Organisational gender diversity, particular at the executive level of business, has been a topic of discussion globally for a long time. While there has been some movement in diversifying business in recent years, we are still seeing large disparities in representation.
So, why has it been so difficult to get more females into management and executive roles in businesses?
In our latest Disruption Circle event, we discussed the issues of leadership and diversity with guest speaker Michelle Guthrie. A lawyer and business executive who has held positions at News International, Foxtel, Google and the ABC, Michelle shared her experiences and suggestions for industry-wide improvements.
The outcome was that there are tangible advantages of leadership diversity, and that there is a unique opportunity for businesses and individuals right now to achieve true diversity and organisational change.
Diversity isn’t instant, it needs to be built
The responsibilities for diversity lie at both an organisational and personal level. And therefore, so do the issues that have prevented true diversity from flourishing in a wide majority of business.
From an organisational perspective, we can see that diversity isn’t being truly developed into organisational structure and priorities. It is being viewed as something ‘we have to do’, rather than something ‘we need to do’. This perspective is preventing true change from occurring.
Dropping women (or often, just one woman) into leadership positions to show representation is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. This approach fails to properly work gender diversity into the fabric of the company at multiple levels.
Hiring is a major hurdle to diversity. Looking for experience instead of ability prevents increased possibilities to diversify workforces. Searching for the same talents and hiring from the same pool as competing businesses perpetuates the issue on an industry-wide level.
There is also responsibility on a personal level. Often, women can be their own barrier into leadership opportunities. Failing to see themselves as an asset to the organisation, or seeing their experience and ability as valid, limits their ability to make use of the opportunities (even if few) that are available to them.
Diversity is an asset – here’s the proof
Right now, we are all facing a new normal in terms of our working lives and business operations. This is a great opportunity to also start a new norm in organisational culture. Thinking outside of the status quo is required to make real change.
The first step to successfully integrating diversity into a business is to change the way we approach it and think about it. We need to understand the benefit of diversity and use it as an asset, not simply a quota to meet or a PR stunt.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) have recently released findings into the significant improvements to market valuation and financial and operational performance achieved by businesses who have leadership diversity:
- >10% female participation at Board level leads to a potential market value increase of $70M
- >10% female participation at senior management level leads to a potential market value increase of $100M
- A female CEO leads to a potential market value increase of $80M
Real changes you can make right now
This is not a simple problem, and therefore the solution is not simple either. It is something that takes time, commitment, and genuine effort to achieve.
Michelle Guthrie left us with some great tips for individual and businesses, which we want to share:
Building a successful career:
- Be confident in your own abilities and take risks – don’t be scared to fail
- Get in the mindset that you are an asset to the organisation
- Build networks which develop your business skills and contacts
Building diversity in business:
- Start by having conversations on building diversity
- Use data to support the argument for diversity. Know the objective you are trying to achieve and the appropriate measurements
- Building diversity at a lower level of business and promoting women through management, executive branches and into the board will deliver more value than just introducing them straight into board level
There has never been a better time to question and challenge the status quo. The way we work is changing, so now’s the time to start the discussion about diversity in the workplace, and instilling a new mindset to ensure you’re not just ‘meeting a quota’, but setting up your organisation for operational and economic success.