If gender diversity is broke, fix it!

It was Albert Einstein who once famously said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome was tantamount to insanity.

And his sage words should be heeded in the gender diversity debate where, despite years of well-intentioned initiatives to close the gender gap on boards and achieve greater diversity, only marginal improvements have been achieved – especially given the time, effort and money ploughed into these programs.

In fact, in a strictly business context, returns on investment of this nature would soon see companies out of existence.

This is why I found a recent article on companydirectors.com.au so informative.

Written by Greta Thomas of Full Potential Labs and entitled ‘Gender diversity: What does the evidence tell us’, it charts what we’ve been doing and why change is needed.

I guess I also found it illuminating as it supports much of what I’ve personally experienced in my many years in corporate governance, particularly on the diversity subject.

Greta Thomas argues that there are three key areas that deserve immediate attention if we’re to change the dynamic of the boardroom and the leadership teams of corporate Australia.

Firstly, there’s this thing called ‘unconscious bias awareness training’ which, at its most basic, tackles the biases – both negative and positive – that exist in our subconscious and affect our behaviour towards certain groups of people. But she says respected research shows this approach – prevalent in many Australian corporates – can actually be counter-productive, spark a backlash and activate bias.

What’s needed, she says, is evidence-based behavioural design, where we change the required processes rather than try to change one’s behaviour or discretionary choices.

Then there’s the prickly subject of self-assessment in performance reviews – and here, the evidence is overwhelming: females are more self-critical than their male counterparts, which means they tend to mark themselves lower. This, of course, is to their detriment as it impacts not only on their promotion prospects but exacerbates the gender pay gap. The self-assessment system is clearly flawed, it does little to level the gender playing field and yields scant if any benefit for the individual or the organisation.

It’s broke…and it needs fixing.

The final point she makes is that women’s confidence about opportunities is often lacking – sometimes because they believe ‘the system is rigged’ against them but often there’s a prevailing attitude from women that they don’t feel they’re ready yet.

It’s a sad indictment and from my perspective, one avenue women can pursue to gain this much-needed confidence is to get involved with women’s business networks such as ‘Behind Closed Doors’ and its executive business mentoring and coaching programs.

After all, as Greta points out, confidence lies at the very core of leadership – confidence to surround yourself with people who know more about certain topics than you do; confidence to be vulnerable, confidence to make unpopular decisions; confidence to persuade people to follow your lead; and confidence to express dissenting views.

And boards with gender diversity, as we’ve discussed in earlier blogs, bring enormous benefit to their organisations.

Until next time,

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