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Jon Dymond

Hay Group


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Can we please stop blaming women for diversity problems?


Why is it always assumed that gender diversity is all about women?

Too often female under-representation in senior positions is blamed on motherhood, women shying from responsibility and failing to behave like men.

It’s time to stop blaming supposed ‘women issues’ for the lack of diversity in business. The solution does not lie in asking women to ‘lean in’ or play the game the 'male way' but lies fundamentally in changing the way things are done.

Unfortunately, many of today's managers, and the cultures of the organisations they run, are out of date or at least in need of some modernisation. At present, they are struggling to recruit, keep or promote women, but they're also failing to motivate their people across the company – with Generation Y a prime example.

The age of efficiency is an archaic concept

A significant factor behind this is that organisations of the 20th century were essentially designed to produce efficiency. The way that they managed people, and approached what management is, served that purpose well – indeed, a big dose of that approach was essential for companies during re-structure in the recession. But organisations are now struggling to cope with a different world: new business challenges require less siloed and more adaptable, flexible and innovative organisations to fulfill customer demand.

As a result, managers and organisations not only need to develop as good an understanding of their people as they do of their capital and their finances, they also need to use their imagination to change their approach to their employees and how they're managed and organised.

Data shows us that diverse organisations are more likely to have the wider set of skills needed in modern matrix organisations. At the same time, McKinsey’s Women Matter report highlights that companies with three or more women in top management functions deliver 10% better return on equity.

While there is no single operating model, organisation design or way of rewarding people that can explain the success of the best-performing companies, they are united by a commitment to harnessing the energies of all their employees in pursuit of better serving their customers.

ROI from diversity

By innovating and understanding what motivates their people to perform, such organisations are naturally allowing for greater flexibility. This is not to be ‘nice’ but rather to enable them to make the very most of business opportunities. The organisations powering ahead in the present climate are those that have re-examined the work and role of the employee to benefit both the person and the organisation. In these companies, corporate culture and management styles are measured and actively managed. The result is both better delivery and a more diverse and sustainable organisation.

It is often difficult for 20th century managers to realise the need for an innovative approach. After all, successful managers feel that they know ‘what works here’ and their own progression stands testament to the success of that way of work. It is the 'outsiders' such as women, Gen Y, non-westerners and indeed employees on the front-line – who will often see this more clearly than management. Organisations must listen to their employees as it is their dissatisfaction which tells them what and where the problems are.

The time and effort put into existing approaches to diversity (gender or otherwise) is essentially wasted if those approaches are designed to help 'different people' fit in. A more effective approach is to reconsider how well you understand your people and what makes them effective, so as to properly focus on changing the organisation and the way it manages them – both to maximise their productivity and improve your ability to get business done.

All that's required now is for management to 'man up' and get on with it.

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Jon Dymond


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