Gender Diversity – it’s time for something different.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day David Evans argues for a radical change in how we tackle Gender diversity.

The Empathy Gap I was age 48 when I attended my first ever International Women’s Day event as a Diversity sponsor at Accenture. I found myself with 2 other men and 600 women. The subjects being discussed were aimed at women and I felt as if 600 women were looking at me.

Even though I had always thought of myself as a leader who was sensitive to the needs of women in the workplace (I had worked in HR, my wife ran her successful business, and 2 teenage daughters) I found the experience of being in the distinct minority discomforting yet very enlightening, and my conclusion was that we need to put all male graduates through a similar experience.

Such an experience very early in their career would help male graduates know what it feels like to be in the distinct minority and to remember that feeling as they progress and find themselves in meetings with ever decreasing numbers of women at more senior stages of their career.

There is a great deal of activity underway under the banner of “Diversity & Inclusion”, but the current focus is primarily on process change and unconscious bias – “thou shalt not…think x, y and z”. We are currently asking leaders to look more broadly, but through their own life experience.

Something in our psyche is holding our leaders back from making breakthrough progress. My proposition is that many business leaders lack the requisite self-awareness and empathy for others which are required for them to really take bold decisions about doing things differently.

Given the lack of momentum generated by current Diversity and Inclusion efforts we need to move to a more provocative way of generating the right level of receptiveness in our business leaders to those who are different. My prescription is for business leaders to undertake real life immersion experiences with groups which are either disadvantaged in society or under-represented in the workplace.

So don’t waste time reading the book or watching the video about what it is like to be physically disabled, actually go and spend time with disabled people and truly understand what it is like to be disabled – and then come back and do something positive about it.

Why do we need to change the current approach? Diversity has been a business-critical issue for 40 years, but we have only made incremental progress. We have not made breakthrough progress in any area. A few examples show how far we still need to travel: Gender: In the area of diversity most focused on in the past 40 years we now have 26.1% female membership of FTSE 100 Boards, but only 9.6% of FTSE Executive Board positions are occupied by women – an unsustainable position1.
In the US it is estimated that, at the current rate of change, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in the US2.

The technology industry has a big problem with diversity, one that seems to be getting worse: In 1991 women held 37% of computing jobs in the US; today they hold only 26%…..This “brogrammer” culture has pushed many women out of the field. In 1985, 37% of computer science degrees were awarded to women; in 2012 only 18% were. 41% of women leave tech companies after 10 years, as opposed to 17% of men3.

40 years after the UK’s Equal Pay Act 1975 came into law, a teenage girl leaving school at age 16 in 2015 earned on average £150 per week whereas a 16 year old teenage boy earned on average £167.30 per week4.

Socio-Economic: Despite efforts to broaden access, 70% of job offers made by London’s elite professional and financial services firms in 2014 were to graduates who had been educated at a selective state or fee-paying school, compared to the population as a whole where 4% come from selective schools and 7% from fee-paying schools5.

LGBT: Despite our efforts 62% of openly gay graduates go back in the closet when they start their first job, 55% of employees do not feel comfortable coming out at work, and employees who are not out at work are 70% more likely to leave a company within three years6. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic: While 10% of trainees at the top 50 professional services firms were from ethnic minority backgrounds — compared with 14% in the wider population of England and Wales — only 4% of Partners came from that background7.

Learning Disability: Only 7% of people with a Learning Disability in the UK are in paid employment, but 65% are able and wanting to work. Yet 77% of the public think more highly of employers who hire people with disabilities8.

This lack of progress is all the more baffling when we consider the economic opportunities which flow from businesses reflecting society in their make-up and their focus on customers.

The business case for Diversity is proven
The research clearly demonstrates economic benefit flows from diversity.

  • Companies with diverse boards experience 53% higher returns on equity.9
  • UK FTSE 350 companies with diverse Boards outperformed rivals by 0.53% - an opportunity cost of around £48.5bn10.

Connecting leadership to customers – diverse groups represent big business opportunities.

  • The percentage of the UK population who are over 60 is predicted to rise from 23% to nearly 29% in 2036 and 31% in 2056 (ONS 2011). Yet a survey by Barclays - Corporate Banking in 2015 found that businesses do not follow the money when it comes to older people. The survey found that the over 60s spent £37b on hotels and travel, and would have spent £16b more if marketing had been aimed at them. 40% of businesses saw 34-44 year olds as the most important age group, even though they have less cash.
  • There is a strong link between age and the prevalence of disability, and as the population grows older, there is likely to be an even greater prevalence of disability in the future. If the impact of the ageing population is considered, the businesses may be losing over a quarter of their potential customers by failing to respond to disabled customers’ requirements”11. Diversity drives innovation - businesses that innovate outperform their competitors
  • The Centre for Talent Innovation, 2013 Report Innovation, diversity and market growth demonstrates a robust correlation between highly innovative, diverse companies and market growth: employees at publicly traded companies with 2D diversity are 70% more likely (46% v 27%) than employees at non-diverse companies to report that their firm captured a new market in the past 12 months, and 45% more likely to report that their firm improved market share in that same time frame.

The power of diversity of thought Leadership development through immersion experiences really broadens leaders’ thinking and makes them more open to diversity of thought. When leaders can develop greater self-awareness and empathy for others, many benefits flow.

These immersive experiences make leaders think differently, and turbo charge businesses’ efforts to develop more empathetic, emotionally intelligent leaders and teams.

  • The power of the immersion experience - diversity in the workplace, and diversity of thought will be driven more by an immersion experience, not classroom training. As individual leaders we are naturally drawn to and gel with those we identify with most – people like us. By experiencing different people in different situations first hand, our eyes, hearts and minds are opened, and we can truly appreciate diversity.
  • Diversity of Thought – in conjunction with the immersion experience we need to help leaders look at the broadest view of Diversity, including personality and learning style, to give them an appreciation of how best to enable colleagues to give of their best at work, and to be open to different ideas.
  • Focus on giving business a competitive edge. We need to make sure the learning from immersion experiences is applied to real-world business challenges. This amplifies the value beyond the individual and embeds new ways of thinking, and a sustainable culture of innovation in a business. Immersive experiences for leaders will impact the entire business:
  • Improved EQ in individuals and teams that will ripple out across the entire organisation. Fact: 90% of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence. On the flip side, just 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence12.
  • More sensitive, empathetic and effective managers / leaders
  • Closer connections/new insights into customers and other stakeholders
  • Medium term, a more diverse and representative workforce
  • Diversity of thought that drives innovation and impacts the bottom line.
    …And….all of these together create a sustainable culture of innovation.

The author David A Evans JP is the Managing Director of The Diversity & Innovation Co, a social enterprise which sends business leaders on immersion experiences with UK charities and Indian schools to help them develop greater self-awareness and empathy. Sources:

  1. Improving The Gender Balance on British Boards, Women on Boards Davies Review 5 year summary October 2015.
  2. Judith Warner, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, March 2014.
  3. Joan C. Williams. HBR Oct 14.
  4. Food for thought - The Gender Business Case, BITC. 2014.
  5. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission 2015.
  6. OUTstanding
  7. Byfield Consultancy, October 2015.
  8. Mencap 2014.
  9. McKinsey. April 2012
  10. Grant Thornton International Ltd. 2015
  11. Legacy For Disabled People: Inclusive And Accessible Business. Office for Disability Issues, UK. 2012
  12. Dr Travis Bradberry, Co-author Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

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