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Mui Li

Muika Leadership

Diversity And Inclusion Expert

Read more about Mui Li

Getting women on the board is not about quick fixes

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The newspapers have been awash lately with damning surveys suggesting that large companies still have a long way to go to balance up their boardrooms and create working environments that support women’s career progression as much as they do men’s.

So it came as no surprise that Lord Davies’ Review has so far yielded minimal results.
 
While the goals and objectives laid out in the Review were fair and fully support an inclusive agenda moving forward, it is far too early to expect real and tangible results – even if some organisations may already have come up with what they believe to be long-term and sustainable cultural reforms.
 
In truth, however, today’s boardrooms are feeling the effects of what took place ten or 15 years ago. By the same token, for true change to take place in the lives of all minority groups (and not just women), HR directors must evaluate how to go about laying stable foundations for the future rather than simply going for a quick-fix.
 
Such an approach is important not least because quick-fixes can get organisations into legal hot water – it is, after all, against the law to positively discriminate. Moreover, most women who aspire to the boardroom would like to be able to think that they got there on the basis of their own merits and abilities rather that due to any legislative leg-up.
 
So when I see companies that claim to have hit gender-balance targets, which were only set in February when the Review was launched, I wonder how they’ve achieved it. I am more reassured by those businesses that are currently putting plans in place in order to try and ensure that they create a fairer working environment for the future.
 
One possible approach that came to light when we undertook our research, Past Perspectives; Future Change, was the value of providing members of minority groups working in ‘dominated’ environments with a coach and mentor as well as involving them in positive action programmes. This kind of ‘grass roots’ tack could prove particularly useful for businesses taking on large numbers of graduates or school-leavers each year, for example.
 
Sustainable change
 
Another think to think about, however, is simply working out why having more women in the boardroom might be of value to your employer and selling the idea to the chief executive. Lord Davies’ report failed to focus sufficiently on the value that female board members could afford the organisation and simply laid down voluntary guidelines – despite the deep-rooted nature of the cultural change required in many organisations.
 
To truly achieve such change and embed inclusivity and diversity deep into corporate culture, buy-in will be required at the highest – and lowest – levels of the company – and everywhere else in between. If this change is simply forced through, it will be short-lived, but if everyone truly believes in it, there is a good chance of it becoming sustainable.
 
Communication in this context is key to ensure that those at the top understand the true value of creating an inclusive environment – not just because it has to be seen to be in place in 2011, but because it can benefit the business’ bottom line. But HR teams have an equally vital role to play in ensuring that change is successfully trickled down throughout the workforce and that interest and motivation is kept alive as time goes on.
 
What this all means in essence is that implementing the changes recommended by Lord Davies in his Review was always going to take time and was unlikely to magically materialise overnight.
 
And the secret to success is in taking it slow and steady: lay the foundations, introduce policy changes and start to embed them into the DNA of the business. Constantly monitor staff to understand where and how attitudes are changing and where there is resistance.
 
But don’t rush it. This is about reform rather than quick change, and reform takes time. When it arrives, however, hopefully it will be here to stay.
 

Mui Li is diversity and inclusion expert at leadership development programme provider, Muika Leadership.

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Mui Li

Diversity And Inclusion Expert

Read more from Mui Li
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