HR Policy: How to Promote Gender Diversity to Top Management

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During the 15months since the Lord Davies Report in 2011 the percentage of female non-executives on FTSE 100 boards increased from 15.6% to 22.4% while the percentage of female executives is still abysmal at 6.6%! While it appears that companies are finding it relatively easy to outsource to bridge the female gap in non-executive board positions, the ability to find and nurture female talent up through top management to executive positions appears to be lacking.

Not certain why gender diversity in top management is important? Check out our other factsheet HR Policy: Why is Gender Diversity Important in Top Management? Continue reading for how HR Policies can help to improve your company at promoting gender diversity up to top management.

Create an effective HR Policy Plan:

To be effective at promoting gender diversity the HR Policy Plan needs to work from three directions:

  • Monitoring and periodic evaluation of the gender equality and diversity in the company from entry level to on the board; identifying where gender diversity is going awry and the causal inequality barriers, measuring the effect of current and any additional HR policies employed and ensuring that good HR policy is kept and ineffective HR policy is improved.
  • Building and delivering the case for gender diversity to ensure that adjusting the gender balance is not approached as a numbers game of filling quotas but as an opportunity and requirement to diversify the abilities of the top management team.
  • Take action and make policies that break and overcome the inequality barriers causing the gender in-balance starting at the most damaging barriers within your company indicated by the monitoring and evaluations.

Monitor & Evaluate the Effects of current and additional HR Policy on Gender Equality & Diversity:

The only way to understand when, where and what the most damaging barriers are against gender diversity in your company is to monitor the progress of gender diversity and equality within your own business. Following this, as HR Policy is put in place or changed to improve the situation, monitoring needs to continue so that the ‘improvements’ can be evaluated to ensure they are doing their job or if further tweaking is required. Although not an exhaustive list, a few suggestions for factors to consider for monitoring (and why) follow.

  • The ratio of males/females at each level of progression through the company structure from entry level to senior management – This can help to identify where gender diversity is dropping in your company and so where the most damaging barriers to success are acting.
  • The gap (if there is any) between male and female approximate pay/hour for similar levels of job responsibilities (disregarding the amount of hours per week total worked as this has no leverage on the value of the work done per hour) – This can help to identify where/if the company pay scheme may be unfair and a possible cause of the loss of gender diversity.
  • The ratio of male to female applicants for new positions – This can help to identify if jobs are appearing more attractive to one gender than another.
  • Gauge existing opinions towards gender roles and abilities in management and/or barriers to gender diversity in top management (maybe through anonymous questionnaires) – Although the opportunity to do this well would be reliant on company size, this can help to identify any existing bias that the case for gender diversity needs to address and may also shine light on specific barriers that are the most felt in your company against gender diversity.

Build & Deliver the Case for Gender Diversity in Top Management:

Magical Quotas:Before putting in place magical quotas to aim for gender equality in top management it is extremely important that these quotas are not seen as free ride tickets for females to the top, or as a requirement for filler positions for conformance with equality laws. In either of these cases the females that do make the cut to management may be undervalued by their peers and subordinates losing the positive effect being aimed for and ensuring that the business is not improved by the efforts made to diversify. Another three fold division of labour is needed here as employees, managers and share holders all need to be convinced that the changes are for business improvement and not for token equality measures to ensure that the change is most effective.

Share Holders: Obviously if you want to fix this age old problem successfully it is going to take resources, and your share holders are going to want to know that these resources are being used for a reason they like. The bottom line (in our ‘why’ promote diversity factsheet) may well be the fastest and most effective reason to convince this group that the resources are most certainly worthwhile.

Managers: Your managers are your eyes and ears for searching for new talent to come up through the ranks. As such you need to ensure that they are on board with your plan of change and improvement for the future. As discussed in our why promote diversity (complementary gender skills), male dominant abilities tend to give them an advantage for being noticed in the company as achievers whereas more female dominant abilities (that are also important for management) can be easily overlooked. Based on this it is important that your managers understand all the skills and abilities that they need to be looking for in candidates to help to make sure that they are not overlooked so easily.

Employees: The questionnaires may help to bring to light some of the bias present in your employees towards gender diversity in management that may need to be combated subtly to ensure that male and female management figures are taken seriously with equal importance. It is also important to educate all employees of all the skills wanted from candidates for management as many females in your employment may be management material but don’t know it and so won’t apply for the positions. With very few role models about to show the more dominantly female management skills in action it would be easy for a female to feel that she is not up to the task of applying for management as they do not have the skills seen in the current male dominated management.

Take Action and Create HR Policy to Break and Overcome Gender Diversity Barriers

Now you have everyone reading from the same page it may be useful to set your company a target to meet for improving the male to female ratio in your top management so that you have something to work towards. More importantly though is to look to barriers beyond existing bias among your company members, barriers in place by your own HR Policy. The questionnaire may bring to light some barriers that are of poignancy in your own company but even without a questionnaire some things that come up regularly in the papers and gender equality blogs may be things to look at within your company. The following list, again not exhaustive, contains some of the areas in which you may be able to help even the playing field between males and females to help promote gender diversity through to top management:

  • Equality of pay/hour for similar work responsibilities (regardless of hours per week worked) – as females regularly have to take part-time work to be able to work around child responsibilities that aren’t expected of males. Being paid less for the same work means you are more likely to change jobs until finding a company that shows your skills are valued rather than the time per week you can give.
  • Availability of flexible work hours or work from home where possible – again this would help for females where certain shifts are impossible around child responsibilities leaving females no choice other than to move job. It has also been shown in polls and studies that employees would be happier and more productive with flexibility in shift hours and/or the possibility of some work from home so this arrangement could be a double edged winner!
  • Improve handling of maternity leave, for example treating it more like a sabbatical or long term sickness rather than a ‘lack of commitment’ to the workplace – maternity leave is said to have two effects: Firstly, females coming back from maternity leave are can be either not ready to jump in at full speed at first and may crumble if put under too much work pressure or on the flip side may feel undervalued for their capabilities if they are left out of the loop with activities as employees have adapted to not using them as a ‘go to’ while they were absent. In both these cases sufficient support is needed to ensure that on returning the employees re-integrate comfortably with the company (so they do not feel the need to leave) and continue their progress as high as they can get in the company (especially as working mums are likely to be improving their management skills in their free time almost constantly with children and a household to look after).
  • Use your advertising for top management to create attainable role models for female management traits. Maybe even set up a campaign within your company to find candidates and train them for fast track to the management positions they should already have made it to if the company had fixed the issues sooner! – You may not be able to provide female-dominant-trait role models right away for females to aspire to and recognise their leadership qualities through, but by being a bit clever when you advertise your top management positions you can create a visible attainable role model in theory at least, and with a bit of fast track training for top candidates you may even get the ball rolling a little faster with real role models.

Be Proud!

As a very final point, I feel it’s important to mention that (although in the UK we are still way behind many countries in our gender diversity in top management) taking on this age old issue is something to be proud of: It not only improves your company but helps to increase equality in society and that is something worth shouting about! So it makes perfect sense to make sure that you are open about your efforts to improve your company’s gender diversity in top management and to release your successes in the matter and make sure everyone knows that you are getting ahead of the game!

Factsheet: HR Policy: How to Promote Gender Diversity to Top Management
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5 thoughts on “HR Policy: How to Promote Gender Diversity to Top Management

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