Leadership advice

To fight systemic inequity, look up

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

To fight systemic inequity in organizations, it’s not enough to look at front line managers.

Look up.

Scrutinize the marching orders they get from the very top — from their organization’s boards, strategists, consultants and budgeters. 

Frontline managers aren’t given mandates that overtly say “discriminate, pay unfairly, limit opportunities for staff growth, or under-serve certain communities,” but the directives from above can drive those outcomes. How does that happen?

  • It happens when jobs are reclassified, when budgets are frozen, and employees are laid off. 
  • It happens when people are hired in a “downturn” and their low salaries become the baseline for all they earn in the future, unless they get a big promotion. Or leave.
  • It happens when businesses bend the budget to hire or keep a “star,” but insist that managers still hit their budget targets, so they must quietly cut elsewhere.
  • It happens when business strategies segment the audience by their appeal to advertisers or underwriters, leaving some communities on the margins – under-covered or ignored.
  • It happens when analytics overtake editorial judgment and topics that don’t drive sufficient attention can be sidelined.
  • It happens when employees are encouraged to be entrepreneurial and pitch new products or programs, but aren’t given sufficient resources to succeed. 
  • It happens when an organization’s formal process for handling employee complaints is so inscrutable that people don’t trust it.
  • It happens when staff development is lopped out of budgets, leaving people to self-fund, find freebies or create DIY training in order to build their skills.

Organizations can hire new managers, add diversity and inclusion directors, conduct unconscious bias training and do listening tours. But unless they address the systemic issues that are created at the very top of the power structure, the odds are stacked against meaningful change.

Click here to read Jill’s previous posts. Click here to subscribe to Covering Coronavirus.


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