A Decade of Learning: The next 10 years An Interview with Rina Goldenberg Lynch Part 2 – Looking Ahead

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch and Suzanne Bird

At the end of September we celebrated our 10th anniversary. One of the ways in which we are marking this is with a look back at the learnings from a decade of EDI consulting and a look forward to what the next 10 years might look like.  Last week’s blog covered the first part of an interview by Voice Associate Suzanne Bird, when I answered questions from our Associates about the first 10 years of Voice At The Table. This week’s blog is the second part of that interview, covering my thoughts on what’s to come in the next 10 years, both for Voice and for EDI.


Suzanne: Last week, we spoke about your time with Voice At The Table so far and how much you’ve learned.  Looking ahead, when it comes to Equity, Diversity & Inclusion  (EDI), what do you still want to learn?

Rina: I still want to learn how best to use technology to help people learn and use new skills, such as empathy and better listening.  An aspect of technology that we’re already starting to embrace is to make it easier for people to practise new behaviour habits. Unlearning some of our old habits and perspectives will take a lot of practice, and it is difficult to make the time for this.  Technology, for instance, can nudge us to make small incremental changes by practicing them often and regularly.

Suzanne: What trends do you see emerging in the EDI space in the next 10 years?

Rina: I think the focus will move even more towards behaviour change. Norms are actively and swiftly changing, so that what’s now acceptable or even desirable behaviour is already very different from many people’s understanding of what that is.  Not a day goes by without an article in the papers identifying something someone did that society no longer finds appropriate.  This indicates that the shift in behaviour is greater than most people comprehend.  Therefore, identifying, unpicking, understanding and communicating what’s appropriate or inappropriate will become even more important in the next few years This is going to be particularly important in the context of creating inclusive, psychologically safe work environments.

In terms of Diversity, our understanding of diversity of thought is going to grow and we will start to see benefits from the tools and initiatives that we’re currently designing/providing for a specific group of people benefitting others in unexpected ways.  Take, for instance, advances in accessibility software that makes it easier for neurodivergent people to access information at work.  What we’re learning is that those who are not neurodivergent are finding this software helpful to them as well.  It’s only when we go past the first threshold of bringing more Diversity through our doors and creating a welcoming environment for everyone when we truly start to uncover the greater benefits of Diversity; that’s something we have only just begun to understand.

Finally, in terms of organisational roles, it will be standard for companies to have a dedicated in-house EDI role and EDI will become a standard must-have function as important as HR or Finance roles.

Suzanne: What will Voice look like in 10 years?

Rina: In 10 years’ time I imagine we will be doing lots of novel things that help organisations tap into the diversity of their people on a larger scale.  We will also continue to work with senior influencers and leaders to help them become more conversant in this space.  On the leadership side at present, the talk about EDI is passionate at its best, but leaders don’t always know what others need to hear in order to shift mindsets and effectively tackle biased practices in the workplace. Voice At The Table will be influential in creating the much-needed change in this regard.

Suzanne: From your experience with clients, what advice would you offer to help them leapfrog their journey to inclusion?

Rina: I would simply say, keep your eyes on the prize.  And the prize is Diversity!  If you do the hard work, you will reap the expected as well as the unexpected rewards of Diversity.

If you would like to tap into our experience in helping organisations navigate the EDI Journey, why not set up an Ask Me Anything call with Rina?

Suggested Reading

A Decade with Voice At The Table is a Decade of Learning An Interview with Rina Goldenberg Lynch Part 1 – Looking Back

One size does not fit all – Adapting EDI Strategies for all

Discouraging Bias, Encouraging Inclusion

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

In my first blog of this month, I spoke about starting to build a foundation for a company-wide culture that reaps the benefits of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).  I also posited that, once you get to this coveted stage of the journey, you won’t need to invest as much in EDI resources as previously, because EDI at this stage is becoming a part of everyday business.

There are, however, a couple of EDI interventions that need to be continued on a long-term basis.  Luckily, they are not cost-intensive and, with time, become part of the usual checks and balances included in the running of organisations.

