Are you in one of those organisations where they are still in the Dark Ages of gender diversity? Where it seems impossible to engage your senior leaders in gender diversity? You know, one of these places where they really don’t see the issue. They claim to choose ‘the right person for the job’ whichever gender they are. When a high-performing woman leaves she is quickly replaced by an experienced man from their personal network. There just seems no lack of talent, and the organisation is performing well. In fact it always has done fine with mostly men. So they just don’t feel or see the issue in their business directly.
What can you do to get the leadership team engaged, and to see that there may be an issue? Can you even do anything?
This is not about making up an issue, this is about making an issue visible that is already there and hurting the business.
In my experience, if someone doesn’t want it, there’s not much you can do. As long as someone can’t see there is a business issue, they will not be interested in any solution you might give them. So it’s all about getting them to see there is an issue in the first place.
Try any – or all – of these 9 strategies to engage senior leaders in gender diversity
1. Leverage Lists and Awards
Many senior leaders can be sensitive to lists and awards. Getting into a top X list – or being on the top X worst firms in something – might just get them to see the point. Try and find a diversity award or list that has some of your key competitors on and make sure they see it. That might just be that first step to engage senior leaders in gender diversity.
2. Find Case Studies
Seeing other similar firms pay attention to the issue of gender diversity and inclusion may mean they don’t want to be left behind. It could work well to find a few good case studies of other companies in your sector. Try the Opportunity Now website for instance.
3. Get the Business Case in Numbers
Sometimes hard numbers work best. How many of the graduates in your field are female? Which percentage of your new hires is female? If there is a large difference, you are most likely missing out on top talent.
In case you are hiring a good ratio of women but they drop out later on, make an honest calculation of the costs. Analyse how many more women than men leave the firm, than make a calculation of cost. Usually it costs about 1,5 times the annual salary of an employee to replace them after the leave.
Follow up with exit interviews with the women that leave and gather real evidence. If your firm runs an (annual) engagement survey, make sure you separate the data for men and women and run a comparison.
How many of your clients are female? To what extend are women involved in the buying decisions of your companies’ products or services? When there is good gender balance in the design- and marketing teams it’s much more likely products, services and campaigns speak to women and they will buy
4. Check Performance of Mixed Gender Teams
If you do have teams where there is good gender balance, gather data on performance and check if it correlates to gender balance (it often does!). Once people see that mixed gender teams outperform single sex ones, they may not need any more convincing.
5. Find Client Stories
Look out for senior client facing leaders that are on your side. Find out if any of them ever get asked in bid processes (or similar) for the diversity policies of the company. It would not be a deal breaker, but knowing clients regularly ask for it can already spur your leadership team on to do a first step
6. Create an Infographic
Create a simple, visual infographic with the business case for gender balance. E.g. high lighting how it could link to some key points in the strategy. Make sure you use numbers from your industry or your own firm. Images say more than 1,000 words, and could be the thing that will engage senior leaders in gender diversity. I have an example here on my website.
7. Use Gender Difference as an Entry Point
This is my favourite, and I have just written a book about it, ‘Be Gender Smart’.
Say something like, ‘We all know men and women are not the same, our brains are different, and this means we work differently too. What we need in this company is get people to see how difference brings value. We need more understanding of how men and women complement each other and how we can capitalise on that. ‘
I recently said this in an interview to a senior partner at a law firm, and he was apparently ‘very traditional’ in his outlook. However, he opened up instantly, shared that he just heard this great success story about another law firm that now hired black people from poor backgrounds and how successful they had been, and was all in favour of treating women in a better way. I am not a bigot or a racist, and that’s important to me.’
8. Chat about their Children
Once senior leaders have daughters they tend to get more open to women in professional roles. They see their daughters perform well and suddenly cannot imagine she would not get the opportunities that her (male) class mates get. A chat about their children at a social event, subtly bringing up the future careers of their daughter could trigger that sort of feeling.
9. Find Supporters and Team up
Find other women and jointly address some of the points above, or find some male supporters too.
None of this is easy, and it may take years of drip, dripping information. Gathering proper figures for analysis may be very time consuming as well, especially as there is no time or budget for it.
Of course, senior leadership teams change. So even if you don’t get anywhere now, it may still create a head start for the future!