Nowadays diversity is a trending topic. Everywhere from corporate world to public institutions, there is a point in the agenda about diversity and inclusion (D&I). I am glad this is the case and I firmly believe that it’s a step in the right direction even if a little late coming. The question I have is “How can we move forward the D&I needle more rapidly?”
When I started writing this article I asked myself how diversity is defined. Of course there are thousands of definitions and it means different things to different people. But what it means to me, is equal opportunities for everyone. Some of the interesting research that I’ve liked was published by Harvard Business Review and split diversity into 3 concepts reflected below:
- demographic diversity which is our gender, race, sexual orientation
- experiential diversity being our affinities, hobbies and abilities
- cognitive diversity meaning how we approach problems and think about things
We need to bear in mind that all three shape our identities and the difference between them is a very thin line. Despite this classification, the biggest emphasis in the corporate world is gender diversity and I’ve chosen to write about D&I for women in the workplace.
As an HR professional and very passionate about gender diversity, I keep asking myself “what are we doing wrong or not doing enough of?” Why are the studies showing that the gender gap is getting bigger despite all the efforts? To be honest, I do not have a clear answer, but I am going to share my reflections from my life in the corporate world.
There are 2 main areas I’d like to focus on: environment and self-site. Considering the current environment in corporations, there has been an increasing attention on D&I but in most cases it’s still not a top priority for the businesses. Since the 1980s, most companies have developed policies and tools to become more inclusive, such as assessment tools like setting quotas, flexible working policies, mentoring and training programs.
I have worked and incorporated several of the above practices with mixed feelings about quotas. I believe quotas are a commitment and a way to ensure that the company stays on track within the D&I agenda, but I think it has the risk of disengaging both genders when is set as a corporate goal. Men consider it unfair because they perceive that they have less chances and it equally creates doubts for women whether they are selected because of their gender instead of their performance or qualifications.
If we don’t use quotas, where should we start? A recent study from “Lean in” and McKinsey shows that women are left behind from the beginning during the two key moments of hiring and promotions. The study shows that companies are not providing equal opportunities for women in these areas from the beginning despite women earning more bachelor’s degrees than men. Women are less likely to be hired into entry-level jobs, but the gap becomes bigger for manager positions (represented in the chart below).
I’m a firm believer in programs such as mentoring and coaching but it seems that women are not even offered the first step to enter the door. That’s why, what we are currently doing in my company is to have the same talent in candidate pools regardless of their gender. I agree that it might be more difficult to support gender equality with the bigger pool, but data shows that they’re out there and it’s not a good excuse to argue the latter position.
One of the programs that I feel works best is role modelling – “We can’t be, what we can’t see.” That’s why if we have a greater number of women in top leadership positions, the greater our chances that young females want to follow in their footsteps.
This point links to the second key area to focus on, our self-site which is the idea of being conscious of our personality and unconscious biases. It has been very eye opening to read the “Lean in” book from Sheryl Sandberg as it felt like a check list of my own unconscious biases. Starting in school at a young age, I underestimated my abilities to perform on exams, to more recently being afraid of asking for a promotion or salary increase which show some of my unconscious biases that I’ve tried to overcome. Throughout my experience in HR, I have realized these patterns still exist among women. In general, when presenting offers to our employees or new candidates, the men always pushback and negotiate, whereas fewer women did. Of course, in all generalizations there are other elements like personality and background coming into play but like different studies show, women negotiate less than men is still a considerable trend.
For this reason, it is a key priority to raise our self-awareness both for men and women and understand our biases towards ourselves and our teams. It is important to help those women around us to be more self-confident and fight the impostor syndrome that they might have. Unfortunately, it is more common than we think and most of us don’t even realize that we do it.
One final thought I hope the readers of this article reflect on, we as employers need to make a greater effort to ensure we make the best decisions we can using the right candidate pool. What I mean by this is we need to search and identify the best candidates despite not being easy to find, it’s worth finding the “needle in the haystack”. On top of that, the support programs most companies have should be continued and intensified as it will be advantageous for new generations of employees. My hope is after reading this article you will ask yourself “what are your own biases and what can you do to improve them?” Despite the article focused on women this is a step in the right direction and helps us all to improve D&I. We need to embrace this change and not expect others to do it for us – if you are a man reading this, support all the women around you to succeed and help them fight their impostor syndrome. If you are a woman, you can do it – believe in yourself and build a support network to help you succeed in whatever you set your mind to. Now it is the time to reinvent yourself 2.0 style!
Laia Estorach Cavaller is a Human Resources professional with over seven years of experience in the field. She has worked across Europe including the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, occupying regional and global roles. She currently holds a Senior Global HR Business Partner position at RB, and is responsible for the Supply Chain function globally. She is very passionate about empowering young talents to become independent leaders which she has supported with initiatives such DARE project (develop, attract, retain, engage talented women in RB).
 Lean In: https://leanin.org/