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How to manage gender diversity in the workplace

Chelsea C Williams, Workplace & Career Strategist International Speaker Founder & CEO, College Code

Chelsea C. Williams
Workplace & Career Strategist, International Speaker, Founder & CEO of College Code

We don’t manage gender diversity; instead, we embrace and provide an opportunity for gender diversity.
Gender diversity in the workplace allows for various perspectives, lived experiences, and ideas that propel business opportunities and redefined leadership standards.

We should be mindful that our efforts to advance gender diversity consider the intersectional experiences of employees. Coined by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, intersectionality considers the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect.

Any efforts to promote gender diversity without considering these unique experiences are not complete.

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Fiona Daniel - Founder, CEO, Non-Exec Director fd2i

Fiona Daniel
Founder, CEO, Non-Exec Director

It can be hard to create a meaningful gender agenda, but one of the biggest inhibitors which make gender less meaningful is a non-inclusive gender agenda. To drive gender equality, then gender must not only include all men it must also include all women.

To manage gender diversity effectively it must from the outset focus on the culture. Is it lip service or genuine commitment and accountability from the top? It is an integral component of the company strategy? It must be managed holistically from the behaviours of people decision-makers to the systems and processes which exclude particularly in recruitment, promotion, pay and reward, talent, etc.

Finally, it must be managed with an intersectional lens otherwise we go down the hole of focusing on one type of woman and have a situation where race, disability, and sexual orientation are excluded ignoring the fact that women will face multiple layers of discrimination because they identify across many aspects of difference.

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Priya Radia, Included Associate Consultant

Priya Radia
Associate Consultant, Included

Following the structure outlined above, making gender a strategic priority is an essential starting point. Use data to inform your actions by finding out what the barriers to gender diversity are in the workplace. This could be through quantitative data collection as well as more qualitative methods such as focus groups. For example, is it hiring barriers? Or cultural issues? A common challenge we see in this space is gender diversity with regards to senior management, often caused by cultural barriers and biased decision making on policies, pay, promotion and retention. Consider initiatives such as Sponsorship programmes targeted at women, or a detailed review of the end-to-end promotion process to ensure it is free from gender bias.

All employees should understand and participate in gender diversity efforts to make real progress, not just women. Try allyship training or unconscious bias training with a specific focus on gender. Another important note is that gender isn’t always about men and women – make sure you consider inclusion for employees who are transgender or do not identify within traditional gender norms (e.g. genderqueer, non-binary).

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Plamena Solakova, Included Global Business Development Manager

Plamena Solakova
Global Business Development Manager, Included

Prior to joining a D&I consultancy, I worked in the technology sector for six years. I would sometimes find myself to be the only woman in the room and feel like an outlier.

Technology as an industry employs less than 20% of women in the UK, and there are multiple other sectors where genders are not represented equally (education, social care, engineering and journalism to name a few).

To promote equal gender representation at work, it is important that we diversify the talent pipeline with targeted interventions.
Examples include:
  • Advertising as broadly as possible, including through channels not previously used;
  • Requiring equal representation on talent shortlists from recruitment agencies;
  • Employing a representative recruitment team in the house;
  • Offering returnships and generous parental leave policies, and not over-relying on referrals.
LinkedIn research shows that women are less likely to rely on networks and instead tend to apply online. Men on the other hand tend to utilise personal connections to expand their networks and land new opportunities, including through referrals. Thus, strong encouragement of referrals in a male-dominated sector or company is likely to lead to more men being put forward and hired. For any company looking to drastically increase female representation, this may be something to reconsider.

It is also important to note that any recruitment efforts should take into consideration applicants who identify as transgender and non-binary for example, and not strictly focus on male-female terminology and efforts.

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Jane Ayadura

Jane Ayaduray
Global Director of Diversity & Inclusion, White & Case LLP

Gender diversity is often the first area that organisations look to try and improve, and so it can be frustrating and discouraging to see the overall lack of progress in the space. The topic is wide-ranging and includes multiple aspects including: societal norms and cultural factors; organisational systems and processes; nuances around gender identity and moving away from a purely binary lens of gender; the role that men and other majority groups who typically hold power can advance the agenda; and the impact of intersectionality.

It’s not uncommon for organisations to focus simply on women and hope that is enough to make a meaningful difference. It rarely is. Here are some straightforward techniques organisations can implement to help manage gender diversity through their systems and processes.

1. Express goals and targets in a way that includes both genders. For example, rather than saying “we aspire to have 40% women in leadership roles”, consider “we aspire to a maximum of 60% of either gender in leadership roles” or “we aspire to have a minimum of 40% of either gender in leadership roles”. This reinforces the need to take action that supports more balanced representation.

2. Set group size based on the desired proportion of the minority group. For example, if the goal is to have 50% of participants in a leadership development programme be women and six women are selected for the programme, then only six men may also be selected. This reinforces how decisions outside recruitment and promotion can affect gender balance, and provides opportunities to build a balanced talent pipeline to support longer-term objectives.

3. Review gender data at key points in critical people processes. It can be helpful to review gender data in selection, performance, compensation and promotion processes that happen across organisations. For example, it’s quite common for organisations to go through a calibration exercise as part of the performance management process to ensure consistent standards are applied between teams or departments. Examining gender data alongside this can reveal the unintended impact of what may seem very reasonable decisions when considered individually, that cumulatively may lead to a disparity between performance ratings for men and women.

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