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Breaking diversity barriers

By Alexandra Anders, EMEA Talent Director -Cornerstone OnDemand

Despite social movements like ‘Ok boomer’ and the ‘The Greta effect’ influencing many changes in society, gender imbalance and diversity remains a key issue in wider British society. According to the latest World Economic Forum (WEF), the UK had fallen six places in the global rankings for gender equality, dropping from 15th most equal nation in the world to 21st.

Although it might seem like we’re more aware of gender equality, thanks to awareness days like ‘International Women’s Day’ and ‘Equal Pay Day’, perception alone isn’t enough to make a monumental impact. People need to be convinced in order to act, and shown what’s outside of their own reality. After all, women make up half of the world’s population so we shouldn’t still be considered a minority.

A marathon, not a sprint
Like with any big social movement, gender and equality issues are no quick-fix and we can’t expect to tackle equality across all edges of society at once. It can take time and many different resources to persuade the masses, however, one place where we can be influential and push for change is the workplace. And as HR leaders, it is and should be our responsibility to encourage gender equality in all areas of the company.

We’re currently living in the ‘human age’ where experience is everything and companies are prioritising trust, transparency and purpose to help the organisation grow. In tandem to this, future generations also want accountability and meaning when it comes to their employer and a large part of that is being transparent about topics like diversity. Besides, when it comes to matters like hiring, Millennials and Gen Z have shown that diversity matters more to them than ability, further emphasizing the need to encourage diversity in the workplace.

 Don’t just recruit your way out
The first thought that may come to mind when it comes to building a more diverse workforce is to simply hire more women. But it’s not as easy as that. And if we’re already setting a certain precedent when hiring, then we’re setting a bias towards female candidates which defeats the point. Furthermore, if you’re finding that you’re receiving more male than female applicants then it might be the case that your job adverts are putting women off from applying from the offset. Assessing your current hiring processes and identifying potential messaging issues or processes that stifle diversity can help to overcome this.

Changing the way you attract and hire a more diverse workforce is just the first step, however, you’ve also got to take steps to retain them. There’s work to be done with training managers who may have previously worked in a male dominated team. There are also employees who don’t want or don’t like change, and the best way to get them on board is to encourage an honest exchange to find out why – it may take some teasing out!

 It’s all about changing mindsets
From a leader’s perspective, when you bring a diverse set of people together you must be clear how you want to be as a company. Yes, there will be local laws and cultural aspects that individuals in your organisation hold dear, but you must set the ‘laws’ as a company and what it means to be at your organisation. And for many organisations, this means moving away from behaviours that suppress diversity and focus more on changing their mindsets.

For managers, this might mean offering coaching and training to help them realise the reality of diversity in a real-life situation. For example, putting male managers in a situation where they are in a client or customer meeting with no female colleagues, might spark a reality-check moment when they realise that that come across as out of touch in front of their own customers. Another situation might be internal company meetings and how many women are invited but choose not to attend or aren’t invited at all. Asking colleagues and managers why that might be the case brings the issue to light rather than letting it carry on as if it was the norm.

Breaking down barriers in diversity isn’t an easy task and there will be individuals who are against the changes. But by creating a workplace environments that is open about gender-related issues and making women feel comfortable to talk about issues, you are setting a trend that shows that the workplace is an open and free space, not just in diversity but for all social issues. Remember, change can only be possible if you are all open to moving together.

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