Once again the diversity debate is circulating the HR community. With Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders releasing its latest report highlighting that female numbers at board level are stalling, the key question I have to ask is are we really addressing the right challenges?

In its research, Cranfield found that over the last six months, levels of FTSE 100 board appointments going to women have dropped significantly. Compared to the figures last year – which showed an encouraging 44% of new FTSE 100 board appointments going to women and 36% on FTSE 250 companies – numbers have this year dropped to 26% and 29% respectively.

This has understandably brought the quota issue back on the radar, with many leading HR professionals continuing to argue for and against the introduction of targets which has been pushed by EU commissioner Viviane Reding.

While I agree that there are too few women in leadership roles, simply putting a number to paper won’t address the actual question we should be asking ourselves; what are the real barriers holding women back? When we drill down into this issue, the challenges aren’t perhaps as complicated as we may think.

Based on a recent Ochre House Think Tank which brought together senior, international HRD’s, there are three main barriers which need to be addressed.

Understanding the current workforce

It sounds simple, but as with many other talent management processes, HR professionals first need to understand what the current workforce really looks like before moving to attract more diverse skills. If, for example, one of the key aims of diversity is customer empathy, without first outlining internal structures it is impossible to truly identify where the talent gaps are.

Building communities versus pipelining

As is becoming increasingly clear, talent pipelining can be highly useful when it comes to finding talent which matches the current workforce. This approach, however, is not necessarily beneficial for creating diversity and bringing in talent which challenges the current structure. Instead there is a need to move towards building communities of talent beyond your current reach in order to tap into a diverse range of groups.

Too often harmony is viewed as the key outcome of talent attraction, but diversity is likely to have the opposite effect. It’s not going to be comfortable, it will be a big change, but the benefits are enormous and these alone should be the desired outcome.

Experiencing exclusivity

As I mentioned in my last blog post, one of the largest challenges is simply making sure line managers and business decision makers really ‘get-it’ through educating them on what it means for the business. At the end of the day, to get everyone on board the message needs to be fed down from the top and built in as a business incentive.

However, doing this can be very challenging when HR teams are using the same information, stats and approach time and again. The solution, though, could be fairly simple: in order to make business leaders understand the importance of diversity and inclusion, they need to emotionally experience the effect of exclusivity.

While there isn’t currently a solution which addresses these three issues, in my opinion, quotas most certainly won’t help. However, addressing this issue of exclusivity could be a real starting point for HR professionals. At Ochre House we’ve held think tanks with senior level HRD’s on this topic and are always striving to give HR professionals the tools to succeed. As the debate continues, we are working with international HRD’s to identify some of the best practice examples which can really drive this issue.