International Women's Day: Celebrating Gender Diversity and Inclusivity

To celebrate International Women’s Day, AESC Member Sally Talbot of Per Ardua Associates talks with Alison Hughes of ALC Discovery on a variety of issues related to diversity, women in search and recruitment, and what’s next in the field of gender equality.  At Per Ardua, Sally is responsible for building and driving the HR and talent practice, including placing heads of HR, heads of talent, reward, organisational development and diversity and inclusion. She is also responsible for driving all diversity and inclusion initiatives and products for the firm. 
Below is a brief excerpt. View the complete article here.

What’s the fuss about?

According to the Office for National Statistics, 2016, the gender pay gap for median earnings, including full- and part-time workers, was 18.1%. At Per Ardua, Sally has a focus on senior female talent and states: “A number of our clients are worrying about the gender pay gap and having to publish it. They are all concerned about where the future talent pipeline is going to come from, especially in relation to senior women.” 
Sally also notes the momentum diversity has gained over the years with things like the Hampton Alexander Review, which extends the scope of the previous focus on diversity in the boardroom to the executive pipeline. However, organizations and individuals need to be bold for change and come up with innovative and creative solutions. Sally references Peninah Thomson’s FTSE 100 cross-company mentoring programme which has helped in terms of shifting the balance at the chairman level, but agrees that there is more work to be done. 
What can be done? 
Market mapping 
Sally believes that one of the best ways to create more equality across senior positions is to use the technique of cross-functional market mapping to identify recommended senior women and introduce them to employers who can get to know them and consider them for future positions. 
What’s interesting about this process is how well it seems to be working for women. The approach is all about building long-standing relationships, and this is something that women tend to excel at. As Sally says, “women like networking, they don’t have to commit up front to a search process”, and cross-functional mapping removes the pressure and guilt associated with this. Removing pressure in this way could also appeal to women who may not feel they are qualified for a senior-level role. The gender pay gap is clearly well known, but what is less well known is the gender confidence gap. In 2016, Wiebke Bleidorn and colleagues published in-depth research into self-esteem. The research spanned 8 years and 48 countries, and found that women had significantly lower self-esteem than men in most countries. If women don’t think they are cut out for a role, then they could be less likely to respond well to direct headhunting propositions. Selection via cross-functional talent mapping helps to position advancement in more palatable terms and hence drives female engagement. 
Removing unconscious bias
In discussing assessment, Alison shared ALC Discovery’s goal to use assessment to make the recruitment industry more objective and hence positively impact diversity in selection. Sally agrees that assessment helps to remove unconscious bias and that assessment “ is a fairer and more objective way of assessing two or three final candidates than a regular interview, where you are going to naturally have a level of unconscious bias”.
The search and recruitment industry: Careers for women
One may think that the recruitment industry isn’t particularly suited to women. The industry can be seen as having a culture of long hours and presenteeism and may not be ideally suited to the flexibility that some women desire. Sally, however, feels that the role of an executive search consultant may be the perfect fit for female candidates.  Technology advancements mean that remote working is a more widely accepted option now, and it can create the flexibility that some women need. With this model of working, it is easy to see the results of the work – if you are putting the time in, then the results will be obvious, so it is easy to monitor. 
The future: Considering female-to-male decisions, strength in numbers and diversity champions
It’s important to focus on the percentage of women throughout an organisation and not just think about how many women CEOs we have in top FTSE companies. We need to also focus on gender balance, because “the minute you have momentum in terms of numbers then the organisation naturally changes culturally in terms of different role models and I think the culture changes quicker.” At the current rate, the World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186, and so we should be looking for ways to speed up this journey. 
Gender diversity isn’t just a moral issue; it’s a business strategy decision. In their Global Leadership Forecast, DDI and the Conference Board found that in the top 20% of companies (in terms of financial performance) 37% of leaders were women, whereas only 19% of leaders were women in the bottom 20% of companies. Studies like this have repeatedly shown that diversity produces business results – we would be wrong to ignore them.