Revealed: 4 ways to beat gender bias

There are four priority areas HR Directors can help organisations disrupt biases, increase gender inclusion and create a better culture

Revealed: 4 ways to beat gender bias

Talk about gender-balanced, inclusive cultures is now more prevalent. But talk is cheap, according to Dr Karen Morley, leadership coach and author of Beat Gender Bias: How to play a better part in a more inclusive world.

To increase gender-inclusion we need to change the masculinity of work cultures, and to do that we need to disrupt biases and change the way we lead, added Dr Morley.

Indeed, organisational culture is an important lever and HR Directors know that it is hard work to change it. Changing attitudes, especially unconscious ones, is even harder work.

The work is made easier when organisations are clear about the cultural elements that will drive future success; the supporting behaviours and attitudes can then be defined and communicated.

According to Dr Morley, that includes identifying:

  • What we want to change, and what we aspire to.
  • The benefit of change; there are plenty of people who don’t see the value of diversity, so we need to keep articulating its value to organisational success.
  • The need for engagement, responsiveness and persistence over a three to five-year period.

While there are more ways to do this, Dr Morley said there are four priority areas HR Directors can help organisations disrupt biases, increase gender inclusion and create a better culture for everyone:

Ensure clear, committed leadership messages
What do leaders do and say? That’s what culture is. And that’s how people judge leaders’ commitment to achieving a gender-balanced culture. If a leader’s actions don’t match their words, people will be confused.

At international design practice HASSELL, gender breakdowns for each of their professional groups was mapped, at each level of seniority. By focusing on their pipeline and fixing its skew, they have reduced the anticipated time to reach gender balance from a century to a decade. They crunched their numbers, clarified their aspiration, and let everyone know about it.

Clear leadership messages orient people around purpose; when diversity makes sense, when they know why, people will sign on.

Help your leaders to create clear messages, help them to construct clear narratives, and provide feedback on how they can improve.

Consciously assess and act in favour of a gender-neutral culture
HASSELL’s strategy was based on analysis of where gender-balance was lacking. Their focus on a strong cultural context made the purpose of their strategy clear. What stands out is how diversity was woven through the levels of their brand and culture; threads of learning, insight, creativity, collaboration and inclusion lock diversity of thinking in as fundamental to their work.

They identified areas that weren’t gender-balanced and created actions to change that. Their 80% benchmarked engagement score shows how much people appreciate clarity about what the culture is.

Help your leaders to understand just how much difference their behaviour can make to the culture. If they aren’t clear about what they need to do, help them to get clear.

Support leaders to be more inclusive and do leadership well
It’s in everyday behaviour that culture comes to life. This makes coaching a go-to tactic. If leaders coach, they show how to be constructive and inclusive, and help others to be the same.

The evidence shows that a masculine contest culture reduces safety, trust, learning and innovation. There are diminishing returns if everyone is not treated with care and respect.

You can support leaders to be more inclusive by:

  • Helping them understand the value of diversity.
  • Showing them how to prioritise psychological safety.
  • Reorienting them away from competition and dominance.
  • Showing them the value of flexible styles of leading.
  • Developing mindsets and skills on how to lead inclusively.
  • Making it clear and easy to assess talent fairly.
  • Giving them the skills to have conversations they find uncomfortable.
  • Recognising their successes.

Provide leaders with the encouragement and tools they need
Consistency by leaders sustains change. Diversity and inclusion need to be said and done, to be kept on the agenda.

Two years down the track at HASSELL, their gender-balance strategy was enabled by their culture and is now in turn an enabler of their refreshed brand. The consistency is mutually reinforcing.

As what leaders say and do is core to culture, make sure they are held to account. There’s no point saying ‘This is what our culture is’, then letting transgressions go. Take a growth mindset and use bumps in the road as an opportunity to learn.

You can shape organisational leaders in the challenging task of culture change by pursuing one small adaptive action each day. If you have leaders who are keen or open but don’t quite know what to do or how to do it, make them a priority.

Give them one tool that they can practise each day, get feedback, practise some more, then try the next.

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