Do You Need A 4x4 Strategy?

diversity and inclusion inclusive leadership Oct 29, 2020

Consider the metaphor of a dry desert. Throughout this year, the world has been experiencing ”shifting sands” with new mammoth sand dunes (challenges) constantly emerging. 

Leaders are under so much pressure to read this changing landscape, have the answers and know what to do. And from an D&I point of view, we are fast approaching the time of year when business leaders are anticipating the company’s performance around the 2020 commitments and goals set. 

Some are, understandably, feeling very nervous.

Since the summer months, many companies have sought our expertise wanting to know the most relevant and impactful D&I interventions. The two questions that repeatedly get raised in these conversations are:  

  • What are other companies doing?
  • What can we do to stay focused?

Their best-laid plans for 2020 may have been impacted by other priorities and urgencies. 

Sticking with the desert metaphor - and the above questions we keep hearing - we see many leaders “shopping” for a new 4x4 vehicle to ride this new terrain. 

Which one has the best reviews? Which is the most popular? Which one will best fit our requirements? Which will go the distance? 

To help answer this, we have observed the following three trends and priorities across Swiss-based employers:

  1. Improving flexible working and family leave / caring policies due to changing expectations of employees and announcements from competition
  2. The Black Lives Matter movement has refocused attention on addressing biases and fostering inclusion at work
  3. Meeting gender equality targets - it has been 6 months since many companies announced commitments on International Women’s Day 2020

Here are some fresh ideas and insights for these three trends and priorities for you to consider.


Valuing caring and career

For those of us in Switzerland, this is a rather current topic with the good news of the YES vote to two-weeks paid paternity leave. And this topic is one where we will openly confess to having a rather large bias! Why? It speaks to our personal mission to enable professionals who have caring responsibilities to still enjoy a fulfilling career AND it is a powerful lever for inclusion, gender equality and advancing women.

How do we know?

  • Our clients who integrate caring and career into their human capital strategy measure its impact and report higher engagement, sense of belonging and more women moving into leadership roles. 
  • The WEF Global Gender Gap Report (P.11) highlights how policies and incentives for men and women to rebalance the burden of household and care duties (i.e. paternity leave, creche/kita, resources) are likely to have a significant impact on women’s career opportunities.
  • I&D Indexes, like the Bloomberg Gender-EqualityIndex (GEI) assess Inclusive Cultures and Pro-Women based on caring and career criteria.
  • UN Women and the ILO talk about the importance of overcoming the motherhood penalty to drive equality.

The impact of COVID19 has amplified the importance of being able to integrate our professional responsibilities with our caring commitments; especially given women do three times as much care and domestic work as men, globally.

It is so easy to implement processes, practices and training to support professionals and their managers to navigate life transitions; without bias, overwhelm and failure. 

Here are 3 ideas to help you reflect and develop your strategy around this topic:

  1. Provide emotional and practical support, through workshops, training, coaching and ERGs; to help parents navigate the transition to parenthood, maximise retention, engagement and opting in to leadership roles.
  2. Educate and equip people managers on the significant role they play in the retention of parents, from the moment they hear the news through to career conversations after a  parental leave, through a blend of learning and checklists for each phase of the transition.
  3. Enabling leave policies: push for a minimum of 5 months paid equal parental leave and a progressive flexible working policy. This month, we have supported several organisations build their business case and implementation plan to increase secondary carer leave.


Addressing bias in the workplace

Tackling bias is crucial for an inclusive workplace, but it’s rarely easy. Often there is too much focus placed on the individual when it should be on the system. Here are 3 ideas to help you reflect and develop your strategy around this topic:

  1. Bring diverse voices and perspectives together to define culture challenges: You know you’ve got culture problems when... you’ve got communication problems. You’ve got collaboration problems. Your people are overwhelmed. You have a lack of transparency. Your leaders aren’t clearing a path. You’ve got bias and discrimination. And when you’ve got culture problems, inequality is at the root. Inequalities prevent organisations from truly listening to all of their people. We recommend using anonymous Inclusion surveys or piggy-backing on planned D&I training to listen and capture insights to help define the root causes of your culture challenges. For example, in 2019 a large employer in Geneva used our Respect Game to facilitate conversations with over 1,500 employees. They used these sessions to crowdsource feedback and ideas to inform their culture work plan for 2020 and beyond.
  2. Raise consciousness + build skills + take action: Evidence is mounting that unconscious bias training does not lead individuals or organisations to become less biased or more inclusive, and can even have harmful backlash effects. It is one of the many diversity interventions that target the individual and not the system. The result is that it does not achieve the change we need to see. Our Inclusion in Action workshops are consciousness-raising and skill-building sessions that support organisations to begin co-creating solutions to equality problems they care about. They are also an impactful alternative to bias training, focusing on long term, sustainable change. If you are thinking about investing in bias training make sure to ask yourself: will this facilitate clear commitments and practical actions across the organisation? 
  3. Mitigate bias in talent processes and decisions: Analyse your recruitment, performance management and promotions processes step by step. Is there room for biases to affect decision-making? Do your processes focus on increasing diversity? For instance: If you advertise a position at 80-100% employment percentage, did you define which responsibilities will fall away if the new hire works at 80%? Did you adjust the workforce planning (i.e. managers do not ‘lose’ the 20% but can fill them with another person)? Make it easier for people managers to slow down their thinking and make objective decisions that can affect equality (and equity) at work. We support companies such as CERN to do this by training their recruitment panel members on the risks of bias in the selection process and developing their interview skills to make better decisions. 


