As a strategic enabler and a basic human right, diversity continues to dominate news headlines and business discussions worldwide. Barry Bloch, Global Partner for Board and Executive Leadership, shares these seven steps to help businesses substantially and sustainably move the gender diversity agenda forward.
Step 1: Face the facts and commit to change
To progress gender diversity, business leaders must deeply understand why it is needed, and be able to have continual open and honest conversations about what it will take to achieve. “Diversity only begins to move forward when business leaders recognise that a problem exists, and when they can truly embrace the need for change,” says Barry.
Step 2: Lead from the top
While diversity continues to garner growing societal and legislative support, external pressures alone won’t move the dial. “To drive significant and sustainable change, diversity can’t be a PR exercise, or about meeting the expectations of shareholders,” Barry says. “Change must come from within, and filter down from the top. It also requires genuine conviction from business leadership as a whole.”
Step 3: Change the core business
Once a commitment has been made, how and where businesses set about achieving diversity is as important as the willingness to change. “The revenue-generating and operating cores of a business set the behavioural tone for the rest of the organisation,” says Barry. “When a business is trying to achieve a significant shift it must change at its core. Dabbling on the peripheries may tick boxes, but it won’t deliver real change.”
“Despite the need for core business diversity, we frequently see leaders targeting support roles and functions for ‘diversity appointments’,” Barry continues. “There are outstanding individuals across the infinite range of diversity to fill support functions and roles, so we can and must access and appoint the full diversity of leaders across all areas of business. Diversity will never be achieved if leaders use the functional and support roles to meet statistical targets, while the core business remains homogenously masculine.”
Step 4: Remove systemic bias from internal processes
As people have a tendency to hire in their likeness, having diverse input to the design of recruitment and other business processes is critical.
“Too often, processes are designed by a homogenous group of people that assume they know what is best for everyone,” says Barry. “But to diversify the talent pool and remove unconscious bias and prejudice from processes, everything must be examined through a lens of diversity and inclusivity, from the language we use in job advertisements to the way roles are structured and talent is developed.”
Step 5: Create a culture of accountability
Barry reminds business leaders of the end game to achieve diverse, equitable and inclusive organisational culture, not just to meet diversity targets. “Measurement has its place, but this alone won’t provide a true picture of diversity,” he says. “Diverse people can still be put in peripheral roles where they can be counted, without having much influence. To achieve diversity the focus must be on creating deeper accountability and driving cultural and behavioural change.”
“Cultural change is about helping people to learn and grow, but without accountability people can’t do that,” Barry continues. “Before using metrics we must hold people to account in the moment. For example, when we see bias in recruitment, remuneration or talent discussions, or humour that is inappropriate, we must call it out there and then, every time. We must not walk by.”
And in the same way that businesses regularly report on financial profit and loss (P&L), to drive accountability Barry argues we should also report on what he calls ‘the people P&L’. “Financial and people performance are intrinsically linked, and businesses that apply the same rigour and conviction to improving both the financial and people P&Ls are more likely to achieve both their diversity culture and business performance,” he says.
Step 6: Educate, educate, educate
Step six circles back to the first, reinforcing the need for continual conversation and awareness building. “Today businesses talk frequently about safety, and diversity should be no different,” says Barry. “As people can take a long time to adapt, to weave diversity into the cultural fabric of an organisation we must continue to educate people on the value that it brings, and why it is necessary and better at every level.”
Step 7: Be patient – but not too patient
Even though the end point needs to be dramatically different from where we begin, as leaders we must remember that most people can only take one step at a time. “People need time and support to change their mindsets and behaviours,” says Barry. “So on the one hand we must help people take one step at a time, but on the other we must hold true to the end goal, and not be so patient that people don’t have to step forward at all.”
“Ultimately, diversity isn’t about preaching from a soapbox. It is about the fundamental conviction that diversity is core to everything we do best,” Barry reflects. “There is no evidence that homogenous organisations or societies are more beneficial, but we do know that diversity is incredibly valuable and progressive at all levels – for society, for business, and for our own individual advancement.”
To discuss your board and executive leadership needs connect with Barry Bloch, or reach out to your local Gerard Daniels team.