Setting Diversity Targets: The Good, the Bad and the Impactful

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Targets are controversial.  Those in favour of them often say what gets measured gets done, while others might say that setting targets skirts the issue of creating greater diversity and inclusion by focusing on the numbers rather than inclusive leadership, inclusive behaviours and genuinely impactful initiatives.

We agree with all of the above.

Confused? Let me explain.

We think that setting targets can be tremendously helpful if we use them as a measure of our progress to become more inclusive.  In other words, when targets are linked to an impactful initiative, they provide a useful measure by which we can gauge the success of our EDI efforts. But we also know that there is little or no value in setting targets without attaching them to a purposeful set of actions designed to improve Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

How to set impactful Diversity targets
Read on for some suggestions for setting sensible, realistic targets that measure how inclusive your organisation is becoming. These are targets set on a big Diversity dimension, such as female graduate candidates or the percentage of women at leadership level.  They are the targets that you would encounter most often in company’s press releases about their commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.

To set these targets in a meaningful way requires some due diligence, which might begin with the two questions below. What is required then is identifying which specific initiatives to put in place, with appropriate and achievable targets.

1. Which is the most underrepresented group in your company?

This might be women if you are in a STEM environment.  It might, however, be ethnicity if you are in the Third or Public Sectors.

Identifying the biggest underrepresented group in your organisation can also be a useful exercise in understanding your target market. How different are your clients, customers, or users from your employee population? Where is this gap the biggest?

Alternatively, if you are looking at growing your market share, you may wish to look beyond the representation of your current customers to those you wish to attract. What is the biggest gap between the representation of the additional market opportunity and your employee population?

2. Where in your career ladder is the underrepresented group missing or dropping off?

Once you’ve identified which underrepresented group you wish to attract or retain, it’s time to identify where the biggest hole is for this group in your employee life cycle.  Is it in attracting candidates from this group?  Perhaps it’s in the actual hiring process?  Or are you managing quite well in hiring people from the underrepresented group, but failing to keep them over a certain period of time? Or is your company unable to progress them beyond a certain level?

Finding the process that creates the biggest obstacle to building the desired level of representation will help you identify the right measures to turn things around.

3. Employ impactful measures to address the challenge. 

As stated above, targets are most impactful when they measure the success of a specific initiative.  So, having identified the specific challenge you face, it is time to develop an initiative that addresses it.  Here are two examples of companies who generated their own ideas and solutions to their individual challenges:

One client, having identified that they were unsuccessful at attracting female engineering graduates to their company, started partnering with women’s engineering networks at several learning institutions.  They started sending female representatives to university fairs and sending ambassadors to talk about their company’s efforts to improve the representation of female graduates, clearly stating their reasons for doing so.  It worked.

Another client, having recognised that women were not being promoted beyond a certain level of seniority, introduced a sponsorship programme which pairs many of its senior leaders with emerging female leaders to ensure they get the visibility and opportunities that might typically be reserved (inadvertently) for male colleagues. This has also been highly effective.

4. Identify the right target.

Once the specific measure is instituted, care must be taken to set realistic expectations for the impact the measure will have. By what percentage does the company expect the targeted underrepresented group to grow in the identified area? (This will depend on the usual percentage of the target group in the identified area, as well as the impact of external market forces.) What is the usual percentage of female graduates in your pool? What is the sector average for this measure? What is the lowest and the highest percentage of this range?

Having taken the answers to all these questions into account, it becomes easier to set a more realistic target to measure the success of the relevant initiative. Even then, targets may need to be periodically revisited – based on their success or failure – and adjusted accordingly.

When it comes to setting big targets, doing a bit of thinking and planning in advance will always yield more meaningful results.

There are, of course, other types of targets to consider, including so called ‘no more than’ targets for specific teams where, instead of identifying a target percentage for a specific type of person (for instance, women), the emphasis shifts to having no more than a certain percentage of a specific type of person (for instance, men).

Finally, you will also want to consider how widely to set the targets. Is one common target appropriate for the entire company globally, region by region, office by office or even department by department? We know that, although average figures might make certain targets look favourable, when looking more closely, Diversity might not have really been achieved in areas where it would be more difficult (e.g., technical vs administrative, front office vs back office).

Whatever you decide to do about targets, following Nancy Kline’s advice (included above as our quote for the week) will ensure successful implementation.

Realising vision: Some thoughts on women, vision and communication***

women at board table (640x204) (640x204)

It’s International Women’s Day and the Twittersphere is alive with noise, a global virtual pulse is sounding, at once celebratory and sobering as the challenge of establishing equality remains a pressing, urgent need. Today is both a marker of a redressing of the past and an imagining of a hopeful future; a vision of a future where gender equality is the norm.  As the global community comes together and speaks, it feels like a relevant moment to look afresh at how, as women, we establish and communicate vision, and the opportunity for this vital communication to lead to powerful shifts in our lives. I wonder then – what is the role of women in imagining  and voicing our version of the future? Can we imagine or identify ourselves as having ‘vision’, and what are our perceptions of the barriers to having or expressing our individual vision?

