Your Next Move into Equality: Making Progress Real (Part Two)

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February 28, 2018

In the spirit of this year’s “Press for Progress” International Women’s Day on March 8, we’ll focus on doing what we do best: helping companies plot their next move towards building a better, more equal future, today. We’ll reflect on the innovative and successful ways that organizations have advanced diversity, offering insight into actionable behavioral change tactics that you can implement in your own organization.

While women’s rights have advanced tremendously, there’s still much to be gained when it comes to establishing true parity. In the last post, we made the case for behavioral change in combatting inequality. However, setting a vision for equality is only part of the equation. With this vision in place, organizations must then focus on the “how.”  With the belief that sustainable change comes through unleashing action, and taking this year’s International Women’s Day pledges as a basis, here are some of the best-practice behavioral change strategies you can start implementing today to lay the foundation for a more equal future.

 Pledge 1: “Maintain a Gender Parity Mindset”

This technique focuses on questioning any areas that lack equal representation and identifying alternatives that are more inclusive, nominating women for opportunities, and thinking of “50/50” as the goal. The UK Advertising Standards agency has embodied this mindset in practice, by banning harmful gender stereotyping in commercials, which could restrict or influence an individual’s choices, aspirations, and opportunities. Other organizations can take a similar approach. Does your firm host a golf day only attended by male employees, whilst women attend spa days? Think about how you could make these networking events more inclusive— coming up with more creative event ideas is likely to generate much more interest and higher participation.

Pledge 2: “Challenge Stereotypes and Bias”

There are over 150 types of bias and, usually, more than one impacting our decision-making at any given time. Not all biases are bad. Ultimately, they help us make decisions quickly by basing these on preconceived ideas or experiences. Without an awareness of this “snap judgement” process, however, it’s more difficult to make balanced and inclusive decisions. A Yale University study found that male and female scientists were more likely to hire men, rank them higher in competency than women, and pay them $4,000 more per year than women. Unconscious bias training is important for raising awareness, although some studies suggest it’s not fully effective and can cause backlash. The key ways to reduce bias in the workplace are to “challenge” as much as possible: remember to think slowly and constantly ask questions. For example, if you’re in charge of a promotion board, leave time between the panel discussion and making a final decision so that everyone can fully weigh up their thinking and make a rational, rather than instinctive, decision. You can also encourage your colleagues to do a test to better understand their biases, like those produced by Project Implicit at Harvard University.

Pledge 3: “Forge Positive Visibility of Women”

This means not only finding ways to make women more visible but also extending opportunities to women first and assuming women want opportunities until these are turned down. For example, the Obamas used a technique termed “amplification,” where aides deliberately called out and recognized women’s ideas and contributions in meetings, where previously they may have been overlooked or interrupted. Adopting a similar strategy in your team, project, or company is so simple, yet stunningly effective.

Pledge 4: “Influence Others’ Beliefs or Actions”

This technique calls on others to highlight unfair behaviors that they observe, taking the time to raise awareness and educate others on why this is counterproductive. These behaviors are often subtle and therefore harder to eradicate. For example: women are often given “personality” feedback, which is subjective and more prone to bias, rather than technical or skill-based comments. To combat this, we recommend broadening the scope of the feedback process and providing ongoing mechanisms for feedback, as opposed to reviews only at specific points in the year.

 Pledge 5: “Celebrate Women’s Achievements”

Finally, organizations have an opportunity to value the individual and collective success of women by celebrating female role models. There are several quick win opportunities when it comes to driving improvements here. For example, executives at Google renamed some of their conference rooms after notable female figures, after realizing these were mostly named after men. Embracing this mindset, consider nominating female employees for external awards, and ensure there are mentors or role models for all levels throughout your organization

With a continual focus on actionability, these techniques are aimed at helping organizations make parity real by challenging inequality in ways of working. As we mentioned in our previous post, more diverse teams outperform those that are not; they simply make more business sense. Where there is at least one female boardroom member, companies have seen a return on investment of 14.1 percent since 2005, versus just 11.2 percent for all-male boards.

With insight into how to lay a foundation for equality, join us for the next installment of this series, where we’ll equip your organization with strategies for measuring the progress of your diversity and inclusion initiatives.


This piece was co-authored by: Becky Thomas

Becky Thomas

Becky is a Senior Consultant in North Highland’s PPM Capability. Working across a number of Retail and Financial Services clients, she has managed complex business and technology projects and has undertaken program health checks and advisory roles for large scale transformations. Her specific areas of expertise include data integration, reporting and analytics, and regulatory compliance. Becky is also a core member of the London Inclusion and Diversity team and has led a number of ‘Women in North Highland’ initiatives for both colleagues and clients.

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