The announcement email is sent around and the name of the executive who everyone said would make the board is right there. He’s about to hit send on his email to the PR person about how glad he is to be joining the board and when, wait, there’s been a mistake and sorry, big mistake, it’s you—the woman who was meant to win it all along. Now he feels what—humiliated, weird, angry—and you feel a joy that is immediately undercut by your own doubt as well as maybe a few whispers as to why you got the nod to take the one empty seat.
Sound familiar? That’s what we all watched this past Sunday and while the Oscars can only have one Best Picture, too much of our flawed sense of who are the winners in life are, in fact, resting on the same precarious ground.
As Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in her piece in The Washington Post: “I hate that the contest between “Moonlight” and “La La Land,” which was framed as a litmus test about race and the entertainment industry, ended in confusion and a reversal that emphasized the sense that they were locked in a zero-sum contest, and that for “Moonlight” to win, “La La Land” not merely had to lose, but to be defeated.”
Take that to any place where diversity and parity are making in-roads – the corporate board where literally one seat at a time may come open. Or C-Suite promotions. Or even the opening at a company for a manager. That single opening is now in the center of a debate: who gets the seat and why? As Claire Cain Miller observed in The New York Times, reporting on a poll published this January by PerryUndem about how men and women, Democrats and Republicans, thought about gender in America after this last election:
“Many Americans seemed to think others had it better than they did, especially Republican men.
Over all, only 37 percent of respondents thought it was a good time to be a woman in the United States. Fewer thought it was a good time to be a minority woman; 24 percent said it was a good time to be a Latina, and 11 percent a Muslim woman.How you see the world depends on where you sit. Click To Tweet
Republican men seem to see it differently. Just over half thought it was a good time to be a woman, while only 41 percent of them thought it was a good time to be a man.”
How you see the world depends on where you sit—but it also depends on how you frame the view you have on the idea of power and equality. If you see it as a zero-sum situation—that in order to win you have to utterly defeat your opponent, your view is that power is never gained until someone else has been vanquished. It’s an old view of power—its power over and only one person remains standing.
And while there can only be on Best Picture, our own daily lives are more nuanced and less restricted. We can, in fact, change our metaphors and start to make gender parity and diversity less about winning at the sake of someone else. As I’ve shared with the many women who have been in front of me in seminars, power is a tool like a hammer: you can smash with it and you can build with it. The choice is yours. We can use power over people or we can use power to change a company’s direction, to create new business opportunities creatively, to see diversity as the ultimate power tool that lets us build a future reflective of the world we live in now.
And the zero-sum equation? Instead of a pie of so many slices, a table with so many seats, let’s start envisioning a feast that keeps coming, a diverse table that extends leaf by leaf, to accommodate the many individuals who add value to the way we do business by virtue of their singular view of the world. We all win when we start to see power as what we all bring to the collective vision.