Too big to solve – is gender diversity reaching fatigue?
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Too big to solve – is gender diversity reaching fatigue?

Nowadays, most organisations have diversity policies in place and some are even on their second or third round of programmes & initiatives. Many have a gender strategy to increase the number of women in their organisations.

So how are these efforts working?  Unfortunately, not so great. While some progress has been made it continues to be slow. Worse than that many companies now talk about being “done with gender”.  Have we reached gender diversity fatigue? And if so how did we get here?

One thing most people agree on is that for many companies the very senior level ‘get’ the issue.  And here lies the first problem.

Lack of Commitment

A concerted effort is required at all levels of an organisation to bring about change.  Whilst a huge amount of statistics supporting the benefits of gender diversity has been presented over the years,  they are not and will never be the antidote for doubt.  A doubting person can be given this information up to their eyeballs, but it will not change a mind that doesn’t want to change.

Doubt does however surrender to personal experience and connecting senior leaders with an experience can be all it takes to take them from just being aware of diversity to really caring about it.

Whilst getting senior leaders on board and having them lead the change is vital, “educating then on the business case” and then asking for their support is flawed as an approach. Leaders have to actually walk the talk….by being inclusive themselves. Take some risk, try something (or is it someone?) different.  Research demonstrates this is sadly lacking and while CEOs say they support diversity few people in organisations believe they’re actually doing it.

Key to effective change is engaging the majority, the middle layer, the many layers of managers below them, on the journey too. These groups of individuals are the vital organs of a company and yet frequently they are expected to go to a one –off session and then left to create an inclusive organisation. Only by really engaging the greater population on the journey to an inclusive culture is the door opened to a true understanding of the benefits and the opportunities that diversity brings. I’m not talking about sheep dipping them in an unconscious bias session,  I’m talking about getting them to want to see change. Fatigue will only continue to grow unless organisations address diversity as a business opportunity where there is something in it for all of us (rather than a problem to solve), a way of getting competitive advantage, a way of accessing hidden talent that others are ignoring and getting ‘all hands on deck’ to leverage it.

Has resentment set in?

Many mid managers admit to rolling their eyes when being ‘hauled’ into a diversity workshop. According to a former UK CEO, many of these initiatives have tended to take a ‘naughty step’ approach, pointing out failings and biases. This has led to a fear of saying the wrong thing and to feeling the pressure to ‘keep up’ appearances.
Another suggestion that has been mooted is that white business men are becoming an endangered species and that the pendulum has swung too far the other way. This is somewhat ironic given the continued lack of representation of women at senior levels.

A final issue is the expectation that leaders & managers are able to successfully manage diverse teams without being provided with the reminders of what they actually need to do in the moment they are about to do it or much tolerance for the bumps that may be experienced along the way.

Has complacency set in?

Following many years of work and getting programmes in place, there seems to be a wave of ‘let’s leave it at that’. With a certain amount done, there is a sense that a contribution has been made and so it is now time to focus the efforts elsewhere.

While true diversity is different ways of thinking, rather than any of our visible traits, women make up 50% of the population. If we can’t enable them to fully participate what hope do we have of including and leveraging more invisible differences.

So if a company wants to make the most out of all its talent and be in touch with all their customers, what can they do? The first step is to address diversity the way they would approach any other business opportunity. Not just with a plan, but by setting business goals and giving it proper resourcing.