The email displaying the faces of Markon Solutions’ five newly promoted directors — all white men — sparked surprise, distress and some heated discussions at the Falls Church, Va.-based government contracting and professional services firm after it hit inboxes back in December 2017.
An underlying sentiment: How could it be that even with a more diverse panel of managers weighing in and a more systematic approach to reviews — changes made to help formalize the company’s processes amid rapid growth — that no woman was promoted for even one of those top positions?
“You just looked at it and went, ‘Oh, okay, hmm, that’s not good,’ ” said Brenda Metzger, a program manager at Markon. Sure, she recalled, “these people deserved the promotion. But I still went, ‘I think we could do better.’ ”
Krissy Goff, who is now Markon’s vice president of operations, said the announcement prompted a feeling among some women that a glass ceiling existed, even if that was not the case.
“What is the message we’re sending to the company? That you have to look a certain way in order to be promoted?” she recalled some thinking. “Obviously, that was not what it was, but we realized, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem here with perception, and we need to blow it up.’ ”
The lack of diversity at the top of the email, Goff said, “kind of smacked us in the face. We thought we had done all these things right.”
Many companies — even those like Markon that have been on The Washington Post’s Top Workplaces list for years — find themselves in the trenches of grappling with the tough work of improving diversity, recognizing it’s no quick, easy fix. Retaining women and minorities, resolving pay gaps in compensation and increasing equity in the workplace take an unrelenting focus on structural obstacles, unconventional approaches to human resources and an uncompromising commitment to fostering a place where people want to stick around.
Many industries have struggled in recent years to fix their gender and racial imbalances — quite often with slow results. Technology firms have publicly shared their demographics data for years, showing minimal progress in hiring women and minorities. In a recent House Financial Services Committee hearing, none of the seven major bank CEOs present — all of whom were white men — raised their hand when asked if they believed their successor would be a woman or person of color.
The legal world, meanwhile, has been getting its own diversity scrutiny — particularly among the largest firms. Across top firms, male partners earned 53 percent more than their female counterparts, on average, higher than recent years, according to a 2018 survey by the legal executive search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.