Expecting to be treated equally, does not equally make.
I’m often asked how we might encourage more diversity in organisations. Usually by young women, who have grown up in a different time than I did. Where they have been raised with the core belief that they are equal. They have a self-assurance that I admire and an ability to share their strengths without self-deprecation or dumbing down. They fully expect to be treated equally. They challenge me in ways that are unusual for women in my field, directly questioning the very core values of the organisation. It’s wonderful.
However, they are then hit with the reality that things still have a long way to go, it is letting them down companies are missing out.
These smart, qualified women are already being judged by others, and predominantly unconsciously.
- How can someone that age know about anything?
- She is very creative, but is she technical enough?
- She cares too much about values, is she going to be emotional?
- She is a bit full on.
- We need somebody able to take on the big boys.
- They’d walk all over her.
- It is probably just a front, let’s see if we can break her down.
- Not being funny, but she is very attractive and the team might find that intimidating.
- She seems so ‘happy’, can she do real business?
These are things that I’ve heard people say. Sometimes women.
I’m not in a position to change the world alone, but I can influence those around me and help raise awareness and provide practical tools to help people see how they might adjust their behaviours and challenge their own biases.
So if you’re in a position to do so and would like to help make a change in your organisation, here is my advice on how to get cut-through.
1.Make the Board and Executive team care about diversity
It starts at the top of the company, with the Board, CEO and Executive team with a series of workshops over a short period of time. Run by an external host if possible, to avoid any existing bias you carry.
Demonstrate the opportunity that diversity in the workforce provides through financial data and existing research.
- Gender diversity is correlated with profitability and value creation according to McKinsey.
- Link between diversity and innovation
Include questioning and challenge them to think through what they think the dangers of lack of diversity might mean.
Find out what is missing in your company and how diversity will more than likely help:
If you can demonstrate baseline metrics, it’ll be easy to show the incremental change as you work through your program.
Understand the current gaps in the business through simple data analysis.
- How many men vs women or those who identify as something else?
- What is the cultural profile of the business?
- What is the average salary across these groups and is there a gap?
- What is the split by seniority and is there a gap?
Develop self awareness through a number of implicit bias tests
- see Harvard Implicit BiaS
- Ask for self-reflection, probe for those willing to share their own standouts from their results
- Conduct a privilege walk. This is where everyone starts at 0 and when you ask them a series of questions they either take a step backwards or forwards depending on their answer. It’s visual way to see the hidden privileges that people enjoy and can often spark really interesting discussions as people at both the front and the back can self-reflect. Check out this example.
Establish accountability at the Executive level
- Ensure each Executive buys into the need for diversity and will support a program of work to uplift the organisation over a period of 24 months and beyond.
- Establish goals together. Which gaps do they want to address, by how much do they want to see an improvement and by when?
Brainstorm ideas on how they can personally impact that goal:
- How can they help their teams, especially men to get on board?
- How can they begin to better support women and other diverse groups to succeed at the company?
Develop an Executive level roadmap and plan, with milestones and regular check-in points.
- Establish if extra funding or people are needed to run the program.
- Develop a company wide communication plan and roll-out. (which may be based on steps 2–5 below)
2. Metrics & Impact
Share your metrics every month, with the Executive team and the rest of the company, to show progress (or not) and this might help you get some funding to take your program to the next level.
Given that women only apply for roles where they feel 100% qualified, and men apply when they feel 60% qualified, it is obvious that you’ll have to work harder to find the right woman for the job.
- Adjust job ads for gender biased language using this tool
- Put the salary on the ad — women won’t apply if they don’t know if it is within their reach
- Make sure you’re offering an environment where women will thrive, and make it clear in the ad. E.g. remote work, parental leave, career development programs, mentor ship, (see later on boarding)
- If you can’t put the salary on the ad, then don’t ask her how much she is paid now. She’ll tell you the truth and it is already 26% lower than her male counterpart. Just offer the role at the value which you’ve placed on it.
- Look in different places. I’ve found female developers coming out of coding academy’s at networking events where you get to see their projects and hear their journey — instead of just a CV.
- Look for career changers. If somebody has proven themselves in a particular field of management where there are more women, see if they can transfer that skill and experience to your industry. e.g. Retail to Tech
Coming in to any existing team is difficult enough, let alone if you’re the only one like you. Make sure she’s not.
Don’t just hire random roles with women. You need to think about how they land and make it a good experience.
- You can make sure she’s seated near a department with women.
- You can buddy her up with a woman to see her through her first week in terms of practical advice on the office, people, where to get a tampon in an emergency and where to go if she needs help.
- You can partner her with a senior woman for weekly coffee catchups to act as a mentor and partner.
- Create a shared channel for women to join (on Slack or Teams) so that they can support each other
Firstly, you need to run the same workshop you did with the Executive team, with everyone in the company. A big job, but well worth the effort.
You’ll gather ideas to help include women in the organisational growth and leadership to complement some of the ones I’ve shared with you in this article.
- Include the new ideas and recruit volunteers to help you run the program.
- Establish a monthly meeting to review your milestones, metrics and progress.
- Don’t do all the work and make sure it is a diverse group!
Yes, we have a long way to go. And while the next generation of intelligent, empowered women have expectations of equality, organisations need to do more to foster the conditions where such expectations can be realised to attract and retain and enable them to fulfil their potential.
I’d love to hear how you’ve approached this challenge in your organisation and what has worked well too.
Special thanks to Jess Blomfield for her help in making this article legible and much more interesting.