CO - HR Innovation

So, #IWD is done - where to next?

So, #IWD is done - where to next?

This week saw a record number of events to mark International Women's Day by organisations - both for and not for profit - globally. Whilst this is to be applauded, it leaves us with the question: What happens once the discussions stop?

In this opinion piece, I give my thoughts on how we've got to this point and what needs to be done to ensure all the talk turns into sustainable action.

But first, let's rewind back to 2015.

At that point, even having a conversation with certain companies in certain regions about why hiring women was a ‘good idea’ was fraught with raised eyebrows, awkward silences and quickly terminated conversations. 

I once spoke at a UN event, only to be told by a male audience member that ‘women are special and should be treated differently at work.’ He did not mean it in a positive fashion. I’ve been called year-end by businesses explaining that they needed to do ‘something with their D&I budget’, only to be told that the budget was $5k. For the year. I’ve attended countless conferences and forums where those speaking would espouse their intention to hire more women or people of colour, only to have the door slammed shut when I explained I could help with that…. And I’ve had call after call with D&I advocates who sadly had no decision-making power, no strategy, no budget and no autonomy. 

So, what’s the current situation?

Following a special report recently in the Financial Times around Diversity and strategies to tackle it in the workplace, it seems I’m not the only one who’s seeing the sands shift. Although, as the report states, so many businesses quickly slashed budgets to the already under-funded D&I departments when the pandemic hit, since the rise of remote work and the #blacklivesmatter movement growing exponentially, we’ve seen a huge rise in the numbers of D&I heads being employed at businesses globally. Just search for Diversity & Inclusion as a job title on LinkedIn and you’ll find hundreds of placements made in the last 6 – 8months, and Glassdoor reports a 245% leap in such positions by November last year. 

So, times may be changing, but this shift alone is not enough to change the game for all the under-represented, ignored and discriminated-against groups out there. Awareness is only the first step and tokenism or commentary will only get us so far. According to our recent data, less than half of the companies interested in Diversely’s bias-free tools feel their company’s employee make-up is representative of its local population; only 20% are set up for physically disabled talent and 6 in 10 don’t celebrate culturally important holidays beyond those mandatory by their local law. And in December last year, 100% of the 140k jobs lost as a result of the pandemic were lost by women in the US, according to one >CNBC report.  

Where do we go next?

Well, aside from the increase in those with relevant job titles to potentially solve the problem, I see a generalized sense of hope on the horizon brought about by changes through the pandemic. Though women have borne the brunt of job loss, the majority of jobs now being offered are going to exactly that group. Why? Because the pandemic has sped up the idea of flexible working – something I and many others have seen as an obvious solution to disparity – for years. And not just by time spent in an office, but the location of that talent meaning women can now work around their families, once those families are safely back in the schoolroom. The international recruitment agency DMCG Global has seen at least a 20% rise in roles being offered at HQ’s to those not within physical reach of the office, but in the same timezone as that office – again giving those from more disadvantaged areas or with a lack of mobility an ‘in’. And there is a growing sense that companies have to be publicly accountable for their strategies, make-up and intentions – and not just from their paying customers, but also from their clients. It simply makes no sense to ignore the perspectives of those you’re trying to sell to – why second guess it, when you can simply have that as part of your team internally?

There has to be a better way forward. The new D&I heads at companies cannot fall back on old practices and old ways of doing things. Events, training and good PR aren’t going to win the day. As Roianne Nedd of Oliver Wyman points out in the FT piece, many D&I advocates were ‘glorified event planners’ and – as has been proven over years of trying – if as a business that’s what you rely on then those who are thinking more ‘roots and all’ in an interconnected, joined up way will steal a march on all the fantastic, untapped talent out there. 

How can we improve our approach to D&I?

If there’s budget now flowing to these departments, then it needs to be spent on first analysing exactly where a business is with its diversity and inclusion, then setting measurement on how to address it. Right now, our data suggest that only a tiny 5% have any way to do this, but that there is appetite to change with over 60 businesses now having been scored by our tools. Companies need to broaden their thinking across geography and culture to access the best hires and they cannot do this with their human capacities alone – they need tech and AI to help them increase reach and negate unconscious bias. We all gravitate towards those we feel a connection with, but is that always the best person for the job or the team? Over half the businesses we spoke to have no way to track, measure of implement this. And finally, they need a way to assess talent fairly on their merits, not on where they come from or how they look, and without human or unconscious bias attached. 

And this approach is our quest with Diversely.

The pandemic has done one thing above all else – it has brought us all under one mighty umbrella and shone a light on the disparities across the world; from the macro of developed versus non-developed countries and the fact that minorities have been far more impacted than majorities, but also on the micro of the role of families, the workplace and flexibility play. And the murder of George Floyd has compacted this enormously, with his death almost standing as a beacon to represent that previous indifference, that struggle, that resounding cruelty and unfairness as something that has to change. 

Suddenly, there is a palpable sense of conscience – that we simply, as a world, cannot progress if any one area or people is struggling: that we are all irretrievably connected – whether through culture, history, geography or biology - and what impacts one affects everyone. We now need to double down and act on this momentum to build better tools and strategies, creating equal opportunities for all those that wish for them.

  • Helen McGuire
    Helen McGuire
    Co-Founder & CEO Diversely.io

    As an award-winning entrepreneur in the diversity space, Helen have always been frustrated by the lack of opportunity for valuable, varied professionals out there. It seems so hard for businesses to find - and measure the impact of - that talent. She is extremely passionate about this space for the future. She founded the women’s careers platform Hopscotch. work in 2016 and was a founder member of the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles in the UAE. She brought on board in 2012 to launch Pepsi's dedicated branded content channel, Pepsi Arabia TV while she was head digital content of proximity world wide. She was Head of Content for Pulse Radio, a global online electronic music magazine She has worked with BBC.  A mother of three she is an alumnus of the University of Leeds.

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