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Internal talent development is key to tackling gender diversity

Pushes to boost diversity can be detrimental to efforts to develop female talent from within

Gender diversity has become an even bigger strategic issue for businesses with mandatory gender pay gap reporting on the horizon. The challenge for HR leaders will be to support their businesses in delivering practical interventions to help cultivate female talent internally and promote career progression.

According to research from Cracking the Code (a collaboration between KPMG, YSC, and the 30% Club) the number of women sitting on executive committees at FTSE 100 businesses has remained stagnant at 17% over the last two years, despite the proportion holding roles immediately below this level up by 2% to 25% in 2016.

The increase is a good indication that business leaders are making a sustained effort to improve their organisations’ diversity. However, our research suggests that in some cases this may have been to the detriment of efforts to develop female talent from within, with more employers seeking quick fixes via external recruitment. Although more firms are now implementing targets to ensure board-level accountability on diversity and inclusion, HR leaders need to drive a shift in people management to help recognise and cultivate female talent to the same extent as male talent.

Manage talent fairly, not equally

Treating people fairly does not always mean treating them equally – HR teams must focus on developing processes to ensure all employees are managed as individuals. This is particularly key when it comes to promotion opportunities, as women are generally less likely to apply for roles they don’t meet the full criteria for compared with men in the same position. HR departments need to provide guidance to line managers so they can understand what all their staff perceive is required for promotion, together with adequate training opportunities to build their skillsets.

A reliance on external recruitment could be a direct result of poor succession planning, so together with supporting a gender-differentiated approach to developing talent HR teams should widen their ‘promotion’ lists. This will bring together a broader, and therefore more diverse, group of people that may be ready for promotion over a two- to three-year period and line managers must then be tasked with bringing those employees through. Using proportionality as an approach can really help drive this.

Ensure flexible working for all

Flexible working hours are largely taken up by women returning from maternity leave, and this can create a stigma that instills a divide. To create a culture that embraces gender diversity HR teams should focus on normalising flexible working patterns for all employees. Policies could be introduced that can help embed flexibility into a workforce. For example, introducing a ruling that dictates internal meetings and conference calls must be scheduled for between 10am and 4pm to ensure people on flexible hours can attend.

Transparency and getting a grip on data

Effective people management policy must be backed up by human capital data that can provide accurate gender demographics. A firm needs to understand the structure and makeup of its workforce and the scale of the change required to meet diversity targets at all job levels.

Achieving these targets and being transparent in communicating them will be key moving forward with the forthcoming mandatory gender pay gap reporting. The availability of this data is likely to lead future generations of women to be more selective about who they work for and vote with their feet to find better opportunities. Building a reputation for operating in a manner that supports all employee groups in an inclusive way will be central to achieving competitive advantage. As a product of this, companies will boost the number of women reaching executive committee-level and ensure a gender balance across their organisation.

Ingrid Waterfield is director of People Powered Performance at KPMG