There’s no doubt that progress has been made, but there is still much more to do. Following International Women’s Day, it is worth reflecting on the state of play for gender diversity across business and how we can collectively move forward on this issue. And there are three key actions that businesses should consider, regardless of the industry or sector they’re in.
We must eliminate the zero-sum game mindset
People from diverse backgrounds bring new ideas, perspectives and solutions, driving innovation which can give organisations a competitive edge. Yet there is still an awareness gap and a misconception around what a diverse workforce actually means for different individuals – with some feeling that diversity efforts will disadvantage or even replace them.
This mindset can linger in some companies if the right efforts are not made to include everyone. When communicating the business strategy for creating a more diverse employee base, organisations need to think about how their message will land in different parts with their employees, highlighting the benefits to the entire business and showing everyone that new initiatives or any culture changes are not to their detriment.
Encouraging your people to get involved in the conversation and share views on how a diverse and inclusive culture can be rewarding for all colleagues is key. In every setting, every human, no matter their background, has something to learn, but also something to teach.
We benefit, then, from having the people around us be as diverse a group as possible. Everyone has an important role to play in driving change and this is a discussion that needs to happen throughout all parts of a business, across all levels.
Getting it right: I&D strategies
We can’t succeed without metrics
Transparency is key. Many companies spend time producing long-term inclusion & diversity (I&D) strategies and then present these in boardrooms to get the senior buy-in and green light they need to implement them in the business.
But I&D conversations can’t just happen in the boardroom behind closed doors. It needs to happen in every part of the business so that employees are fully aware of what the organisation’s I&D goals and objectives are, how the business is tracking progress and the role they can play.
Broadening these discussions to include your people, sharing metrics and targets, and demonstrating true accountability will have a huge impact on achieving the right culture shift. When employers provide updates on progress being made, they need to ask themselves critical questions that challenge the success of the strategy.
Clarity on how success will be measured is a must. For example, did a new initiative lead to more women joining the business? Or alternatively has the number of women leaving the business declined?
Tracking metrics and KPIs is vital for showing responsibility and also for knowing when an approach needs a revamp. When you can see the impact of an initiative, you’re able to take a step back and assess whether or not a certain tactic is having the intended outcome.
We don’t have all the answers, and creating a truly diverse and inclusive environment won’t happen overnight. Not all tactics will be successful the first time around, they might require a bit of reworking or reconsideration based on learnings so far. Using metrics to assess impact, and taking the time to revisit, reassess and improve is crucial.
We must fight the urge to view diversity through one lens
Gender initiatives need to be diverse in themselves focusing on the infinite aspects of diversity, not just the visible ones – do they consider women with disabilities, from different racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, age, social mobility, sexual orientation, diversity of thought, experience, parenthood, caregiver status, education? We are not one-dimensional beings.
Creating initiatives that focus on diversity through multiple lenses could have a huge impact on their long-term success. It will enhance understanding around points of difference and encourage a greater recognition of diverse qualities within teams.
This could also encourage people to think differently about mentoring programmes, sponsorship and being an ally, and to support someone who is different to them to better understand their experiences, how it impacts their day-to-day interactions, and how best to elevate their talents to greater exposure.
Celebrating intersectionality and embracing all forms of diversity when recognition days like International Women’s Day are marked can help drive this way of thinking and ensure these events are truly inclusive.
Benefits for all
Employers have a huge role to play in ensuring greater awareness and understanding of the benefits a diverse workforce can bring. This needs to be at the heart of every organisation so that collectively we can overcome the zero-sum game mindset, be excited about what the full potential of a diverse business can achieve and accelerate progress towards a culture where everyone feels that they belong.
Natalie Edwards is chief diversity officer at National Grid
In celebration of International Women's Day this year across the week HR magazine will be providing expert perspectives on gender equality and the expectations of women in the workplace.
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