This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge.  These three words call out the need for action.  This is why my #ChooseToChallenge is that I will try to influence others’ beliefs and actions

Last year I was exposed to a training given by Verna Myers via LinkedIn Learning titled “Confronting Bias: Thriving Across Our Differences.”   In that training Verna told a story about standing behind another female dressed in hospital scrubs at a coffee shop.  She assumed the woman was a nurse at a hospital because in her mind a doctor was a tall and handsome male (think Grey’s Anatomy.) Turns out the woman in line was a doctor.  In that moment I realized that we all have stereotypes and assumptions – or unconscious biases’ – we have or make about other people – not out of malicious intent, but just from our perspective on the world as we see it.  

When I apply this to the business world, I ask myself “If less than 1 out of 4 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs are held by women – do we have an unconscious bias to always hire male employees for STEM positions?  Or have we pushed women away from even going down career paths for STEM?”  According to Western Governors University in Texas, Women make up just 18% of the bachelor’s degrees for computer science and just 30% of master’s degrees.  Compare that to psychology, biological sciences, and social sciences where women make up 54% of the bachelor’s degrees and you will realize there is a male bias in the technology sector.  As a leader, I have to stand up and challenge this “norm” if I expect it to change – I have to challenge myself to influence others’ beliefs and actions as well.

Blue Yonder recently released its first annual diversity report.  In that report, we talk about the actions and initiatives we are taking to focus more on diversity as a company and challenge the status quo.  We are transparent on where we are at today and actions we are driving to do better tomorrow.   Blue Yonder launched DIVE (Diversity, Inclusion, Value, and Equality) to foster a more inclusive work environment.  Within DIVE we also have our Associate Resource Groups (ARGs) such as Women’s Interest Network (WIN) that has been around since 2014 and our newly formed BRIDGE (Black Resource Initiative Dedicated to Equality).  All of these are action-oriented groups that help make sure we #ChooseToChallenge – by providing leadership and support to their members as well as Blue Yonder as a whole.

This is valuable progress, but if we really want to challenge the norm, we can’t stop there. We must look at the issues from multiple perspectives and it’s critical to realize that supporting the diversity of our associates is the minimum that we can do. Associates who choose to be part of Blue Yonder should count on our support. Within a healthy high performing organization, that should be a basic expectation and the norm. It’s what we as thought leaders should be doing, and I’m pleased to see Blue Yonder expanding the breadth and depth of our ARGs.  But, what are we doing on the other side of the Blue Yonder doors? What, if anything, is drawing diverse attention toward Blue Yonder? Do women want to work here?  In the #ChooseToChallenge spirit, I decided to find out.

Recently we have been hiring new associates from college.  In one review I had I asked the team “What is our diversity makeup of those we hired?”  Most of the newly hired class were men.  I challenged the team to bring in more diversity to the next batch of recruits.  Through that challenge we realized we were not getting enough female candidates applying for the job – so we changed the job posting. Hear me on this; we changed the language in the posting to appeal more neutrally to a broad target base. We did not change the qualifications for the position. We then realized our recruiting efforts were not showcasing a diverse panel of interviewers – so we changed our recruiting and interviewing approach. Studies show that representation facilitates visualization where people need to see people like themselves represented and contributing, even leading in an organization to really be able to envision themselves working there.

I can relate to this concept. I grew up with three sisters and a mom who loved to cook. They were always in the kitchen making something amazing. My dad was the master on the grill but was regularly chased out of “Mom’s kitchen.” Consequently, I never envisioned myself as a chef, in fact, I nearly burned down one of my apartments trying to cook and I didn’t really learn to cook until I begged my wife to teach me! It’s not that I didn’t want to learn, but I never saw any other boys in the kitchen, so I never imagined myself being any good in there. Now, it’s become something that I like to do and I’m actually pretty good at a few things!

I chose to challenge the norm, and at Blue Yonder, we choose to challenge, too. Thanks, in part, to evaluating, challenging and doing the work to change “the norm” in our new hire classes, we now have close to 40% females in the new hire class starting this month.  This is a significant improvement from where we were, but I challenge us all not to stop there.

Denis Waitley, author of “Seeds of Greatness” and “The Winner’s Edge” says it like this, “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist or accept the responsibility for changing them.” At Blue Yonder, I see everyone on the team as having the responsibility to change what needs to be changed. I challenge my colleagues – this is your Blue Yonder – take a look around and when you see places where we need to grow, #choosetochallenge.