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Three ways to make sure your gender diversity strategy fails

No, you didn’t misread the title! When it comes to creating a fool-proof plan to improve the gender balance in your leadership teams, knowing what NOT to do can be as important as having a clear plan in mind.

We’ve pulled together three of the most common mistakes companies make when putting together their diversity strategy, and what you can do to avoid them:

1. Not doing your research

It’s easy to plough ahead and start creating initiatives to help support gender diversity - but if you don’t understand why women are underrepresented, and the barriers they really face in your organisation, you’re limiting your chances of success. You could even make women’s position more difficult by building resentment within the workforce.

Start by looking at your policies and practices around recruitment, selection and training, and things like flexible working. Who is applying for roles with you? What’s the promotion rate for men vs women? What is your return rate from maternity leave, and what do your exit interviews tell you?

Next, look at the workplace culture. What is the ‘lived-in’ experience of women in your business? How do men and women view one another? Are there conscious or unconscious biases at play?  A mixture of quantitative surveys, focus groups and one-to-one interviews can tell you what you need to know.

Finally, make the business case for gender diversity. How does supporting women align with your business goals? How do you compare with other industries and competitors? What are the potential risks if you don’t take action to improve gender balance?

If you don’t do your research, you’re heading straight for mistake number two...

2. Failing to get buy-in from the top

You can have the most meticulously-planned strategy in the world, but if your senior team isn’t committed to promoting gender equality and seen to make a priority, then people further down the organisation won’t either.

Try to meet with the most senior leader and other key influencers individually to discuss your proposals, and secure senior sponsorship for any planned initiatives before any formal, group-level discussions take place. That way, you’ll be able to identify and address any concerns up-front.

Your business case will be critical here. Make sure you’re armed with the facts, and you’ll get the buy-in that you need. You’ll know you’ve secured this commitment when you have agreement on targets for regularly reporting progress.

Making sure senior leaders understand why you’re doing what you’re doing will help avoid mistake number three...

3. Making equality a ‘women’s issue’

Although the activities in your strategy are likely to focus mainly on women, there’s no doubt about it – if your male colleagues aren’t on board, you won’t get the impact you’re hoping for.

A good gender diversity strategy isn’t about ‘fixing women’ or positive discrimination. Ultimately, it’s about changing workplace culture, and that can’t happen without everyone’s buy-in, so you’ll need a clear communication plan.
Internal communication is particularly important, and can often be badly handled. Women may feel their ability is being questioned, while men may feel that they are being overlooked.

Communication should come from the very top and, as we’ve seen, show clear commitment from management. Frame your interventions as a business issue - not a ‘women’ issue – and explain your proposed solutions and the expected benefits they will have on employees and the company.

Keep your employees and stakeholders updated on progress through company newsletters, manager updates or your intranet. Where possible, give them opportunities to feed back their views and ideas, so everyone feels involved.
Building a diversity strategy isn’t the easiest of tasks, but it is worth it. Research proves that gender-balanced leadership teams are more productive, deliver better results and reflect customers’ needs.

By avoiding the pitfalls outlined above, you’ll soon be reaping the benefits of an empowered workforce that really makes the most of the talent at its disposal!

Looking for support building your diversity and inclusion strategy? Our experts can help - find out more here.