A Black man in his mid-30s was hired as a business development executive in a large consulting firm. On his first day of work, his boss, a White man in his early 50s, said to him, “I’m glad you joined our team. Although I don’t want you to think that you were hired because of your race.”
To which he replied, “Why not? You were.”
Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, we all notice physical characteristics of the people around us, including:
- skin tone
- body shape
- hair texture and color
- nose width
- fullness of lips, and
- size, shape and color of eyes.
From this data, we make inferences about individuals’ gender, race and ethnicity. And from these assumptions we often form conclusions about one’s competence, work ethic, and likeability, for example. Indeed bringing your whole self to work involves having conscious awareness of how your gender, race, and ethnicity — plus other salient parts of your identity — impact your work.
So when Virginia Rometty was recently named the new chief executive of IBM (NYSE: IBM), it was surprising to read the perspective of Samuel Palmisano, the current chief executive. In a story from the New York Times:
Gender, according to Mr. Palmisano, did not figure into Ms. Rometty’s selection.
“Ginni got it because she deserved it,” Mr. Palmisano said, using the informal first name by which she is known to friends and colleagues. “It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies,” Mr. Palmisano added.
Just like the protagonist suggests in the story above, why wouldn’t gender be among the multiple multi-faceted factors that play into the selection of a chief executive?
Palmisano seems to be saying that Rometty’s promotion is not an affirmative action-related decision, which will ultimately help authorize her in her new leadership role.
We empathize with his need to be politic. Still, it would deepen workplace conversations if everybody acknowledged the role that gender often plays in hiring decisions. Not to mention provide significant relief in knowing the truth.
Up next: How gender impacts the world of journalism.