If there’s one big barrier to bringing more inclusion and diversity into a workplace, then it’s those in charge. That’s how most employees view it.
In the latest AHRI survey, most respondents said they thought it was the CEO’s job to set the tone in an organisation and make sure that inclusion and diversity strategy wasn’t simply words on a page. They also said that where organisations were failing to be inclusive and diverse, it was because leadership support was lacking in getting behind the policy and that leadership roadblocks continue to be the biggest challenge when implementing inclusion and diversity strategies.
The survey of 913 respondent organisations, conducted at the end of 2016, shows that gender equity continues to be the primary focus for three quarters of them. Despite that, there is general agreement that their organisations are weak on support for working mothers and on equal pay.
Given that most leaders still tend to be male, the question of how to engage men in the fight for gender equity and whether that is effective, is one that continues to be debated. It was aired publicly by the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) at their annual debate at the end of last year.
Lisa Annese, CEO of DCA said she believed that involving men in efforts to drive gender equity is important – but it mustn’t be at the expense of women’s voices and it shouldn’t be viewed as ‘the silver bullet’.
“Organisations also need to ensure programs designed to engage men have clear objectives and are achieving their intended results,” said Annese.
Stephen Barrow from NAB said that the cause of gender equity in the workplace has been stalled by polarising arguments about men versus women.
“The best way to make change is through inclusive leadership, through men being included in understanding the current situation more fully and also being part of the solution. This is an issue of numbers and basic psychology,” said Barrow.
But there were dissenting voices about the value of bringing men on board.
“In practice, efforts to engage men often set the bar for men very low. They risk marginalising women’s voices. They focus too much on reassuring men and not enough on challenging systems and cultures of oppression,” said Dr Michael Flood. Associate Professor, University of Wollongong.
Journalist Benjamin Law agreed. “Men are already engaged – look at the myriad initiatives in every sector that have existed for years, if not decades – and there is still inequality. Men won’t end inequality, just as white people won’t end racism,” he said.
Lisa Annese says the fact is that gender biases can be hidden within many organisational processes, especially within talent management and remuneration systems, and can adversely impact women’s career progression. “Gender biases can also be hidden within many people’s views and decision-making – and that holds true for women as well as men,” she says.
“If organisations are asking women to step up in a system that is biased against them, then it will take more than confidence for them to actually succeed,” she says.
Diversity Council Australia’s top 5 tips for getting women to the top
- Introduce gender conscious rather than gender blind initiatives. Ways to boost inclusion and diversity can include recruitment programs aimed at women, sponsorship programs (see below), or the introduction of gender targets.
- Implement sponsorship programs for women. High-potential women are often already mentored, but under sponsored when compared to their male peers. Sponsorship is more likely to produce improved outcomes for women because women can be penalised for self-promoting behaviour. A sponsor can advocate on their behalf and to subvert this commonly held unconscious bias.
- Address gender bias. Many organisations may be unknowingly practicing gender bias in recruitment and promotion processes. These biases can be both unconscious and conscious and need to be identified and addressed. Individuals can also practice gender biases in their attitudes, behaviours and decision making and organisations may have gender bias embedded into their culture, policies and practices that block outcomes that promote inclusion and diversity.
- Don’t rely on the ‘squeaky wheel’. Look closely at performance and outcomes when it comes to promotion and remuneration, rather than rewarding those who speak the loudest or put in the most ‘face-time’.
- Move beyond ‘think leader = think male’. Great leaders can come in many different forms.
See more at dca.org.au