Seven tactics to drive diversity

by Cameron Edmond23 Oct 2013

Gender targets have been hailed as an effective measure to help bolster the female presence in the C-suite and organisations at large. However, the offence they can cause to both men and women make them problematic, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-first, wrote on The Harvard Business Review.

While Wittenberg-Cox understands that targets are often a measure of progress, gender targets (which are often geared towards women, as opposed to a gender natural balance) too often become viewed as a solution.

This presents a problem, as simply aiming for a target does not necessarily translate to changing the company culture to become more inclusive of gender diversity. Indeed, a gender target can be reached without cultural change occurring.

This lack of cultural change was revealed by Harvard Business School (HBS) itself. The school pushed for a 40% female to 60% male ratio for years. When it was finally achieved, the school’s culture wasn’t any better – if anything, it became more masculine and competitive, HBS reported to The New York Times.

The school then set about remedying this. Wittenberg-Cox highlighted what HBS did that worked, as well as adding other tactics it should have considered:

  • Strategic framing. This refers to the way an organisation presents its change initiatives to the workforce. Dropping the terms ‘diversity’ or a ‘women’s imitative’ in place of ‘cultural change for effective leadership and business performance’ can help employees see the end-goal and become more responsive.
  • Holistic approach.  Balance must be achieved across all facets of the organisation. In the case of HBS, the deans examined cultural and systematic issues including the balance of MBAs, faculty and governance to achieve gender balance.
  • Leadership from the top. Instead of targeting the leadership spots for where women should be entering, have the leaders deliver the message and act as ambassadors for change in other levels of the organisation.
  • Get men to lead visibly. In order to escape the perception of an antagonistic ‘men vs women’ situation, have male employees lead the change openly.
  • Explain why. Employees will never be encouraged to act if they don’t know why they are doing it. Change can be perceived as simple social engineering – this can be avoided if the end-goal is expressed to the employees clearly.
  • Teach it as a management skill. Globally, there are visible changes in the gender make-up of both talent and consumers. This indicates that learning to lead across genders may be a management skill in and of itself. Engraining this in your management staff will not only help drive diversity in your organisation, but equip them with the necessary skills for the future.


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