Prime Your Workplace for Diversity and Inclusion
We’ve all heard the lopsided statistics from Grant Thornton’s annual “Women in Business” study, now in its 13th year. As revealed in their 2017 report, only 25 percent of senior management roles globally are held by women, up a scant 1 percent from 2016. And the percentage of businesses with literally no women in senior leadership rose 1 percent to 34 percent.
This picture is even more bleak in law firms. Yet, antithetically, there is voluminous research proving that companies outperform when they have a greater proportion of females in leadership and on the board of directors.
However, when you dig deeper into the Grant Thornton report by region, interesting disparities arise. Emerging and developing countries blow developed nations out of the water in most cases. Eastern Europe features the most balanced leadership, with women in Russia occupying 47 percent of top positions, and Poland and Estonia both at 40 percent. Elsewhere, China shows up at 31 percent and the average in Africa is 29 percent.
In contrast, the United States and Canada weigh in at 23 percent. Three other G7 countries score among the lowest, with Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom at 7 percent, 18 percent and 19 percent, respectively. The average in traditionally patriarchal Latin America is 18 percent, with India — where hierarchical family-owned businesses historically pervaded — close behind at 17 percent.
What this data says to me is that that greater gender equality in leadership is possible, but we all have more learning to do. This makes sense: after all, “co-ed” is an abbreviation of the original phrase “co-educational.” To wit, learning and development staff everywhere are busily implementing trainings to improve recruiting, hiring practices, talent management, performance processes, retention and engagement, to name a few. All too often, the noble intentions behind those initiatives are soon lost when people reflexively return to the habits and beliefs they’ve held for years.
So how do we make great programs stick to improve the odds of finally shifting gender imbalance in developed countries’ business leadership?
PRIMING OURSELVES FOR SUCCESS
The analogy I like to use is paint and primer. A quick Wikipedia search tell us primer is “a preparatory coating put on materials before painting. Priming ensures better adhesion of paint to the surface, increases paint durability, and provides additional protection for the material being painted.”
The primer for improving gender and other categories of diversity (or any crucial culture change initiative for that matter) we must work first on is ourselves!
Just like any workplace culture initiative, support and passion must flow from the top for any of the policies and practices to be successful. Lack of sufficient diversity is merely one symptom of broader workplace dysfunction, and one-off trainings are simply Band-Aids if we aren’t addressing the underlying diseases, which are disconnected relationships and nontransparent communication. We exacerbate these chronic “illnesses” with the judgments and assumptions we make in response to personal triggers, group dynamics and organizational politics.