What lessons can we learn from the good practices selected?
Based on the good practices in the database and interviews with the organisations' diversity managers, we collected some useful advice. What lessons can we learn? What are the levers needed in practice to improve the gender balance in organisations?
Gender-conscious business pays off.
More and more organisations are seeing that a diverse workforce, including a more balanced gender distribution, has a positive effect on staff well-being and on operational results.
Companies with shortage occupations that are confronted with shortages in the labour market in the ‘classical (male) pool’ when filling their positions are actively engaged in looking for women. Innovative sectors are focusing on diverse recruitment and career policies, based on the idea that diversity stimulates creativity.
We see that companies who (also/mainly) aim their service provision at female customers, are extra motivated to move women up to helping make strategic decisions. Establishing M/F target figures also provides clarity on goals to be aimed for and allows for improvements to be achieved in a step-by-step manner, differentiated if necessary by different kinds of roles, departments or levels.
Some organisations expressly wish to present themselves as a reflection of our society, which is clearly diverse, and aim for a gender balance through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Focusing on a better work-life balance makes companies more attractive in the labour market. Many organisations demonstrate how work-life balance is viewed as an important extra-legal benefit. Announcing the measures taken means less money having to be spent on recruitment. It also seems to attract a new kind of employee, one who is clearly more motivated by the nature of the job than by monetary reasons.
Far more than separate actions, create a supportive working environment for an embedded policy.
In order to arrive at a gender-friendly policy, a working environment must be created that allows and encourages such a policy. In other words, a general culture must be embedded in which a gender-conscious policy is seen as only natural. Many of these things can be found in the classical change management processes and can be applied to gender-conscious business too.
- Map out the (initial) situation.
It is necessary to have a good insight into existing inequalities at your organisation. To this end, you can run a general gender audit, which looks for problematic situations and their causes in a wide range of processes, i.e. broader than classical domains such as recruitment, promotion and remuneration. A baseline measurement is crucial for monitoring further trends and results, and to be able to celebrate successes.
It is often counterproductive to (only) set up new processes around diversity actions: investigate existing communication, HR and other processes and structures and subject them to a gender test.
Have due regard not only to short-term actions, but long-term actions for a larger group of staff as well in order to build up a pool of talent. That also means reviewing the structure of the workforce, both for today and for five or ten years' time. What is the employee make-up in terms of gender, age, type of contract, and map out, for example – anonymously – how many employees are taking on a caring role in their private life.
Be sure to keep your finger on the pulse and regularly investigate employees' expectations and wishes around the gender policy. This can be done through both informal contact and formal constructions, such as a permanent agenda point at an internal consultation or a staff meeting where affairs around the gender policy can be discussed.
- Build support and implement new initiatives.
Structure is needed in order for gender diversity actions to gain a foothold at an organisation.
Without ‘sponsorship’ from the absolute top of the company, actions will often remain one-off, ‘nice to have’, depending on the coincidental enthusiasm of a few staff at a particular time, or for example on a budget surplus. Mere toleration from the top is not enough. M/F executives must make clear commitments themselves, include diversity and gender equality in corporate strategy, charters and value, and translate these into objectives at all levels.
Companies in Belgium that are part of a larger global organisation, more diverse through their international nature by definition, often have the advantage of existing initiatives that they can adopt locally, adjusting as necessary for the specific needs here.
Setting up a gender-friendly policy is not just HR's job either. A project structure will be needed, with an M/F team of representatives from the various operational departments and at different levels in order to initiate and monitor actions. This will bring about the necessary ‘buy-in’ from across the organisation.
Diversity managers will benefit from seeking further information and support, for example through an external professional network.
Align gender actions sufficiently with different (age) categories. Millennials often see gender actions as something that is not their concern; not all women are mothers or care for a family. Actions that promote well-being, often related to various forms of flexible working, should not be seen as separate from measures that support staff in their career. Do not turn both themes into an either/or affair. In fact, more intensive forms of place and time-independent work can have a positive effect on the careers of women, because there is less of a requirement for them to work truly part-time in order to carry out care tasks at particular moments. Don't forget a personal approach: link networking initiatives to individual career guidance.
Adopt a supportive stance. Give employees the time to adjust to the new arrangements – there will always be some proponents and dissidents.
- Inform and communicate in an open corporate culture.
Communication plays a key role in a successful culture change and in breaking through stereotypical thinking.
Inform all staff regularly about target figures, possibilities, actions and trends as regards the gender balance. Seize every chance to communicate to make diversity a topic of conversation. Give all staff the chance to experience their own ‘unconscious bias’ more directly through workshops. Draw clear distinctions using masculine and feminine behaviours instead of man/woman contrasts. Allow sufficient testimony from female role models, because a powerful personal story has more appeal than a written guideline. Make communication about cultural change regarding flexible working very concrete: give some examples of what can and cannot be done, otherwise you risk continuing to orient yourself around old habits.
Clear and transparent procedures should therefore be provided. Clear agreements will ensure that everything can run more smoothly and efficiently.
Be mindful of not stigmatising women, to make the diversity and gender policy a positive story for all staff without excluding other target groups. More and more organisations are setting up a broad policy around diversity and inclusion (D&I) and rightly aiming not just for gender diversity, but also for other pillars such as age and culture. Be mindful, though, that specific actions to combat the existing gender inequality do not disappear when setting up programs with a broader line of approach.
- Dare to evaluate and adjust.
Regular monitoring of identified target figures and adjustment of actions are necessary in a rapidly changing society and a growing company, not least for gender-conscious business. Review whether the actions issued are being used effectively. Measure improvements (or hindrances) at the level of the employees themselves, such as well-being and satisfaction with the actions. You may even achieve (long-term) results at the company level, such as reduced absenteeism and greater productivity.
If there is a visible improvement, then the organisation can show this off and communicate it, both internally and externally. No better advertisement for attracting new talent. If no positive results have been achieved, then be enterprising and adjust the measure or action.