Does even the most well-meaning gender diversity programme run the risk of alienating half of your employees?
Sarah Owen, managing director Walters People Ireland discusses how her own experiences in recruitment has allowed her to develop a better understanding of the best approaches to take to ensure diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
"Developing and implementing initiatives to improve gender diversity can yield valuable benefits for employers, both in terms of retaining and developing talent and in attracting new jobseekers”, says Sarah.
"However, when developing these strategies, employers must remain conscious of how they do so in order to avoid unintended consequences and to ensure that they achieve the intended goals as effectively as possible.
Develop a structured approach
"Creating working networks or groups within the business to support improvements to gender diversity is a popular strategy among employers." If executed effectively these networks can offer a great deal of value, providing insights and innovations to the business by drawing on the knowledge and creativity of existing staff.
"However, many employers experience challenges with these groups, particularly in terms of low levels of participation."
One effective countermeasure to this issue is to make such networks as inclusive as possible. While these networks can still focus on addressing challenges faced by a particular group, by inviting wider participation employers may find it easier to ensure widespread engagement across the business.
Include all parties
One of the most common pitfalls employers can encounter when looking to implement policies to address gender diversity is the risk of alienating members of other groups within the workforce.
"An effective way to prevent these issues from arising is for senior managers to take a transparent approach to communicating the motivation for these policies as clearly as possible."
While senior managers may be hesitant to reveal data on gender diversity which has driven policy decisions, doing so can be extremely effective at building trust with staff and justifying the need for a policy.
This also gives employers the opportunity to seek feedback and consultation from staff, potentially gaining new insights and ideas to improve their strategy.
Be aware of your own biases
"Effective diversity initiatives are most likely to succeed when they are developed through input from stakeholders with a diverse range of perspectives."
When developing gender diversity strategies, senior leaders should take care not to assume objectivity of their own opinions, recognising instead that they will possess their own unconscious biases.
"By engaging professionals from different backgrounds and levels of seniority across the business, employers can ensure not only that staff feel a sense of engagement and ownership, but also that the policies themselves will be based on the broadest range of experience."
Senior Level Support
One of the most common barriers to the success of gender diversity initiatives is a lack of ongoing support from senior management.
"While putting effective, data driven policies in place is critical, this can ultimately only be effective if support is clear from leaders within the business."
Ultimately, policies can only be effective in creating long term change if they are coupled with a shift in attitudes and behaviours within the business, and this process has to begin at the senior levels. "To demonstrate this, senior leaders should consider setting regular schedules for managers to report on the impact of these policies to ensure that they are consistently supported."
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