Communicating our ideas

Working in Innovation, I find the gulf between expression of ideas, thoughts, dreams, and how they are actually manifested as tangible ‘things’, fascinating. The idea of communicating a compelling vision to encourage others to get on board and support it, is of course, central to getting the idea from abstract to real territory, but ideas can fall short of actuality at any point in the journey; if that idea, no matter how strong, is never communicated, it will never see the light of day. In the context of bringing ideas to life through communication, I am interested in how women perceive the particular challenges of having and voicing vision given some of the specific conditioning we may have grown up with, and the assumptions we may be sub-consciously be making about our own capacity to be capable of articulating vision.

Celebrating women with vision

 We all have our own inner or outer role models and inspirations when it comes to women we perceive has having or embodying vision. Shami Chakrabarti, of Human Rights group, Liberty comes immediately to mind for me. Her fierce leadership, steadfast belief in her mission and passion in communicating her beliefs, make her a remarkable leader and visionary for change and someone who makes me somehow feel more alive just by hearing her speak.  A barrister for the Home Office, she joined Liberty the day before the 9/11 attacks putting herself right at the centre of the debate on protecting civil liberties and has since led the way in tirelessly campaigning for human rights.

Chakrabarti is just one of countless courageous female leaders of spirit and determination. Yet despite all the progress made in ground-breaking, selfless acts of vision and innovation which women have led in the face of wide-spread cultural, political and social inequality for generations, ‘vision’ is still not a word which women are widely associated with or celebrated for. It’s a sign of the challenge that still remains,that of all the words used to describe the millions of passionate, trail-blazing, futuristic, progressive achievements of women worldwide, women are still not associated with being ‘activators’ or ‘envisioners’ of change to the same degree as men in similar roles of influence. Why is this when women have been actively leading, imagining, defining, indeed ‘visioning’ their futures for eons? Is it that, or that women are not forthcoming enough in  challenging the conditioning they are subject to, to establish themselves more visibly as being visionary in behaviour or is it  even more complex; a result of pervasive social conditioning which tells us that women with vision are the exception, and  not the rule?


Unusual competence in discernment or perception; intelligent foresightis one succinct dictionary definition of ‘vision’ I came across, a description which implies acute intuition, wisdom and an ability to hone instincts to make accurate predictions is at the heart; it implies a sense of unwavering belief, a certainty.  Reading this, I am reminded of the Harvard Business Review article  I read recently, ‘Women and the Vision Thing‘, where the author highlights the issues of women in certain business contexts, who lacking a conviction of their ideas, fail to actively sell them, due to the fear of not being seen to be accurate or of being wrong. As vision demands a clear communication, and not simply a steadfast belief of an idea, it’s not unimaginable to consider women might feel a strong sense of inhibition in certain pressurised business and social environments, to rise to the putting the idea out there part of the process. Understandable, given the bias both men and women can hold towards seeing men and not women as leaders, and the huge inequality still seen in the lack of women in positions of senior leadership across industries worldwide.  In this context, it would be no surprise that many great  female visions could fall down at this crucial communication hurdle due to a perceived sense of judgment or lack of safety.

Creating new ‘vision’ channels

Communication being so crucial to the ‘life’ of visions and ideas, I wonder about the possibility of creating safer and more supportive communities and channels for women to express and realise visionary ideas and how the web, and social media platforms may facilitate some of these more active communications of vision from women. “Inspired by’ is just one such channel I have been enjoying recently; a series of short features published by Intelligent Life Magazine online, presenting a varied conversational angle on the issue of leadership, vision and inspiration for women. It’s a thoughtful insight some of the perceptions women have of other women they consider influential, inspiring and visionary.  In one memorable feature, Jasmine Whitbread salutes the vision of Eglantyne Jebb*, the modern minded founder of Save the Children. Here she describes what Jebb imagined of the organisation she wanted to build;

Her vision was a powerful, international organisation that, as she put it, “could reach to the farthest corners of the world”

but it is the combination of vision, pragmatism and communication tactics, that Whitbread marks out as unique;

What’s so impressive about Eglantyne Jebb—even her name is wonderfully evocative—is how far ahead of her time she was. Her principles, her pragmatic management skills and her communication tactics were just so modern’

It’s interesting that Whitbread sees Jebb, as in essence, uninhibited in both her approach and realisation of her vision. I wonder, given the inevitable pressures and inequalities of her time, how this ‘modernity’ of vision manifested itself, and how, it resulted in a powerful legacy and realisation for Save the Children that is so profound and long lasting?

I’m intrigued by these examples of ‘vision made real’ and how a combination of passion with a capability to voice that aspiration, belief or idea is so fundamental to the process of being seen to be a person of vision regardless of context or obstacles. In the case of Jebb, maybe Save the Children would never have been born, had the articulation of her far-reaching vision not been voiced so clearly and with such ambition. What is clear, is for vision to be impactful, it needs to be articulated.  Without that, our most dynamic and differentiated visions of the future may run the risk of amounting only to fleeting aspirations, thought but not heard.

Sources:Eglantyne Jebb (1876-1928) founded Save the Children in Britain in 1919, when the post-war economic blockade led to children starving across Europe

***  Guest Blog by Laura Hewitt, an Innovation Fundraising Manager at NSPCC – the UK’s leading charity specialising in child protection and the prevention of cruelty to children.  Laura is part of a team responsible for creating and delivering innovative new fundraising products across the UK, to engage new audiences in supporting the NSPCC’s vital work. Views expressed are my own and not those of the NSPCC.