Bias Monitors
We know that being human also means being biased.  Acknowledging this is the first step to making more meritocratic decisions, free of (or at least less burdened with) bias.  The obvious challenge with bias is of course that most of it is unconscious.   So, subconsciously, we assume an idea is not worth listening to or that someone is less capable, even though we have no evidence to support this. Without thinking, we ask the usual suspects to serve coffee at a meeting or take notes. We make jokes or share sweeping generalisations about entire cultures without realising the impact on others.

A Bias Monitor can help us keep bias at bay.  A bias monitor is a volunteer (or someone who is asked to be one) who takes the role – usually in meetings – of drawing attention to bias, as and when it arises.  When the bias monitor sees or hears an assumption or rash judgment or a statement that conveys a hidden bias, they draw attention to it by simply stating what they see.  In this way, everyone becomes more aware of biases, and the team can work together in  addressing them.  Having a dedicated bias monitor also takes the pressure off those who tend to experience bias – usually members of an underrepresented group at work – and makes it easier for everyone to take the comments more seriously, seeing them in a neutral, well-intentioned light.

Appreciation Monitors
Just as we want to minimise biased behaviour in the workplace, we also want to encourage inclusive behaviour.  Statements such as ‘Please challenge my viewpoint’, ‘What do others think?’ or ‘Isn’t this what you were trying to say before as well, Joanne?’ are all examples of behaviours that aim to include others’ views and perspectives.  These types of behaviours may go unnoticed, so it is helpful to have an Appreciation Monitor who looks out for them and points them out, so that others might copy them.  In a similar way to the Bias Monitor, the Appreciation Monitor keeps their eyes and ears open for inclusive behaviours and draws attention to them as and when they appear.

Continuing to remind ourselves of what bias looks like and what inclusion feels like reinforces a culture that’s mindful of EDI long after we have stopped thinking about it.  Monitors ensure that EDI doesn’t dissipate and that organisations that have invested time and resources into creating a strong EDI foundation maintain the value and rewards of their investments.  After all, we are all human, and sliding back to familiar territory can be easier than we think.

How to make the most of a team’s collective intelligence

By Sara Bell

You are almost certainly aware how much effort has been spent on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives in recent years. And yet many organisations still struggle with overcoming the barriers and biases that prevent them from truly benefitting from their most valuable asset: their people. With the right approach, however, obstacles can be overcome and the benefits of Diversity can be fully realised.

Addressing the barriers outside the team
There’s no point in denying it: bias is real and needs to be addressed head-on. This means revisiting policies and practices to ensure all stakeholders are catered for.  Many policies and practices inadvertently exclude certain groups, such as hiring requirements that favour a specific degree or experience which is not obtainable by many.  By broadening the criteria and considering a wider range of qualifications, for instance, organisations can increase the pool of candidates and ensure a more diverse workforce. And if a business can remove these barriers and then embrace the wide-ranging perspectives of a diverse workforce, that will bring enormous benefits to the business.

Making the most of a team’s collective intelligence
Perhaps the most exciting benefit of the removal of organisational barriers, is the opportunity it creates to harness the benefits of increased creativity and innovation in the organisation. By bringing together individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives, organisations can tap into a wider range of ideas and solutions. This can lead to new products, services and processes that better meet the needs of a diverse customer base and create a competitive advantage.  But not without first exposing the biases and barriers that creep into the decisions made at meetings, for instance.  One way to do so is with our Inclusive Meetings methodology, that encourages clients to run meetings, make decisions, and design new practices that amplify previously quiet voices in a way that draws everyone in.

How does this work, exactly?  Let me share a concrete example:

Over the past year, I have been working with a multi-national executive leadership team to support them in having a different type of conversation when they meet. Previously, the most noticeable voices at meetings were of those speaking in their native tongue, taking up the majority of the talking time, at meetings with an informal business agenda.  So the first thing we did is to suggest that a formal agenda structure helps make the business meeting more accessible to those who are not native speakers, as everyone can prepare for it in advance and anticipate what’s coming up.

Throughout the workshops, we practised speaking in turn, as part of a Round, where members had equal speaking times during which there were no interruptions. The most immediate feedback from the team on this was how nice it was to hear such a variety of different voices and perspectives. Over time the true magic of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion had set in: as the team continued to actively listen for different perspectives, challenges and solutions, the elephant in the room finally surfaced.  Once people felt able to contribute openly and authentically, knowing that their perspective was going to be valued, they admitted that their current team dynamic didn’t serve the purpose of their team.  It then became clear that they had to work together differently to solve the complex challenges facing them as a team and as a company. They realised that the way they had become used to working together was one of the biggest obstacles to delivering on their strategy.

