Want Sustainable Gender Diversity? Think Inclusion 8:42, February 22, 2017

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Want Sustainable Gender Diversity? Think Inclusion

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Despite the passing of more than 50 years since Congress banned sex discrimination in hiring under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many organizations still struggle with maintaining a gender-inclusive workforce, let alone gender diversity. Recent examples are numerous, including:

  • In January of 2017, mining conglomerate Foresight Energy paid $4.25 million to settle a lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which included allegations that an Illinois affiliate had “never hired a single female for a mining-related position,” and “did not even have a women’s bathroom on its mining premises”
  • Research conducted by fellows at Stanford University Graduate School of Business in 2015 revealed that unconscious bias coupled with the close-knit culture at many tech and venture capital firms undermines gender diversity efforts in Silicon Valley
  • In September of 2016, The US Court of Appeal for the Seventh Circuit ruled that the Chicago Fire Department’s skills tests for paramedics discriminated against female applicants
  • A 2016 survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 66 percent of award-winning female physician-scientists have experienced gender bias and 30 percent have experienced sexual harassment
  • As of the time of this writing, members of the US women’s soccer team have pending claims for pay discrimination based on their gender

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These legal cases and empirical studies illustrate that barriers to full gender diversity in the workplace are found across many industries, from traditionally male-dominated blue collar workplaces to academia and athletics. Even women who are highly successful and visible in their fields are not exempt from barriers to workplace entry and advancement.

From Gender Diversity to Gender Inclusion

For many companies, diversity goals include hiring and retaining more women. However, the benefits of a diverse workforce will be realized only if hiring and recruitment strategies go beyond seeing diversity solely as a compliance obligation and embrace inclusiveness as part of a vibrant organizational culture.

This means that meeting numerical diversity goals is not the end of the story, nor does it automatically bring on an inclusive organizational culture. As Laura Sherbin of the Center for Talent Innovation and Ripa Rashid, a management consultant, recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), diversity is not the same as inclusion. Diversity, the article notes, can be measured by a headcount, but inclusion hints at those intangible factors that make the difference between an engaged employee and a flight risk. Inclusion is revealed in the employee’s personal narrative that a purely data-driven approach can miss. “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” the HBR article quotes diversity advocate Verna Myers’s memorable metaphor.

So, what does “being asked to dance” look like in practice? According to research cited by Sherbin and Rashid, “four levers” drive inclusion:

  • Inclusive leaders who welcome team members to express opinions and innovative ideas while still providing actionable feedback and team-oriented results
  • Authenticity in demeanor and style (for example, no workplace advantage should be accrued to workers who “act like a man,” regardless of gender)
  • Networking and visibility, including sponsorship of talented women by senior leaders who advocate key assignments and promotions for the junior employees (but the authors warn that “lack of sponsorship increases someone’s likelihood of quitting within a year”)
  • Clear career paths that are available to everyone, so that qualified women won’t get off-ramped by taking time away to care for children or the elderly

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As my colleague Nicoleta Leontiades explained in a recent article, “diversity goes beyond what employees and clients can see—it must be experienced and felt.” That article also quotes research showing that companies with three or more women on the board “outperform companies with all-male boards by 60 percent in return on invested capital, 84 percent in return on sales, and 60 percent in return on equity.” Notably, Bloomberg recently reported the findings of a study by Women in Mining UK and PricewaterhouseCoopers, that “mining companies with gender diversity in their boards outperformed all-male boards in 2014 by 49 percent on the basis of the ratio of a firm’s enterprise value to its proven mineral reserves.”

Leontiades’s article also noted that diversity can be increased by removing unconscious bias and replacing antiquated processes from hiring, such as by using a blinded resume system that hides information that could identify an applicant’s gender or other characteristics that have traditionally elicited biased responses.

Tangible Strategies for Increasing Gender Diversity & Inclusion

Ensuring pay equity for similar jobs regardless of gender is one tangible strategy for hiring and retaining more women. To this end, some companies have decided (or fall under a mandate) not to ask for salary history. Basing current pay on salary history can have a disproportionately negative impact on women who tend to have lower salaries than men in general, or who may feel discouraged from negotiating higher pay.

Although many companies now offer flexible work schedules to meet family demands, leaders who wish to retain talented women would do well not to fall into counterproductive sex stereotyping, including by assuming that female employees value work-life balance over pay (or even intend to have families). Although a 2011 survey suggested that many women would choose a flexible schedule over higher pay, a 2015 study shows that the opposite may be true, at least for women in their 30s.

These strategies are simple, but not easy. Even the best organizations may need outside help to get diversity right. In one prominent example, our client Airbnb has hired outside experts to: 1) provide advice on paths to improve anti-discrimination efforts; 2) conduct internal audits and monitoring; 3) craft stronger anti-discrimination policies; and 4.) conduct interactive compliance training.

These are only a few suggestions for achieving the sometimes elusive and related goals of diversity and inclusion. The bottom line is that gender diversity and inclusion are as much an art as a science. Data analytics and head-counts can only take you part of the way. Leaders who are willing to listen to their team members can get the narrative behind the numbers, and act on what they’ve learned to help foster a truly inclusive culture.

LawRoom (powered by EverFi) delivers online training to help your business meet compliance requirements both dynamically and scalably. In addition to our award-winning online courses, LawRoom delivers a robust, cloud-based learning management system to help you easily deploy and track our growing library of ethics, anti-harassment, data security and employee conduct courses.

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Steve Treagus
Stephen Treagus, JD's, previous practice as an attorney specializing in employment litigation exposed him to the rough-and-tumble world of employment relationships gone awry. Today, this experience informs his articles and courses, helping employers avoid costly litigation and get employment law right. Stephen earned his JD from John F. Kennedy University School of Law and his BA from Sonoma State University.

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