5 actions employers can take to improve gender diversity

23 December 2016 -


CMI’s new ‘Blueprint for Balance’ shares proven techniques for tackling gender diversity issues.

Jermaine Haughton

The CMI’s ‘Blueprint for Balance’ is part of the CMI Women initiative that aims to achieve gender parity among UK managers by 2024. The free open source tool allows employers to share information and learn from others the practices and policies that have helped improve gender balance in their organisations.

Despite representing around half of the UK workforce and often being breadwinners in their families, women are still underpaid and under-represented in the workplace.

Detailed studies from KPMG and Harvard University have shown that gender balance can improve business results and performance, through boosting sales, increasing employee and customer satisfaction, intensifying innovation and reducing ‘groupthink’.

Ann Francke, CEO at CMI, says that women are still “the primary untapped resource in the workplace”. Unlocking the ‘missing middle’ of women managers “is essential” for UK businesses to tackle the productivity gap. This gap, says Francke, “leaves us lagging 21% behind our G7 competitors”.

A collaborative response is required Businesses and organisations across the UK will need to ensure that gender equality is a top priority in their workplace through policy, discussion and actions. Here are five tips for how employers can get started right now.

1.Set Your Own Gender Targets

Managers are advised to identify the current ratio of male to female employees per level and create a breakdown for each part of the business, setting targets to improve.

Having a 50:50 ratio of men and women in each area of your business may not be immediately achievable, but the assessment will point leaders to business areas where they have disproportionately few women (or men) on-board. This is likely to provide a strong foundation for further investigation and action. For example, after assessing the demographic of its workforce, mining group Rio Tinto set clear targets to have women represent 20% of its senior management and 40% of graduates hired.

2. Use A Gender-neutral Application Process

Top business leaders looking to attract more female applicants to graduate, middle and senior roles often reach out to professional groups and networks, universities and educational bodies, social media and forums. Business leaders may even contact former employees, who might have left the company to look after their families, to ask if they would be interested in returning. Whatever approach you take, it’s important to avoid the unconscious bias that could skew your workplace.

Carefully crafted job descriptions can send important signals. Hiring managers who highlight their firm’s mentoring programmes, networking events and flexible working schemes, are more likely to gain the attention of women. By having a diverse pool of candidates, managers increase their chances of finding talented individuals with new ideas, skills and perspectives.

3. Consider Your Unconscious Biases

Even when we don’t mean to discriminate against someone, many of us still do. We can be put off by anything from a person’s name, hairstyle, accent or, even, height. Our perception of people with certain traits can affect how they are recruited, managed and treated. As a result, top-hiring managers remove all names, genders and ages from CVs and job applications. This ensures that women and ethnic minorities are not implicitly discriminated against.

Within the daily working environment, unconscious biases can be mitigated by formally training staff on the issue. Distributing posters and leaflets around the office and holding workshops with independent speakers can further increase awareness. Having run an unconscious bias scheme for a number of years, multinational Kimberly Clark has seen a 90% increase in the number of women holding director-level and above leadership positions since 2009.

4. Close Your Pay Gap

How are staff at your firm being paid? As an alternative to paying employees based on what they were earning in their previous role, some employers (including the National Health Service) operate pay ranges for each role.

A payroll audit can often identify if staff are being short-changed. Equality metrics are produced when HR teams record average pay between genders at each pay grade, as well as the number of promotions between genders. Hard statistics can give a clear picture regarding equality in the office in question.

Other bosses have been even bolder in attempting to close their pay and promotion gaps. For example, Marc Benioff, co-founder of Salesforce, created the Women’s Surge and set targets: ensure that at least one third of meeting participants are women, and achieve 100% equality for men and women in pay and promotion. As a first step, Benioff asked his senior team to identify their top female executives for additional leadership training.

5. Give Staff A Work-Life Balance

Just as a flourishing career can boost your personal life, the reverse can also be true. Employees are increasingly forced out of the workplace due to punishing hours and poor management, leading to stress and illness. Companies of all sizes are therefore under pressure to develop flexible working opportunities for staff. Typically, this allows men and women to work from home or at different times of the day.

In the UK, Deloitte offers all employees the right to request a formal flexible working arrangement; it also allows them to request a block of four weeks’ unpaid leave each year, without reason or justification. Some employers are giving individuals more control over their schedules by helping pay for child and elderly care, or giving them more time off to look after dependents.

Find out more about the work CMI is doing to help women in the workplace, and how you can get involved, see here: managers.org.uk/cmiwomen

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