Blog: Do you seriously want to achieve gender diversity?


Do you seriously want to achieve gender diversity?

Ensuring gender diversity is far more than merely affirmative action and getting the numbers correct - it's not a simple problem and therefore there isn't a simple solution.
Do you seriously want to achieve gender diversity?

First, an admission of bias – I am an elderly, post graduate, white male, with extensive international management and leadership experience. 

Second, an admission that much of what I read and hear about diversity makes me really angry! 

Third, a statement of fact — during my career, I have recruited more females than males, and more individuals with different ethnic origins than me.

So, why does diversity talk make me so angry? If you can bear to keep reading, I’ll explain just four of my reasons.

Lose Respect, Lose Power - Earn Respect, Gain Followers

I had the privilege to work with Dr. Paul Marciano, a clinical psychologist who authored, “Carrots and sticks don’t work”, and we then co-authored the book, “SuperTeams: Using the principles of RESPECT to unleash explosive business performance”.

The common theme is that respect is a major driver of trust, teamwork, productivity, … all characteristics of successful organizations. But, our research identified that in most organizations, disrespectful behaviors are prevalent. 

Here are a few of the top 25:

1. Not listening to or considering others’ opinions and perspectives

2. Making discriminatory comments or innuendos

3. Speaking negatively about others, especially when they are not around

4. Ignoring, excluding, and ostracizing others 

Many disrespectful behaviors are directed towards females and inhibit them from wanting to progress. Thus, until we achieve truly respectful working relationships, attempts to resolving diversity issues will be draining, ineffective, and unsustainable.

Do you listen to the ones you have?

About two years ago, I was helping a company with their strategic talent management. One day, I attended a Senior Management Forum, at which, their process was being reviewed when the head of a Division said, “We really must focus on getting more women into senior roles.” 

There were many sage nods and grunts around the table. Then, quite suddenly, the chairman banged the table and demanded, “Why the heck would we want any more when most of you don’t listen to the ones we already have?” 

The truth was that, until that intervention, diversity had been merely a numbers game. That was a long, long meeting! Let me share three example actions that came out of it, and which proved to be fundamentally important:

  1. Meetings are the scourge of most organizations, major contributors to low productivity, and primarily where females (and other minorities) feel ignored and ostracized.

    In that organization, meetings were poorly run:

    - The most extravert (mostly men) got most air-time and “sucked the air out of the rooms;

    - Questions like, “Has anyone else got any ideas?” were asked in a way that sent the message, “but we don’t really want to hear them,” so females, in particular, kept quiet;

    - Action points were assigned to volunteers (to ensure inclusion) but, of course, the males typically volunteered first, alleviating the chairmen of any culpability.

    If you have an organization attempting to redress any form of diversity balance, meetings are where the efforts will succeed or, most likely, be undermined. In that organization, managers had to be trained in contemporary meeting management skills including how to:

    - Decide whether to hold a meeting or to use asynchronous means including virtual whiteboards and one-to-one discussions, to elicit more diverse inputs;

    - Ensure balanced and diverse input during discussions – actively seeking contra ideas, and using crediting and building techniques to encourage diverse inputs e.g., from the females.

  2. The purpose of wanting to increase diversity and inclusion is not to win a numerical competition, but to enhance the quality of decisions that are made by increasing the variety of perspectives and ideas.

    In that organization, some decisions were taken by those in authority and most were made in meetings. This meant that, despite adding more females, little changed. Males were still in the majority so made more of the sole decision-maker decisions, and males dominated the meetings! An effective decision-making process had to be developed including, structured steps to ensure diverse inputs. This was then implemented with comprehensive skill training.

  3. Managers had to be shown the importance of day to day diversity.

    The intent of working towards a more diverse workforce had to be explained well, repeated and repeated, and then role modeled until people believed it. The old adages, “People respect what you inspect, not what you expect,” and “People do as you do, not as you say” could never have been truer.

    A workshop was run including an explanation of the “Broken glass syndrome” — in simple terms, if you set out your values and then ignore any deviations from them, the frequency of those deviations occurring will increase. If you call out deviations promptly and visibly, the frequency of their occurrence will decrease.

The purpose of wanting to increase diversity and inclusion is not to win a numerical competition but to enhance the quality of decisions that are made by increasing the variety of perspectives and ideas

Is gender the key promotion criteria?

The next diversity issue that makes me angry is addressing the symptom, not the cause. I believe that most people will accept that, “Everyone should be promoted based on their capability to do the job or task in hand.” If applied effectively, this will ensure gender diversity. And yet, in most organizations, we still:

  • Promote individuals into people management positions based largely on achievements in another discipline, not on their people management skill or potential;
  • Reward people managers with recurring salary increase based on cumulative short-term results, not on their contribution to organizational sustainability;
  • Do not hold people managers accountable for their compliance with selection processes or the diversity (gender, race, religion, age, skills) of their workforce.

The caliber of management and leadership is the most significant differentiator of sustainably successful organizations. If we propagate a process that does not maximize management capability, the managers appointed will continue to promote similarly and diversity will be jeopardized.

We must find more effective ways (a) to manage the selection of those to whom we give people-management responsibility, and (b) to reward and recognize those who are not best suited to people management, but who make contributions over and above those expected.

Can Females Count?

It has often been said that, “HR should not count people, rather make people count.” That is so true, AND … HR must be sufficiently numerate to know what can be achieved in terms of diversity metrics.

Last year, I worked with an organization that addressed many of the issues raised above. The executives and senior managers were all aligned, well trained, and committed. Then, they decided to set 5 year goals for diversity. Each division set its goals for diversity representation at various levels. Everyone was excited … until we studied the data on:

  • Attrition rates : (Noting that actions were in place to increase top talent retention);
  • Recruitment rates : (They were seeking to recruit at lower levels and promote from within);
  • Workforce plans : (Predictions of staffing levels, based on projected business).
  • And, the diversity goals could only be achieved if:
  • There was a massive and exceedingly unlikely explosion in sales, needing more staff thus more managers
  • Many 10’s of male senior managers resigned;
  • The organization sacked many 10’s of male senior managers. Their goals were statistically impossible to achieve!

Bottom Line?

Ensuring gender diversity is far more than merely affirmative action and getting the numbers correct. It’s not a simple problem and therefore there isn’t a simple solution. First and numerically, its achievement may take you longer than you think. Second, unless you take aggressive and prompt action to enhance the caliber of management and leadership, your efforts will come to little. 

Diversity and active inclusion must go together, and when that happens, organizations can reap a well-earned success. 


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Topics: Diversity

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