CEO Confidential

3 Ways to Bridge the Gender Divide in the Workplace

Unless you’ve never had any interest in the entertainment industry, you’ll have been at least feather-touched by the brush of the #metoo movement. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence’s discussing her responsibility to fight for equal pay in the industry, somewhere in your existence you’ll have suffered, been witness to or read about workplace injustices due to gender.

Gender disparity is alive and well in the workplace, sometimes explicitly and other times implicitly or unconsciously. Sexual harassment and discrimination have been a global feature of western society workplaces forever and a day. Pay inequality and gender bias in recruitment selection processes are not as transparent but exist surely as much as the sky is blue. We – men and women alike – are guilty of hiring in our own likenesses. We hold (sometimes unconsciously) assumptions and traditions one gender is apt to perform a role better than the other.

Only now are we starting to recognize the benefits of having both genders present on a board, leadership and senior management positions….that having greater gender diversity has cultural and business revenue pluses. More empirical findings are demonstrating the benefits of having more gender diverse workplaces.

A meta-analysis of 95 studies examining gender and perceptions of leadership effectiveness revealed that in business settings, women are deemed more effective leaders than men. Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal, principal researcher of entrepreneurship at Gallup also found that greater gender diversity generated greater revenue than less gender-diverse business units. When we look at these findings, it seems we have been shooting ourselves in the foot to miss out on these benefits in our workplace for so long. However, having a knee-jerk reaction to swing the male: female ratio may not be the best answer. In fact, taking a more considered, tailored approach is much more likely to yield a long-term positive impact.

Change is on the horizon but the way forward is not as clear as we might think. Immediate change in workplaces is often met with trepidation. One sub-group benefits whilst others get left behind. Managing the emotional and mental adjustments of all affected is difficult enough when changes to technical aspects of a business come into play. Broaching change concerning gender disparity particularly needs extraordinary care and attention.

1. Explore the state of play

Choosing to participate in the UN Women’s HeforShe initiative, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) first gathered data on recruitment patterns that had existed within the business for many years. Despite the graduate hire ratio of males to females being 50:50 and the departure ratio being the same for both genders, only 13% of partners globally were women and 8% of the global leadership team were female. Whilst these findings are of significance, what’s more important is that PwC sought to look at their data and the patterns, first.

Be wary of the sensationalized hype to run blanket diversity training because every other proverbial man and his dog is doing it. Note the energy of the hype, but examine your workplace to learn the true state of affairs. Action objective, non-judgemental measures to gain people’s honest thoughts, opinions and attitudes around gender diversity and how/if they value it. Incorporate exploring it within the context of a larger cultural survey to prevent triggering unnecessary disgruntlement. Look for patterns of responses and take notice of where they appear to be stemming from. Are there unconscious biases present? Are traditional stereotypes at play? If there is resistance, what is it, where is and what are the values underpinning it?

As much as views and opinions may be hurtful and unfair to some but feel completely reasonable to others, emphasis on the issue is what all parties need to see and feel is taking place. The nature of the divide must first be understood.

2. Engage men in the conversation as well as women

Education actually starts here; not in a training room. Discussions need to explore why the organization’s state of play is the way it is. Don’t just ask women for their views on an issue. Ask the same questions to men.

Take the issue of recruiting in our own likenesses. Whilst men have been deemed the common offenders, let’s not forget women may also do the same. In fact, in some cases, women will also recruit men for certain roles because they themselves have become accustomed to automatically considering males as apt for those roles.

Whilst a lot of research illustrates women having less presence on boards, as CEOs and in senior leadership positions, the mistake is often made to focus purely on empowering the female voice. In fact, what needs to happen are more educated conversations – engaging both men and women – around why gender diversity is not being capitalized upon.

Conversations and messages surrounding gender disparity in the workplace need to speak to men just as much as women. Furthermore, the discussion must not only speak of injustices inflicted on both genders but also the resulting loss of potential benefits to themselves and the business as a whole. For positive change to be possible on a united front, all parties must be participating and on board. Not just those who they have been hard done by.

3. Educate leaders on particular gender parity issues and provide directive training for specific change

Illustrated in the 2017 Gender Parity Report, PwC convinced their global leadership team to make cultural and structural changes. They did this by coupling unconscious bias awareness training with strategies to mitigate these biases and used data to rationalize the likely positive effects for the business as a whole. They also recognized that the nature of the divide was not the same in all regions. For example, in China, 65% of completing graduates were female whereas in Switzerland it was 35%. So the one size fits all approach was not going to work.

Thorough consideration is needed to develop tailored training on the most relevant issues. With strategic and behavioral changes to then be learned and modeled by senior ranks to their subordinates, employees aren’t just being told they should make changes. They are being shown how to implement them and are also reaping the benefits of reducing and removing the gender divide. Make training readily accessible and an ongoing high-priority conversation but remember that blanket-training across the board, is not ideal.

PwC achieved their organization goal to increase female representation on their global leadership team. They increased it from 8% to 47%. The proof is in the pudding of PwC’s comprehensive evaluations and tailored change-program designs to combat gender disparity across the business. Their approach is perhaps a stellar model demonstrating that if we truly want to bridge the gender divide, we must first look deeper to understand how and why the divide was built in the first place.

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Malachi Thompson
Malachi Thompson is an executive performance edge consultant, life planner, and strategist. Thompson writes about strategies that make excellence inevitable in business and life. He is the CEO of Malachi Thompson & Company, a leadership and performance consulting company.
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