Rewriting workplace diversity

While HR struggles to foster diversity in the workforce, experts say it’s time for a shake-up.

Rewriting workplace diversity
Gender diversity might be a hot topic for HR executives, but the concern is not filtering through the organization, new research from the Hay Group has found.
The whitepaper, Stop blaming women: Prescribing a 21st century approach to gender diversity, states that the misdiagnosis of the gender diversity problem has resulted in the wrong treatments applied to organizations.

“A lot of what you read in the press says “women need to have more self-confidence, women need to talk up more, women need to learn the politics of organizations”,” Wendy Montague, head of Hay Group’s leadership and talent practice, told HC. “It is all “women need to change”.”

Of grave concern to Montague was the drop off of females moving into middle management positions. Research conducted by Hay Group in 2013 found that 63% of Australian workers in entry-level positions are women, with some drop off when reaching supervisor/junior level, where 43% of workers are female.

This then drops dramatically, with only 27% of middle management positions being filled by women, and senior executives dropping to under 20%.

“What are we doing as a country? More than 50% of university graduates are women,” she said. “What are we doing to help them make a commitment to an organization five years in?”

Hay Group’s whitepaper also cited the role of influential women in reinforcing the negative stereotypes that place the onerous on women, such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s assertions that women must “Lean in”. Female-only networks, career breaks for women and gender-specific flexible work options were also cited as remedies that – while well intended – work against equality by viewing women as significantly ‘other’ and moving the responsibility for adaption onto them as opposed to organizations.

“The 1950s corporate man is taking a long time to kill,” Montague said.

Key HR takeaways
Identifying the initiatives and practices that are doing more harm than good is important in moving forward with diversity; writing for the Harvard Business Review, gender consultant Avivah Wittenberg-Cox highlighted three problem areas and how to address them:
  • Calling it diversity. By referring to gender-balance as diversity, Wittenberg-Cox feels that it frames women as a minority group, incorrectly framing the issue. Instead, organizations should look at gender balance. “Gender imbalance isn’t solved by being more self-aware or “inclusive” … It’s about learning enough about the differences between men and women to be able to effectively access and connect with the majority of today’s talent and markets,” she explained.
  • Setting KPIs. Often, KPIs regarding gender are focused solely on introducing more women into the workforce, without distinction: 30% in the next six years, increasing 5% every year, for instance. This reinforces a focus on women, and can make all in the organization feel uncomfortable. Instead, targets should be gender neutral and focused on achieving a balance, as well as being carefully broken down by sector. 
  • Focusing only on women. Reinforcing Hay Group’s assertions, the focus on women of gender initiatives (such as workshops for women, networks for women, etc.) frames women as the problem, and indicates that they must change to fit the workforce. Instead, networks of leaders and talented workers should be developed – regardless of gender.

Do you have gender diversity initiatives in your organization? What do you think of these assertions?

Read more:
Women are falling off the career ladder: What can you do?
Are anonymous resumes the answer to discrimination?

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