of SNL.

A Biased Mind vs. An Evil Heart

When we think of bias, our first assumption is that someone who has a biased mind also has an evil heart. We assume bias is a byproduct of hate. But it’s not. While the two can be correlated, it’s not always the case.

Everyone is biased. We can’t help it. No matter how kind, loving, and thoughtful we might be, our experience and understanding is limited. Those limitations create bias. No matter how good our intentions, it is not possible for us to understand the experience of everyone. This is why we need one another.

Fey pointed out to Letterman that the men around the SNL writers table were not intentionally sexist or biased. They didn’t laugh at the jokes the females wrote because they could not have the experience of a woman in order to understand what was funny.

The men weren’t sexist, but the table was. The decision-making process was set against women because the table consisted of a majority of men. What appeared to be the fairest and most equitable process possible was actually greatly tilted toward men and away from women. That’s why when Fey became the head writer, she made sure at least half the writers were women. Without a woman’s perspective, the writers couldn’t truly determine what their audience would find funny.

Accept Your Bias

If someone accused you of having sexist views, racist thoughts/actions, or being bigoted/biased, would that offend you? Would you be overwhelmed with shock and outrage? Or would you simply shake your head and agree? If you would feel morally attacked if someone else pointed out bias in your thinking, you simply don’t understand yourself.

You are biased, bigoted, racist, and sexist. It’s true of you and it’s true of everyone. We can’t prevent it. We all have experiences which influence our thinking. And we all have a lack of experiences which also impact our view of the world. (See: How Not to Say Stupid Stuff)

We must accept our bias. Until we confront who we actually are, we cannot make changes. As long as we deny our biases, we will be ruled by them. But the moment we begin to recognize what is universally true, we can make two important steps.

When we admit our biases, we can:

1. Begin to work on them. We can’t help being biased, but we don’t have to stay as biased as we have always been. We can broaden our perspectives. By recognizing what our history lacks, we can interact with people who are different than us. Reading authors from different races, seeking influencers of the opposite gender, and purposely engaging others can broaden our perspectives.

2. Strategically plan around them. Not only can we expand our personal perspectives, recognizing our biases can empower us to protect ourselves from those biases. By intentionally ensuring a diversity of voices and experiences speak into the decision-making process, we weaken the power of bias. When I make a decision in isolation, I only have my experience at play in the process. But when I make a decision with others from different genders, races, and socio-economic backgrounds, the experiences spoken into the process are much greater.

We must accept our bias in order to do something about it. The easiest way to know someone is ruled by their bias is when they get offended when that bias is mentioned. Those who have accepted their biases are quick to admit them and have no problem with them being pointed out.

Diversity Is About Us

Public perception matters, but when I objected to a list of all men nominees from an all-male nominating committee, I wasn’t worried about what others might think. I was worried about our decision-making process. I know that as long as the decision-makers around the leadership table look alike, we will continue to make decisions which only focus on half our constituency. When we diversify the table, we increase the likelihood of better decisions.

It’s tempting for people with my background to look at diversity efforts as attempts at political correctness or public relations, but it’s not. Our leadership structures don’t need to be diversified primarily because it would look good others. We need to be diversified so that we can be more effective in our leadership.

Of course, diversity requires humility. It demands that we recognize that we don’t (and can’t) know it all. It requires us to look to others for help in what we can’t do. If you want to make good choices, you have to ask a woman.

4 Responses to You Have to Ask a Woman
  1. Kathryn Reply

    “If you want to make good decisions, you have to ask a woman. When men don’t value diversity in the decision-making process, they are destined to make poor choices.”
    .
    Flip it around and you have a true statement as well. Women do not automatically value diversity. And can make absolutely lousy decisions too, just like men can.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      I don’t doubt that. My only thought would be I don’t know a lot of countries, cities, or organizations that have limited male representation in leadership.

  2. Jeff Reply

    Wow! To pick someone based on gender.. That company is in trouble. Glad you are not on my board. I want the best for the position, male or female, black white yellow or brown.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Notice I never implied one should hire a less qualified candidate. My point was that a diversity of experience/background is part of the conditions that impact a person’s qualifications. If you are drafting a fantasy football team and you have a great QB, you don’t take another QB just because he’s available. You need to diversify your team in order to make the team stronger. So it is in business and life. I didn’t know you have a board, but we do agree that you are probably glad I’m not on it. Ha.

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