We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.
1. What is one action companies can take to further balance their talent attraction strategies?
There’s not really one key action but some important policies and practices which when used together and are visible can ensure you attract diverse talent.
For junior recruits, it’s important to make sure you use unbiased job descriptions and selection criteria. And for employees, ensure that your promotion and pay grade criteria as well as how work is allocated is fair, clear and objective.
I think it’s also vital to be genuine with your D&I strategy, and to not come across as it being a tick-box approach or corporate rhetoric which isn’t backed up in practice. For example, people need to have visible role models, with opportunities for mentoring and access to sponsors, as well as being able to see a diverse workplace where people are included and encouraged to be themselves.
For more senior hires, in addition to the above, it’s important to ensure added focus on supportive parental and flexible working policies and opportunities to expand or reignite their network, particularly if they take extended breaks from the workplace.
2. Do you think that more companies adopting a hybrid working pattern has helped to shift pre-conceived conceptions about flexible working for women and why?
Absolutely, though this isn’t just about flexible working for women, it’s about flexible working more generally. I think that previously, pre-conceived ideas for those either needing or wanting to work flexibly were that they were less productive and less committed to their jobs. But the last two years have taught us many things, including that you don’t need to be physically in an office to get things done or to succeed.
It also meant that more people, who traditionally haven’t juggled caring responsibilities and work, were in the same boat as those who are doing this every day. I’m a great believer that putting yourself in the shoes of others is a fantastic way to naturally challenge misconceptions and to enable better empathy and understanding of others.
It's meant that there’s been a shift in mindset that performance and success should be measured based on output, and not on whether you are working a traditional 9am-5pm day in the office. And so now, with more firms adopting hybrid working, and more employees demanding it as a benefit, it’s no longer taboo, but now part of normal everyday life, and not something that’s a special request for specific employees.
3. How can organisations support their employees in raising awareness against bias?
There are a number of things firms can do to raise awareness and challenge bias.
Training – there are some fantastic firms out there that run training sessions on identifying and mitigating the impact of bias. We have run a number of these at LCP for all of our partners and those in involved in recruitment. These sessions are fantastic for making you aware of your own biases and reflecting on the impact of these biases in the workplace and the decisions you make. It’s actually a really complex subject with lots of subtleties, and I personally feel that it’s important to have experts who are external to the organisation and bring fresh perspectives to help you better understand the challenges and the solutions.
Talking about it – in addition to formal training, providing opportunities to keep the discussion going is also really important. We’ve run a number of informal “lunch and learns” and have a very active intranet that discusses all areas of D&I, including the impact of bias. We use news articles, TED talk videos and current events to highlight the subject in the real world and find that sessions like these really help to bring complex issues like this into the forefront of everyday conversations.
Calling it out – even with training and ongoing events, there will inevitably still be processes or individuals that are inherently biased. Therefore creating an environment where people are able to call out bad practices and ask difficult/awkward questions in a safe space is all part and parcel of that progression, to help improve things in practice on a day-to-day basis. This highlights the importance of allies who will proactively call out bad practices and biases as part of their support for others.
Making changes – it goes without saying that ultimately all the work we are doing to educate and raise awareness needs to result in change going forwards. So, ensuring there is meaningful action to address weaknesses in existing process, and continuing to look out for opportunities to improve things is vital to ensure that we reduce bias as much as possible and ensure everyone has equal opportunities to progress.
4. What advice would you give aspiring women in the industry you work in?
To put it simply, you do you. Identify what you want to achieve and don’t be afraid to aim high. Then work out what the road to those achievements looks like and don’t try to do it on your own, because with any progression, you need other people on board to help you. So speak to your line manager, appraiser, mentor or sponsor, and let them help you plan too, and if you’re not in an environment that supports your development, and that can help you identify how you get there, change it. This might be by calling it out, or by finding a more supportive environment, or both.
Don’t be afraid to network, to build up your contacts. It’s a small world, and amazing how often you come into contact with people you have either met before, or who knows someone you know. In my experience, the vast majority of people enjoy helping others, and so building a network means you can draw on a vast amount of others’ experiences to help with your progression.
And finally, say yes to stuff. Not to everything, because you’ll end up with more than you can do, but to those things that are a stretch goal, or an opportunity that sounds a bit scary, but that will help you grow, learn and progress. And as part of this, accept it’s ok to make mistakes and try to dim that inner voice of self-doubt that we all have.
5. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
I’m not sure there is a single significant barrier, but there are a number of things that in combination that we should be aware of to ensure that everyone has the support and opportunities to progress to leadership roles.
My top three would be:
Perceptions of what a leader should look and sound like. I think it’s important to challenge the stereotype that a hetero white male working 24 hours a day is what’s needed to be a leader. That perception is definitely changing, but it continues to be a slow burn in terms of actually getting role models in place to walk the walk. There’s a greater acceptance that flexible working is a good thing and shouldn’t be a barrier to progression, and I think we have the pandemic to thank for fast-forwarding attitudes on that. This is opening firms up to a more diverse workforce, and by extension better diversity in leadership roles.
Promoting those with a passion for D&I. There’s a lot of strong views both for and against quotas. Regardless of your views or your firm’s approach, I think it’s fundamentally important to ensure that those in leadership positions have a passion for D&I, and want to work within a diverse group of people. This should naturally promote better diversity in management roles and improve corporate cultures without turning D&I into a “tick-box” approach.
Creating the right environment to help everyone flourish. People generally perform best when they feel comfortable, supported and able to “bring their full selves to work”. This extends to all backgrounds and diversity characteristics, and by ensuring your culture enables you to create this “safe space” gives everyone the highest chances of success.