3 Reasons Diversity Initiatives Fail to Shift the Dial on Gender Balance

Advances in achieving gender balance in the corporate space are slow, at best.  Despite the deafening cries for progress towards gender parity, progress is, indeed, evading us.  The latest gender pay gap statistics in the UK prove the point, with the largest pay gap reported in the construction sector at 25%, followed by finance and insurance sector at 22% and education at 20%.   The World Economic Forum predicts it will take the world another 217 years to reach parity, and many other reports show that, while we appear to be inching closer to a more diverse and inclusive world, progress is, well, patchy and sometimes questionable.

I have to ask myself the question why?  After all, in my conversations with clients and other companies, it seems diversity and inclusion is an important part of the business agenda, and gender balance even more so.   Most have already spent copious resources on various initiatives that intend to support and advance women - and, more broadly, diversity - within the organisation.  And yet, few would claim genuine parity at all levels.

If you ask me, part of the problem is the belief that we’re doing all the right things whereas the truth is that most of the current initiatives fail to shift the dial on diversity.

Here are my 3 reasons for it:

All female leadership and other initiatives

The intentions behind programmes that support the advancement of women in the organisation are great, but there are a number of problems with this approach: (i) when programmes cater to women only, the overarching message the company is sending to its women is that there is something wrong with them and that it is trying to ‘fix’ them.  This is particularly true of leadership programmes which intimate that women need more development than men to become leaders; (ii) even successful female-only initiatives tend to backfire because, to the extent they succeed to motivate and engage women, by the time women go back to their unchanged work environment, frustration starts to set in as they continue to perform in an environment that fails to recognise the value of their authentic contribution; and (iii) initiatives that are aimed at a specific segment of the population tend to be divisive and fail to attract the requisite amount of support and inclusion to harness lasting progress.

Appointing a female head to ‘tackle the problem’

In many cases, executive teams are genuine about their desire to advance women.  But they don’t recognise it as a central business priority and look at it as a project to be managed.  Having identified it as an issue, they tend to look for the right person to address it which, in many cases, happens to be the one woman on the executive team.  I have heard this story so many times.

These women, or other senior women in the organisation, are anointed as Head of People, or Gender Diversity Sponsor or similar, and are expected to single-handedly ‘solve the issue’.  If they’re lucky, the board will agree to authorise resources to support the position in the form of additional help and/or budget. Yet in most cases, all the resources are going to be insufficient because the ‘problem’ cannot be solved by one or few individuals, and certainly not this particular ‘problem’ (because it’s not so much a problem but an unexplored opportunity).

Parachuting women into senior roles

In many cases, gender imbalance exists primarily at the very top.  Many companies tackle the issue by bringing in lateral hires as they don’t appear to have their own senior female pipeline to address the disparity.  Sadly, this is one of the worst solutions to this issue.  Having spoken to a number of corporates who have taken such measures it becomes clear very quickly that there is no substitute for ‘growing your own’.  Attracting senior women from elsewhere is, at best, a temporary solution.  These freshly-hired women – like the the women who have been at the company for years – will be exposed to the very same culture that failed to produce the senior pipeline in the first instance.  As a result, the new senior female leaders are likely to become disenchanted with their roles as they come to realise that they are not hired for their expertise and contribution but, instead (to put it bluntly), to tick a box.   Even if they do succeed in making a contribution to the company that is genuinely valued, companies have to carefully guard these women from being hired away by others with a similar agenda.  The reality is that there are not that many senior women out there who seem to satisfy the existing requirements for board or senior level hires (although, of course, many more women can indeed to the job) so, unless companies develop their own female leadership pipeline, they stand to lose those recent hires to others that have a similar approach to gender balance.

These are but a few reasons current initiatives fail to advance gender balance at work, and there are a number of others.  If you would like to explore this topic further, email us for a longer version of this post.

What’s a network to do? Do’s and Don’ts for running a successful in-house network

The rise of the in-house women’s network over the last few years has been remarkable.  I watched them grow from informal gathering of a few colleagues to being influential partners to the organisation.  Having chaired a number of networks myself, I understand their challenges and often work with network committees to help them identify their purpose and set strategy for maximum impact.

Here are a few tips of my own to the running of a successful, influential network:

DO have a strategy

It is difficult to have impact without a clear strategy.  A clear strategy makes it easier to ask for resources and to attract volunteers.  Network leaders should identify the network’s purpose, set goals and determine how they are going to achieve them.

