What works in promoting gender equality? (For one, it pays to ask women.)


The gender (opinion) gap

Male study respondents tended to identify recruitment as the biggest challenge to gender diversity, while women saw advancement and retention as the biggest issues.

More than 90% of women recently surveyed report that their employers had diversity initiatives in place, but only 27% reported any impact. Ouch.

Clearly, a lot of money and resources are being invested in the pursuit of inclusion, but a lot of it is also being wasted. So what actually pays off when it comes to gender equity initiatives?

With the goal of identifying some best practices, Boston Consulting Group recently asked employees and executives globally to rank 39 specific diversity initiatives according to how effective they were in promoting gender diversity.  Telling from the start was that most companies spread their diversity investments evenly across the five categories tracked by the study: recruitment, culture, leadership, retention, and advancement. Few focused a higher proportion of resources on the two issues that matter most to women: retention and advancement.

The global study revealed a wide range of tactical insights.  While ubiquitous programs like one-time diversity training sessions were shown to be ineffective, if not harmful (forced training tends to backfire),  support at crucial career turning points or “moments of truth” was huge.

Supporting women facing big decisions about taking parental leave, considering an overseas posting, or accepting a major step up in responsibility led to big rewards in terms of retention and advancement.  That support took many forms, including administrative help, offering and enforcing flexible work schedules, and providing logistical support; and it made a significant difference in whether the woman took on the new challenge and thus advanced herself in the organization.

Hiring practices, on the other hand, can either help or hinder a company’s efforts to increase diversity, according to the study.  Something as innocuous as the wording of a job posting can create hidden bias in the hiring process. Kimberly-Clark took this bull by the horns and increased its share of women in leadership ranks from 17% to 30% by rethinking its hiring processes, including changing job descriptions to include “transferable” skills and demanding diverse shortlists of candidates.


Working side-by-side breaks down stereotypes, which leads to more equitable hiring and promotion.

Diversity on the cheap

Some of the least costly measures can also be the most effective, according to researchers. Simply communicating your policy clearly, consistently, and both inside and outside your company can move the needle, according to Fast Company, in part because it gets the word out there where it can attract a diverse talent pool.

Increasing the visibility of role models - such as women executives and men who have taken unconventional paths to the top -  was a low-cost activity that ranked among the most effective measures in the BCG study. What’s more, some effective solutions aren’t even designed with diversity in mind.


Diversity by design (or not)

Harvard Business Review researchers report that the most effective inclusion measures have three key characteristics. They engage managers in solving the problem, expose them to people from different groups, and encourage social accountability for change. But a policy doesn’t have to be explicitly about diversity to get the job done.

For example, many companies rotate management trainees through departments as a way to teach them about the business and let them discover their talents and interests. But by exposing both department heads and trainees to a wider variety of people in all parts of the company, it has shown to have the added benefit of promoting a diverse work environment,


A shout-out to WiQ: the power of the network

Community matters. In BCG’s poll, supporting internal and external networks for women was ranked as one of the top five most effective diversity interventions by 38% of all women respondents. That speaks volumes. These networks, as we hope WiQ will do, provide a valuable alternative channel of information and support for women working towards parity in traditionally male-dominated industries.


Published by MiQ New York.