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Diversity by Design: Achieving Gender Equality with Behavioural Change


Diversity by Design: Achieving Gender Equality with Behavioural Change

by John Scott

IDG Associate

I tend to avoid reading business books. Some are about the cult of personality and tend to be long on hubris. It’s rare for business leaders to take responsibility for their mistakes.

Some books belong in the fantasy and science fiction section of the bookstore – so fantastical and imaginative in their prescriptions and analyses of successful businesses that they are on a planet I certainly don’t recognise.

Some belong in the engineering section – detailed, mechanical accounts of a ‘how to’ variety, which typically involve doing a small number of things which are then somehow guaranteed of success.

I attended a presentation by Iris Bohnet who published What Works in 2016. The book claims that diversity training fails due to unconscious bias, behavioural design is better at attaining gender equality, and “by de-biasing organisations instead of individuals, smart changes can be made that have big impacts”. Her presentation and my subsequent reading of her book changed my views on business books and gender equality in a number of ways:

  1. She makes no unsubstantiated claims for her work or that of others in the field. Her approach is robust, well evidenced and intelligently cautious.
  2. If the evidence is sketchy, she calls it out.
  3. Any number of her insights confirms what I have suspected for a long time but haven’t quite summoned up the courage to put into words e.g. simple diversity training focused on raising awareness adds nothing to diversity.
  4. Token women on Boards are precisely that and senior teams needs a critical mass of women on them before the women and therefore the team can be effective. Seeing is believing.
  5. Small changes can deliver significant impact e.g. much of the language in recruitment advertising has a distinctly male flavour to it. Change the language and the response to it will change.
  6. Design procedures around pay and performance management which recognise that women don’t ask for increases in the former and are more cautious about rating themselves highly in the latter compared to men
  7. I like the focus on piloting initiatives and then evaluating outcomes using as much data as possible whilst being brutally honest.

What Works is awash with insights about how to design gender equality activities and is worth reading time and again.

From here to there, with some careful organisation design along the way.

IDG include Diversity and Inclusion modules as key elements in our development programmes. We focus not only on understanding how to enhance and support the development of inclusive behaviours for yourself, but within your leadership team as well.

We also regularly hold “An Introduction to Inclusive Leadership” workshops. The next one takes place on the 17th March in Amman, Jordan. You can discover more details about these events, sign up for the workshop in Jordan, and find out when we will be holding a workshop near you on the event page.

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