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How to Cultivate a Diverse Culture that Develops Female Talent

“How’s your organisation doing with regard to gender equality? Do you have many women at senior levels?”

This line will be familiar to professionals in HR. It’s a focus for many who have recognised that gender inequality in the workplace costs companies. It impacts financial performance, idea innovation, market share, team collaboration and much more. And it was a focus for the Fearless Female Conference that took place earlier this year, organised by Love Local Jobs and The Skills Farm.

The Conference was designed to provide HR professionals with the answers to achieving genuine gender equality in their organisation. I was privileged to be invited to speak on the subject of “Changing Your Culture”.

I’m taking this opportunity to share my thoughts on how you can create a culture that will attract and retain your female talent – rather than consciously or unconsciously encourage them to leave.

If you really value diversity, make diversity one of your values

To create a culture that attracts and retains female talent, you need diversity and inclusion reflected in your values.
If we look at Accenture, one of the top three companies for women in 2017, that is exactly what they do. Right on the homepage they state their belief as a company that “When she rises, we all rise”.

In their section on Inclusion and Diversity they state: “We put inclusion and diversity at the very heart of the way we work, think and run our business”. And it’s that final bit that’s really important, the way we run our business.

If you’re going to create a culture that’s going to attract and retain female talent, values have to be at the heart of it. But they have to be embedded values. They can’t be lip service. They can’t be aspirational. They have to be used as a compass that drives action, behaviour and decision making. And that means, it can’t just be an HR thing. It has to be a leadership decision, not just in words but in actions.

So, the first question to ask: “Is diversity and inclusion reflected in your company values?”

The second question: “Are those values lived and breathed and used as a compass for decision making, action and behaviour?”

Harness the power of three – leaders, managers and employees

You need three things happening in partnership to create culture change in an organisation. It’s a bit like a three-legged stool. If any one of them is weak or missing the whole thing falls over.

Those three things are:

1. Strategic Leaders

If you’re going to attract and retain female talent you need a diverse workforce and inclusive culture. Or you need a strong vision that paints a picture of what that looks like. It needs to be inspiring. It needs to be compelling. It needs to be communicated and reinforced at every opportunity.

Using Accenture as an example again we can see they have a clear vision of Getting to Equal. That campaign allows two things to happen. First, it makes it clear to everybody that this is a priority for the company. And second, it gives them a barometer by which they can have discussions at department level, at team level, at functional level. It’s easy to remember and it encourages people to ask “Will this get us to Equal? How can we use this to get us to Equal?”

Are your leaders operating strategically? Do they have a clear, inspiring vision of a diverse workforce? Are they visibly communicating it and taking action to make it happen?

2. Empowered Employees

Employees care about their careers. Meaningfulness of work is one of the key drivers of employee engagement.
To retain and develop female talent, you need to help them manage and develop their careers, otherwise they’re going to physically quit and leave. Or they’re going to psychologically quit and stay. And neither of those are good things.

It is an individual’s responsibility to manage and develop their career. But they can’t do it alone. If you want women to develop their career in your organisation, they need support from the organisation to do that.

Are you doing everything you can to get your female talent ready to take on greater positions, to empower them to develop their careers?

3. Managers as Mentors

Employees who are empowered to take ownership for managing and developing their careers need mentors. And those mentors need the skills to empower your employees to take ownership for their development rather than telling them what to do. They need the skills to be able to share their knowledge, wisdom and experience as options for the individual to think about. Their role is not necessarily to give instruction for them to slavishly follow.

There’s some great data that says it’s not just your female talent who will benefit from mentoring. The mentors will benefit too. And that translates through to benefits for the organisation. 77% of companies report that mentoring increases employee retention and performance. And 62% of employees who have received mentoring say they are likely to stay with their current employer.

Does your female talent have access to great mentors, either formally or informally? Is mentoring a natural part of your company culture?

Design organisation processes and practices that enable and reinforce gender equality

The reason culture change is hard is because it’s behaviour change. The culture of an organisation is the totality of the behaviours of individuals within it. The culture is not policies and processes or what’s on a piece of paper. Yet, those things will either enable the behaviours you want or they’ll get in the way. For example, the composition of the interview panel might get in the way of recruiting more women.

There are lots of valuable processes and practices which retain and develop women – flexible working, parental leave, equal pay among others. But the linkages between those processes is also important. For example, when Accenture brought in shared parental leave, they also needed to look at their performance review. They realised people wouldn’t take parental leave if they were going to get down-rated as a result.

Do your processes, policies and practices enable and reinforce what you’re trying to achieve? And do they support and reinforce each other?

If you would like to see more of the talk I delivered at The Fearless Female Conference, you can watch the video on my YouTube Channel here.

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