What it Really Takes to Demand Equality in the Workplace

I have written a lot about why diversity programs usually fail—you cannot overlay change on a culture that is rooted in discriminatory practices. The only way to make substantive and lasting improvement is to change the entire system, which I discuss at length in my new book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. That’s exactly what the resisters of the championship U.S. women’s national hockey team did when they took the risk to demand equal rights from USA Hockey and began a boycott right before the World Championship.

I’m from Canada where ice hockey is practically a religion and I’ve been appalled at how the women’s team—which has won a medal in each Olympics since it became an official event in 1998 and finished first or second in every world championship since 1990—was mistreated. There were numerous injustices. The women’s team received half the meal money stipend the men were allotted ($24 vs. $50), they were only paid to practice right before the Olympics, which meant making $6,000 for six months of work, they received substandard travel and championship rings often took years to arrive. Many of the women had to hold second and even third jobs to make ends meet.

Like Matthew Christiansen who was profiled yesterday for his brave stand against anti-gay bullying at work, the women had to take a calculated risk to affect change. It was widely reported that USA Hockey was scouting for scrubs to replace them at the World Championship—and perhaps permanently—and vitriol was hurled at them on social media.

But they had their allies as well, something that is of key importance when dealing with toxic workplace culture. Players unions from the National Hockey League, the NBA, the WNBA, the NFL, Major League Baseball and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team all rallied to their side. Twenty U.S. senators signed a letter of support.

Team veteran Hilary Knight told the New York Times, “We’re strong, powerful women, but it’s tough. Some of the comments were tough. Standing for what you believe in isn’t always the easiest thing.” 

Now these elite athletes can have the careers they’ve earned and be able to support themselves and their families. According to the terms of the agreement, they will now receive fair pay, be rewarded for winning championships, enjoy the same travel arrangements and insurance as the men, get maternity support, and pave the way for the great women hockey players of the future, thanks to the newly created Women’s High Performance Advisory Group that will help advance youth league  players.

I wish U.S. Women’s Hockey the best of luck in their careers and at the World Championship—after Canada, of course.  

Photo credit: The Nation/Reuters