Nina Godiwalla on Advocating Women and Minority Workplace Equality

In Chapter 12 of 22 in her 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, author Nina Godiwalla answers "What Can Organizations Do to Better Support Women and Minorities in the Workplace?"  Godiwalla finds many organizations make hiring women a top priorities but do not put as much emphasis to developing those female employees.  As a result Godiwalla comes to believe companies are not looking out for the best interests of women.  She shares investment banking experiences from when she worked at JP Morgan and associated challenges working in a male-dominated environment.  Godiwalla then discusses specific ways to improve workplace equality for women and minorities.  Godiwalla is the author of "Suits: A Woman on Wall Street". She is also a public speaker on workplace diversity and founder and CEO of Mindworks, where she teaches mind-based stress reduction techniques to help organizations improve employee wellbeing.  Godiwalla holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, an MA in Creative Writing from Dartmouth University and her BBA from the University of Texas at Austin. 


Erik Michielsen:  What can organizations do to better support women and minorities in the work place?

Nina Godiwalla:  One of the things I think is creating a culture that’s pretty open to them.  I use – I love this example that I had in investment banking. They have women initiatives, so they’re focused on bringing women in but the question is, what do you do once you bring these women in. And in my experience, we had it where women were – when I looked around and saw what the environment was, even if nothing necessarily happened to me, I would watch what they – the way women were treated by the company for – through my friends and the reality is, is I don’t necessarily think that the company really looked out for women.  Sometimes they did but often they did not.  One of the Morgan Stanley clients said, “We don’t want women working on deals.”  And so right away, she’d done a lot of work on the deal and they ended up pulling her off of the deal, when it came down to interact with the client and do all the fun exciting stuff that looks so great on your resume.  Morgan Stanley just said, “You know what?  They don’t want women on the deal.  You’re getting pulled off.” 

So it’s that type of thing where you kind of – you see that a lot of time, there was opportunities where you’d see women, the time that you’d get to network with senior management is through a lot of the social activities and you’d see all the men on a team, there’s two lower level women and they would be pulled off and they’d have to go to the spa whereas the whole rest of the guy’s team would go out golfing for like a corporate event.  So you just see a lot of things where that doesn’t necessarily make sense and that’s not how women are going to be getting ahead. 

So I think companies paying attention and saying, “What can we do to kind of advocate for the fact that this isn’t necessarily the appropriate behavior?”  And to say it from a guy’s perspective, I think there needs to be conversations because from one of those guy’s perspective that suggested, “Why don’t all the women go to a spa?”  I actually think they may have thought they were doing them a favor.  I don’t know but they could have been thinking, “You know what?  These women don’t know – I don’t even know if they did know how to play golf but they don’t -- probably don’t want to play golf.  Let me let them do what they want to do.”  And that’s why I think the conversations are important and what I really distinctly am not pleased about is when the conversations are the women and the minorities in the room because -- only -- because there is no understanding. 

When I go on – when I travel and speak, one of the most beneficial things I’ve had is we have people of all different types in the room.  We have the men in the room, the minorities in the room, the women in the room and the exchange and understanding that takes place and part of it is because we’re not in a corporate environment so you know the person across can’t say, “I’m worried about what she’s going to think about me because I have to work with her next week and I don’t want her telling my team that I said terrible things.”  There isn’t that anxiety around these talks.  It’s what can we do to learn from each other and some of the most brilliant things I’ve learned are from you know the guys that are sitting at the table saying, “Hey, I didn’t know that, I didn’t get it,” or a woman saying “Really? That’s why you did that.  I had no idea that, you know, your intentions were good.” It’s very helpful to have those conversations.