Gender inclusivity, gender equality and equal opportunities are issues all business need to address. If they do not they will find they are missing significant opportunities and talent. According to research by Catalyst, good workplace diversity benefits not only the business but the economy it operates in.
More women enter the workforce than men, yet there are fewer women at the very top. With the hope of finding out why, I asked one of the leading experts on diversity, Freddie Alves, the Managing Director of Talking Talent. Over his 20+ years of experience Freddie has helped businesses understand the impact diversity can have on them. Have a look at what he has to say.
1) You have been working with diversity and inclusion for 20 years. What are some of the most significant changes you have seen in culture, mindset and working practices?
I think the most significant shift has been the recognition that creating inclusive cultures lies at the heart of success. It should come first, as the foundation for building and sustaining diversity but also then making the most of it. We want to make sure that both women and men can be every bit as successful as they would like to be – whether that is continuing to move up vertically through an organisation or enjoying playing one particular kind of role that they love throughout their careers. The only way that you achieve that is through an inclusive culture.
2) At what point do you see gender differences arise in the careers of women leaders?
Gender differences can impact career opportunities for women at any and every stage. When career opportunities for women are reduced Â – I think there is also an impact on the long-term performance of the business itself. Having run diagnostics in many different organisations it’s clear that the places where gender has a significant impact can vary. From the organisation that fails to make itself attractive to women applicants at entry level, to those not supporting and retaining new parents, to those leaving women leaders stranded in mid-level positions it all matters. Fundamental to creating an inclusive culture is the pulling apart of our talent management practices and making sure that they are all operating in a genuinely fair and inclusive way.
3) What is that about? What happens?
I’ve never believed that women are different from men always and in every way. I do think, however, that there are still aspects of gender culture which affect how many women and men interpret and judge the ambitions, behaviours, potential etc. of people from the other gender. We don’t talk about that much and indeed it’s become a bit unpopular in some circles to do so. I feel that is a mistake and that developing a stronger understanding of gender culture as it plays out today will help break down some of the barriers to career opportunities that we see. Those leaders who are stewards of talent for their organisations should absolutely understand this.
4) What can be done to change that?
We need to know what levers to pull in each specific organisation and there is no single solution. Imagine if Amazon only ever recorded and monitored the amount of money generated by their site. At the end of each day or month or year – they would have a very important indicator – but no idea how and why that cash was being generated – what worked on their site, what failed, what people responded well to and what drove them away. I think for a long time that’s what organisations did as well – at the end of each year they looked at their gender balance, which often had not moved at all, and said ‘let’s hope it goes better next year.’ I think we’ve now learned that although there are similarities across businesses in terms of the barriers to achieving gender balance there are also some significant differences. So a very detailed assessment of all the talent pipeline data is needed – all of the ins and the ups and the outs at each level to really diagnose where the key barriers are. Hard to fix a problem if you don’t know what the root cause is.
Then of course there is the link to manager accountability. If no one feels accountable for changing the patterns seen in the past – then regardless of what the data shows, nothing is going to change. It’s a bit like having a speed limit, measuring the fact that a lot of people are way over that limit but doing nothing about it. And on the other hand, if you are a line leader or a department or a business unit that’s doing really well on building gender balance – there should be greater recognition and reward for that.
5) The theme at The Coca Cola Enterprises Women’s Event was, Be Bold for Change. What are your bold goals for change?
Many men have the influence and the opportunity to create inclusion, simply too few are doing it actively and persistently. That needs to change and I want to help make that happen.
6) Why is it important to bring men into the conversation about gender culture and equality?
The ability to change a culture from one that is highly supportive of a particular kind of person – a homogeneous group, into one which is inclusive for many more people won’t happen just because we change policies on something like parental leave (although that will help), it won’t happen just because we provide targeted learning opportunities for women in organisations (although that can help). A lot of those things have been happening for more than two decades with some effect but not nearly enough in terms of seeing more inclusive cultures and greater gender balance at middle and senior levels. So across every sector from mining to energy to financial services and into the law – what’s really required is the active engagement of many more senior leaders and particularly men. There are very specific behaviours and practices which we know most strongly create feelings of inclusion. And we can measure whether people feel included in fairly simple ways. So for me, success will accelerate dramatically as we succeed in shifting leaders and again especially men from a place where they tolerate diversity as long as it doesn’t disrupt their work experience too much, into organisations where they are actively out there creating inclusive cultures because they believe that there will be benefits for themselves and for their business.
Hope this gives sheds some light on potential areas of change required in your business working practices.
How does your organisation handle matters of gender inclusivity? Hit reply and let me know.
To find out how I work at developing women leaders please get in touch, firstname.lastname@example.org.