DO represent the grassroots

One of the great benefits of a women’s network is that it is squarely rooted in the junior and mid-levels of seniority within the organisations and understands the challenges of women at those levels (e.g. need for flexible working, appreciation and promotion transparency).  Networks listen and represent those challenges up the chain, providing an essential and often-lacking communications channel between management and team members.

DO provide safe spaces

Networks are great at providing a forum for discussion of stimulating topics that may not get aired, such as what it takes for women to thrive or how to treat others so they feel valued.  One crucial function, therefore, is to hold that space for members so that they can discuss challenges, apprehensions and experiences in a judgment-free, supportive environment.  Whether it’s by hosting lunch-and-learns on specific topics or running facilitated discussions, a safe space in which members can debate and think is worth its weight in gold.

DON’T take on too much

I frequently see networks attempting to deliver the work of another work function, like running soft skills training or helping deliver CSR strategy. While it’s great to cooperate, networks should set boundries between their responsibilities and the responsibilities of support functions.  Networks are run by volunteers whose precious time should be spent delivering on their clearly defined and cautiously guarded remit.

DON’T exclude people

Some women’s networks resist opening their membership to men.  In my experience, this is a mistake.  Men who join gender networks identify with their agenda and want to help.  It would be foolish to turn down members who are supportive and can help raise awareness.  This is also an opportunity to model the behaviours you’d like to see, by treating others the way you’d like to be treated: welcomed, valued and included.

DON’T be afraid to ask for a healthy budget

As women, we tend to shy away from asking for a robust network budget, feeling undeserving or unimportant.  As a result, we often pre-empt the outcome of a budget conversation with our own misgivings.  Yet having a budget that allows networks to achieve their stated goals is crucial and empowering.  Do what it takes by enlisting senior allies, collaborating with other networks and clearly identifying the commercial benefits of the network’s existence.  Above all, don't underestimate the value of your contribution to the organisation.

If you would like me to help your company’s network, please get in touch.

Your company’s Inclusion Score: Comparing Lyndales’ culture to our Inclusion Criteria

At Voice At The Table, we’ve been working on developing inclusive cultures for some time now: identifying the starting point, describing the look and feel of an inclusive workplace, and supporting our clients in designing and developing their own inclusive and diverse teams.

In this new series of posts, we will be scoring organisations on their attitude to diversity and inclusion.  Assessing companies’ culture relative to our own Inclusion Criteria, we give them an Inclusion Mark, gauging where they are on the journey towards a strong inclusive culture that nurtures diverse thinking and garners its many benefits.

Our 7 Inclusion Marks describe the various stages of that journey:

  • Don’t Get It! – organisation doesn’t see any benefit from Diversity & Inclusion
  • Window Dressing – organisation understands the need to be seen as valuing D&I
  • Let’s Fix It! – organisation sees lack of diversity as a problem.
  • Seeing The Opportunity – organisation understands the strategic importance of D&I
  • Building the Foundation – organisation is actively building a foundation for D&I
  • Growing & Nurturing – organisation is starting to reap the benefits of D&I and continues to embed them into the business
  • Immersed & Fully Benefiting - organisation has established a successful inclusive culture that benefits from the full value of its diverse workforce

This time we look at Lyndales Solicitors, a boutique firm.  With a practice that ranges from civil litigation to family law to commercial property to private clients to company commercial, this firm punches above its weight.

But how well does it fair in diversity and inclusion terms?

The first thing one notices when looking at the team of solicitors at Lyndales is how diverse it is.  The Lyndales team is small and perfectly formed, gender-balanced at 50-50, with representatives of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.  Granted, at partner level the firm is striving towards diversity (with only 1 of 5 partners being a woman), but if we judge by appearance only, it would seem the firm is keen to address this nuance. And, while the team of lawyers is relatively small, it also spans a number of generations (the youngest member being in their 20s whereas the oldest in his late 60s), adding to the mix of views, experiences and opinions of the group.

Having interviewed one of their senior solicitors, Noga Kogman, I quickly reached the conclusion that the firm is aware of the benefits of diversity and inclusion as a business proposition and is shaping its work environment to attract and retain a diverse mix of people.

How do Lyndales measure up to our Inclusion Criteria?

