Gender diversity in the workplace is an ongoing issue that affects us all, and International Women’s Day can be a valuable opportunity to address these issues head-on. This year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity, which highlights the need to take active steps towards creating a more equitable workplace for all. In this blog post, we will explore four guiding principles that can help companies move beyond performative gestures and towards tangible action towards diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Lack Of Leadership
Like many people, I find International Women’s Day annoying to say the least. Is this to celebrate women, an opportunity to talk about the numerous gender issues, or a marketing exercise for companies to appear more progressive than they actually are? Women’s issues are seen as “female” rather than what they are; global social and economic issues that affect all of us. Lack of representation, childcare, flexibility, the pay gap - progress (or lack of) in these areas impacts everyone, not just the woman who is experiencing a working world which is clearly not designed for her needs. If a company is lacking women in leadership ranks, it is the CEO that needs to address this problem, not simply delegate it to HR. HR plays a vital role in strategising and implementing the vision, but the will and the momentum needs to come from the top. Reading McKinsey’s 2022 Women In The Workplace report (this is its eighth year), it becomes clear that leadership in business is lacking and women are voting with their feet, by leaving the workplace altogether and that benefits no-one.
Prior to joining Mindstone, I founded and ran a business in the DEI space, and learnt a thing or two about how companies pay lip service to this issue vs actual commitment. I also saw so many companies with the right intent, but overcomplicating the situation. It is true, in larger companies, there simply is more baggage to contend with, and because of the surplus of time & money, DEI initiatives can start boldly, and even well, but along the way they diminish and die. The principles that guide the concept of #embraceequity, the slogan for this year’s International Women’s Day, these apply for big companies and small. They can help to simplify what can often be a rather thorny issue.
Inclusivity Before Diversity
Diverse hiring will not work unless the company has taken active steps to be more inclusive. Companies can make a big splash with Board and executive appointments made up of women, women of colour too, but unless they truly understand what led to a homogenous culture in the first place, nothing will change. It will be an expensive recruitment exercise that damages the person, the company, and reinforces old stereotypes.
Measure What Matters
Are you rewarding confidence over competence? What exactly leads to a promotion within the company? Are you celebrating differences? People who are culture add and thoughtful? Or continue to reward those that shout the loudest. Ben Horowitz’s What You Do Is Who You Are is a fantastic read, highlighting it’s your day-to-day behaviour, and the processes that govern your daily business, that really dictate the culture you have, not the values written in the “about us” section of your website.
Flexibility From The Top
Flexibility remains one of the most important cultural points to hiring and retaining experienced women in particular. This is in large part (although not exclusively) due to children, women taking more of a load here, and requiring more autonomy and efficiency. Yet flexibility is not a female issue, it’s a human one. Truly flexible environments are high trust environments, and it is not just women that are craving autonomy and trust. This can only really work if it is modelled from the top - when people can see that C-level will work hard, yes, but they balance other priorities, and they do not micromanage their people.
Although men and women have been pitted against each other, the opposite is in fact true. More women in leadership roles is a good thing. It balances culture, it drives performance, it opens opportunities to understand and pursue new products and markets. It cannot be simply viewed as an issue for women to drive through. Greater involvement from men (targets, processes, mentoring schemes) is essential to ensuring #embraceequity becomes far more than a hashtag we use in 2023.
I have now joined Mindstone as their COO, which means much of the implementation and strategising on this issue falls to me. The vision and tone however, has been set by Mindstone’s CEO, Joshua. It was important, imperative even, for me to work for someone who not only cared about this issue, but translated that intention with action. So far we’re doing quite well, although there is room for improvement.
50% of our leadership team is female
40% of the company is female
0% of our Engineers are female
40% of our over product team (including engineering) is female
We have a highly flexible, autonomous culture (including me working 5 days in 4 so I can maximise time with my little one)
Where can we improve?
Women in the engineering team
Male involvement in diversity issues
Write policies that clarify and support our team mission of building a diverse and inclusive culture