Recently I‘ve been reading a lot of articles on diversity in general, and gender in particular, as well as attending conferences. At the CFA Alpha and Gender Diversity Conference, we were told it will take a further 61 years before we will have achieved gender parity in the workplace.
While slow progress is being made, and the benefits have been scientifically researched and published – I have many more questions and the main one is – why aren’t we making more progress and faster?
Is the focus for diversity in the workplace just a reaction to past high profile lawsuits on sex and race discrimination? Could this be the reason companies favour the classic ‘command and control’ approach as a diversity strategy (the “do’s and don’ts”, like diversity training, diversity programmes, hiring tests, performance ratings and grievance)?
Are ’Command and Control’ approaches ineffective due to a lack of engagement or motivation of employees/managers in solving the problem?
How can diversity strategies really be effective in the workplace? Is engagement the key to solving the problem, exposing employees and managers to people from the different diversity groups, encouraging social accountability and holding unbiased views?
A Harvard Business Review article sets out several strategies which really do work including recruitment, engagement, contact, social accountability and diversity task forces.
For example, specific recruitment programmes with voluntary participation targeting elements of diversity (gender, race, age) creates cohesion, being part of a positive company message and a feeling of inclusion.
Mentoring of minorities has proven to increase engagement and reduce bias towards them. A mentee becomes a protégé, and is helped and supported in their development and advancement.
Bias can further be reduced through contact i.e. allowing people in different roles and functions to work on projects as equals or let management trainees rotate through departments. It breaks down stereotypes, leading to more equitable hiring and promotion.
Social accountability is a technique in which you tap in the need to look good in the eyes of those around us. It can be achieved through creating transparency whereby for example a company publishes the average performance rating and pay rise by race and gender. Any previous existing differences tend to disappear within a short period.
Diversity task forces discussing and investigating the issues underlying the lack of diversity, while designing the solutions, can have a significant positive impact. The task force members take the solutions back to their departments and manage implementation. As way of an example, a large accounting firm faced an issue in 1992, whereby despite the fact that 50% of the recruited employees were women, hardly any stayed on to become a partner. With a task force in place, the number of female partners increased to 14% in 8 years, by 2015 this had increased to 21% and the current global CEO is female.
So clearly recruitment programs, mentoring, contact, social accountability, diversity task forces are clearly effective but currently not widely employed within businesses and hence improvement of diversity in the workplace will take time. The good news however is that we do know what works, so we just need to apply ourselves to do more of it.