As I made my way to the Women in Finance Dublin Series last week I thought how fitting timing wise: both personally (my first day back after maternity leave) and professionally (as Managing Partner of a relatively new business establishing its culture and policies).
The Series was entitled “The Future of Finance” and given recent events on today’s global stage (Gender Pay Gap reports showing a very real gap; teenagers sailing the world to highlight climate change, Royals in the headlines for taking one too many private jet trips), it was not surprising that Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and Sustainability featured as recurring themes.
From consumers deciding where to purchase their daily caffeine hit to sophisticated investors seeking to expand their investment portfolio, D&I and sustainability considerations are increasingly influencing decision-making. And organisations are taking note.
Trends such as an increase in responsible investment strategies offered by global asset managers (e.g ILIM’s Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) investment offering) and international fashion retailers setting ambitious sustainability targets (Zara announced that all of its collections will be made from 100% sustainable fabrics before 2025) clearly demonstrate this.
Aside from exposing and addressing blatant inequalities (a very real gender pay gap, in 2019, need I say more), I was interested to learn why companies now have to consider D&I and Sustainability in the context of their own organisations and what practical steps they can take.
The bottom line: Do people want to work with your organisation? Do suppliers want to become part of your supply chain? Do consumers want to buy your product or service? The level of diversity within your company’s culture and the sustainability of your business model is increasingly likely to impact your company’s profitability and longevity.
Innovation: By adopting and actively implementing D&I policies in your organisation, you are guarding against group-thinking. Different perspectives and opinions help create a more forward-thinking, innovative working environment. In turn, the organisation is significantly better placed to embrace change (inevitable) and adapt accordingly.
Identify strong female talent at entry level stage.
Once identified, support develop and mentor this talent throughout their career.
Educate them on the potential career opportunities and path-ways open to them.
Ensure a flexible, level playing field e.g flexible working arrangements.
What to Do?
Draft a clear, transparent, D&I policy which reflects your organisation’s values and workforce. Apply it consistently to all employees across the business.
Initiatives could include quotas for senior female board members; inclusive company social activities with broad appeal ( e.g. some cultures do not drink alcohol) and flexible working arrangements (e.g. remote working).
Whilst employers are legally permitted to take positive actions to address a disadvantage in certain cases (e.g setting a quota to address a gender imbalance on a board), remember that such actions can only be taken following an objective assessment which deemed such action proportionate and necessary with the courts adopting a narrow interpretation in gender discrimination cases.
Make sure to avoid any sense of “tokenism”, particularly if implementing quotas.
Adopt a “Top Down” Approach: Make sure your senior leadership team is familiar with the company’s policies and how to implement these on the ground. Alert them of the risk of any potential “unconscious bias” (which can include gender bias) and if they need further training, arrange it.
Mentorship: The benefit of a good mentor was a common theme amongst the speakers. Your mentor could be a peer within your organisation and many companies operate mentor schemes. However, don’t be afraid to look further afield e.g. family member or friend - as long as they support, motivate and encourage your career.
Back Yourself: People also need to back themselves to secure roles and ensure representation at senior level. Unfortunately, if I show a male and female candidate the same job spec, oftentimes the male candidate will focus on the six things he can do and his female counterpart, the four she can’t. Whether it’s a motivational session with your mentor, an interview prep session with an experienced recruiter (cough!) or a trip to the shops for that perfect interview outfit, females in particular need to do whatever is required to increase confidence levels and be their own champion.
A company’s culture can not be established or changed overnight. However, the key is to take it one initiative/issue at a time, apply it consistently and fairly and keep moving forward.