I’ve just read an article (well worth a read) which had me saying “yes!” out loud. It was great to see someone I admire in this space pushing the message of the importance of engaging leadership to drive real change in gender balance. Engaging leadership is a critical element to driving real change in gender balance – or more broadly, any diversity and inclusion initiative – but it’s not the only element.
Having spent a lot of the first 12 months of setting up talking to businesses about their challenges I think there are 4 key elements you need before you can start building a successful gender balance (or wider inclusion) strategy. I often use this as a basis for my first conversation with new clients. It’s a really helpful framework to get an understanding of where they are on their journey and where they need to focus first.
Of the four elements, two focus on data and two on engagement. They are:
1. Understanding your As-Is
Benchmarking where you are today. Arguably, aside from getting clarity on your vision, this is your first step. How many women do you have by level and team/directorate? You shouldn’t need anyone external to tell you this and in fact, for companies with over 250 employees, the gender pay gap reporting will mean that even if you didn’t have it before you now have a mechanism for pulling this data. But it’s crucial to review this and use it to provide context and measure progress.
2. Understanding the drivers
Why you are where you are. This one’s trickier. You’ll often find the Leadership Team and passionate champions will have strong views on this. However, despite common themes, every organization is different and it’s very easy to make assumptions. By digging deeper, you may be surprised at what the biggest issues (real and perceived) actually are. And how these vary between the genders. For this I would recommend using someone external – it’s not an area people often find it easy to open up about to their Line Managers or HR.
3. Engaging Leadership
As I said already, this is critical. When I talk to businesses, a common challenge they’re facing is getting their Leadership Team on board. Obviously, there are many business priorities competing for their attention, and whilst the gender pay gap reporting requirement has helped push this onto the urgent list as well as the important list, there are still hearts and minds to be won over. Carving out time for a proper facilitated discussion to tackle this, like any other business priority, is very effective. This is also where you really start to see overlap with the other elements – data always helps, as does the engagement of employees.
4. Engaging Employees
You need to take employees with you on the journey too. Another concern often shared is a very well-intentioned desire to get this right from the start. But this often seems to be at the expense of involving more than a handful of employees. Personally, I think is a mistake. And a missed opportunity. Why not kill two birds with one stone? Consult your employees on why the business doesn’t have more women reaching senior roles and you not only gather crucial intelligence but begin the engagement process. And better still it can really help with positioning this as a journey you’re all making together to make your work that much better.
About the author: Catherine Oliver is the founder of Parents@Sky and co-founder of Sky’s Women in Leadership initiative. She has recently founded the Bluebell Partnership, a consultancy to help guide businesses through the challenges of setting up their own working parent and women in leadership programs.