Having always been strong advocates for meritocracy, reviewing the implications on business of not achieving a smart gender-balance from the middle manager to the C-Suite, got us thinking.

If men and women leave college and universities as equal achievers, why are women falling well short of gaining 50% of management positions and often earning less than their male counterparts? There are some obvious answers to this question and some that surprised us. There is also strong evidence why this topic is critical to the success of all businesses because who wants to be a below average achiever?

McKinsey & Company reported in 2015 and again in 2018 why diversity matters and specifically why gender-diversity really matters. This global project has influenced corporations, public sector, and third-sector organisations worldwide. In recent years government has introduced quotas to try and address this imbalance with some success but still only 9.7% of top jobs are held by women in the UK.

Evidence for business success is abundant, evidence of business engagement is not. Access to opportunities is not the same for men and women; it is not a level playing field. This is more widespread for women than men, but certainly not exclusive. One such concern is ‘The Motherhood Penalty’ with 65% of women reporting that having children had a negative impact on their careers and statistics tell us that Mums’ salaries decrease by 4% per child.

Why are businesses struggling to get their gender-balance right? 

We sense an element of gender-fatigue; government has been banging the drum on this for some time, most recently introducing requirements for businesses to report on their gender pay-gap. But there is very little support in terms of what businesses can do to address gender-imbalance.

Some organisations are addressing their recruitment pipeline, especially in traditional male- or female-dominated environments, but if the focus is on entry-level roles and apprenticeships, then the impact on the pipeline for senior roles is likely to be decades away. 

To deliver change and impact across all levels of your organisation, we believe an aligned focus on the following key areas, is essential:

  1. Organisational Culture, 
  2. Organisational Development 
  3. HR Practices. 

Organisational Culture 

We are firm believers that a healthy organisational culture does not evolve ‘by accident’. What do we mean when we say ‘Organisational Culture’? The Denison Model provides a systemic and structured approach to culture, requiring balance across 4 key traits and measuring the behaviours driven by the beliefs and assumptions that create an organisation’s culture. These traits are organised by colour and are designed to help answer key questions about an organisation’s culture and provide a framework to create honest conversations that lead to thoughtful ACTIONS. 

MISSION: Do we know where we are going? 
INVOLVEMENT: Are our people aligned and engaged? 
ADAPTABILITY: Are we responding to the marketplace/ external environment? 
CONSISTENCY: Do we have the values, systems and processes in place to create leverage?

At the centre of the Model are the organisation’s ‘Beliefs and Assumptions’. These are the deeply held aspects of an organisation’s identity that are often hard to access and it is often here that cultural norms about gender and impacting gender in the workplace are established, such as long working-hours cultures or assumptions that women with children won’t want to take on roles with travel, or may want to ‘take a back-seat’ in the running of the organisation.

What is the current challenge around balancing gender?

As previously referred to, a healthy culture does not evolve ‘by accident’ and when looking at the connection between culture and gender, it is critical to drill down into the organisational development and HR practices that are prevalent in the organisation. A huge current challenge is that we come across many organisations who do not feel that they are doing anything to actively harm gender-balance. Their stance is that the opportunities are there for women to take if they want them, i.e. women need to develop themselves and put themselves forward, thereby ‘fixing the women’ not the culture. However, these organisations are fulfilling the maxim “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. In order to make a difference and create gender balance at all levels of the talent pipeline, then practical steps must be taken to address both the collective cultural issues and the individual behaviours of men and women. 

A good place for an organisation to start is with its employee lifecycle, as this has a series of critical touchpoints, which impact gender balance. Starting with recruitment, all too often organisations miss high potential candidates with job advertisements that are gender-biased and attract a disproportionate number of one gender. Choice of gender-neutral words are surprisingly influential in attracting candidates. Unconscious bias also plays a key role, so ensuring a good balance of diversity on interview panels and equal numbers of each gender are interviewed are key to avoiding recruiting ‘in the same mould’ that perpetuates an unbalanced and less healthy culture.

As an employee develops length of service with the organisation, they encounter a number of talent development solutions, from performance review cycles, to career progression plans, to talent management processes, and succession planning. We find significant gaps in every step of the lifecycle and in every function of organisations. One highly effective way to shake things up is to look at a key-skill dependency mapping; make contingency plans and consider training up males or females in areas that have traditionally been dominated by either gender.

While most organisations follow statutory processes for dealing with flexible working requests, many are less willing to challenge the status quo, like considering job-share arrangements for key client-facing roles, or part-time opportunities at senior levels. Blindly rejecting requests for more flexibility, rapidly drains experienced talent and drastically reduces the talent pipeline, often at critical mid-management levels. 

It is essential that gender-balance is measured at every touchpoint in an employee lifecycle. It is true that what gets measured, gets improved, and leadership teams need to be reviewing organisational data through a gender lens, i.e. requesting to see recruitment and promotion data by gender. Creating a dashboard that measures the talent pipeline at every stage also prevents costly leakage to competitors. 

If this article has sparked an interest, we would welcome further discussion and debate with you directly, please contact us at Karen Jones, Denison Consulting , kjones@denisoncultureeurope.com, or Chris Gilkes and Karen Milner at balancetogether on christine@gluetogether.com or karen.milner@pathsandprogress.co.uk

  • Karen Jones Director of Consulting & Partnerships, Europe
  • Chris Gilkes
    Chris Gilkes Business Partner at balancetogether
  • Karen Milner
    Karen Milner Business Partner at balancetogether
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