Do we feel the same about diversity? Do we really want to talk about this? If we focus on gender diversity, has our wish to measure led us to just filling quotas? Gender diversity is an uneasy subject. Too often, our discussion can spiral out of control, leaving all parties either let down or unmoved. So, as a business, what are we trying to achieve? The focus should be on persuading the best talent to have the ambition to contribute and lead. We can see that attracting and retaining the best talent is crucial to our business goals. So, how do we create a supportive environment to attract the best talent to thrive? We posed this question to some leaders within the Middle East and Europe, and we listened…
In the discussion, the terms gender equity, equality, and diversity were often used. It may be helpful to describe these terms as they were discussed. Gender equity is the process of being fair to all genders. Gender equality is about ensuring all genders have an equal opportunity. Gender equity leads to gender equality. Diversity is about placing positive value on the differences between people.
So, building a supportive environment. It all starts with “Why”. Here lies the first surprise. Each business will have its own reason to pursue gender diversity. That is normal. Each business is different. It is the “Why” or the purpose of doing something that aligns people. We felt that genuinely believing in our purpose helps us succeed. We agreed, first, let us be clear, why we are doing this.
The second surprise is that quotas need not be a bad thing. Because being accountable for targets we can measure, gets results. We know there are highly advanced measures to create a supportive environment, but the ratio of men to women remains a headline. It comes back to being accountable. Even if some leaders do not believe in gender equity, the fact the public can see quotas can drive changes. We did not expect the next viewpoint either. Where a business appoints women as a token gesture, we accept there may be a conflict of values. Whilst good examples were given of women refusing token positions, the point drawn was that society is imperfect. Within an imperfect society, there is a chance to prove value from within.
The image of sitting at a bigger table tested some of our inbuilt thinking. We often think that having diversity at the table means giving up our seat. But as we talked, we were urged to think of diversity as a larger table seating more people. It was revealing how the idea of a larger table helped us to let go of an inbuilt belief that we must give up something. An inbuilt belief that may have led to us being unwilling to change.
Talking about inbuilt beliefs led to unconscious bias. This type of bias places certain groups of people in pigeon-holes. But the point is that we do not know we have this bias. For many of us, such bias may be against our own values. Perhaps bias cannot be removed from us, but it can be removed from processes. We reflected how difficult it is to talk about unconscious bias and yet it is something we all had witnessed. Success in gender equality lies in tackling bias.
We spoke of support for women. Such support included mentors and allies. At first, the views were poles apart. Some felt that giving more support for women was unfair to men. The view was all people should be supported equally. Another view was that society is not balanced. Many more male role-models exist in business. Senior managers are mostly male, and it is natural that they would benefit from informal mentoring amongst themselves. After listening, we grasped the different viewpoints.
We reflected that each point discussed was a wide subject. There were two insights where everyone agreed. We felt, starting with “Why” makes a big difference to the outcome. Secondly, we felt uneasy talking about gender equity at times. But we are glad we did talk. We were richer for it. There were thoughts which we were able to express and hold gently as we sought to understand together. We can only benefit from real conversations.
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