Advancing gender equality

Men have families too, and not all women are mothers. Advancing gender equality is about ensuring that equal opportunities are available to both genders in your organisation, and that neither is facing a barrier the other isn’t. It should be treated as a business issue, not a female issue. Here are 4 ideas to help you reflect and develop your strategy:

1. Set goals and measure: on International Women’s Day 2020, many senior leaders made commitments &/or pledges. LEAD and Advance are two amazing Swiss-based associations we partner and both provide a public platform for organisations and leaders to set out their annual commitments. Whether your company pledged this year or not, take a look at what other companies pledged and why their commitments are important to their business. They might inspire you, or be an asset to help persuade your senior leadership team to make a commitment too?

2. Leadership development programmes: during our “Inclusive Leadership” workshops, the topic of advancing women in business often surfaces and leaders are keen to discover the magic answer. There are several tactics to choose from and one of the most powerful is investing in a female leadership development programme. The most consistent feedback we hear from women who experience such a programme is the importance of being part of a female cohort. Being in a community where women inspire and champion each other to be visible, elevate their voice, hold each other accountable and take a leap of faith to apply for that role where they may not be a 100% fit; is a turbo boost for gender equality. On top of this, McKinsey found that these programmes also hold up a mirror to the organization. When women scrutinise their own leadership traits and experiences, they reveal important information about the day-to-day environment in which they operate. 

3. Ecosystem: So if your company is already invested in engaging and retaining women, then what? What career opportunities will be made available to these empowered women? Here are some ideas that were shared by participants who attend our Empower Your Future programme, some of which reinforce some of the McKinsey findings:

    • Foster a culture that supports broader leadership models throughout the organisation. 
    • Match people to career development opportunities based on the skill-set required, rather than location and working patterns.
    • Encourage and support cross-functional moves. Incentivise managers to enable this vs hoard great talent to themselves.
    • Don’t link women in leadership or female diversity with family leave policies – men have children too, and not all women have families.
    • Provide ongoing coaching to people managers to help them manage and leverage diverse talent appropriately. 
    • Develop an understanding and acceptance that career journeys can follow a different path and pace from traditional, linear routes.

4. Engage Men: If you are striving for gender equality, then treat it as a business issue, not a female issue. This can be achieved by:

    • Engaging a diverse range of male leaders to play a part (e.g. ages, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations) as change champions, role models, sponsors/mentors and as investors. 
    • Bridge the work-life gap by looking out for opportunities to redesign jobs and work to enable both men and women to balance caring and work responsibilities. Offering extended parental leave to men is another way to encourage gender equality.


So what does your 4x4 strategy look like? 

Hopefully this article has given you some inspiration on what 4x4 vehicle/strategy you need to navigate this new terrain as we come to the end of 2020 and enter the new year. 

Please get in touch if you would like some support from Thriving Talent. In the meantime, we will leave you with these final four ideas to help you think through and develop your strategy:

  1. Sign up for the Advance Gender Intelligence Report launch event on 10 Sept 2020 and hear what others are doing (we feature in one of the case studies). Read more here.
  2. If your best plans are not having the intended impact, you might want to consider running an Inclusion survey to listen to what your people are saying and feeling. Find out more about this here.
  3. If you are not making progress, it may mean that you need a dedicated resource to create momentum and activate multipliers in your company. HR departments are overwhelmed by the impact of COVID and many companies are now appointing I&D leaders to drive the agenda (and often they report directly to the CEO). We are often brought in for 1-2 days to help shape the business case to make this happen - please get in touch if you need help with this too.
  4. Assign I&D performance goals with your leaders and managers and help them appreciate the value this drives for them, their teams and the business at large. Investing in Inclusive Leadership training programmes can be a game-changer and linking your leader’s performance to help drive your I&D agenda, is proven to work. We would be happy to share insights based on our clients’ journeys.

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