How Leaders Can Do Better in Gender Diversity and Equality, Right Now
As boardrooms become more diverse, as senior management roles are landed by people from a greater variety of backgrounds, business edges towards reflecting society more fairly.
But there’s a long way to go on this journey of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. And it can feel daunting — and exasperating! Women and underrepresented minorities have been demanding equity for generations, only to be confronted with recurrent structural bias and inaction.
If you want to change the world, start by waking up early. There’s a lot to do. No wonder, then, that our early-morning Empower Breakfast Panel at Coupa Inspire 2022 in Berlin was so well attended. We were joined by three esteemed speakers — business leaders who’ve helped women and minorities overcome numerous hurdles to succeed in their careers, and who have themselves reached senior positions and are delivering great impact in their organisations:
- Patsy Christian, Accounts Payable Manager/GPO P2P, Bourne Leisure
- Alison Rogan, Global Head of Travel and Expense, Barclays
- Mark Roberts, Director of Commercial Services, Met Police
Every business’s DEI journey will look different because every business is starting from somewhere different. Our session at Inspire 2022 in Berlin addressed multiple aspects of getting DEI right. Couldn’t be there in person? Keep reading to discover what leaders like you can do right now to walk the walk when it comes to gender diversity — to start removing barriers to women’s opportunities and help women in your business reach their full potential.
Make allyship a cornerstone of gender diversity and equality
Leaders need to understand how they will bring everyone in their organisations on this journey. Mark highlighted the strategic imperative of inclusive leadership. “If we don’t address diversity challenges in our workforce,” he explained, “we can’t properly engage with our communities where diversity is very much the reality. It runs the risk of being dismissive — and for a police force, that can be a matter of life and death.”
The best inclusive leaders — the ones who consistently and actively seek out and consider other perspectives and experiences — are allies. They join forces with other individuals around a common interest and take action to reduce disparities. Patsy, Alison, and Mark shared their perspectives on how the most influential allies sit at the top of an organisation.
Speaking up and speaking out about inequality and exclusion can be intimidating. Many people wonder, Will I be ignored? Gaslighted? Sidelined in my career? Allies help transform these stifling environments into places where employees trust one another, feel safe, and know they’ll be taken seriously.
Inclusive leaders also know that representation matters. “I was noticing that above me, there was no one who looked like me or sounded like me,” Patsy recalled, “and it can be really hard to open up and have tough conversations in situations like that.” Employees will feel safer and more included when allies come from diverse walks of life.
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Drive business impact with DEI and women’s empowerment
Bringing everyone into a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace is just one part of a leader’s job. Another equally critical task is learning how to harness the diversity of your teams and organisation as a whole to make better business decisions. Alison and Mark spoke about different ways to approach this process. Leaders can:
- Introduce or participate in reverse mentoring programs to deepen their awareness of the professional barriers diverse employees face
- Hire people with great potential, and then actively plan that new hire’s trajectory within the company
Cultivate gender diversity by cultivating a learning culture
Alison spoke about several instances in which she knew she was stepping outside her comfort zone. “It was as though the expectations of me had shifted overnight,” she recalls. But she soon learned that after a few times, she felt more confident about taking on work she hadn’t considered before. What helped her thrive: an organisation that saw failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Companies that know how to nurture their employees’ desire to learn are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries over time. Inclusive leaders will need to have a vision of how to create safe spaces for learning to happen. Put simply, if you don’t fail, you don’t learn,” says Mark. “If you don’t feel safe to make that next step — and you may stumble — but you don’t learn. So we have to give that latitude, that support to get things wrong sometimes. People need to hear not just ‘I trust you to manage this’ but ‘You are absolutely the right person for this job. Go make it happen.’”
“When it comes to DE&I, commit to pushing at all levels to make an impact. Try to be a positive agitator. And make sure that, as a leader, you lift others as you rise.” — Patsy Christian, Accounts Payable Manager/GPO P2P, Bourne Leisure
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