By now, we should all be well-versed in the arguments for creating a diverse workforce. Moral obligation aside, the proven benefits to business success continue to mount up. The 2019 McKinsey report, Diversity Wins, found that the least diverse companies in terms of gender and ethnic minority representation at the top suffered a whopping 27% decrease in profitability.
And yet the battle for equity at the upper echelons of business rages on. In 2021, EY’s annual Female FTSE Board Report found only 8 female CEOs in the UKs FTSE 100 and 33% female representation at Board level in the FTSE 350.
Recently, we wrote about the steps working parents can take to tackle assumptions in the workplace that might be hampering their career progression. Yet the truth is, for systemic change to happen, we must all take responsibility for challenging the status quo.
So, whether you’re a senior leader or peer in your organisation being an ally to working parents can be easier than you think. Here are a few ideas you can try:
Become a Cheerleader
A very simple way of championing working parents in the workplace is to explicitly choose to sponsor colleagues who are not like you.
This can be done informally by opening doors to opportunities otherwise not available, championing individuals in conversations with other senior leaders and introducing them to others in your network.
You could also seek out more formal sponsorship opportunities such as mentoring through programmes like the Leaders Plus Fellowship or identifying individuals whom you think would benefit and supporting their application through the Nominate a Fellow Scheme.
Enrich Your Professional Network
One of the most powerful drivers of career-progression and opportunity is our networks. Some studies show that a third of hires are made via networks rather than advertised roles. So, if we’re looking to build diverse teams, it stands to reason that we need to also diversify our networks.
Whether you’re connecting with professionals on LinkedIn, attending networking events or looking for a mentor or sponsor of your own, make an active effort to build contacts with a rich spectrum of professionals. You never know what you might learn!
Data is King
Over the last two years, gender pay gap reporting has suffered a hammer-blow with a delay in the reporting deadline announced for 2021 and reporting scrapped entirely for the previous year. With organisations ‘off the hook’ in making their gender data transparent, only 50% of employers published their gender pay gap reports for 2020.
As senior leaders, this makes it all-the-more important to press your organisation for data and, crucially, challenge them on what action is being taken to address issues highlighted by the numbers.
Ask whether the Board has seen the data on representation of women, working parents, people from ethnic minorities and underrepresented groups in senior leadership. Perhaps there is a way that you could become involved in any plans or action-groups?
By asking these questions you can turn a mandatory box-ticking exercise to a solution-focussed approach, critical to the success of the business.
Challenge Your Own Assumptions
A great idea from Mary Ann Sieghart’s ‘The Authority Gap’, is to consider the diverse qualities that are needed to build a successful team and challenge our own gendered assumptions about what attributes we think candidates will bring to the table.
“Think carefully about what characteristics we expect from men and women when promoting or hiring. There is research that we look for competence in men but a whole range of other characteristics e.g. teamwork in women.”
Champion Those on Leave
As the old saying goes, “out of sight; out of mind”, an experience reflected by many of our Fellows who struggle to regain their status within teams after a period of parental leave. Not only is this detrimental to the individual but is extremely short-sighted from a business point of view as you risk losing passionate, skilled and ambitious colleagues, who happen to be parents.
So, what can you do to counter this? If someone is on maternity, adoption or shared paternity leave, make sure that you talk about their achievements. Try using their successes as examples to other team-members of how to approach a current project and, most importantly, make sure they are not forgotten when talk comes to promotions and development opportunities.
There is enough research out there on the topic of unconscious bias to be aware of our potential pitfalls when making business decisions. By continuing to educate ourselves on the topic and proactively highlighting situations where bias might be at play will mean you are less likely to fall victim to that bias. It will also set an example to your team and peers that making a conscious effort to call out inequalities is acceptable and encouraged.
For example, research shows that, typically, interview panels are tougher on women than men. If you find yourself on a panel, highlight this fact to your counterparts and suggest that as a team you make sure the same criteria is being applied across every candidate.
For more on the topic of Allyship, listen to this inspiring Big Careers, Small Children Podcast with Dr Funke Abimbola.
Our spring 2022 Leaders Plus Fellowship is now open for applications. Do you know a working parent with big ambitions who would benefit from our programme? Why not give them a helping hand and nominate them for the Fellowship?