  1. Working Culture

Noga moved to London from Israel and, as a mother of a young child who is ambitious and career-minded, Noga wanted to work at a firm that can offer her an intellectually-stimulating role and also let her be a mother on her own terms.  Lyndales offered her just that.  Working a full 5-day week, Noga usually works from home once a week and on another day leaves the office at 4pm to pick up her son.  Noga is also free to make other arrangements needed to accommodate her role as a parent and a commercial transaction lawyer.   Noga doesn’t have to hide that she’s leaving to look after her son and doesn’t feel judged because of it.  She feels fully respected and valued by all her colleagues and is therefore able to be fully herself in the office.

In fact, one third of the lawyers work from home one day a week (including a male member of the team) and one of the solicitors also works a shorter week in addition to one of her work days being from home.  In other words, the firm accommodates agile working for everyone who wants it.

Noga describes the culture at Lyndales as healthy and open-minded.   The partners trust their colleagues to be professionals and don’t second-guess how or where they get the job done.  Performance is measured by output and everyone’s targets and progress is openly discussed at team meetings.  People are engaged, committed and happy to be at work – a testament to a tolerant, respecting culture.

Noga feels that there is a genuine interest in diversity at the firm, beyond it being a requirement imposed by the SRA.  The firm has an open-minded approach to candidates and views CVs without regard to a person’s background, name or gender.  The firm is genuinely interested in attracting people from various backgrounds (reflected in the composition of the legal team).

Interviews are conducted by a wide group of people to ensure a lack of bias and a good personality fit with all.  It is therefore not uncommon that lateral hires come from bigger City firms to find a home that respects their varied backgrounds and values their technical skills.

When asked about the firm’s leadership style, Noga explained that the partners are inclusive and considerate.  Noga and her colleagues are routinely engaged in most decisions that affect them directly, from office moves to new hires.  Partners consult with their colleagues regularly and listen and act on feedback.   Partners can be described as balanced in their attitude, open-minded and professional and the tone for the firm’s culture and business is set by its managing partner.

  1. Retention, Development and Promotion

In terms of retention, Lyndales story is strong.  Most lawyers stay for a long time, with hardly any turn-over of legal staff.  The two longest serving partners are the founders, each with 40 years under his respective belt. The firm recently expanded with 3 lateral hires and a newly-qualified solicitor who trained with the firm.  The female partner at the firm returned from maternity leave to work flexibly, working 4 days per week, one of which is from home.

Lyndales do not offer special arrangements for parenting, such as maternity coaching or specific policies around maternity, although one might argue that, with an open attitude towards accommodating most flexible working requests and a friendly open-minded environment, such support services aren’t strictly necessary.  The firm’s maternity leave is comparable to that of any bigger firm and it encourages fathers to play their role in child care.

The firm encourages lawyers to maintain their personal development, supporting their individual training initiatives.  As a small firm, it doesn’t have a central training department yet encourages each person to think about their own growth.

As with most other law firms, the path to equity partnership isn’t entirely transparent, but according to Noga, the partners are aware of this and are keen to address it.  The managing partner has taken it upon himself to ensure the partnership track is transparent and is actively working on making it so.

  1. Diversity as a Market Force

The drive for a diverse and inclusive culture in this case is not coming from the outside world.  While it would be fair to say that clients do think about diversity and prefer to work with diverse and able teams (and, as a result, benefit from their more creative and insightful solutions), in the case of Lyndales the firm culture is naturally inclusive and is designed to give lawyers independence, responsibility and accountability.  As a result, the firm benefits from the diversity of its people by allowing them to bring their whole selves to work and tap into their diverse backgrounds and experiences.

  1. External Evidence of Commitment

In terms of the gender pay gap, the firm is too small to have to report on it, but internal sources suggest that there is a gender pay gap at the firm (currently not quantified), as a function of the fact that, at partnership level, there are more men than women.

The firm is not a signatory to any diversity charters (including the legal diversity and inclusion charter) and is too small to need Employee Resource Groups or networks.

This short overview of the firm’s culture against our criteria leads us to award Lyndales Solicitors an Inclusion Mark of Growing and Nurturing their existing inclusive and diverse culture.  This puts the firm in a prominent position in the legal industry, proving that D&I is not something that pertains only to bigger organisations.  As a diverse and inclusive culture is something that can be nurtured from the outset, the size of the business doesn’t matter. Small businesses like Lyndales stand to benefit from an inclusive environment as much as (if not more than) any bigger organisation that puts D&I front and centre to its growth strategy. Congratulations, Lyndales! You’ve accomplished a remarkable feat without trying too hard!

