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Disrupting gender diversity: are we mistaking progress for success?

I love this time of year. It's the IWD (International Women's Day) season and suddenly gender diversity is THE thing that everyone is talking, blogging and tweeting about.

The IWD buzz is simply contagious and the associated events organised around the world are great. It feels like gender equality is finally making progress. But the pace of change is frustratingly slow.

IWD 2015
As well as some fabulous employee events at Capco, we also hosted a dinner session which brought together an amazing mix of folks, including CEOs, pioneers, entrepreneurs, consultants, developers, writers, even an actress, to debate a question which is top of mind for me at the moment:

How do we speed up the pace of change towards gender equality generally and especially in the technology and financial services industries?

It was the first time I hosted an event like this - with minimal briefing but with so much commitment from everyone attending. The premise was simple. Can a group of talented disruptors in their own right come up with new ideas to disrupt gender diversity and accelerate its progress?

Where's that magic bullet gone?
Maybe you already knew this but I needed to hear it from the really clever people in the room. There is no magic bullet... But we did have a lively debate and came up with some ideas that I am committed to explore and try to bring to life.

Re-engineer the narrative
Let's reclaim the language around feminism. Make it something people are proud of, not fill it with negativity. I don't think you can drive change through fear. But you can drive it through hope. What are the hopeful stories of a more equal world? Can we tell them with real passion and vigour and so displace those negative ideas?

Let's tell stories about people making a difference across industries and disciplines, let them be true role models. With that in mind, do we need Top 100 Women or Men in the Industry lists? Can we move away from being defined by gender altogether and use this to find different ways to bring great examples to the forefront?

Not disruptive enough. But good ideas we should pursue.

It's all about confluence. Or is it?
Instead of building velocity by propelling multiple diversity initiatives and campaigns, should we all channel our efforts to fix one thing at a time? We know we have a gender pay gap. Could we get every woman in every job and industry to go in tomorrow and ask for a pay rise? Would that be the massive change that's needed?

Or, should we accept that revolutions take time, women are in a majority and already revolutionising? Although I've got to say, this revolution is taking way too long for my liking!

And why are we pushing for this, anyway? Does it rest on a moral imperative (it's simply the right thing to do) or do we need to speak to the business case more frequently and clearly (after all, money talks). I think a revolution needs a vision, not a business case, although the business case may help convert a few.

Still, more disruption is needed.

Upgrade the curriculum. Quick!
All participants agreed that education had to be the starting point. Interestingly, most teachers are women. Then are we teaching the right things? Could we go in and replace all outdated text books reinforcing gender stereotypes? Could we teach kids aspiration? We know there is a confidence challenge. Research shows that men apply for jobs if they meet only two thirds of the criteria vs women not applying unless qualified entirely. Could we try and address this early on?

Talking of confidence, we also brainstormed around the untapped potential of the women who don't return to work post maternity (about a quarter of all women taking a maternity leave). Could firms major in this and shift their gender balance in one fell swoop?

Great ideas. But will take time to trickle through to have an impact.

What about the people? What do they want?
Ultimately, change is driven by people buying into a product, service, vision. And maybe there is a tipping point where people simply vote with their feet. What if everyone challenged things within an organisation that didn't match their values and if left unresolved - walked out? That would force companies to sit up and notice!

Also, we are seeing firms slowly moving away from tick-box exercise awards to the ones that people drive, e.g. InHerSight. Maybe this will change the dialogue and force the issue so that gender equality becomes the norm and conscious inclusion forms the backbone of the values that firms embrace.

Nice ideas, but where's the disruption?
We are seeing examples of technology being used to create services and change for people in unprecedented ways. Ada's List, for example, provides mentoring and support to a range of women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and anything internet-related. Services and communities like this enable women to engage in the workplace in ways that didn't exist before and so create a more inclusive environment that ultimately means more women will choose to work in these industries.

How can accelerators within technology (or elsewhere) that drive disruption at scale and pace be applied to gender equality? I haven't yet worked it out. But I certainly walked away from our IWD brainstorming enlightened about diversity efforts already in action and on the horizon, positive about progress and hopeful about the ultimate success. 

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