The Diversity Formula: D = (30 + 70) > 100

By John Keilthy

The issue of diversity is both a challenge and an opportunity for all of our clients and it’s often the subject of intense discussion within our own office where the gender balance is 50/50. These discussions are never about the why; they’re always about the how.

The prompt for our most recent internal debate in the ReputationInc office was the occasion of our involvement with the 30% Club Ireland in announcing a scholarship fund worth over €100,000 to encourage women to pursue executive education.

We have been delighted to work with the 30% Club in recent months to highlight a number of initiatives that seek to further the cause of women in the workplace.

Officially launched as a campaign in Ireland in January 2015, the 30% Club is supported by the leaders of over 160 Irish businesses, including public, private, state and multinational companies, with the aim of achieving 30% female representation on company boards and in senior management by 2020.

But coming back to our own recent discussion on the subject: “Why does there need to be a quota?” asked one of our team members. “Wouldn’t targets be fairer than quotas”? “Because nothing would really change otherwise”, replied another colleague.

The debate goes on but what is certain is that gender equality is an issue for every business - big, medium and small, and it isn’t going away.

So let’s start with what we all seem to agree on:

Diverse workforces are good for business and good for workplace culture. They are also good for women and for men and there is strong and growing evidence that supports this. There is a clear positive correlation between gender balance and business performance. Diverse leadership teams ensure better engagement, ask a broader range of critical questions, consider a wider range of options for their organisations and are less likely to succumb to ‘groupthink’.

Where the problem arises is how to achieve this gender balance.

The 30% Club is a collaborative campaign made up of participants who are committed to achieving a better gender balance at all levels of their organisations and the focus is on actively pursuing a representation target for women in leadership and on boards. As the name suggests, a clear and tangible measure that is easy to quantify has been set by the campaign.

The ultimate aim, however, must surely be an environment where gender balance isn’t required to be singled out for special attention; it just happens by default. But there is some way to go before that’s achieved and before conscious and unconscious biases that currently restrict progress are overcome.

Indeed, the successful pursuit of diversity for the 30% will only be achieved with the active and inclusive participation of the other 70%. A good starting point for organisations to meet the 30% Club target could be to apply the 30/70 ratio to the amount of effort devoted to communicating the case for gender balance to each gender.  

The future objective should be to better engage the majority (men) in more actively supporting the cause of the minority (women). A campaign that has taken this on board is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign for example.

There are growing numbers of initiatives, such as this recent scholarship fund by the 30% Club’s, aimed at encouraging women to pursue executive education to gain the skills and confidence required to lead, but success will only come from engaging everyone in an organisation around the need for change. Not just the 30%.

For organisations, gender balance needs to be framed as a strategic imperative, led from the top and embraced across all levels and all functions.

Finally, diversity needs to be presented as an opportunity, not as a threat, and senior executives should be measured and rewarded for their contribution towards its achievement.

At its most powerful, gender balance is about facilitating and fostering diversity of ideas, thoughts, opinions, perceptions, cultures and much more. It’s not simply about the ratio of men to women.

As the late renowned business author, Stephen Covey, put it: “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”. 

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