If it was easy to build a diverse organization, everyone would have already done it. There’s a couple of limiting factors that I’ve learned from experience make this an incredibly difficult pursuit.
The first thing is that disadvantage is historical. When you’re trying to fix historical anomalies, the people who are already in the senior positions still have the old school thinking, so you’re working against their unconscious biases and prejudices in their hiring processes.
We all hire in our own image to some extent. As Jeffrey J. Fox says:
“Never let weak hiring managers into your organization, because they’ll hire in their own image. If they’re weak, they will hire weaker, because sevens hire fives and fives hire threes and threes hire ones. All of a sudden, your capability is gone.”
It’s the same in the context of diversity… we like to hire people that make us feel comfortable in our own skins. This is a self-perpetuating problem, which requires mass awareness and action to change.
We can mitigate this a little by putting together diverse selection panels for hiring and promoting, but we have to be a little careful not to break the accountability model. It’s still critical to have a single person accountable for making that decision.
Another difficulty is that some industries are, by their nature, more “bloke-y” than others. If you look at the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines in universities, those cohorts are heavily weighted towards males.
When those graduate pools come out, you might end up with 85% male graduates and 15% female graduates. In those industries, the odds are already stacked against gender diversity right from the start. You really have to wonder whether it should even be a goal to shoot for equal representation in those sectors? If females don’t want to be there, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to push them there.
Let’s face it, historically, men have held the lion’s share of manual laboring jobs and that might just be OK…
One of the cornerstones issues is that many women still have their careers interrupted by starting a family at some point. This is an area where I see massive opportunity. At CS Energy, I said to the executive leaders,
“Let’s just stop doing dumb shit. Let’s stop penalizing great women who are just putting their career on pause momentarily to go and start a family. It doesn’t matter whether they want to step out of the workforce for three months or three years. You shouldn’t be pushing them away. You’re not just hurting them, you’re hurting the business when you let good talent slip away.”
Let’s face it, you can’t fabricate a list of diverse candidates at a senior level if they’re not there. The obvious answer is to grow from below, because you can’t just pluck people to the top and say, “I’m going to take you over this other candidate regardless of experience and skill.” I see it happen with board seats all the time, but you have much less room for error in an executive roles!
You need to grow diverse talent from the lowest levels of your company. Equality of development and promotion opportunities from the outset is critical.