What made the difference in the approach suggested by us was how they started to value each other’s diverse experiences and perspectives.  By being open to learning and acknowledging the need to create an inclusive team environment, the team is now able to capitalise on its full collective intelligence for the success of the business.  The quieter voices – generally the women on the team – who now trusted that their contribution was welcomed and going to be heard without interruption, were able to speak freely about the strategic imperative for product innovation.  What I realised then (as I had with other clients) was that our inclusive meetings methodology liberated thinking and encouraged attention.  The team now trust this different way of leading.

The way this and other teams had managed to change how they work together is living proof that diverse teams in an inclusive environment are more likely to identify and address blind spots, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving for their clients.

In conclusion, eliminating Equity, Diversity and Inclusion barriers and biases requires a proactive and intentional approach. By creating a culture of inclusion and embracing diversity, organisations can tap into the full range of talent and ideas. This in turn leads to increased creativity and innovation, better decision-making and a more competitive edge, which is surely a reason no business leader can resist in the current financial climate?

A coach with a clipboard talking to his team on a field

Five tips for creating a compelling EDI Narrative

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

The success of your Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy depends to a large extent on how successful the leadership is in engaging the staff population. This will depend greatly on the narrative leaders embrace when talking about the benefits that EDI offer to your company.  It’s worth thinking carefully about precisely what that message should entail and how it might land with employees.

To ensure your EDI strategy is relatable to every person, I offer you the following five tips:

1.  Start with Why

  • Start your communication by explaining why EDI is important to your company. What is the opportunity that the company is seeking to achieve with its EDI strategy?  This is the high-level narrative that might be set out in the EDI strategy or on the website. This high-level overview sets the tone for a more detailed discussion.
  • Continue by explaining why EDI is important to your specific department or group. For this communication to be effective, the high-level narrative needs to be adapted, with examples that they can directly relate to.   Are you perhaps a sales team that needs to reflect and understand the different types of customers you have so that they can feel heard and understood? Or maybe you’re the IT team looking after the rest of the organisation, so EDI helps you not only to understand the needs of your in-house clients but to come up with solutions for the different scenarios in which IT is utilised. Or maybe you run the premises security department, so EDI could make it easier to get a sense for the varied situations that might cause security breaches and how to pre-empt and/or address them.  Whatever the team, there will be a specific benefit that EDI affords you. If you don’t yet know exactly what that might be, it is a good idea to spend some time thinking about it and even asking the team to think about this together; another option is to ask peers or your EDI team.

2.  Provide the right incentive
Motivate your team using both a ‘carrot’ (explaining how EDI helps us improve what we do and how it will help us hit our targets) and a ‘stick’ (what will happen if we do nothing).

A carrot approach will start with those benefits referenced above, but you can also provide other incentives, like monthly recognition or even prizes.  Some companies incorporate rewards for people who are proactively helping achieve targets or other EDI-related ambitions.  The most common reward is for managers who succeed in expanding the diversity of their teams; others can include cash for the introduction of suitable candidates with a diverse background or identity (i.e. different from the one dominant in the team), or for identifying a bias in a process and offering sensible solutions to address it.

A stick approach might be equally as familiar.  This is when people are discouraged from  unwanted behaviour, such as harassment or microaggressions, by clarifying that this is unacceptable in the workplace and will not be tolerated. Another one is to ask the team what they think would happen if they didn’t embrace the company’s EDI ambitions – how much of a future would they have in the organisation as a team, and even as an organisation, if others also took no action?

This approach of providing an incentive to help on the one hand, and a reason not to get in the way on the other, will relate to most parts of the EDI journey and thus will have the broadest appeal.

3. State Your Ask
Once you’ve set the scene for the importance of EDI to your organisation and team and provided suitable motivation, it’s time to be specific about your ask: what do you want each person to do?  A good general example of this is this statement made by the Chair of PWC a few years ago:

Are there people who just feel like they got cheated? Yes there are.  And what I say to those people is ‘I’m asking you to respect what we are trying to do.  I’m asking you to respect our colleagues. I’m asking you to have compassion.  And if you don’t agree, that’s OK.  You don’t have to agree with me.  But I do need you to live our values.’ 

