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Disrupting gender diversity

Is being yourself going to bring about change? Not if the majority of 'selves' don't purposefully drive it!

I've blogged before about how firms should find a way to let employees be themselves at work. Although, as one kind reader pointed out, that doesn't further the inclusion agenda if being yourself means working in a way that excludes others! Fair point. I buy into this vision. After all, it's one I created, spearheaded and have very publicly sponsored both within my firm and externally. But recently I got to thinking. If I care about inclusion (and I do) and I am passionate about disruption (which I am) how come we aren't disrupting diversity?

Please don't mention another program aimed at fixing women

Think about it. At the current rate of change it will take us about a century to have equal numbers of women leading Fortune 500 companies, according to Catalyst. According to the same company, women currently hold only 5% of Fortune 500 CEO positions, while the percentage of board seats held by women in both the United Kingdom and United States is 17%.

How can any firm hold its head high if just keeps running the same old tired initiatives while expecting different results. Isn't this the definition of insanity? And really, do we need just another program to fix women—just lean in a bit more, just ask for pay rises, just stay working in an old paradigm that wasn't designed for modern day living?

The business case for change? It's a no brainer

Before someone else points it out, I know I need to acknowledge that I am about to add to the agenda of HR teams (remember those poor folk who are working their socks off, with ever-increasing demands, too busy to see where the disruption may be looming?).

But of course this isn't just HR. This is everyone. Don't we all want to work for a firm that's more profitable? More effective? More creative? And yes, I am going to use the word, more diverse ? (A series of studies has shown that companies that achieve diversity in their management and on their corporate boards attain better financial results, on average, than other companies).

It's progress Jim, but not as we know it

So why are we stuck? Stuck doing the same things over and over again with small changes. I don't mean to knock them - mentoring, micro-inequities training, diversity stats monitoring, training—you name it, firms are doing it. And that's a much better place to be than where we were twenty years ago when it wasn't even talked about. But with the pace of change astronomical in every other industry, why is this one so slow?

Enough chat, what's the answer?

There's no easy answer here. But I think we need to try a few more radical solutions or we will be in a very similar place to where we were twenty years ago in terms of the number of women in senior roles in the workplace. In some industries (like mine - technology) it could even get worse.

What constitutes radical will vary wildly between company, industry and even location. But here are a few proposals that I'm also going to share in the context of our International Women's Day program.

As I said, these are my suggestions. What other actions would help us disrupt the status quo and accelerate gender equality in senior roles?

Are these disruptive enough?

  1. Got an all-male leadership team? Unless your firm is really radical, don't think they are going to swap them out for an all-women one! But what about a shadow all-women team, with the same data sets and meeting schedules - what kind of decisions would it drive? Interesting experiment or actual business impact?
  2. Got a non-diverse C-suite? How about turning the whole notion of mentoring on its head and linking up some of your high potential women with some of the C-suite for THEM to be mentored?
  3. Send an all-women team to bid on the next piece of work you have, assess the impact, behaviours, changes – and the benefits!
  4. Recruit women until you have a reasonable pipeline. If you can't find the talent, commit to build it (imagine if everyone did that!)
  5. Make maths, engineering and science mandatory for all girls' pre-tertiary education.
  6. Ban Barbie. OK that's a joke, but seriously, all this time and we still need a campaign to knock down gender stereotypes we feed our kids? No wonder change is slow!
  7. And of course, if none of these resonate, why not ask around? Don't we need a disrupt-diversity x-challenge? In fact, let me know and I will definitely take any best ideas forward and see if we can get sponsorship and support to #MakeItHappen.
  8. Don't keep ideas to yourself. If you've got an idea, or experience of how you disrupted diversity in the workplace, share it with me in the comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter: @IsaNaidoo.

Looking forward to hearing from you! 

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