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  • Katica Roy

The Top 5 DEI Mistakes Companies Make And How To Correct Them

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

Welcome to my weekly Q&A feature. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)

If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. Each week I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.

The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusion.

  • Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.

  • Inclusion: bringing others along on the journey.

Be Brave™

Avoid These 5 Gender Equity Mistakes


What do companies keep getting wrong about gender equality? It feels like we should have addressed this issue already and moved on.

Curious about something? ​Ask your question here for a chance to have it answered in an upcoming edition of Brave Souls®.


I agree. And the abundance of evidence showing how diverse and equitable teams outperform their lesser diverse and equitable counterparts suggests we should have solved this issue already too. However, that’s not what the data shows.

Today, women run only 8.8% of Fortune 500 firms. That comes out to 44 women total, and only two of those 44 women are Black. We’ve “improved” this metric by a minuscule .6 percentage points since 2021. Meanwhile in the world of entrepreneurship, only 2% of VC funds last year went to companies founded by women (the lowest share since 2016). That’s despite 2021’s banner year that brought in a record $330 billion of venture capital funding.

The gender equity gap looks more like a gender equity chasm, and that can be discouraging. Which is why I find it helpful to think about gender equity as a continuum. Not a condition, not a category, not a “you-either-have-it-or-you-don’t.” A continuum, where even incremental progress (or backsliding) is measurable.

Companies want to do the right thing. They want to move from being more inequitable to more equitable. However, moving from one end of the gender equity continuum to the other inevitably entails some missteps.

So let’s walk through some of those missteps and reframe them as learning opportunities. Here are the top five things companies haven’t yet gotten right about gender equity.

1. Shaming people into gender equity

Guilt-tripping colleagues into “doing the right thing” doesn’t work. It backfires because it alienates people and jolts them into defense. For a more yielding approach to gender equity, we need to encourage people by appealing to positive emotions.

When we feel good about our decisions, our brain allocates neurochemical resources (recognizable as energy, cognitive agility, and emotional regulation) to drive action toward our goals.

2. Assuming gender equity is a zero-sum game

Another obstacle to achieving intersectional gender equity in the workplace is the myth of the zero-sum, or the idea that a given situation will have a winner and a loser. Your gain (+1) and my loss (-1) equal 0. While the real world is flush with zero-sum situations, gender equity is not one of them.

The gains of underrepresented employees, namely women and people of color, do not come at a cost for men. Inclusion, as the data shows, leads to expansion. Not encroachment. For every 10% increase in intersectional gender equity, businesses see a 1-2% increase in revenue.

3. Not taking an intersectional approach to equity

Intersectionality isn’t the next DEI “accessory.” It’s a necessary analytical tool to disaggregate data by gender PLUS race/ethnicity PLUS age (and other categories as well). When we disaggregate the data using an intersectional framework, we start to see people and understand their experiences.

For example: Pipeline found through its implementations that men receive promotions at a 21% greater rate than women in aggregate. When we apply the intersectional lens, however, the promotion gap doubles for Black women.

At a practical level, intersectionality functions as a next-generation data science framework that enhances our knowledge base. We can then use our newfound intersectional insights to make better, more equitable decisions.

4. Asking women to be the torchbearers of equity

Enough with expecting women to fix a system they didn’t break. Women leaders are nearly twice as likely as men to spend “substantial,” off-the-clock time on DEI work. Those in positions of leadership (namely men) must use their power to drive progress toward a more equitable world. Men lead over 90% of Fortune 500 companies, are the decision-makers in 90% of venture capital deals, and hold more than 70% of board seats.

P.S. We also have to stop commercializing solutions to fix women (i.e. commodified confidence). Women should not have to contort themselves through the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t glass maze of inequity.

5. Chasing symptoms, not treating the disease

94% of occupations have a gender pay gap. But careful — we must not confuse the gender pay gap with the gender equity gap. Pay is the symptom. Inequity is the disease. How we value people qualitatively (e.g. performance and potential evaluations) impacts how we value them quantitatively (e.g. pay and compensation).

To close the gender pay gap and keep it closed, we must ensure equity of opportunity across the employee lifecycle. Otherwise we’ll be chasing a moving target. Take it from Salesforce. The company has spent more than $22 million in addressing pay equity gaps since 2015.

TL;DR: to make progress toward gender equity →

  • DO appeal to positive emotions, DON’T shame people into equity

  • DO recognize gender equity as a win-win, DON’T treat it like a zero-sum

  • DO take an intersectional approach, DON’T ignore overlapping identities

  • DO use your position of power for good, DON’T ask women to fix inequity

  • DO treat the disease, DON’T chase symptoms

Curious about something? ​Ask your question here for a chance to have it answered in an upcoming edition of this newsletter.

© 2022 Katica Roy™, Inc.


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