Once again, we have hit March in a flash, and it is the week when organisations start to publicly celebrate women, debate issues that females in the workplace face and start the deeper soul searching into whether we are actually making progress with clearing the way for women to take on more senior roles in the workplace. Almost every client we have worked with in the last year has identified that Diversity and Inclusion are critical priorities for them. We have worked with many of them and have tried to help them to understand that focusing on Diversity and Inclusion often means we are focusing too much on metrics and initiatives and not putting the spotlight sufficiently on an inclusive culture that really does give the opportunities to everyone.
Research and neuroscience have thrown up a lot of facts recently about the differences between men and women. Many people can now quote the fact that women are more risk averse and that if they looked at a CV and felt that they only had 60% of the criteria they wouldn’t apply, whereas a man would feel they had a real chance. Interestingly though, what also happens is that when the woman does get through to interview, they will openly apologise for the parts of the job that they cannot do. So, what are we doing to change this – are we being savvier about how we write our job specifications to avoid this? Are we changing the way that we recruit and interview? Are we preparing women better in order t ensure they come across as well as men?
And how hard are we working to eliminate unconscious bias in the recruitment process? It is not as if this is a newly discovered phenomenon so surely, we have moved on and improved? There is a very well-known study of how orchestras recruit dating back to 1987 when the Boston Orchestra noted that 93% of their orchestra was male and realised, they needed to change how they dealt with gender balance in recruitment. So, they moved to blind interviews. They put in a black screen for the musician to play behind so that they didn’t guess the gender and immediately the percentage of women increased to 11% as they simply focused on quality. However, they then realised that they could still hear their shoes on the wooden stage which gave away their sex. So, they asked applicants to walk in bare feet across a carpet. The percentage of women they recruited then increased dramatically to around 30%.
So, awareness is great but organisations really need to change behaviour. It was easy for the orchestra to make adjustments to do this but in reality, when we are selecting board members clearly it will soon become apparent that the applicant is female. Recently an HRD who was conducting a process for a new CEO told me that they needed 80% more female applicants than men to end up with an equal shortlist to interview! And yet in the US for example women actually hold 57% of university degrees. Sadly, the bare truth is that board members are more willing to open the doors to people who are ‘just like them’ and if the current board are predominantly white and male then that trend will continue. Last year, Britain released details from the Hampton-Alexander Review which examined this issue and the report was laced with weak explanations for the dismal numbers including “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”, “We have one woman already on the board”, and “most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”.
Balance is not a women’s issue, it is a business issue – statistics clearly show that boards with more females are advantaged both financially and creatively. In fact, some recent stats stated that firms with just one woman on their board are less likely to go bankrupt. Companies with higher female representation in their top tiers outperform others by delivering 34% greater return to shareholders.
So, what else can we do to ensure that there are support mechanisms
- Ensure that every job requires half of the shortlist to be women (even if you do have to work through 80% more applicants!)
- Recruit from the inside – have a far more effective talent management and succession planning process and ensure that there is a strong path for preparing women at board level, including exposure to all areas of the business
- Create referral programs that specifically target women. It is well known that referrals are a great way to find quality candidates but research shows that job referrals tend to benefit white men more than women or minorities. Positive action means that it is acceptable good practice to actively ask for referrals for females.
- Have a strong Women’s Development programme that allows women to discuss the issues that they are facing and challenge their inner beliefs and have the confidence to apply for senior positions. Include mentoring and sponsorship for women including cross company mentoring – often there are not sufficient female role models in an organisation so finding them in external organisations can be really positive.
- Retain great talent – offer maternity coaching so that women returners do not lose their place in the organisation and making sure that they have sufficient support
- Make results public – demonstrating that you are an organisation that welcomes women and supports their progress will help to attract better talent
So, in summary #BalanceforBetter means that we really understand the benefits of a more diverse workforce and that we are constantly looking for ways that we can achieve, celebrate and publicise results – which should speak for themselves.
If you want to know more about our Diversity and Inclusion solutions and methodologies then please get in touch. We have can help you with areas such as; Executive Board Focus, Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities, Talent Management, Support and Awareness Initiatives, Policies and Policy Integration, Communication and Re-aligning Performance Management Processes. For more information on these, or any other aspect of your development contact us on 01329 820580, or via firstname.lastname@example.org.