A more specific ask can be requesting that each person attends offered training on the subject (if they haven’t yet) and brings their learning into team meetings where the topics might be discussed for 10-15 minutes.  For those who have been actively engaged in EDI, this might be an invitation to help observe unwanted behaviours and call out what might be hidden assumptions and judgment as and when they occur, in the spirit of the entire team learning to address them.  For those who have lived experience of bias or discrimination, perhaps some of them may wish to share it with the wider team, so that everyone can become more aware of the struggles of a few.

4.  Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware 
If you’re introducing a change into a homogenous team, expect there to be friction.  It’s important to acknowledge in your messaging that push-back, mistakes and even paralysis (i.e. the feeling that you can’t say or do anything anymore that won’t be ‘misinterpreted’) are all part of the process.  Mistakes are a great way to learn, so as long as people are trying, it is OK to misstep and learn from it.  Be clear about the type of supportive environment you wish to create so the team can grow and evolve together on this journey. Explain that you’re all in the same boat and, while some are sitting at the stern and others the bow, the boat will be advancing through uncharted waters together, with a captain that is but a few steps ahead of everyone else.  Make it clear that you are available to your team if they have questions or worries about the changes taking place and invite them to speak to you individually. Explain how you envisage the team handling the inevitable mistakes, how you will be learning together and how you will support each other as you practise new skills and form new habits.

5. Staying the Course
While it is expected that people will misstep as they’re learning together, it is also important to formalise expectations, so that you can address any non-compliance with the company’s EDI ambitions.  So to complete the message, consider how you could enforce non-compliance informally or formally if it becomes obstructive.  What is a reasonable time period for learning, after which you will expect people to have made strides forward and have fewer missteps?  What will you do if you notice people aren’t making the necessary effort?  When will you take stock of the progress you’ve made and adjust the course of your journey? You may wish to involve the rest of the team to come up with answers to these questions.  The more people agree the boundaries, the easier they will be to enforce.

In summary, saying the right thing to the rest of the employee population will help you deliver on your EDI strategy.  Crafting this message will take a bit of thinking time.  But to paraphrase one of Nancy Kline’s most powerful quotes, the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.  So it’s worth investing a few minutes to articulate this message in writing and to practise delivering it, so it lands exactly as intended every time you deliver it.

What will your EDI message look like?

Seeing EDI as a business opportunity

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

This month we’re moving on to Stage 4 of the Diversity Journey Roadmap: Seeing Diversity as an opportunity. This is where we find ourselves once we understand that looking at Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) as a problem to solve is an inactive way to motivate behaviour change, but that looking at EDI as an opportunity to improve our business is a more active and more effective approach to bring about change.

Last week, I ran an EDI workshop for a senior leadership team where I referenced the need for EDI to be a business imperative. One of the leaders challenged this by saying that, so long as we look at EDI as a box to tick on a KPI chart, i.e., doing it because the business requires it, we: will not get the behaviour change that is needed.  This kind of change must come from the heart, the leader continued. If we’re not motivated from within, we will not be able to achieve the transformation we’re after.

EDI as a Business Imperative
The disconnect between my statement and what the leader heard was that he interpreted my words ‘business imperative’ as something that we do just because someone higher up says we must.  It is a dashboard exercise, to which most people are not wedded but feel compelled to execute.

What I mean with the words ‘business imperative’ is treating EDI like a business requirement necessary to improve the business.  Think about health and safety in the workplace, for example.  First introduced in the UK to protect working children and, later,  miners,  health and safety became a business imperative to protect employees – and employers – and thus the business.  It is something that is taken very seriously by employers and has, as a result, made business a better place for everyone.

If leaders were to think about EDI in similar ways – something that is a business necessity – it would be easier to implement some of the required changes.

EDI allows businesses to grow and thrive
But of course EDI is more than just a business requirement.  Thinking of it as an opportunity means using the benefit of Diversity – the creativity, innovation, ability to address complex business problems – to improve business solutions.  EDI allows people to better relate to their customers, suppliers and other stakeholders, thereby improving the product or service being provided by the organisation.  Take the Empathy Suit, for example: a suit that inhibits physical movement so that the person wearing it might experience what it’s like to move around like an elderly person.  Born out of an experiment conducted by a group of diverse thinkers, the suit has been used to develop new products and services, and more recently, to train future doctors to understand what it’s like to live with physical impairment.

