Three Talent Management Strategies That Boost Diversity And Inclusion

d&i strategies inclusive leadership Jul 12, 2016

Unless you have been stuck in a Swiss nuclear bunker for the last 5 years, you will have at some point during your daily social media fix, come across the term Gender Bias. Whether you’re a man who craves more family time with his children (but your boss raises an eyebrow when you want to work from home because your kid is sick) or a woman who has her eye on the next VP role but your tendency to under value yourself get’s in the way of applying – the power of gender bias  (commonly known as stereotypes) is a root cause that prevents men and women from being able to bring their full and true selves to work.

Gender stereotyping can influence perceptions of leadership competencies and most talent management systems can reinforce and perpetuate bias that favours men over women. There are many stakeholders involved in talent management systems, from HR to senior leadership teams, and a Catalyst study carried out in 2009 showed that there are three key compounding effects:

  • Imperfect execution. When talent management practices and programmes interact, gaps between the design and execution can introduce gender bias, even to systems already sensitive to the problem.
  • Checks and balances. Few companies employ effective checks and balances that mitigate gender bias in talent management and decrease gender gaps in senior leadership.
  • Perpetual loops. The cyclical structure of talent management appears to reward attributes based on bias inherent in the system, creating a perpetual cycle in which men dominate senior leadership positions.

Even though this study was published nearly a decade ago, these effects are still very much alive and kicking. In this article, I will walk you through 3 powerful talent management strategies you can incorporate to boost diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Why bother? Simply put, you stand to create a powerful competitive advantage in your marketplace, create a reputation for being a great place to work and ultimately, enjoy a healthier bottom line.

 ♯1 - Create a collective responsibility for diversity

Are your business leaders taking shared responsibility for diversity? Actively measuring and leading cultural change in this area is a 3-4 year journey – this is a business investment that requires resilience and perseverance and which stands to provide a handsome return on investment.

Some concrete ways in which you can enable and incentivise this change include:

  • Gender bias training with all leaders
  • Evaluate the Diversity & Inclusion dimension in all managers’ performance – especially middle managers. A survey carried out in 2015, sponsored by Jump in cooperation with Axiom Consulting Partners, showed that 82% of male middle managers are less likely to promote gender equality in the workplace
  • Add diversity & inclusion into your business performance KPIs as a way of holding the business accountable

♯2 - Use a diversity lens when succession planning

When considering slates for management succession development, paying special attention to developmental opportunities for women can accelerate the female talent pipeline. Importantly, being open to the age of women being considered, especially those who have returned from a career break, should be paramount. It is a well-known fact that gender balance is typically 50/50 at entry level roles but when men and women hit their 30s the talent curve representing women takes a nose dive. The women who often manage to juggle both career aspirations and family are a rare breed and those who do manage to re-enter the workforce often find their age works against them as the traditional succession planning process is typically looking at a younger workforce to develop into management roles.

Practical applications of this approach include:

  • Broaden the age range for management development opportunities for both men and women
  • Introduce development conversations training with managers that looks at how gender can influence bias during these conversations and often misinterpret women’s and men’s career intentions
  • Use robust anonymous 360 assessments to measure leadership competencies and potential and analyse results where there is a big discrepancy between line manager and the perceptions of others

♯3 – Weed out bias at the recruitment stage

A recent CIPD study showed that headhunters for CEO positions use career path, references and fitting in as the main factors that influence whether someone is shortlisted, and the process pays little attention to performance.

Another common issue occurring at this stage of the talent cycle is gender bias language used in job descriptions. Job descriptions are a primary communication tool to relay details of a particular job. Many companies may unintentionally be alienating women by using ‘traditional’ job language in their descriptions. If you’re using terms such as rock star or ninja, assertive, independent, aggressive or analytical there’s a good chance you’re alienating women. These words project a masculine connotation. Less inclined toward bravado and to make moral compromises, women are instead drawn to words like dedicated, responsible, conscientious and sociable.

Some concrete ways in which you can reduce bias in the recruitment process include:

  • Examine language used in job announcements – is a great online service that provides recruiters a helping hand to find the magic words that create bias.
  • Question interviewer comments such as “this candidate isn’t a good fit” – on what evidence are these comments based on? Failing to challenge these statements can lead hiring managers to primarily hire candidates similar to themselves.
  • Make time for a thorough interview - research shows that bias has a more pronounced influence on decisions when time pressure or distractions exist. Most interviews require at least 90 minutes to adequately assess and measure competencies and skills.

There you have it – some very practical strategies to helping your business boost diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Which one are you willing to try? Leave a comment below to share any ideas or experience this article may have prompted.

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