D&I Audit: what’s behind that steel door?

What are the benefits of conducting an Inclusion Diagnostic – or D&I audit – in light of what it might reveal?  Below, I share the learnings of a client from when they were at the start of their Diversity Journey.

The Diagnostic consists of a series of focus groups aimed at answering one specific question.  In the case of this particular client, the question to answer was simply why very few women progressed to senior leadership.

What prompted the request for the Diagnostic:
For several years, the client had failed to promote many of its women to senior leadership.  It was thought that most women either lacked the drive or the confidence to step up.  Matters came to a head when management realised that, if they didn’t start promoting more women soon, they would end up with an all-male management team – something everyone was keen to avoid.

To find out why women did not achieve the same career success as their male peers, we were asked to conduct our Inclusion Diagnostic.

The Risks of Asking the Question:
As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.  It was of course important to find out what stood in the way of promoting more women within the company, but there is a risk involved in asking the question: once employees were given the opportunity to share, stories and examples came out of the woodwork that pointed to a work culture full of unconscious bias, blind spots and microaggressions.  This was perhaps expected; what was more difficult to accept were some of the very personal accounts of encounters, disappointments, embarrassing scenarios and the use of hurtful expressions.

We heard accounts of women having to corroborate and defend their positions or decisions much more than even more junior male peers.

We heard stories of women being left out of correspondence on projects on which they were working, meaning that they were left out of important nuances that made them look less well-informed.

We heard stories of senior leaders assuming that, once engaged to be married, women would not want to continue to work hard and to be promoted to management.

And so on and so on.

For the first time, the executive team saw a reflection of behaviour in the mirror held up to them that they didn’t recognise and which embarrassed them.

It’s important to emphasise that most of the stories were not vengeful and did not intend to embarrass.  It should, however, be expected that the information that comes out – once you start an Inclusion Diagnostic and open that Pandora’s Box – might be overwhelming.

The Risks of Not Asking the Questions:
However difficult it was to hear first-hand accounts of colleagues’ experiences in the workplace, it was an invaluable step towards greater inclusion.  While the quotes and stories were painful to hear, we were able to organise them into themes and identify and prioritise the existing challenges, from the most to the least prevalent.  This gave us – and the executive team – the opportunity to decide how to correct the course and begin to mitigate some of the systemic biases that were holding back many talented, hard-working  women.

The senior leaders did not shy away from the pain of asking the difficult questions or take affront at the information that came out of the focus groups. If they had, they would not have been able to fix the obstacles that held many competent, ambitious women from doing what they loved to do: contribute to the success of the company.

Having gone through the psychological discomfort that the Diagnostic imposed, the company was able to agree a clear roadmap for addressing the uncovered challenges and to put in place a process that made it easier for women to be promoted – a win for all involved.

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Guest Blog: Ensuring Gender Equality During the Holidays

By Anna Calvin*

With Christmas fast approaching, people are preparing to take a break from their work to spend time with family. However, gender inequality issues in the workplace are not taking time off. Women are experiencing reductions in salary, while others are losing their jobs. These setbacks, along with micro-aggressions, are preventing gender parity. I offer four tips to help your company bridge the gender inequality gap this holiday season.

  1. Delegate tasks fairly

Apart from a pay gap, women also suffer from a stress gap. According to research, female workers are more likely to struggle with work-related stress than male workers. This is because they are pressured to perform well in light of gender prejudices. This can become more severe during the holiday season as work intensifies. To avoid this, ensure that you’re giving all your employees a reasonable number of tasks, regardless of gender. All it takes is some extra planning. Verizon Connect’s Holly Dempster highlights the importance of planning ahead. Additionally, ensure that there is a plan for emergencies so that women don’t have to bear the brunt of holiday workplace stress. You can lean on technology to help you schedule and delegate tasks more efficiently, but don’t neglect the importance of communicating with your team, either.

2. Reject the notion that shopping for gifts is a woman’s job

To label something as “woman’s work” is to contribute to gender stereotypes. Huffpost’s Sarah Tinsley talks about the gender stereotyping that occurs during the holiday season and how it affects our children. Girls aren’t biologically wired to be more nurturing, and boys aren’t wired to be more practical. So why do we treat them as if they are, in the gifts that we give them?

The same can be said about those in the workplace. Before you tell your female employee to do some company gift shopping, ask yourself: Am I sending her out because she’s good at picking gifts, or because she’s a woman?

3. Advocate for greater male involvement in holiday preparations

There’s no such thing as “women’s work”, so what you can do is have ALL your employees lend a hand preparing for the holidays — from decorating the office to shopping for gifts to baking the office Christmas party snacks – although maybe not this year! By removing the stigma that it’s a woman’s job to shop or carry out domestic chores, you create a more inclusive and gender-equal workspace.

4. Encourage healthy conversations that tackle gender awareness and sensitivity

Finally, encourage your employees to talk about the issue. Don’t let it be swept under the rug because, often, this is why it continues to be in an issue in the first place. The Women in the Workplace report states that while company commitment to gender parity is generally high, this is often not put into practice. This is usually because many employees aren’t on board with it. But by engaging in conversations with all your employees and getting them to say their piece, you’re creating a safer, more open workspace. And, hopefully, one that is gender-equal.

Gender equality should be non-negotiable. To foster a community of diversity and inclusivity, all genders must be accepted and treated fairly. Voice At The Table can help your company build programs and strategies that promote diversity and inclusivity, all for a healthier workplace. Get in touch with us to learn more!

*Anna Calvin is a freelance blogger who advocates for women‘s empowerment and LGBTQ+ rights. She likes tea. A lot of it.