As a diversity consultant specialising in closing the gender gap in organisations and building inclusive cultures, I often get asked what I think is the “magic bullet” to creating gender-balanced organizations.
The problem lies in the question itself because experience has shown investing only in women’s initiatives, as most organizations have done in recent years, just isn’t enough. Gender diversity as mainly a “women’s issue” where women are told they need to “lean in” or do better at negotiating salaries and flexible work schedules at the very least is an underestimation of where we need to put our focus and attention. It also does not address the fact that if asked, men express their own desire for workplaces that are more balanced and allow them to prioritize family responsibilities, health, and wellness. Therefore, focusing on diversity as a lever that can benefit how men and women work is a more holistic viewpoint, because we know that it can lead to improved employee engagement, higher-performing teams, more innovation, and better business outcomes.
Looking at STEM fields in particular, where the gender gap is more glaring, we know that part of the problem is the lack of women graduating with STEM degrees, in fact globally it's at about 16% according to the World Economic Forum. And there is another alarming statistic that should be of concern, namely the high drop off rate of women at the mid-career level in STEM fields, who leave not because they want to start families, but because they do not see a clear path to job advancement. Coupled with a lack of role models or mentors and the challenges that arise from gender bias where women are often isolated, held to higher standards of performance, or stuck in the double bind, the climb to the top just isn’t worth it in the minds of many women I’ve worked with. This then creates a pipeline issue that many companies may not address because they are more focused on gender balancing senior levels.
If we want to address the gender gap at all levels, then I believe we need a five-step culture-change process that includes the following comprehensive strategy:
1) Culture-change starts at the top.
The most successful diversity initiatives are those that have buy-in from the CEO and C-suite leadership with communication throughout the organization about the importance of diversity as a business imperative, linking results to business objectives and KPI’s. Having a strong vision and building the business case helps ensure that any culture change initiatives are taken seriously as they trickle down.
2) The unique gifts and talents of women must be valued, recognised, and rewarded.
In many well-intentioned organisations performance is still evaluated on qualities of leadership that can be described as traditionally more masculine. As we move from the industrial age to the age of information where innovation is driving change in all sectors of our society, we seem to be stuck using outdated ways of thinking and operating. We need to begin putting value around things like empathy, collaboration, and compassion to build teams that are engaged and companies that do well on top of delivering bottom-line results.
3) Addressing gender bias at its core is imperative.
Change only occurs when people are aware of how their behavior impacts the collective. Gender bias training that incorporates the values and behaviors of inclusion allows us to leverage the diversity that we strive to attain. This includes finding new ways to engage men in the conversation and to encourage and reward them to embrace new ways of thinking and working that are based on gender-balanced principles.
4) Provide gender-balanced leadership training and mentorship.
The impact of gender bias on women’s confidence, their ability to find a leadership style that is effective, and the way they are hired, evaluated and promoted all need to be taken into consideration when developing programs and training that make a lasting impact in changing cultures. This includes introducing gender-balanced leadership training for men and women, as well as programs that address empathic communication, emotional intelligence, and structured mentoring/sponsorship opportunities.
5) Organizational structures that address women’s unique needs.
Starting with pay, those organizations that have standard processes and audits in place that make sure there are no discrepancies between men and women as it applies to salaries, are those with greater female representation. Those same organizations have maternal and paternal leave programs and provide the necessary training to deal with the stigma that accompanies taking leave, and the onboarding process after leave is taken which can sometimes be tricky and leave women at a disadvantage. Flexible work schedules and part-time positions need to be standard and encouraged for all workers, men, and women, again sans stigma.
Although we don’t yet have organizations that are fully gender-balanced, we can imagine the positive ripple effects of implementing the above process. Imagine a workplace that values its human capital as much as its products and services. Where people and their wellbeing are taken into consideration and workplaces are designed in a way to maximize potential through family leave programs, equal pay, flexible work, and other structures. Cultures where innovation is happening at a fast pace because leaders are able to create inclusive environments where people are able to contribute and ideate more effectively. It can lead to great places to work, but also a society that works smarter, better, and more sustainably. Now that’s bang for your buck.
Monique has also published a book, Leading Gracefully: A Woman’s Guide to Confident, Authentic, and Effective Leadership. To find out more click here.