Progress on gender diversity initiatives which involve development support for women often stumbles right at the starting gate. There’s a debate about how you can propose development support that’s just for women. Isn’t that gender discrimination too, but in this case in favour of women? Should you focus on other parts of your gender diversity strategy and keep away from drawing this double-edged sword?
McKinsey’s ‘Women Matter’ researchers distilled the drivers of gender diversity success into 3 mutually dependent components of the ecosystem:
According to McKinsey’s analysis, one of the key reasons why organisations committed to driving gender diversity fail is that Women’s Development strategies haven’t been implemented. So, if your organisation wants the performance and reputational benefits of delivering gender balance, side-stepping direct development support for women isn’t an option.
The good news is it’s easy to get over the question of whether it’s legitimate to provide support for women that another group (men) won’t get.
Focusing on specific groups for development support isn’t new!
When you look at what is required across an organisation to enable individuals, groups and functions to perform at their best, you inevitably identify development needs that aren’t relevant, important or significant to others.
For example, most coaching delivered in organisations is executive coaching specifically to develop leadership capability – the skills, attitudes and behaviour that will make the most difference in the delivery of the role of leader. It’s expensive, its specific to one group and often the outcomes are hard to measure but it’s recognised as an investment that drives company performance.
Sales people are often the only function to receive training in ‘finance for non-financial managers’ simply because focusing on that area of development can mean that more profitable sales are delivered. The company’s top-line and the bottom-line performance improves. That training might be interesting for others, but it specifically improves company performance when focused on sales people.
Programmes that provide women with the wherewithal to navigate the challenges of unconscious bias will lead to improved performance at organisational, functional and team level, so, of course, organisations are going to chose to run them.
Develop selling sound bites.
Given that you are likely to encounter challenges to both the principle of addressing the gender diversity opportunity and the specific question of whether developing women is discrimination in itself, it’s wise to be prepared. A set of sound bites is your equivalent to the elevator pitch:
‘Globally, the best performing organisations for investors have a critical mass of women at the top’ is a strong option for the first challenge.
‘This organisation is proud of its consistent record of investing in developing the skills that enable specific teams and groups to perform better’ is a good contender for the discrimination challenge and will be stronger with your own ‘leadership coaching and finance for non-financial managers’ examples.
Finally, watch your language
The language that you chose to use makes a difference. It influences how the topic is perceived and therefore how people react to it. If you talk of gender diversity as an ‘issue’ and women’s development programmes as being there to ‘help women’, the perception will be that women are the problem, which will only increase existing resistance and increase fuel gender bias. Take care to choose language which reflects the benefits to the organisation and everyone in it. So, this is about opportunities to improve performance, to increase competitive advantage, to drive innovation and to enhance the reputation of the organisation.
The Women’s Sat Nav to Success Survey 2017 Executive Report will help you identify priorities for gender diversity strategies, both in terms of women’s development support and in addressing the thinking and behaviours that result in female talent being sub-optimised. Sign up to take part in the survey and order the report now.