As we move towards legislation in South Africa that will require all companies to have women fill 50% of every decision-making level, many captains of industry are going to be looking at ways to meet these quotas.
The following actions will probably take place:
- Find a senior woman in the organisation and task her with forming a ‘woman’s group’, believing that this will encourage women to consider their careers more seriously and start to work towards achieving greater seniority
- Notify HR that certain senior positions need to be reserved for women only (for a quick-fix) and that a majority of women should be employed into entry level positions in order to create a pipeline of future talent
- Pass on the message, generally, to all staff that women have to be given preferential treatment when it comes to promotion, and instruct Training and Development that women should be a primary concern
- Sit back with confidence that they’ve done all they can do, and wait for the results to materialize and for gender balancing to percolate through the organisation
While these actions cannot be criticized (because they are a move in the right direction and are certainly well meaning) it is also true that, in isolation, they’re almost bound to fail.
Achieving successful gender balancing requires significant effort and major change – and this must be actively driven by both the CEO AND the Executive Committee. HR also needs to be involved, but it cannot be left to this department to ensure that gender balancing happens, or else this major strategic move will be watered down amongst many other responsibilities.
Just bringing new female talent into an organisation is not an end in itself. In order to maximise the benefits of gender balancing, companies need to adapt their culture to one where women will thrive and will be able to make their unique contribution. This means that every part of the environment needs to be looked at closely to see where pockets of discrimination or unconscious bias might still be lurking. It will take tremendous effort and a lot of will to make the necessary changes, and this involves total commitment from all those in senior positions (which will mostly comprise men).
So, what changes need to be made? And how will organisations go about planning a successful campaign to change their corporate culture to one where gender balancing will be a success?
This will be the topic of four future articles – as there are four major steps that will need to be conducted by any organisation committed to this change. In addition to conducting an audit and awareness campaign before they begin with an action they need to:
- Ensure that the message is coming from the right levels of authority and that a consistent plan of communication is in place to support this initiative
- Ensure that the strong business case for gender balancing is well communicated and well understood at all levels of the organisation
- Be committed to making serious culture changes in the organisation and to recognize that ‘business as usual’ is no longer appropriate
- Assist all managers to become ‘gender bilingual’ by understanding the essential differences between men and women, and how to manage these.
The positive outcome of this hard work ahead for companies is that successful gender-balancing will almost certainly result in higher sales, more satisfied customers, better corporate governance, increased staff retention and higher profits. Not an insignificant pay-off for the effort involved!