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Is Diversity becoming a tick-box exercise?

Gender diversity in the workplace is becoming the centre of attention for many companies. Not only does it help employees to be motivated, but there are several other positive effects that organisations can take advantage of if they make gender diversity in the workplace a priority.

Here is some interesting data. While companies insist they want to increase their diverse pool, women are still underrepresented at the board level in all HKEX jurisdictions and makeup only 12.7% of the company’s senior executive population.

Climbing out of middle management into the ranks of ‘senior executive’ continues to be a real struggle for women in the workforce. Some will eventually get there but few will gamble their careers. The chances of being demotivated are high from working long hours while compromising family time.

Unfortunately, companies had fallen into the habit of ticking off a diversity quota and calling it a job well done. We hear things such as “We have many women working for us, so we are fine,” and sadly, employers don’t even want to hear more about the real issues that they could potentially be facing.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of positive support for diversity in many companies we talk to, especially around formal and informal training, mentoring, employee development programmes, etc. But diversity metrics are not changing much and companies don’t track these metrics at the right level of detail. Leaders and line managers are not held accountable for diversity targets and there are no repercussions for lack of diversity in their teams.

Here are some things that can be crucial around Diversity and Inclusion:

Diversity has to come within the Company’s culture: Companies can’t expect cultural constraints to magically disappear because they had hired a mixed workforce and brought in more women. Organisational culture has to be constantly nurtured and assessed so all the employees and the leadership team can cultivate a great place to work that is fair and inclusive for everyone.

Challenge Gender Stereotypes: Women seem to face different hurdles that have little to do with their abilities. Gender stereotypes are one of them. Stereotypes won’t disappear unless people understand they are harmful.

We have to build empowered teams through awareness, education and support. Creating communication channels and facilitate workshops to learn about unconscious bias and inclusion can be the first step.

Establish fair hiring and promotion practices: It’s essential to see how the workforce is including women after the hiring process. What are the rules and policies that result in positive behaviours so great work can get done regardless of what gender takes the lead.

Men are still promoted on potential, while women are promoted for proven performance. This is something that even research has been able to prove. Women are held to stricter standards for promotion and as a result, promoted women have higher performance ratings than promoted men.

Communicate the right message: If you are already working on significant improvements around D&I it’s essential to communicate this and highlight how inclusive your office is. Sometimes employers are incapable at promoting and communicating their efforts. Work with external parties that can support your D&I strategies and get the ball rolling. Remember that inclusion is ongoing, not one-off training. Sometimes looking at the company through a different lens is what is missing to make a real change.

We know the importance of diversity and there is research to back this up. The benefits of gender diversity in companies lead to an increase in profitability, more innovative and creative thinking, better decision making and risk management, higher employee retention and better reputation.

Hiring targets may increase diversity numbers but this won’t automatically create an inclusive culture. Leaders should also avoid focusing diversity and inclusion efforts disproportionately on the employee pipeline. It’s crucial to take an honest look at the overall employee experience, create conditions that promote inclusion daily, and design ways to measure this impact. This will retain top employees, especially women.

Finally, let’s also highlight and shed light on women in different organisations: the real leaders out there, what they're doing, how they're making changes and how they lead every day as women.

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