To address pain points in any aspect of a business, a strategy is required along with targets to measure progress. As a Project Manager for global consulting firms on large projects, project members were clear on the project strategy- the vision. Project targets were set for deliverables on time & on budget to achieve the vision. These were internal aspirational targets. KPIs were set for every project member in order to achieve these targets. Targets were reviewed in team meetings as well as barriers to progress. Progress, or lack of impacted KPIs. In a fast moving project culture, project members knew to consistently miss targets was akin to inviting both a bollocking from above and ultimately a cut in performance-related bonuses.
Australian business leaders are very capable of strategy development, gaining buy-in, setting aspirational internal targets to meet the vision, and overcoming barriers. Except- it would seem- in the area of gender diversity. Only 1 in 4 key management personnel are women, only 10% of SX200 companies are women, and four out of five board directorships are held by men.
Taking a strategic approach must come from Australian business leaders driving sustained holistic leadership on gender diversity. Diversity targets do not work when there is no clear communication from the top on why diversity and inclusiveness is critical to the business; why it leads to better decisions and greater shareholder value. Ask your leader why gender diversity is important- can they really articulate the business benefits? Are they able to generate enough passion and conviction to sustain gender diversity as a priority? Real change can’t happen without a commitment from the top, because that’s where people take their cues. One Australian CEO publicly stated that 50% his performance bonus was committed to achieving gender diversity targets. How much skin in the game does your CEO have?
So where is the Diversity Strategy
Diversity targets do not work when they are not tied to a strategic vision, and when there is no governance or accountability for achieving them. WGEA found that only 7% of Australian organisations have a stand-alone diversity strategy, and that organisations are not taking a strategic approach to gender equality. Most Australian organisations have disconnected ad hoc initiatives that do not lead to sustained change.
But we have a diversity policy
The majority of diversity policies are often not operationalised in line with other business strategies such as growth, sales, etc… According to WGEA, only 13% of Australian organisations have operationalized their diversity policies. Whelan & Wood note that specific challenging goals are highly effective in motivating change, and further, managers are used to setting targets to achieving business measures. Simply put, organisations without business measures are paying lip service to the diversity & inclusion agenda.
What targets should we set?
Benchmarking, top down and bottom up data feed into achievable stretch diversity targets. 50/50 graduate representation has already been achieved in several Australian organisations. The harder challenge is achieving targets for experienced professional hires and senior executive women. This requires significant effort in understanding and addressing the strategic, cultural, interpersonal & personal barriers in organisations. Sending women off on a stand-alone mentoring program or doing a one-off unconscious bias workshop are not silver bullets. As the Diversity Recruitment Leader for a global IT firm for over 50 countries, I introduced gender targets for graduates, experienced hires as well as executive leaders with agreement by the business leaders, HR & Recruitment. Progress against targets were reviewed quarterly right beside all other business targets.
We have targets- the Diversity Council/ HR/ Recruitment own them
Diversity targets do not work when the key decision makers in deciding the strategy, communicating the strategy, setting targets for achieving the strategy are not accountable. Diversity Councils are not the key decision makers in organisations. HR/ Recruitment/ the Diversity Council do not make hiring decisions. All managers require business targets to execute against- including diversity targets- such as ensuring at least 1 qualified female is shortlisted. This is the beginnings of targets with teeth. Mandatory reporting on why candidates have not been shortlisted drive accountability.
HR & Recruitment are set aspirational targets
HR/ Recruitment play an important part in providing hiring managers with qualified candidates. Diversity targets for this group are essential to ensure rigour in providing balanced shortlists and screening. HR & Recruitment need to have targets with teeth to ensure accountability for recruitment processes.
Diversity will ‘grow organically’
Would we use this approach for achieving any other pain points in our business? Said the Head of Sales to the CEO- we’ll just reach growth in the business organically- never. However, in many Australian organisations, this seems to be the fallback approach. 2012 research from Melbourne Business School/University of Melbourne summised that action occurs for achieving women in leadership when targets are set for the top level leaders to execute against. Specifically, when these targets are linked to performance and at-risk remuneration: ‘Targets with teeth, including challenging standards, accountability and contingent rewards, offer a way out of the impasse’.
Won’t targets with teeth ‘lower the bar’?
Since when did we associate hiring qualified female candidates with lowering the bar?
But what happens when we achieve diversity targets?
When business priorities are met, we review the next business priority and set targets. I worked with the IBM Singapore business to achieve gender diversity targets at all levels through a clear strategy and business case, sustained leadership from the top, managers fostering a culture of inclusivity, diverse leaders role modelling many different models of leadership, focused communication and targets with teeth.
Quotas is a separate concept that has seen success in many countries in raising representation of females on boards & representation in parliament. However, quotas are a concept that do not sit well with corporate Australia. Quotas are seen as a big stick driving penalties by an external body. In most countries in Asia, Latin America and Central Eastern Europe, governments set People with Disability headcount quotas for organisations to comply. Failure to meet quotas results in significant monetary fines, public ‘naming and shaming’, and the threat of being cut off from government tenders. For over 4 years, I worked with leaders across these very different countries to develop targeted strategies to attract qualified People with Disability candidates. Quotas drove action. However, took little into account whether the business was in a growth mode or a cost reduction mode; whether available vacancies could be accommodated; the country culture was supportive of mainstreaming People with Disabilities which impacted on education requirements for many roles.
Grouping diversity targets and quotas together as a concept is a fundamental misunderstanding of how Australian businesses operate. Both drive action but in very different ways. Before we throw out targets, let’s try operationalising diversity first; constant, close attention for sustainable change to take place. It needs to be on the board & management’s agenda on a daily basis, and accountability.