If you would like us to review your organisation’s diversity and Inclusion Mark, please email info@voiceatthetable.com

 

Celebrating Ordinary People

 

28856194655-25336498-17I’ve always thought that there’s too much emphasis in the world on highly talented, intelligent and accomplished people.  Sure, it’s important to recognise and revere them – after all, these are the people who keep notching the progress dial forward for all of us.

But I’m also a great believer in the fact that each one of us is capable of incredible things and that we should all be encouraged and celebrated to do more.

Consider the following example:

Meet Sajda Mughal, MBE – a young Muslim woman who turned a dreadful experience into a force of good.  Sajda is a 7/7 attack survivor.  Setting out on an ordinary day at work, Sajda experienced her worst nightmare by being caught on one of the Underground trains at King’s Cross that was subject to the attacks on 7 July 2005.  Having survived and picked up the pieces, Sajda set out to use her experience to change the world.  She leads JAN Trust, a charity that aims to break down barriers to social inclusion for women, providing women from under-represented groups with a voice, combatting violence against women and providing young people the tools they may need to achieve their ambitions.

An ordinary woman who took matters into her own hands and is making a huge difference.

We all have it within us to accomplish extraordinary achievements.  How many people do you know who run marathons, trek to the North Pole, write blogs, bake incredible cakes, sing like an angel or play the piano like Liberace?  Ordinary people with extraordinary talents and achievements.  Imagine if all these people – like you - used these rare skills not only for their own enrichment but to contribute to their communities or professional organisations.  Imagine if companies learned how to tap into these hidden talent morsels and invite each one of us to contribute fully and authentically.  Both the contributors and the companies would benefit.

But how do we do that?  How do we as individuals channel our hidden talents into our professional lives? How do we as leaders empower colleagues to bring out what lingers behind the facade?  How do we nurture and celebrate ordinary people with extraordinary contributions?

Find out on 21 June 2017 at Voice At The Table’s Flagship Conference: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Contributions.  Featuring speakers who are walking the walk, you can be inspired by these role models who have found strength to share their hidden talents. You will learn how to encourage and nurture extraordinary contributions from colleagues and team members.  You will meet the law firm partner who founded Inspiring Women, the athlete who is now helping other retired athletes to integrate into ordinary life.  Find out how the man who calls himself a feminist is using his influence to help professional women get ahead and be moved by some extraordinary charities – run by ordinary people, like Sajda – who are changing the world, one person at a time.

Click here to find out how you can be a part of this movement!

 

Feeling Burnt Out? You May Not Be Playing to Your Strengths!

strengthsWritten by Ros Toynbee.

The old adage “play to your strengths” is one we are familiar with. And twenty years of research in the field of positive psychology provides us with a body of evidence that confirms that leaders who do are happier, more confident, have higher levels of energy and perform better at work.

But what is a “strength”? Most people will say “it’s something I’m good at”. But they miss what strengths are really about, which is energy. Strengths are underlying qualities that energise us and we are great at. In other words when you are using a true strength, you get that buzz, that feeling of the “real me” coming through. You leap out of bed in the morning excited to go to work. There’s that sense of “this is what I was born to do”.

Compare this to competencies or skills. If you’re good at something but it bores you, it sucks the energy from you, it’s not a strength, it’s a “learned behaviour”. We develop them because we get rewarded at work for doing them – the pat on the head, the promotion, the pay rise. And our performance might be good enough. However, used excessively, and over time, we can and will burn out.

Many clients come to me to clarify what their next career move should be. They know they are super capable people who can turn their hands to many different things, yet there is a huge difference between knowing what you have to offer (your learned behaviour often) and what you would like to, or what would be most energising to you to offer, in your next role. The key is always in knowing what your top seven strengths are, and the combination in which you would like to use them, to maximise your personal fulfilment and performance going forwards.

There are many ways in which you can identify Strengths and in our “Find Your Strengths for Career Success” Masterclass on 02 December 2015 we’ll be using the world’s leading Strengths tool, Strengthscope™ to accurately identify yours. But you can start by reflecting on the activities that give you the most buzz, the places where you feel the “real you” and the tasks that come most effortlessly to you.

The key to avoiding burnout? To know your strengths, but more importantly to use them well. This means finding or shaping roles that play to your natural strengths and allow you to play to the ones you haven’t used lately, as well as harnessing the strengths of your team and others which complement yours.