Welcome back to The Equity Opportunity series – a set of posts unpacking the key findings of our recent white paper.
In this second blog, we look at the starting point for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategies. How can organisations ensure their programmes support and empower women at all levels? And how truly accessible are these initiatives?
Let’s dive into what our HR leaders shared with us within the white paper.
Not all equity strategies are created equal
We found that across organisations, the maturity of DEI strategies varies significantly. And, as you’d expect, the higher the female employee quotient, the more advanced the strategy.
Take Christina Quinn, Director of Leadership at NHS South West Leadership Academy’s perspective, “In the NHS over 50% of the workforce is female so dedicated programmes within our DEI strategy are essential. My concern is that while it has the provision, can everyone access it in an equitable way? I’d like to see more work on that.”
Charlie Johnston, Chief People Officer at Mambu, agreed that there’s an awakening that is demanded of organisations when looking to lead on DEI. As he told us, “We’ve grown from 500 people 15 months ago to 1,000 today and we are actively developing our own strategy. Our DEI policy, Belonging at Mambu will accelerate and develop our approach to attracting, retaining, engaging and developing women in our workplace.”
Who owns the women in workplace conversation?
Gathering insights from the HR leaders contributing to The Equity Opportunity, a starting point is really understanding who owns the women and equity conversation within the organisation. Who’s communicating it? And how is it being cascaded deeper so that all employees benefit?
Working with a range of leading UK organisations, Helen Normoyle, Co-Founder at My Menopause Centre, also sees the conversation as owned by HR. “It’s led by HR, but it must have active executive sponsorship – it can’t just be driven through the HR team . We always recommend that senior male executives are involved. When it comes to menopause specifically, this isn’t just a matter for middle aged women – it’s a business issue and business opportunity.”
For Tom Perry, Head of Learning and Development at Opus Talent Solutions, there’s also a need to integrate this ownership throughout the organisation. “While the agenda is driven by DEI leaders, the conversation is also organically led by female leaders, who are positively influencing culture within their own departments. DEI leaders are experts who can bring insight to life, but it’s those female leaders who can make it part of the everyday conversation, through their lived experience.”
Equity as a board issue
The role of the board is pivotal in prioritising women-focused strategies, in terms of governance, implementation and leadership. Exploring this theme, we found HR leaders to be unanimous in boards setting the tone.
Charlie Jonhston told us, “Our board, investors and CEO are clear: DEI must be a priority, particularly on gender. It’s a regular discussion with leadership. One of our co-founders is a woman so she’s also pioneered the way we do things since our inception.”
He adds, “The challenge is making sure that conversations on diversity aren’t happening in a vacuum. How do you bring our diverse communities together with leadership and have real conversations on what needs to change?”
Devyani Vaishampayan, NED and Future of Work expert, speaks to the strategic role boards play in pushing this agenda. “The board’s role is about strategy, governance, and oversight of performance. Therefore, DEI is becoming important for boards. There’s been a big social shift in women in the workplace with a visibility of issues being discussed in a bigger way.”
Real inclusivity starts with leadership
Through this whitepaper, Cognomie wanted to explore the role of leadership in shaping a workplace where women not only perform well but thrive in their careers.
Helen Normoyle observed, “An inclusive culture requires top-down leadership married with bottom-up, grassroots support and ‘pull’. This requires education, tools, and staff confidence that their organisation is coming from a place of good faith and integrity. To drive real cultural change, you need to go beyond policy-as-a-document to bringing it to life and creating the psychological safety that will enable an age-inclusive culture.”
Charlie Johnston was clear that leaders must embrace their responsibilities and commitment to driving equity across their organisation. “In my privileged position as a male leader, I need to make it a business imperative in my day-to-day work. We know performance is driven by having better gender diversity and making sure everyone feels included, welcomed, respected, and heard. Women should be shaping the policies that apply to them.”
He added, “The role of the leader is critical; you can have nice values, nice intentions but you need great leaders to bring these to life on a daily basis.”
Leadership in actual action
Finally, leadership. How do leaders truly embody their strategies in behaviour?
As Christina Quinn explained, “Having an extremely senior leader champion this work – beyond lip service- is essential. This means doing and being it. Attach hard metrics to it so you can demonstrate that “If we get this right, it improves our productively by X amount. Building evidence in the workplace is important.”
Devyani Vaishampayan added, “In today’s environment having the right skills and leadership capability is your biggest competitive advantage so you have that cascading effect. Today we need leaders who are empathetic, can communicate well, bring creative thinking – traditionally skills that women are good at. Without women in leadership positions, organisations are ultimately losing out on essential skills in tough competitive environment.”
These insights show us how integral real board engagement, inclusivity, and compassionate, listening leadership are to shape and integrate impactful strategies.
Want to seize this opportunity?
Do you want to address this opportunity for equity in your organisation? Do you need help is establishing what you can do to seek further equity? Would you like to learn more about the role of coaching in achieving this opportunity and the role of equity in achieving wider organisational wellbeing?
Or, if you play a role in your organisation’s development and that of those who work with you and their Mental Fitness, we’d love to talk.