In this month’s everywomanIncognito, one man shares how his mindset shifted from believing gender diversity was someone else’s problem – and now he’s championing women in his workplace.
I have a mother, a sister and a wife. All three have always been as ambitious as I am. And they’re all smarter than me. But I’m the most successful in my career. I’ve always known there was something not quite right about that. I don’t want the same to happen to my daughter and all the daughters in the world.
Having a daughter marked a turning point in my mindset. I’ve watched her learn and develop throughout her education, and am proud to say she was one of seven females who finished in the top ten of her class. But I also noticed that she and her female friends shied away from STEM subjects, no matter how good their grades.
I didn’t want my child to discount opportunities purely because of her gender.
I became a governor at her school, as well other local schools, and involved in STEM programmes designed to encourage more girls through the pipeline. It was a pure joy to be able to make a difference at grass roots level.
I started reflecting more and more on my work environment. I looked at my all-male team and realised that I was recruiting carbon copies of myself. By coincidence, I found myself working with some very diverse teams around and external to my organisation. I always found those experiences more enjoyable, and to have the more successful outcomes.
But the CVs passing my desk for open roles were all from men, and men with similar backgrounds and experience to me. I knew there were plenty of talented women in technology and couldn’t understand how their resumés weren’t getting through. I went to female colleagues for help, and they advised me that the job descriptions I was writing were describing me, and in a language that wasn’t going to attract women. So, I went back to basics and started writing in higher-level terms I hoped would bring in a wider, more diverse candidate pool. I also insisted recruiters send me equal volumes of male and female CVs. I know from my wife’s experience that women sometimes struggle with returning to work after maternity leave. So I emphasised the agile nature of the roles I was offering. I took care to reinforce this at interview stage, knowing that women are wary of instigating those conversations for fear of experiencing bias.
I’d see faces light up at the mention of flexible hours and projects.
As my diverse teams became more and more successful, my female hires going on to achieve increasingly bigger and better things, I became more vocal on gender diversity, speaking out when I came across one-dimensional teams. I advised a third party vendor that we’d have a trust issue in our relationship if they didn’t introduce diversity into their all-male leadership team. And I challenged those internally to start taking responsibility – including one of my direct reports, telling him that I wanted to see an even gender split in his candidate pool for a role he was hiring for. His response: “But you’re giving with one hand and taking away with the other!” This wasn’t down to the fact that he didn’t want to hire women; he’d simply fallen into the trap of believing, as do many, men and women alike, that achieving gender diversity equals hard work. Yes, you may have to act with a bit more thought, but that effort is duly rewarded with the best possible team.
In actual fact, hiring diverse teams is the easy part. The worst thing you can do is get in all those talented people and then fail to reinforce those positive messages around diversity. Pay attention to your flexible workers’ hours. Ensure they’re not doing a Monday to Friday job in just three days, or that they feel pressurised to dial into meetings on their day off. It can be as simple as telling them they’ve done the right thing by turning down a meeting request.
I used to think that gender inequality in the workplace was someone else’s problem – an easy trap to fall into if your organisation has a diversity and inclusion function.
Now I firmly believe everyone needs to play a part in fixing the problem. Women are naturally more drawn to the debate, as are the leaders at the top. There’s often a gap where members of middle management are concerned. They’re busy, would rather HR simply dealt out policies, and rarely get involved in the conversation. I encourage them to see the bigger picture, and to get involved in gender diversity events like “lunch & learn”. Find the support you need, whether it’s your HR team or networks like everywoman. It isn’t just about doing the right thing; I’ve been very successful in my work and a lot of that is down to my gender diverse team.
As to the younger generation, it’s important we encourage diversity from day one, challenge unconscious biases, notice when someone’s behaving in a way that’s at odds with gender diversity, and equally, when someone’s doing great things to enable change.
Have courage and speak up; it’s only through making diverse teams a normal, everyday sight that we’ll ensure it stays that way in the future. Most importantly, nurture female talent in your teams by becoming a mentor and a sponsor. I was shocked by the different attitudes of male and female workers during a redundancy period. The men were coming in saying they were completely comfortable with their roles changing, that they could do anything that was thrown their way. The women – some of whom were classic overachievers and star performers – were full of doubt. We need something in between: realistically confident managers - something you achieve by building up talented women.
I’ve received many comments from women thanking me for the support. But what’s even better is the volume of calls and emails from men, from Alaska to Australia, who’ve heard about my work and want tips. Sometimes they’re struggling to get initiatives embedded in their teams and want to know what more they can do. Often, they want to share the results they’ve achieved through hiring more female gems who’ve enabled great success for their teams and businesses.
The everywomanIncognito series allows women to discuss personal aspects of their career development in complete anonymity. We welcome submissions from everywomanNetwork members on a range of topics. Get in touch if you'd like to find out more about Incognito or would like to suggest a story.
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