An inclusive work environment also makes it more likely that employees feel motivated and engaged in performing their daily routines.  An inclusive work environment is a psychologically-safe work environment and as Google’s Project Aristotle showed, psychological safety was the biggest factor in enhancing team performance, thus saving cost and improving delivery – another way in which EDI benefits the business.

EDI must come from the heart
It’s true that one of the main reasons people care about EDI is that it’s the right thing to do.  Treating others with respect, kindness and understanding is something we also wish for ourselves.  Call it harmony, karma or simply ‘what goes around, comes around’,  but we all understand that if we want to be treated a certain way, we must treat others in the same way.

So why isn’t this enough of a motivator?  Because, when it comes to making business choices, it is often too  difficult to do the ‘right thing’.  And that’s assuming we actually know what the right thing is.  Here’s an example: most would agree that women deserve the same opportunities as men, but when it comes to choosing between candidates, it feels wrong to choose a woman over a man simply because ‘it’s the right thing to do’ – and maybe it isn’t even the right thing to do!  EDI becomes more difficult to execute if we are simply motivated by our moral compass or desire to pave the way for our daughters, nieces or friends. In fact, doing the right thing is what Stage 3 is about: fixing a problem of inequality.   While doing the right thing is a noble aspiration, as behaviour scientists know, it doesn’t bring about the much needed change in behaviour.

To make a real difference with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, we need to be convinced of the benefits that we will derive from it.  And that is what I mean by seeing EDI as a business opportunity.

Do you see it this way?

 

Is Fixing the Diversity Deficit the Right Approach to EDI?

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Stage 3 of the Diversity Journey Roadmap© is where leaders recognise a lack of Diversity, see that it is a problem for the organisation and want to ‘fix it’. This is a positive step forward from just appearing to be doing something about it, as in the previous ‘Window Dressing’ stage of the journey, but there are also pitfalls in this stage.

It’s not easy to create genuine change, or to be an ally, especially if you don’t know how to go about it without appearing patronising. This is because leaders’ actions can be prone to missteps and misinterpretation if they are taken without a real understanding of how it feels to be excluded, undervalued or misunderstood in your workplace because you are different from those in its dominant group. It is reasonably straightforward to understand that a workplace should allow everyone to thrive and meet their potential, as nicely summarised in this quote from the CIPD:

‘Promoting and delivering EDI in the workplace is an essential aspect of good people management. To reap the benefits of EDI, it’s about creating working environments and cultures where every individual can feel safe, a sense of belonging and is empowered to achieve their full potential.’
CIPD
Needless to say, it’s much harder to achieve these Diversity goals than it is to describe them.
The first problem with fixing the problem
Leaders setting out to increase inclusion in their workplace are always well-intentioned, but they can inadvertently become ‘knights in shining armour’ without realising that this means they are approaching Diversity from an angle that is difficult to ‘sell’.‘Fixing’ Diversity is a noble aspiration – after all, we all want to do the right thing and work in an environment that is reflective of society at large, in a workplace that is fair and respectful to all. But if this remains the main motivation for diversifying the workplace, it may fail to deliver the desired result.  This is because, when it comes down to making business decisions, decision makers will prioritise what they believe is a more important business result to their desire to be inclusive.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Imagine you’re hiring to fill a role on your team.  Your team is made up of five men and one woman, and you’re keen to hire another woman to improve the gender split in the team.  You’ve instructed HR accordingly and they have provided a roster of capable candidates including men and women.  Interviews are progressing well and you’re down to 2 final candidates, both of whom are experienced enough to do the job.  One is a man and the other is a woman.  The interview panel is instructed to think about the gender balance on your team, but they also observe that the male candidate is an internal candidate who knows a few of the team members already and is better networked with some of the clients.  So, although gender balance is an important aspect of the hiring decision, you’re now faced with a male candidate who is marginally better suited to the job than the female candidate.  And, while you’re keen to fix the Diversity problem, you don’t want that to be the overarching factor of your hiring decisions, so you go for who you perceive to be the better candidate – the better fit for the team and the job, i.e. the man.

