To address any business pain point, a strategy is required along with targets to measure progress.
Project managers know this. A project manager must be clear on the project strategy and vision. Project targets, budgets and deadlines are set for deliverables to achieve the vision. KPIs are set for every project member in order to achieve these targets. Targets are reviewed in team meetings, while barriers to progress are also explored. In a fast moving project culture, project members know that to consistently miss targets is akin to inviting both a bollocking from above and a cut in performance-related bonuses.
Australian business leaders are very capable of strategy development, gaining buy-in, setting aspirational internal targets to meet the vision, and overcoming barriers.
Except when it comes to gender diversity.
The stats tell the story: Only one in four key management personnel are women, and just one in five non-executive roles at ASX200 companies are held by women.
Taking a strategic approach must come from Australian business leaders driving sustained holistic leadership on gender diversity.
Diversity targets do not work when there is no clear communication from the top on why diversity and inclusiveness is critical to the business; why it leads to better decisions and greater shareholder value.
Can your leader explain why gender diversity is important and really articulate the business benefits? Are they able to generate enough passion and conviction to sustain gender diversity as a priority?
Real change can’t happen without a commitment from the top, because that’s where people take their cues. One Australian CEO publicly stated that 50% of his performance bonus was committed to achieving gender diversity targets. How much skin in the game does your CEO have?
So where is the Diversity Strategy?
Diversity targets do not work when they are not tied to a strategic vision, and when there is no governance or accountability for achieving them. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency found that only 7% of Australian organisations have a stand-alone diversity strategy, and that organisations are not taking a strategic approach to gender equality. Most Australian organisations have disconnected ad hoc initiatives that do not lead to sustained change.
But we have a diversity policy!
The majority of diversity policies are often not operationalised in line with other business strategies such as growth and sales.
According to WGEA, only 13% of Australian organisations have operationalised their diversity policies. Whelan & Wood note that specific challenging goals are highly effective in motivating change and further, managers are used to setting targets to achieving business measures. Simply put, organisations without business measures are paying lip service to the diversity & inclusion agenda.
What targets should we set?
Benchmarking, top down and bottom up data feed into achievable stretch diversity targets. Fifty fifty graduate representation has already been achieved in several Australian organisations. The harder challenge is achieving targets for experienced professional hires and senior executive women. This requires significant effort in understanding and addressing the strategic, cultural, interpersonal and personal barriers in organisations.
Sending women off on a stand-alone mentoring program or doing a one-off unconscious bias workshop are not silver bullets. As the Diversity Recruitment Leader for a global IT firm for over 50 countries, I introduced gender targets for graduates, experienced hires as well as executive leaders with agreement by the business leaders, HR and recruitment. Progress against targets were reviewed quarterly right beside all other business targets.
We have targets, owned by the Diversity Council, HR or recruitment
Diversity targets do not work when the key decision makers communicating the strategy and setting targets for achieving the strategy are not accountable. Diversity Councils are not the key decision makers in organisations. HR, recruitment and the Diversity Council do not make hiring decisions. All managers require business targets to execute against — including diversity targets — such as ensuring at least one qualified female is shortlisted. This is the beginnings of targets with teeth. Mandatory reporting on why candidates have not been shortlisted driveaccountability.
HR and recruitment’s part in aspirational targets
HR and recruitment play an important part in providing hiring managers with qualified candidates. Diversity targets for this group are essential to ensure rigour in providing balanced shortlists and screening. HR and recruitment need to have targets with teeth to ensure accountability for recruitment processes.
Diversity will ‘grow organically’
Would we use this approach for achieving any other pain points in our business? Unfortunately, in many Australian organisations, this seems to be the fallback approach. In 2012, research from Melbourne Business School/University of Melbourne found that action occurs for achieving women in leadership when targets are set for the top level leaders to execute against. Specifically, when these targets are linked to performance and at-risk remuneration.
We all bring conscious and unconscious assumptions, judgements and experiences to the workplace which impacts on people processes, particularly in hiring. Workplace culture is critical to understanding what the ideal worker looks like, what is the definition of success, and what is valued (vs what management says is valued) and rewarded. There is a whole industry built around women’s so called lack of confidence playing a significant role in women not applying for jobs, promotion or pay negotiations. Unconscious bias has been identified as one of many barriers to organisations not achieving gender diversity.
Won’t targets with teeth ‘lower the bar’?
See the Unconscious bias section. Since when did we associate hiring qualified female candidates with lowering the bar?
But what happens when we achieve diversity targets?
When business priorities are met, we review the next business priority and set targets. I worked with the IBM Singapore business to achieve gender diversity targets at all levels through a clear strategy and business case, sustained leadership from the top, managers fostering a culture of inclusivity, diverse leaders role modelling many different models of leadership, focused communication and targets with teeth.
And about those quotas
Quotas is a separate concept that has seen success in many countries in raising representation of females on boards and representation in parliament. However, quotas are a concept that do not sit well with corporate Australia. Quotas are seen as a big stick driving penalties by an external body. In most countries in Asia, Latin America and Central Eastern Europe, governments set People with Disability headcount quotas for organisations to comply with. Failure to meet such quotas results in significant monetary fines, public ‘naming and shaming’, and the threat of being cut off from government tenders.
For more than four years, I worked with leaders across these very different countries to develop targeted strategies to attract qualified People with Disability candidates. Quotas drove action. However, little consideration was given for whether the business was in a growth mode or a cost reduction mode; whether available vacancies could be accommodated; and whether the country culture was supportive of mainstreaming People with Disabilities.
Grouping diversity targets and quotas together as a concept is a fundamental misunderstanding of how Australian businesses operate. Both drive action but in very different ways. Before we throw out targets, let’s try operationalising diversity first; constant, close attention for sustainable change to take place. It needs to be on the board and management’s agenda on a daily basis, driven by targets with accountability.
This article was initially posted on Mitchell Services blog. Mitchell Services applies global diversity & inclusion strategy experience to intentionally disrupt the subtle and not so subtle business processes that perpetuate gender inequity, enabling all employees to flourish.
In a previous role, Leith led Gender, and People with Disability initiatives across 8 regions including Australia & New Zealand, ASEAN, Central Eastern Europe, China, India, Korea, Latin America and Middle East & Africa; and developed Global Diversity Recruitment strategy to attract, promote & retain senior women working with senior executives across 50 countries.