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What organisations really need to do for gender diversity

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Today’s organisations have been putting effort into closing the gender gap for years. Yet the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report calculated that at the current rate of change it will take 217 years to close the global economic gap between genders – 47 years longer than projected in 2016 and 99 years longer than predicted in 2015.

With that backdrop, Mercer’s latest When Women Thrive research, Accelerating for Impact: 2018 Gender Inflection Point, shared some tips on what organisations really need to do to accelerate the pace of change.

Involve men

The report noted that change doesn’t happen till business leaders understand the business imperative and begin to rely on data and analytics to get at the root causes of gender imbalance in their own organisation. Beyond that first critical step, helping women thrive means changing the behavior of all the individuals who make up the organisation – in other words, changing the organisational culture. This means organisations cannot solely focus on women, and need to engage their men as equal partners.

According to Mercer’s research, organisations with men who actively support diversity and inclusion have higher female representation than those whose men were more disengaged. However, the report noted that only 38% of organisations said their men were currently engaged in D&I efforts.

“Women and men alike need to partner closely, discuss their views candidly and collaborate openly,” the report noted.

Move away from traditional diversity training

Mercer’s report noted that while conscious bias plays a role in persistent gender imbalances, unconscious beliefs and behaviors are far more prevalent – and more difficult to address.

In fact, traditional diversity training may actually impede diversity and inclusion efforts by highlighting differences while failing to offer strategies for overcoming unconscious biases.

ALSO READ: How to develop your unconscious gender bias strategy

Recognise underlying differences

Research suggests that men and women may view the hiring process differently – men may see it as being more influenced by relationships and advocacy, while women may see it as being more rigidly based on qualifications.

When designing processes, it is important to regocnise these differences between the genders as they matter when processes are designed for and reward certain traits and perceptions while undervaluing others — and can lead to persistent gender imbalances that are not responsive to traditional D&I efforts.

Organisations also have to note that traits that might typically work against women in one situation such as hiring are not universally disadvantages for them. For example, the widely claimed confidence “gap” where women in leadership positions are less likely to agree to a business deal until they’re more certain of a positive outcome can also be a strength which contributes to greater success in business outcomes.

Address feelings and emotions

The report also noted that it is important to candidly recognise negative emotions that accompany any change.

For example, men may see the effort to reach gender parity as a zero-sum game in which women win and men lose. Men may fear a loss of status and privilege, but simultaneously feel discouraged from taking advantage of programs designed to promote work-life balance and level the playing field, such as flex time and family leave policies. At the same time, some women may be reluctant to take on stretch assignments or climb aggressively up the corporate ladder, fearing potential tradeoffs with other priorities, especially in the absence of adequate conversation with male counterparts on how to balance.

Again, men matter and it is critical that leaders and organisations are doing their part to open up productive communication lines across genders to create a truly shared vision for progress.

Change processes and practices, not people

Finally, the report noted that given the complexity of people, changing people is neither desirable nor feasible. Instead, organisations should look towards understanding people and changing processes and practices to meet people where they are.

To achieve its change goal, an organisation should:

  • 1. Identify desired outcomes by setting measurable goals based on the business imperative and results of analysis about where women are getting hung up in their career progression.
  • 2. Define behaviors necessary to get to desired outcomes. For example, increasing the number of women who apply for certain roles, or increasing the percentage of men who take advantage of parental leave.
  • 3. Identify and enable the drivers of those desired behaviours. For example, if internal research reveals that, men will apply for a new role with only 40% certainty they will do well, while women will not apply unless they are 80% certain, the organisation can implement practices designed to get women to that 80% threshold more quickly. These include offering additional training or enhancing potential applicants’ understanding of the role to make it easier to compare one’s skillset with that required.

READ MORE: Only 31% of young women in APAC believe they conform to gender stereotypes

Additionally, the report recommended that solutions chosen should be specific to each organisation on its unique situation and goals.

Apart from the tips mentioned above, it noted that real change requires leveraging on data analysis to uncover opportunities and adjust for biases in the organisation’s process; leaders across levels believing in the business case and having the courage to lead change; and a multi-stakeholder approach.

Last but not least, the report noted that organisations should avoid the echo chamber where women are involved in the conversation in proportionally larger numbers than men.

“Be cautious of efforts that may perpetuate an echo chamber – men matter and must be part of the solution. This is not about men or women, it is about men and women thriving together in business and society,” it stated.

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