Practical steps to achieving gender diversity

Does your organisation do all it can to ensure women have the opportunity to progress, ask Barbara Annis and Richard Nesbitt

What if your company could gain a greater share of the market simply by promoting more women to its senior management team? Sounds easy.

However, there are a number of areas in an organisation where built-in preconceptions and predispositions prevent women advancing into leadership and creating greater gender balance. In our new book, Results at the Top, we show how the following actions will improve a company’s performance through gen- der diverse leadership and governance.

Demonstrate visible commitment from senior management teams

The CEO and top management should adopt a publicly visible, supportive and comprehensive statement regarding the company’s approach to diversity at all levels within the organisation.

This expectation must be permeated through all levels of the company and it must be repeated regularly.

Fix the plumbing

Ensure the “plumbing” of the company has eliminated systemic bias. By this we mean the processes that affect the intake, evaluation, promotion and ultimate retention of employees. Look out for, and address, the following:

  • Systemic bias in benefits programs
    • Uncompetitive or unacceptable maternity leave benefits and practices
    • Incorrect mandate and lop-sided gender composition of graduate intake teams
  • New hires from both outside the firm and promotions to new roles within the firm must formally document the candidates considered including by gender
    • Broaden the source of new graduates and other new employees to include other disciplines and other geographies, looking for new employees who have a record of achievement and effort
    • Incorrect mandate and lop-sided gender composition of promotion and remuneration committees
  • Conduct of management must show respect for all employees to eliminate intentional and unintentional bias
    • Celebrate role models on a gender diverse basis
  • Conduct succession planning in a gender diverse environment.

Lead by example

The Board of Directors should adopt a gender diverse composition that is balanced within a reasonable time. We use the word “balance” here because Boards themselves can choose how they achieve this composition.

Appoint a gender diversity officer with real power
Appoint a very senior individual as the Gender Diversity Officer and provide them with the power and resources to change the company. This person could be a man or woman as long as they have a record of success in getting the job done. They should report directly to the CEO and should not be part of the Human Resources department of the firm.

Measure and take action on performance
Companies should create a comprehensive gender diversity management information system. Stakeholders will use this information for a variety of purposes. For example, companies may use this information to track their progress against stated goals. Investors and others can see that the firm is living up to its commitments.

Publicly report progress at all levels
Publicly report progress on gender diversity at all levels of the management structure. Companies need to mea- sure their performance at all levels of management, and strategies need to be introduced to prevent systemic bias in employee hiring, the existence of glass ceilings, and the loss of women employees at each level of management.

Organisations that follow these practices can expect not only the quality of the working environment to improve but also will see improvements in financial performance. Similar

steps can and should also be taken
to improve diversity within different demographic groups, such as black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, and the disabled.

Barbara Annis and Richard Nesbitt are co-authors of a new book published by Wiley called Results at the Top: Using Gender Intelligence to Create Breakthrough Growth.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of LEAD.