Slow improvements in gender diversity

Gender diversity board effectiveness

Frustratingly slow improvements in gender diversity

Written by Board Benchmarking Executive Chairman, Nicholas Barnett.

I have been a passionate gender diversity campaigner for around 10 years. I know many females and not nearly enough males who are on the same journey.

I was reminded recently about the slow pace of improvements when I re-read the four-page article written about my journey from stereotypical sceptic to passionate diversity campaigner in the HR Director magazine in 2014. A Chairman of a prominent ASX-listed company read the article recently (eight years later) and said, it’s sad that the publication date could be today and it would be just as relevant.

Since 2014 I’ve given many presentations and talks on the benefits of gender diversity and why I’m passionate about it. Unfortunately, most of the audiences I have spoken to over the years have been overrepresented by women as many men think diversity is a female issue, so they elect not to attend such talks and events. They send their female colleagues or direct reports instead.

When I’m not speaking at diversity events, I like to challenge the presenters to think about what men might do if the percentage of females as CEOs of the ASX300 companies was 93% and men only 7% rather than the other way around. Would men do nothing? Would men celebrate an improvement of 1% or 2% every few years?

I doubt it.

I point out that during World War II women began working in the factories to take over the positions left by the men that went to war and many women loved those roles. When the men came back from the war they kicked the women out of the factories and took their jobs back. There wasn’t much discussion.

Yes, I’m frustrated but I’m also more convinced now than ever that those organisations that don’t embrace and champion gender diversity will fall further and further behind.

Advice to make a difference

My advice for individuals who want to make a difference was included in the 2014 article and still stands. Here’s my 2022 additional advice for boards and executive teams:

  • If anyone on your team doesn’t give themselves at least a 7 out of 10 in terms of understanding all the research about diversity and the benefits of diversity ensure they get the appropriate training and education
  • Discuss the extent that diversity, and in particular, gender diversity, is important to your organisation’s future success. Develop a compelling and shared narrative as to why diversity is so important to improvements in innovation, productivity and decision-making – there’s plenty of research to back this up
  • Determine whether diversity is specifically mentioned/emphasized in your organisation’s values. If you say diversity is important but it doesn’t get a mention in your values (or your purpose, vision and values) why not?
  • Ensure your values are well embedded and lived in your organisation every day, including diversity
  • Champion and advocate for diversity from the top. Align your actions with your words – and note that your actions speak louder than your words.

If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to get in touch. I would love to hear from you.

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