7 fundamental steps to improving gender diversity

Companies will forever be stuck in circular conversations around gender diversity until CEOs apply commitment, focus and discipline to the promotion of women in the workplace, according to a new research report.

It found that 94 per cent of Asia Pacific business leaders believe Millennials will be the generation to finally achieve equal opportunities for women in the workplace – however, they estimate it will take another 13 years.

The report, which was conducted by ManpowerGroup, found that the most significant obstacle to gender diversity is an entrenched male culture, and 59 per cent of leaders said they believe the single most powerful thing an organisation can do to promote more women leaders is to create a gender-neutral culture, led by the CEO.

Another key to change is flexible working, with 42 per cent of business leaders agreeing that this requires a wholesale rethinking of the workplace, particularly a shift in focus from presenteeism to performance.

A third key finding of the report is that no-one is walking the talk or making the commitment.

It found that 33 per cent of Millennial females, for example, said no one in their organisation is supporting women into leadership, however, 32 per cent of male leaders (usually those with the power and influence to make change) said the responsibility is HR’s, not theirs.

“True change takes time, focus and discipline”

“It’s proven that the problem will not correct itself – we are stuck in a circular conversation,” said Mara Swan, ManpowerGroup’s executive vice president, global strategy and talent and co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Gender Parity.

“Getting more women into P&L roles will significantly help accelerate the talent and leadership pipeline, but this requires focus, discipline and commitment from the CEO down to make it happen,” said Swan, who observed that getting women into leadership isn’t just an ethical imperative.

Jonas Prising, CEO, ManpowerGroup, also noted that when half of the talent pool and half of consumers are female, it makes good business sense, achieves diversity of thought and better decision-making.

“CEOs need to own this,” he said.

“Accountability sits with senior leadership to create and champion a culture of conscious inclusion.

“Articulating a talent legacy, saying how things will change and by when, helps leaders realise the seriousness of this. True change takes time, focus and discipline.”

“Now we need to start taking action to move closer to conscious inclusion”

Based on a global study of 222 established and emerging male and female leaders, the Seven Steps to Conscious Inclusion: A Practical Guide to Accelerating More Women into Leadership report also noted that Millennial males said leaders need to collaborate with female colleagues and champion emerging female Leaders.

“The best male leaders are taking women to one side and asking them what they need to succeed, demonstrating their commitment,” the report said.

In Asia Pacific, leaders said a focus on encouraging and training women to take advantage of opportunities that will stretch and develop leadership strengths was important, and stressed the need for companies to adopt a culture of shared power, driven from the top.

“It’s great to see leaders in Asia Pacific are much more optimistic about achieving gender parity in the workplace compared to their global counterparts,” said Bridget Beattie, executive vice president Asia Pacific Middle East at Right Management.

“These are encouraging signs, but now we need to start taking action to move closer to conscious inclusion, where people at all levels have the desire, insight and capacity to make decisions, do business and to think and act with conscious intent to include women in leadership.”

7 steps to conscious inclusion
There are seven practical steps to accelerate organisations to the tipping point that will help them achieve conscious inclusion and eventual parity:

  1. Change yourself first: Believe it or don’t bother. Change must be authentic. If not, people see it as a fad that’s here today, gone tomorrow.
  2. Leadership has to own it, don’t delegate it: The CEO needs to own the issue. Gender parity cannot be delegated to HR. For commitment to be authentic and aligned with business strategy, change must flow from the top and be demonstrated by the leadership team. HR can help facilitate and support it.
  3. Flip the question: Ask “why not?”: Succession planning must be bolder. Instead of saying, “she doesn’t have the experience,” ask, “what do we need to make it work?” Challenge assumptions. If we think it is possible, we can make it possible.
  4. Hire people who value people: If we hire people who value people they will figure out how to optimise all human potential, including women. They will be open to strategies that support “one life” – balancing the integration of work and home, measuring success on performance and quality of output, not presenteeism. They will support people to plan and manage for career ‘waves’ not ladders.
  5. Promote a culture of conscious inclusion: Generic programs do not work. The last three decades prove this. Programs don’t change behaviours and don’t improve the numbers. They can even breed complacency, rewarding activity not the results. Accountability sits with senior leadership and decision makers to promote a culture of conscious inclusion. HR can help leaders facilitate change; training can raise awareness. Leaders must change the culture.
  6. Be explicit: Women when and where: Simply increasing female representation will not shift the needle. Women and men must be represented at all levels and in every business unit. Leaders must know exactly where they need women to be. Looking at macro numbers is not enough; it results in pink ghettos – women only in HR, communications and support roles instead of P&L and staff roles. Women need to be coached and sponsored to succeed, and they need experience and exposure to advance.
  7. Be accountable: Set measureable objectives and achievable outcomes: In business, it is about outcomes and what you want to achieve. Every hiring and promotion decision can be justified but if that isn’t moving closer towards the tipping point then conscious inclusion and gender parity just won’t happen. Articulate a talent legacy – how things will change and what it will look like by when. Plan for it as if it were a strategic business priority or investment. True change takes time, focus and discipline.

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