Diversity and equality seems to be on everyone’s lips these days.

Despite the clear research and the pervasive headlines, however, the pace of progress around the world continues to be discouraging. With such clear rewards for gender diversity, why has the needle been so slow to move?

There’s still a very long way to go: although women make up roughly 45% of all employees at Fortune 500 companies, only about 1 in 4 senior executives are female, and fewer than 5% of CEOs are women.

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And it’s not for lack of trying. In fact, 91% of women surveyed in a recent McKensey survey reported that their employer indeed! had a diversity initiative in place.  But only 27% reported any impact from such programmes.

It’s high time for government and organisations to solve the diversity conundrum and push for faster change.  Diversity agendas are often isolated and siloed within HR or diversity and inclusion departments.

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Instead, Leaders must own the organisation’s diversity agenda – and lead from the front.

The majority of existing diversity initiatives are coming up short simply because organisations are investing in programmes that are not effective.

This wasted effort can also lead to “fatigue” on the topic, and an unwillingness to persevere. To drive real progress, companies must invest in what really works:

Table of Contents

Dispel the ambition myth.

Making Gender Equality and Diversity a Strategic Value: Practical Steps for Organisations 1
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Research clearly shows that women are just as ambitious as men at the start of their careers. And in the right corporate culture, women (and mothers) maintain that drive and advance.

It’s crucial not to make assumptions – nor to spare women stretch assignments or international postings.

Offer flexibility to women and men. 

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Data shows clearly shows that flexibility is the most important intervention for the retention of both men and women. Millennial men, in particular, place a higher importance on having generous parental leave programmes and childcare onsite.

This is another strong example of how diversity benefits everyone – and is an imperative in the talent war.

Pursue sponsorships, not mentorships.

Small-scale coffee chats don’t have much effect, but formal sponsorships do. Women benefit when they have a more senior colleague who advocates for them, pushing for those stretch assignments or international roles.

Priorities .v. Values

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Inside our organisations, what’s the difference between a “priority” and a “value”? It may seem like a semantic question. It is not.  The difference is critical and key to making big changes happen.

To make gender equality a reality — from the boardroom all the way to front-line employees —  government and organisations need to shift their thinking around values.

Priorities can change at any time. Values do not and values and beliefs will always drive culture and behaviours.

This cultural shift has already happened within another crucial workplace issue: safety.  After years of devastating accidents and injuries, in the oil and gas industry, rapid improvements followed, with the industry becoming one of the safest happening over time because the industry changed its approach, making safety a value and not a priority.

Safety was seen as more than just a priority.  It was and is a core value and the basis of strategy today.

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It’s absolutely time to do the same for gender equality across government and numerous industries where women are not representative of the workforce (and, let’s face it, even less among higher-paid roles in society).

There is clear research which supports diverse and inclusive teams tend to be more creative and innovative than homogenous groups.

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Gender equality naturally leads to greater psychological safety.

Here are some of the steps practical organisations within any industry – be it government or otherwise – can take to make gender equality a strategic value.

Executive Commitment

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Leaders must demonstrate commitment to achieving gender equality in their own organisations, be it government or otherwise.

If they genuinely make it a value, they’ll not only talk about it, but show it  through their own actions and behaviours.

This includes surrounding themselves with gender-balanced and diverse teams; having equal numbers of women speak at meetings; giving credit to men and women equally for their ideas.

Organisations must set the example, and leaders must mirror those efforts, making clear to employees in all departments that inclusion is a part of daily operations.

Measure, With Leading Indicators

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To ensure change is happening, it is vital that specific goals are set and and outcomes measured against them, making the results visible to the rest of the organisation.

They can be aspirational but should start with realistic benchmarks.

For example, a company with only 5% women in managerial positions should not be expected to reach 50% within one year.

Updates on Transformative Leadership

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Evidence-based resources that can help lead your team more effectively, delivered to your inbox monthly. When setting these goals, it’s crucial to include leading indicators, not just lagging ones.

As research done at Bentley University explains, lagging indicators measure what has happened; leading indicators predict what will happen.

For tracking gender equity, insights from the World Economic Forum suggest three leading indicators

  • recruiting
  • retention
  • advancement rates.

Begin by ensuring measurements around these indicators are already taking place, and set new goals that align with gender equality as an organisational value.

Build the Talent Pipeline

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Government and businesses should invest in making sure our children are taught skills that will build the jobs of the future.

This means working with schools, as well as colleges and universities, to develop STEAM programs that attract equal numbers of diverse students.

And learning opportunities should carry all the way through people’s careers as well, through workplace training, mentoring, and coaching programs.

Focus on what works

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Gender equality is a moral, value-based imperative.  However, unconscious bias holds us back.  Diversity training programs have had limited success. Behavioural design could offer a new solution.

By de-biasing organisations instead of individuals, we can make smart changes that have big impacts moving the needle in classrooms and boardrooms, in hiring and promotion, benefiting businesses, governments, and the lives of millions.

The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.”
― Eric Berne