This is not a made up scenario.  Leaders and managers struggle with these kinds of choices almost every day.  Do we do what we believe will deliver the better business outcome or do we fix our Diversity problem?  Inevitably, the business result trumps the need to fix Diversity.

But only because we see Diversity as a problem, not an opportunity.  Were the question to be framed differently, e.g. which result will be better for business in the longer term,  this would require weighing up two different business opportunities instead of an opportunity on the one hand and a fix to a societal problem on the other.  In other words, if you’re out to fix the Diversity problem, chances are you’re not going to do it.

The second problem with fixing the problem
All this is before we even take into account that people of different demographic backgrounds don’t want or need to be ‘fixed’.  They are not the ‘damsel in distress’ of fairy tales waiting to be rescued.  People from underrepresented backgrounds are just as brilliant, clever and capable  – and just as fallible, human and ambitious – as everyone else. They don’t want favours from others; they don’t want a high-handed version of what might be perceived as ‘White Saviourism’  from those in the dominant groups within their workplace; what they want is recognition that they add just as much (if not more) value as others.  And they want an equitable opportunity to prove it, to be given a chance to progress and develop, perhaps  through taking on a big project to build their experience, to help them be promoted into a leadership role.

Aiming to ‘fix it’ might be a step in the right direction, but it is a step early on the Diversity Journey Roadmap©.  Recognising there is a problem to be solved is a good start. What makes it even better is to understand how the business and all its people will benefit from improved Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Once the benefits are clear, it’s easier to get buy-in and bring genuine impact to your workplace’s Diversity strategy.

Are you an Early Adopter or a Laggard?

When Voice At The Table was first set up, it was with the aim of changing corporate culture by empowering women to be authentic and forthright.  We very quickly discovered that the challenge was not empowering women but creating a work environment that appreciates and welcomes these empowered women.  As a result, much of our work nowadays focuses on culture change.  We work with organisations to develop inclusive teams and  leaders by challenging existing beliefs and – more importantly – behaviours.

One question that pops up regularly is how to persuade sceptics about the virtues and business imperative of the D&I agenda.

The answer to this question is quite simple: don’t!

Let us explain.

How change spreads across our culture

The Diffusion of Innovations is a theory that attempts to explain how and why new ideas and technologies spread and become mainstream, and at what rate this occurs. This theory became widely known after a Communication Studies professor called Everett Rogers published a book with the same name in 1962. Rogers stated that diffusion is the way in which an innovation is communicated over time among the members of a social system. The best-known element of this work is the Innovation-Adaptation Curve (pictured), which illustrates the rate of adoption of a product or idea until it is widely adopted reaches a critical mass that is self-sustaining.

The categories of adopters that Rogers identified are Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards.These five categories can be adapted to apply to D&I attitudes and behaviour.

Not everyone will get on board with D&I straight away; 20% will probably never come along and we shouldn’t worry about that, because we simply cannot change everyone. The “Laggards” may never subscribe to the benefits of greater Diversity and Inclusion in our organisations, but as behaviour and culture change progresses through the Curve, the numbers of these so-called sceptics dwindles.

What we should focus on is creating a momentum of behaviour change that carries the “Late Majority” along with the tide, creating a place to work where the majority of its people, systems and policies are aligned with the principles of Diversity and Inclusion. It is this momentum that we need to worry about and continue to measure.  As long as we keep moving through the Innovation-Adoption Curve, we’re making good progress.

The way to create this momentum is to focus initially on those receptive to the ideology of Diversity and Inclusion: the champions, allies and listeners – the D&I Innovators, Early Adopters and the Early Majority.  Those who are struggling to see the need for change are unlikely to be converted.

Diversity and Inclusion is swiftly becoming more mainstream and centre stage, far more than it was only five years ago. It is being talked about in the press, in discussion pieces and in mainstream reporting about senior leaders who are out-of-date with the current zeitgeist and have made complacent sexist or racist comments that have ultimately cost them their jobs.  Consequently, it is becoming more and more difficult for senior leaders to resist the changes that are taking place.  So let’s focus our energy on continuing to build the momentum with those leaders who share our vision of the future of business and let the ‘Laggards’ come to their own conclusions.

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.