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The 5 Factors to Step-Change Gender Balance Sustainably

As I continued my efforts to establish Ellumine, I was eager to define my approach to gender diversity. My starting point as usual was to research the topic in depth. But with so much out there, and so many angles to approach this, I was truly challenged. It took time, determination, and inspiration from amazing women to come to the 5 factors that will drive gender diversity sustainably, and that will be at the core of Ellumine’s gender diversity assessment and solutions.

The Case for Gender Diversity:

But first, why is gender diversity worth the focus? As a woman, I can only adhere and underline the important ethical consideration. But it is critical to note that the benefits of gender diversity go well beyond ethics. In fact, gender diversity has been associated, across numerous researches, with improved business results. A McKinsey analysis for instance, has demonstrated that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians”. Improved innovation behind diversity of thinking styles, enhanced client empathy, and a broadening of the talent pool, are just some of the key drivers of this improved performance. So what is holding corporations from fully tapping into this source of growth? And what are the factors to sustainably improve?

The 5 Factors to Boosting Organizations’ Gender Diversity Power:

1- Deep Commitment: During my corporate career, I was invited to join the diversity board for my region, a mostly male and very senior team. My excitement at the invitation dwindled fairly fast, as I saw that the focus was more on motivational communication efforts, at a time where diversity at executive level was very challenged.

In many instances, supporting diversity is the politically correct thing to do, but many executives lack awareness, or true conviction in the business and organization upsides that it can bring, and therefore do not mobilize the appropriate level of resources to address. This is a critical barrier to progress. Training programs, that address men’s engagement barriers, are critical to bring in true commitment, and make this a real business building priority.

2- Best of Both Culture: Ellen, a newly-promoted Vice-President in a leading multinational, is the only woman on the executive board for her business. And her first months are a true challenge. From the difficulty in making her voice heard in a loud and competitive team, to being frequently interrupted when expressing her viewpoints, to exerting efforts to not let her emotions show, for fear of reinforcing negative women stereotypes, she is struggling to fit-in. In many corporations key components of culture such as communication & decision making style, a culture of 24/7 availability, unconscious male biases, and the scarcity of inspirational female role models, make the corporate environment one where women struggle to feel that they truly fit in, and can sustainably grow and impact. Defining key components of a new culture that plays-out to the best of what the 2 genders can bring, and putting in place a program to train, role-model, and assess, is key to create an environment where men and women can grow and thrive.

3- Dynamic & Perfectly Executed Policies: Clare, a former Director in the Legal Department of a leading multinational, shared 3 barriers that she experienced after delivering her second child (i) a perception that her career will stall because she took a part-time work arrangement, (ii) expectations against which she was evaluated were not adjusted to reflect her part-time schedule, and (iii) decisions that she wanted to influence were sometimes taken during her absence.

Effective and perfectly executed policies in the areas of flexible work arrangements, maternity & paternity leaves, performance evaluation & promotions, and equal pay, are key to promote the retention and growth of women. And while many such programs exist, the execution needs continuous reevaluation and adaptation to address flows and improve results.

4- Women’s Selection & Support: Mona knew as a teenager, that a successful international Career was one of her important life objectives. As she progressed in her professional and personal life, she re-examined her key roles, and defined her choices, including trade-offs that she was prepared to make. She decided for instance to reap the benefits of flexible work arrangements to be, as much as possible, present for her son in key moments. And she also decided to make room for the necessary travel for a senior executive, by offsetting this with quality time when she is present, with shared activities, enriching travels, and the outsourcing of household tasks.

Corporations talent management systems are often well-equipped to identify highest potential performers, and give them the career development and sponsoring to accompany their growth. It is critical to minimize unconscious bias in these systems, and supplement them with high quality support, in the form of effective coaching and mentoring programs, to enable women in anticipating the conflicts that will arise from their different roles, and help them make conscious choices on how they will manage those in an effective manner, that will best deliver on what is truly important to them.

5- Holistic Measurement: Maria, a top performing Senior Communications Manager is skeptical about her development prospects. “I guess I am lucky in that there are a number of women in very senior positions in my company. But I struggle to associate with any of them. They are very tough and commanding, and I just don’t want to be like that”.

Gender diversity policies are often assessed by putting targets on women representation. And because what you measure is what you get, organizations manage to deliver the target short term, but without addressing the barriers that would make progress sustainable. It is critical that measurement systems evolve to not only focus on short terms end-results, but importantly on the long-term commitment, cultural, policy, and support requirements to drive sustained change.

Wrap up:

If you are a company head, is your business actively engaged in improving gender diversity? And are you actively driving the 5 factors described here? If the answer is no, then you are missing an opportunity to improve not only gender diversity, but also your business results, and to create an inspirational environment that people want to join, and where they want to stay.

“A gender equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves”– Gloria Steinem

Please share your comments. And if you are a Corporation that would like help or support to improve Gender Diversity, please contact Roula on

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