Realising the promise of gender diversity

Imagine a boardroom where pivotal decisions are made every day—decisions shaping the trajectory of the company and influencing the composition of its workforce. In this room, the power of gender diversity lies squarely in the hands of those making the decisions.

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It's not about grand gestures or elaborate initiatives. Rather, it's about the seemingly mundane choices made in day-to-day operations. The key to achieving gender equality isn't locked away in some elusive formula or complex strategy—it resides in our own decision-making.

"“The current global labour force participation rate for women is just under 47 per cent. For men, it's 72 per cent.” - International Labour Organisation

Gender diversity isn't just a buzzword, it is a fundamental driver of success. It’s a proven business strategy to fuel innovation, enhance decision-making and improve  financial performance.

But you all know that, right? So why is it so hard?

The answer lies not in a lack of awareness or acknowledgment of its benefits, but in the everyday decisions made within big organisations.

The subtle biases that unconsciously guide hiring practices, the assumptions on succession planning and the cultural norms shaping our workplace dynamics. Despite our best intentions, these ingrained patterns often lead us down familiar paths, preserving the status quo instead of embracing the transformative potential of diversity.

How do we bridge the gap between acknowledging the importance of gender diversity and implementing strategies to achieve it? We can start by recognising the power of our decision-making.

Despite the strides made recently, gender disparities persist across most industries, demanding proactive change. It’s not enough to aspire to hire more women and gender diverse individuals.

Hiring more women might be stymied by the systemic challenges within the hiring system. These have historically favoured one group of people over another.

Conscious effort is needed to tailor hiring processes to produce a more diverse pool of candidates. We must also challenge the default mindset on who the best candidate is. It might not always be the most obvious person.

So let’s delve deeper.

Understanding the gender gap

The roots of gender disparity run deep. Research shows women are underrepresented in leadership roles and fields like STEM.

These disparities stifle individual potential and undermine organisational effectiveness. To quote the International Labour Organisation on paid labour: “The current global labour force participation rate for women is just under 47 per cent. For men, it's 72 per cent.”

The gap becomes more pronounced when you add intersectional factors like location and cultural backgrounds.

In my sector, STEM, women remain significantly underrepresented at just under 30 per cent of all workers. This compares with almost half of all non-STEM roles. So how do we expand the number of women in these sectors?


The Female STEM Workforce

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Source: STEM Women

Three tips for recruiting more women

1.   Build an organisation women want to be a part of

Flexible work arrangements and parental leave policies aren't just perks. They're essential tools for attracting and retaining talent. Advertising flexible roles can open the door to exceptional candidates seeking part-time or flexible work.

Delete the reference of “Full-Time” all together. Assess candidates on merit, then craft the role to align with any flexible arrangements required.

ANZ’s CFO Farhan Faruqui is passionate about Job Sharing, calling it “an ideal option for professionals seeking part-time availability but full-time aspirations.“

Farhan believes this type of flexible work can give leaders access to two sets of experience for the price of one. Job sharing has also helped him retain exceptional talent that may have had other responsibilities or priorities, especially people with caring responsibilities for children or aging parents.

This fosters a culture of inclusivity and improves return on investment.

Research from McKinsey outlines the impact diversity in executive teams can bring to an organisation’s financials:

  • Organizations in the top quartile for gender diversity have a 39 per cent greater likelihood of financial outperformance versus their bottom-quartile peers.
  • Organizations in the top quartile for ethnic diversity have a 39 per cent greater likelihood of financial outperformance versus their bottom-quartile peers.

Attracting top, diverse talent hinges on more than just salary. It requires an inclusive culture where people feel they belong and can achieve their full potential.

Employees want companies with strong cultures and values. Even before the pandemic, employee priorities were shifting. If companies want the best people, they must create the best culture.

About 64 per cent of employees will research a company before applying and 32 per cent will not apply if the company is perceived to have lack of diversity in its workforce, according to Glassdoor. This is particularly the case for Gen-Z.

   2.   Inclusive language & avoid asking for a unicorn

Organisations must reassess their hiring practices. Not just human resources, but every leader within the organisation. Crafting inclusive job descriptions without gender-coded language is essential. Start by using gender neutral, inclusive language.

“We all use language that is subtly ‘gender-coded’. Society has certain expectations of what men and women are like, and how they differ, and this seeps into the language we use. Think about “bossy” and “feisty”: we almost never use these words to describe men,” Gender Decoder said.

Research shows linguistic gender coding in job ads can put women off. If in doubt, consult the Gender Decoder tool which checks whether a job ad has gender-coded language that might discourage female applicants.

In hiring terms, a “unicorn” is a candidate you may never find – because they don’t exist. Simplify your job ads – reduce the number of qualifications focusing on the “must haves.” Look for core capabilities rather than years of experience.

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    3.   Find a balance in the interview process

When reviewing the applicants, seek a gender-balanced shortlist (eg. 40 percent men, 40 per cent women and 20 per cent any gender). Ensure the interview panel is diverse. Each member should feel safe to speak up and challenge the hiring manager.

Provide time slots friendly to school drop-off/pick-up. Potentially share the questions in advance. We’re all wired differently and don’t perform at our best in an interview scenario.

Ensure discussions focus on proof of capabilities instead of self-promotion. Ask about their motivations, what drives them. Place more emphasis on behaviours and adaptability – this will ensure your organisation is fit for an artificial intelligence-enabled workforce where curiosity, decision making and leadership skills will be crucial.

And… once onboarded…

Once a candidate is onboarded, you must continue to foster an inclusive culture to retain talent. Opening a dialogue, sharing anecdotes and educating one another can have a profound impact.

In my 22 years of corporate experience, I've encountered examples of unconscious bias. For instance, in succession planning, different language and emphasis can be used when evaluating candidates of different genders.

In one case, a male candidate was praised for his potential and fresh perspective, while a female counterpart faced more scrutiny, with her experience and qualifications needing validation.

Hirers may presume roles requiring after-hours support will deter female candidates. However, they should not presume the preferences or capabilities of any individual based on gender stereotypes.

Achieving gender equality isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes business sense. We all have a role to play to advocate for change and to examine our own decision making.

Carina Parisella is Innovation and Diversity Editor at bluenotes and Lead, Head of Technology Workforce at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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