Diversity’s powerful message to the next generation

I'm sorry to all the mothers I used to work with.”

That was the mea culpa from a reformed working-mother critic – a woman who wrote on Forbes about her bygone disdain for the genre…until she became a working mother herself. Then she became a believer.

“Now I know who I am,” she wrote. “I’m a mother who can manage a large team from my home office or on a business trip, raise money, and build a culture for women to succeed.”

The missive reflected a refreshing turnabout.

And yet…

And yet I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

Thinking beyond our own experience

On one hand, the admission validates the unfair and unwarranted experiences of so many women – that parenthood stalls their careers; makes them fear being fired; makes them feel they’re suddenly lesser in the eyes of colleagues, even other women.

It’s a powerful and important message.

But on the other, it seems to value assessments based on wherever an individual leader is in the moment.

Our workplaces are not (should not be thought of as) just one thing. Collectively, we’re mums, dads, single people, single parents, same-sex couples, newlyweds, new hires, empty nesters, near retirees, pet parents, Gen X, Boomers, and (can you believe it?) Gen Z. Many of us will go through a number of those experiences, yet none of us will experience them all.

So when we skew our support in any one direction; when we allow our singular vantage points to fuel those predispositions and so elevate one lone group, we’ve neglected a whole swath of our workforce. And that’s how resentment between segments gets stoked.

And it’s why workforce diversity (in gender and all ways) at all levels is so important.

The real power of workplace diversity

Diversity isn’t quotas and window dressing – it’s representation of our workforces, our customers, and our children. Today’s role models are tomorrow’s inspirations; today’s employees are a tangible illustration of what tomorrow’s student can become. The Forbes author wrote that “women can help pave the path for their future selves if they start acting like allies rather than deniers.” And it’s true. All workforce segments should have the opportunity to do the same.

It’s why we need to create workplaces that look beyond where any of us are in this moment. In some cases (as with the childless supporting parents; the young supporting the old) it will be because one day those workforce segments will be us; in other cases, we’ll be validating the experiences of colleagues’ — experiences that we’ll never have on our own.

Brava to the Forbes author for seeing the light. But the crux of her argument is this:

“There are so many ways we can support each other as women, but it starts with the just recognising that we’re all in different positions at different times in our lives.”

Working mothers deserve that support. But to be truly effective, the sentiment needs to include every demographic in our workforce.