Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Are Organisations Diverse at All?

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Are Organisations Diverse at All?

Harini is a strategic HR Leader with proven expertise in organisational restructuring for M&A and Change Management. A design thinking practitioner, behavioral analyst, transactional analyst and innovator, she is a strong advocate of the concept of Happy Workplaces. Currently, Harini is Affiliate Partner - SSI India & Chief Mentor - HR at Intelliswift Software, Inc

It has been long proven that gender diversity has its benefits and organisations are increasingly making it a commitment to improving the gender diversity ratios. But are these efforts proving fruitful? How do organisations make their D&I programs meaningful? Let’s find out.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…….!

When I was introduced to the world of fairy tales as a child, I was always amused by the description of princesses! Ever heard of the story of the princess who had a sleepless night due to a pea underneath several mattresses? What an impression that we have been carrying about genders since our childhood! I grew up in a society where women were being referred to as ‘The weaker sex’ or at the most ‘The fairer sex’. Since I was always a shade darker than dusky-skinned, and seldom fall sick, I could never resonate with both these terms.

Growing up amidst boys in a non-discriminatory environment only distanced me further from this perception. This obviously made its manifestations in the way I dealt with life and its situations. Today, as we talk about the importance of improving gender diversity at our workplace, my thoughts go back to the numerous research works that have been published on this subject. It is worthwhile to take a pause here and look at some of the findings.

In 2012, the European Commission’s communication to the European Parliament stressed the importance of gender diversity for increased productivity, excellence and growth.

The data suggests that teams may benefit from various diversities such as age, gender, demography, ethnicity, etc. In 2017, McKinsey’s anniversary publication provided a relevant, fact-based picture of the representation of women in the top management of corporations around the world. This brought to the surface the key lessons in gender parity. It also offered an overview of the persistent barriers, as well as critical levers needed to make change happen, such as ways to enable women’s participation, engage men, and build strong pipelines of women leaders. This study involved a number of leading thinkers from the business, government, academic, and social arenas to provide their perspectives on the various dimensions of the issue. 

The report concludes by inviting everyone to dare to imagine what a truly inclusive company would look like in the future and summarizes by highlighting top attributes of a progressive organisation including unorthodox culture, polymorphic and diverse leadership, empowerment instead of control and last but not the least, fair and transparent.


Taking lessons from these findings, an experiment with teams with varying gender diversity has shown that when a set of simple and complicated tasks are given to a group, a collective intelligence factor predicts group performance rather than the IQ of individual group members. Key factors of this include the group members’ social behaviours and conversational ability. Rather than looking at the number of women in the group why don’t we look at these competencies and constitute a well-balanced and high performing group?

Therefore, a diverse group is more likely to have a better potential for boosting collective intelligence in the group.

The essence of all such research is that things could get boring if everyone in a group thought and did alike. Consequences could be worse in the context of a business. So, what does gender diversity bring to the table, after all? Let’s take a step back and look at it in perspective. What does each one of us bring to the table? We all know and agree that everyone is unique. However, there could be commonalities that make us form groups.

One such commonality is gender itself! In other words, even if we were to say that each one is unique, it also means that all men are similar in a way, or all women are similar in a way. Therefore, a team that is lacking gender diversity probably could be a consensual group that does not challenge each other. Do remember, unconscious consensus does not take a leap to success. You need a disruptor in the team! Perhaps a different gender could be one such disruptor.

It has been long proven that gender diversity has its benefits and organisations are increasingly making it a commitment to improving the gender diversity ratios. At the same time, it is surprising to see that there isn’t much progress and that corporates are still struggling to make it their culture.

Another recent survey has thrown some interesting statistics –

  • only around 50% of all employees think that their organisation sees gender diversity as a priority and is doing what it takes to make progress.
  • 76% of companies have articulated a business case of gender diversity.
  • only 13% have taken the critical next step of calculating the positive impact on the business.
  • about 20% of staff say that their company’s commitment to gender diversity feels like lip service.

With a strong belief that the HR function is the architect of an organisation’s culture, let me list 4 key aspects that can bring about meaningful gender diversity in any organisation.

1. Back to Basics on Diversity – Getting the Fundamentals Right!

When it comes to gender diversity, experts agree that setting goals, tracking, and reporting on progress, and rewarding success are key to driving organisational change.

In this context, while organisations are compelled to set targets for gender diversity, very few of them tend to focus on setting achievable targets.

More focus can be on the analytics around measuring and reporting the progress. The HR leaders could play a pivotal role in designing such targets by utilizing their keen market sense and understanding of the candidate demographics.

Programs could be put in place for senior leaders to take accountability for making progress toward gender parity.

2. Putting into Practice Gender Unbiased Processes

Driving a healthier gender ratio can be achieved in two ways. One, hiring more women consciously and without compromise on competency. Second, adopting the right practices for career progression. If organisations are unable to make progress in improving diversity, it is highly probable that these processes need a thorough review.

A survey in 2018 showed that

  • less than one-third of participating companies set diversity targets for hiring and promotions
  • less than one fourth used tools to reduce bias when reviewing resumes

Also, very few companies are conscious of training employees to recognize biases and use appropriate bias interrupters and push back against bias in hiring and promotions.

HR evangelists can play a key role here to impart such training and help in designing tools that can be validated and used for competency-based hiring and promotions without applying any judgment based on gender.

3. Driving Accountability From the Top

It is always less disruptive to get senior leaders and managers to drive organisational change.

Senior leaders set the cultural agenda in organisations. It is worthwhile to pause here and do a quick pulse check on how many leaders are convinced of the importance of having a diverse workforce? How many are aware of the real essence in improving gender diversity and not doing it just for the sake of numbers? Managers make day-to-day decisions that shape employees’ experiences. Yet, there are very few managers who are open to challenging biases. It also requires the authenticity of leadership to be able to acknowledge bias and provide guidance on how to improve gender diversity.

HR leaders are well equipped to use their authentic persuasive skills to coach and help leaders and managers recognize the role they play in cascading this culture.

4. Building Processes Around Employees and Not Force-fitting Them into Processes

Build Processes Around Employees

This is the most important aspect in HR professionals hold the key to make a breakthrough here. The focus needs to be moved away from creating rigid procedures and standards that may not accommodate exceptions to those that can be flexed reasonably for a win-win solution. If it benefits to increase the representation of women at all levels, organisations need to find more ways to help employees balance work and family.

While most organisations offer some flexibility such as the ability to work part-time or telecommute, there are very few who are able to design and implement these with sustainability.

An empowered HR function wearing the hat of the change catalyst can very well re-word the fairytale quote to make it more relevant?

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, bring me the fairest of them all.

Oh! Not in complexion, that’s old But in competency that is the gold!”


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