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Gender diversity in businesses dependent on STEM employees

We recently held a great panel discussion event on the subject of gender diversity. This topic has been talked about for a long time, particularly with regard to the debate about quotas for the number of female board members in FTSE listed businesses. I think most people that the person to get the job should be the one most qualified to do the job, whether male, female, black, white, old or young, and quotas “for quotas sake” are not necessarily the right way of reaching board diversity.

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Promoting gender diversity

This has led to many businesses looking at how they can improve diversity at management and board level.

One of the panel members was Ralph Tribe, who previously worked at Getty images and now works for Sky. According to him, Getty was a great place to work, largely because of how diverse it is. Diversity wasn’t a “thing” to work towards, it happened almost naturally.

We talked about gender stereotypes – and not just for women, what businesses had tried and what had worked.

The best question from one of the audience was: “What changes have you implemented that delivered the quickest results?”

  1. For Toby Mildon at the BBC it was system interrupters, for example removing all names from CV’s eliminating bias at shortlisting stage.

  2. Another idea was demanding 50/50 shortlists from your recruitment partners and being prepared to wait longer for the right candidate as a result. For Ralph at Sky, this increased the female - male management ratio from 33% to 38% almost immediately.

  3. Exposing the vacancies across the business. Many roles at the top get filled by people already in their network. If the Board’s network is white and male, the likelihood is their network will be predominantly white and male.

  4. Sponsorship from Board and Senior Management team. Each Board member and Senior Manager taking responsibility for one person to encourage them to apply for vacancies. It was referenced that women can sometimes be guilty of having a self-limiting belief, preventing them from applying for the jobs they deserve.

  5. Challenging stereotypes, both male and female, was key. Why should a man be judged for wanting to go to his child’s sports day? Why should flexible working be seen as something that women need more than men?

  6. Everybody agreed that flexible working should be the norm, especially when most businesses face issues attracting the right talent in the first place. London was given as an example of somewhere you have to work hard to attract talent and even harder to keep it. There was consensus that flexible working was becoming an expectation for many and no longer something only forward looking companies do.

  7. We may need to redefine what a great candidate looks like. If it’s about who has the most experience, a woman will always be at a disadvantage if she takes time out to raise a family. What difference does it make if someone has been working for five years or ten years? Surely they have both showed the ability to deliver, even if one of them took five years out.

  8. Having the correct policies in place was is important, but not nearly as important as the management setting the example. If employees don’t see their manager working flexibly, or heading off to their kids sports day, then it’s highly likely the employees would feel uncomfortable doing it themselves.

Of course the answers to these very broad subjects are never found in a couple of hours of discussions, but it must remain a discussion point until we see a more diverse mix of people at management and board level.

I have never been a fan of diversity questionnaires when you join new companies, to me it always felt segregating.

I am also not a fan of individual groups fighting for their own cause, such as women’s only groups fighting women’s rights for example. It is completely missing the point.

I would much rather be a part of a group that fights for equality for all - regardless of gender, colour, age, religious persuasion, ethnicity, wealth and education.

If we all treated people as we wished to be treated, we would be well on the path for #equalityforall

Claire Lauder is the Director of  Manufacturing at Interim Partners.

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