How Data Can Drive Gender Diversity in Leadership Roles

Despite the increasing attention and support for women in leadership over the past few years, the business world hasn’t made much progress. Business leaders are much more aware of the positive economic impact of gender diversity and how it increases innovation, but the needle is barely moving. We celebrate high-powered women’s achievements, but aren’t taking steps to ensure other women have the same opportunities for growth.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that companies are paying lip service to the idea of gender equality without addressing existing issues such as implicit bias, lack of mentorship, and pay inequity. Or even more frustrating, companies who do invest in diversity training don’t see the desired results because the programs themselves don’t work. The best way to tackle the challenge lies in your data.

State of the Field Assessment
 What’s the outcome you’re trying to achieve? Do you want to hire more women or make sure that your project teams are balanced? What about the pay gap or women in leadership roles? Decide what’s important to you and then take stock to establish some basic metrics. How many women work for you? What is the distribution across departments? How many are managers? I’m often shocked by how many clients have this type of data at their fingertips, but never even bother to look for it.

Once you have the data and define your goals, there are plenty of applications out there to help make the process easier. Take a look at Textio, a tool that analyzes resume postings for bias or Glassbreakers, a type of “inclusion software” for employee retention.

The Hiring Process
 Sometimes it’s about the data you omit as much as the data you track. In the case of hiring, it’s a bit of both. The reason for that lies in unconscious bias. Bias isn’t a bad thing — your biases help you navigate daily life and make decisions easier. For example, biases against heat or bad smells may trigger a decision to avoid an empty subway car, or a bias in favor of organic groceries may take you to Whole Foods instead of ShopRite.

Our biases fall short when it comes to people decisions, but they play an unfortunate role in the hiring process. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this study done by the Columbia Business School or this study conducted by Corinne Moss-Racusin of Skidmore College. Both highlight how unconscious biases favor men over women during application reviews, especially if the position is in a technology or scientific field (this applies equally to male and female reviewers).

The best way to counter any unintentional bias is to define the success criteria beforehand and omit any resume details that are irrelevant. This includes age, gender, name, and specific college or university. By defining the criteria beforehand, reviewers are more likely to be fair and consistent, and by omitting superfluous data, biases are less likely to be triggered in the first place. And yes, there’s an app for that too.

Accountability
 Now comes the hardest part — holding yourself accountable for the goals you set. Create a dashboard that tracks your starting metrics and review it with your leadership team at least once a month. Report out on your progress and dig into the details of your efforts to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t assume compliance with your gender diversity standards — objectively measure your standing and target areas for improvement.

Most important, be honest — with yourself, your managers, and your entire company. This type of change and innovation, in both company attitude and structure, takes time. By being open about your progress, you’ll increase support for it throughout your employee culture. The only way to create a better future is through the actions you take now. Build upon big ideas and small wins. Eventually, they’ll meet.

For more ways to keep your customers engaged, check out Eric’s latest book Customer Obsessed.


Originally published at www.bluewolf.com on October 26, 2016.