Tag Archives: gender balance; executive search brussels

Inclusion initiatives

Diversity and inclusion initiatives under threat

What can HR do to protect diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Diversity and Inclusion initiatives struggle to succeed under any circumstances. But with recent dramatic shifts in the current social, economic and political cilimates in many areas, there is a strong possibility that any progress will be stalled. These swings signal a potential backlash to any corporate inclusion initiatives and even a reversal in our wider cultures. In a wider context, the growing mood seems to be dig in, keep people out, protect ourselves and make things “great” again. Whatever that means. It’s always unspecified of course. To specify would mean there is a vision, supported by goals and a plan. Across the board it’s clear there are no goals or plans. Anywhere. Just reactions.

The impact these new cultural developments will have on company diversity and inclusion initiatives needs to be factored in as the anti-diversity noise is getting louder by the day. News pours in from Denmark, Germany, U.K. France as well as other European countries. Of course not forgetting the rise in tension in the US.

When Inclusion is threatened 

Inclusion isn’t about creating a superficially correct business culture, where token minorities and the odd woman are included in low impact initiatives to tick C-suite KPIs and release Boards of their obligations. It’s about creating high quality work teams which will excel at meeting their ascribed objectives and organisational goals. People are needed to lead those initiatives.  There are any number of studies which show that diverse organisations have a higher return on shareholder value and hands down outperform non diverse companies.

Mckinsey business case

Mckinsey business case for diversity and inclusion

Changing climate

Yet they are not working as they should, even in cultural climates reflecting a positive outlook and so we are failing to see a lasting impact. A rational approach supposedly to appeal to the data driven business mind is simply not gaining ground.  Organisational cultural change can take many years. What is holding us back is the unconscious, irrational mind which is clearly overriding factually based D & I programmes.  Today, that irrational mindset seems to be getting stronger.

Somehow hiring managers regardless of their political mind-set and persuasion, need to be committed to doing the best possible for their organisations in terms of attracting, sourcing, retaining and developing top talent. Already on the weak side, these flawed processes will struggle against this changing sociopolitical background.

The level of unconscious bias in the recruitment and promotion process is already high. The tendency to copy paste “mini-mes” so companies create cohorts of corporate clones which tend to be white and male, will become even stronger.  The chances of creating a corporate culture based on diversity and inclusion set against that prevailing viewpoint will be weakened. The use of the hackneyed cop-out term as the right  “cultural fit” will only grow. One hiring manager in a strongly Brexit region told me he had already been instructed to cut certain ethnic groups from the selection process of his organisation.

Challenges for HR

At a time when employee engagement is at an all-time low and insecurity and uncertainty are clouds over- shadowing a majority, HR practitioners face challenges dealing with these key issues. How do companies expect to find a way forward through this morass if they are located in geographies where the beast of xenophobia has been unleashed in a way that many did not anticipate. I’m not sure how many hiring managers will prioritize inclusion initiatives in these areas.

What can HR they do to implement diverse hiring policies if political wranglings over visas and work permits are going to make international hires increasingly difficult? How will they deal with outright discrimination?

Read: Post Brexit uncertainty starts talent drain

The inclusion challenge today for HR is to have the skills and credibility as well as the tenacity and resilience to cut through the crap and call things for what they are. They may need to stand up to poor leaders.

How many are willing and able to do that?

Check out unconscious bias training here


gender de-coding

Gender de-coding of job adverts treats symptoms only

Gender De-coding and unconscious bias

Corporate culture and communication generally has a male tone. Whether it’s job adverts and postings, job descriptions, feedback and review forms or employee engagement and reward terminology. The HR world is awash with phrases such as champion, ninja, winner, hero, scrum master and black belt. It’s hardly surprising that some women or introverts can be deterred from putting themselves forward for new positions.  This has result a demand for gender de-coding of all these documents. So although we haven’t seen adverts with “male applicants only” for over 40 years, there is subconscious use of  masculine coded language which will cause many women to de-select themselves.

This is known as “second generation discrimination.”  To counteract this, there has been a demand for gender de-coding of job adverts. With a growing demand to strengthen the female talent pipeline every facet is being investigated.

Masculine language  

Research in Personality and Social Psychology 2011 and also published by Duke University and the University of Waterloo, suggests that women are discouraged from applying for jobs if the posting uses masculine coded language.  “Independent”, “self-confident” and “decisive” are three examples of male wordings that may put off some women from applying for a job. However, men seem to not be affected if a job description uses feminine words like “considerate”, “collaborate” and “loyal”.

This research has generated commentary around the construction of gender neutral adverts and the need for gender de-coding.  A number of apps have been developed to monitor the gender bias of job advertisements,  to offset indications that many organisations are unintentionally using language which will turn off female candidates. These algorithms then count the number of gender-coded words to determine if there is a bias in any direction.

Using two software apps I ran two adverts I had created through Textio and Kat Matfield’s Gender Decoder. One was for a Managing Director in the B2B heavy industry sector – very male dominated. The other was a mid-level change management consultant. Despite my best efforts, they both contained  some masculine coded words. Leadership, manage, business acumen and analyse are highlighted as being masculine coded.

Matfield provides a full list check list of male and female gender coded words.

Band-aid policy

The MD role is a senior position and indicates an MBA is desirable.This is not an inflated requirement, as I am strict about over egging the job advert omelette. I used the term “business acumen” which was highlighted as being a male coded term. The alternatives offered were “business understanding” and “business sense.”

Are they best use of the English language? I’m not so sure. We’re talking about running a multi-million SME not a monthly allowance.

Can you really write an accurate job description for a senior role without using at least some words that are considered to be male coded, without over simplification? They have masculine connotations now, because not many women have been in these roles until recently. Leadership is currently a male coded word.There is no reason it should be and especially no reason to stay that way. We have to be careful about getting into revisionist language policies reminiscent of communist Russia with the selection of, for example, female friendly leadership synonyms, which may not convey the same message. We are so unused to female leaders – we even call them “women leaders.”  One senior HR Director said they were considering replacing the job title “Team Leader” with “Team Coach”

This is about gaining an understanding of our own unconscious biases, not just treating the symptoms. We can’t eradicate those biases, but we can learn to become aware of them and manage them. We need to tackle the root causes of the problem, at the same time as treating the symptom.

Women’s input

I spoke to some senior women for their opinions. They thought the process of gender de-coding job adverts was really helpful, especially at at mid-junior levels, when women are unfamiliar with business language, and could be overwhelmed and maybe deterred by its usage. They all advocated the use in their own organisations. At a senior level care has to be taken for language not to be reductive.

They also believe at the same time that it would be more effective to educate women to be gender bi-lingual. They would then feel  more comfortable with what is currently being perceived as masculine language, such as “leader”. It’s interesting that men are not put off by feminine coded language. They added hiring managers and HR should stop the inflation of qualifications and experience levels of these postings, which they believe are a greater deterrent to women to put themselves forward for jobs and promotions. The focus should be on what the job holder can do in real terms; “Motivate a team to meet business goals ” is more compelling than “dynamic leadership skills required”   

I passed this idea on to some HR contacts and they agreed.  I also asked them their thoughts about adding a line suggesting that “those without all the stated qualifications could still apply.”  This policy is favoured by many to encourage female applicants. They all groaned. “We would be inundated with under/over qualified applicants.

The field of gender balance is fraught with conflicting opinion.There  is no doubt that job adverts need to be made more accessible to some women, although not all women are deterred by language use.  But not at the expense of dumbing  down. That is patronising.

But please….. the use of “Ninja” and “Black Belt” should be stopped NOW!

If your organisation wants to strengthen the female talent pipeline – read here.