Rewriting workplace diversity

by Cameron Edmond24 Jan 2014
Gender diversity might be a hot topic for HR executives, but the concern is not filtering through the organisation, 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 organisations.

“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 organisations”,” 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 organisation 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 organisations.

“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, organisations 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 organisation 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 organisation? What do you think of these assertions?



  • by Stephen 24/01/2014 1:25:17 PM

    It's an interesting point that over 50% of university graduates are women yet they represent only 27% of middle management positions and 20% of senior executive positions.

    I think a lot more needs to follow up research needs to be done looking into what career and life aspirations young women studying have. I think you'll find that a great proportion of those gradutes never intend on progressing beyond middle manager level because they have a life aspiration of being a mother as well and it's a conscious choice of not participating in the workforce at that level or above rather than a glass ceiling or 1950's corporate man. Rather than the focus being on how do we ensure equal representation of women in higher roles, it should be on how do we make the ability to maintain career progression and participation that aligns with women's preferences and needs. I think the increase of part-time, casualisation and mid-career breaks is a positive sign that the workplace is looking at the issue more sophisticatedly than trying to achieve a one-size fits all approach that is women want to be in 50% of mangement and executive level roles.

  • by Alan Harrison 30/01/2014 11:40:19 AM

    Female employees who aspire to senior management roles, need to be much less concerned about being a woman, with special networks and needs, and much more concerned about performance - creating a track record (not image), characterized by excellence in team skills, technical skills and outcomes achieved. If women spent half as much time on the latter instead of harping about why they are not promoted to meet their aspiration, they would do a lot better. A major issue in terms of credibility is that positive discrimination has ensured that there are more less competent and more competent women in the workforce than ever before. The reputation of less competent women is a serious obstacle for the more competent women - and I fear that many younger graduates females will have to deal with the bottleneck the less competent will create. We need less energy wasted upon gender and more on being an achiever in a team where gender is irrelevant. 'Gender' courses at university have a lot to answer for.

Most Read