By Armelle Guillet
Last week we welcomed guests to an Executive Lunch Roundtable at the world-famous Ritz restaurant in London (iconic location, amazing food, a tad too formal for our brands, but I digress).
Inspired by International Women’s Day on 8th March, our theme for this event was “Diversity in Tech & Leadership: Less Talk, More Action Please”.
Research has found that diversity in leadership significantly enhances business performance. Companies that have a higher percentage of women in senior leadership roles are more profitable, innovate more and have a better reputation. However, the proportion of women in senior leadership at companies around the globe is still pitifully low: among the world’s largest 500 companies, only 10.9% of senior executives are women.
Diversity goes way beyond gender equality
Many of our roundtable participants agreed that there is a commercial advantage to diversity, and that diverse teams perform better. They also agreed that encouraging diversity needs to go a long way beyond gender equality; we should also be looking at how to create a more ethnically and socially diverse workplace. The debate often focuses around educated, middle class women but people from all kinds of backgrounds need to be included in this discussion. Social mobility goes hand in hand with issues of ethnicity and gender equality.
How can this imbalance be addressed to deliver greater equality? We asked our participants to share their insights, and to put forward ideas that could be implemented at a company and at an individual level, to encourage a more diverse range of people to take up leadership roles.
It all starts with hiring
If diversity is important to you as an organisation, then give people targets for hiring with this as a consideration. This doesn’t mean enforcing hiring quotas, but it can be a target when you are sourcing candidates. If your recruitment agency puts forward the same ‘type’ of candidates, you should call them out and set targets for the representation you want to see.
‘Wheel out’ the woman
It’s important to consider representation throughout your hiring processes, so interview panels should also be diverse, whether you are hiring a man or a woman. This demonstrates that women are important stakeholders in the business and this impression will be implanted in the new employee. This is important even if it sometimes feels like women are being ‘wheeled out’ as it becomes a self-fulling prophecy.
Beware of ‘Culture Fit’
There’s a tendency for companies, especially young organisations, to hire people they believe will be a good “fit” with the existing company culture. This practice should be stamped out: while it is important to build a team that gels and works well together, hiring with ‘cultural fit’ in mind can create an echo chamber. Beware of hiring people who are ‘lookalikes’ to your existing team: focus on values and behaviours rather than culture.
Small details make a big difference
It may seem insignificant, but the language you use in company communications can create bias and can even make people feel excluded. For example, company events that are advertised as “Pizza and Beers” may be intended to sound inclusive but not everyone can partake in beers.
It’s especially important to consider language when defining requirements for a job description, for example many require a university degree, but this could be changed to say ‘non educational experience welcomed’ to include a wider socio-economic background. Also, do you really need a university degree for all your roles?
Invest now for the future
The roundtable participants all agreed that it is crucial to inspire more girls to take up STEM subjects, while they are at school and as they progress into further education. Too often subjects are defined as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ subjects and there are few very visible role models.
Companies can help to support existing initiatives like Girls Who Code, Code First Girls and Founders and Coders which are working to encourage girls and women to develop careers in tech. (See also Women in Tech).
Flexibility for all
Technology now allows us to work anywhere, but the culture and attitudes to working flexibly or remotely need to change to support parents. When children come along, it is more likely that the mother will work part time or take time out of her career to manage childcare. If businesses were more open to everyone working flexibly, the responsibility for childcare could be balanced more equally.
Who is responsible?
We know that if the diversity agenda and initiatives should be set and lead by senior management, it tends to have a stronger impact on the teams and accelerate delivery. Yet a bottom-up approach can be effective too. Opening the discussion and making small changes at a team level will start to make a difference and help to influence the wider business.
Our roundtable participants also suggested how individuals can take action to encourage and support diversity in their working environment. Our guest speaker Jane Honey talked about strategies that help bring balance to a male dominated workplace, including building networks of allies with your colleagues. Read her full interview and insights here.
On a personal note, I’d like to make the commitment to mentor one of our female team members, as I am one of only two women in the Leadership team. My advice to anyone who wants to promote diversity and/or break the ceiling, however high it looks: don’t underestimate yourself and speak up, you have nothing to lose. Just go for it!