Diversity: Is it really all about Gender??

I am attending a roundtable discussion tomorrow on ‘maximising the potential of women in organisations’. It will be attended by stakeholders from within the FTSE 100 and other organisations in the public and voluntary sectors – and for me, is symptomatic of the progress being made by businesses to deal with the gender gap at Board and management levels in UK based organisations.

Indeed, such discussions are not only happening here in the UK. It was only a couple of days ago, a colleague and good friend forwarded me a link to an article which reported on the bold steps the New Zealand Stock Exchange had taken to begin addressing the gender balance through ensuring that publicly listed companies mandatorily reported on gender by 2012, putting in place development programs as well as a range of other initiatives, etc

Now, I am very much in favour of the practical steps and initiatives being taken by governments, international organisations, and senior stakeholders on this important agenda. Indeed, I have designed programs aimed at promoting greater gender diversity myself. But I do, nonetheless, have a niggling question, which some of my readers may also have, and which we have to ask: What about the other equality ‘strands’ or ‘protected characteristics? – those living with disabilities, those from a range of ethnic minority communities, those with a ‘different’ sexual orientation, the socially and economically disadvantaged, the ‘younger’ and ‘older’ talent who find workplace mobility difficult to positively navigate, etc. What’s happening to them? What initiatives are being put in place for them? Is there even the slightest possibility that they feel left out of the ‘inclusivity’ picture here?

Whilst at University, I spent a lot of time studying feminist philosophical and theological arguments which sought to de-shackle and liberate ‘the woman’ from the historical androcentric biases of their male counterparts in all aspects of societal life. It was very interesting to read, because as a young man who happened to come from a ‘minority’ background, I found I was immediately able to connect with the arguments posed because, intellectually, they were extremely similar in their point of departure with the arguments posed from an ethnic and racial perspective. Indeed, the arguments from a disability, sexual orientation, and age perspective pretty much have similar points of departure. In other words, there is a commonality here, which in turn suggests an inclusive approach to positively managing arising workplace issues, similar to gender.

It is no secret that BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) representation at Board and management levels within the FTSE 100, for example, is pretty woeful. Indeed, the figures below, though taken in 2007, I don’t believe have radically changed:

  • There are 8 BME women in total on FTSE 100 Boards (7% of directors). However all hold non-executive positions and only one woman is a British national.
  • The overall proportion of ethnic minority male and female directors in the FTSE 100 is 4.7%. (source: The Female FTSE 100 Report 2008 – Cranfield University School of Management
  •  And with regard Disability: Nearly 1 in 5 people of working age, around 7 million people, or 18.6% in Great Britain have a disability, visible and invisible. How many disabled people (a term I actually think needs liberating) are actually at management and Board level positions in the FTSE 100? The statistics, despite research, were difficult to locate – and that in itself says a lot to me!

The question is, how far does one go with these statistical ‘political’ facts and figures that appear to justify the agenda of one ‘equality strand’ over another? I have always been, and will continue to be a proponent of a thoroughly inclusive approach to effective people management and development in businesses. However, it is my view that aligning oneself, personally or strategically as an organisation, to particular ‘strands’ and diversity initiatives that specifically focus on particular ‘equality characteristics’, if not done carefully, can appear to be divisive rather than inclusive. As such, we need to ensure we re-define and thoroughly explain our approach to gender inclusivity within management and board level positions, so as to avoid all forms of ‘tokenism’, ‘box-ticking’ and the politics of ‘equalitisation’ from inadvertently destroying the essential and overall inclusive nature that diversity as strategy brings to the life, soul and successful functioning of an organisation’s life.

In a recent report, Lord Davies is reported as saying: “All members of the government want to make sure that companies realise…that…(gender inclusivity)…is not just about publication of (a) report, but about a long-term transformation of the boardroom. This is a continuous issue that’s not going to go away.”

On my own part, I solicit Lord Davies to borrow a leaf from Mark Weldon, Chief Executive of the New Zealand Stock Exchange, who in setting the scope of its inclusive initiative, clearly stated that it would go “beyond gender and broaden to look at diversity in general, including ethnic representation”.

Jude-Martin is Director of Diversity is…a consultancy focused on providing a fresh and innovative approach to diversity through the provision of services covering Strategy, Assessment, and Development for ensuring effective people management in the 21st century global business context.

For more information contact: www.diversity-is.com judemartin1st@yahoo.co.uk or call 07738427180


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3 responses to “Diversity: Is it really all about Gender??

  1. Joel

    Bottom line: Organizational leadership must develop cultural competence; it is just that, a competency that must be developed, if not for the business imperative, at least, because it’s the right thing to do. If cultural competence doesn’t start at the top of any organization, and is truly embraced at that level, no diversity intiative will succeed. As an aside, diversity training per sé is ineffective in most organizations.

  2. Brian

    Another point of view: It appears that cultural competency is just a fad to yield an appearance that their business is on the forefront of social consciousness. I’m not that amused at their antics. They really dont care. The major concern of the execs rest with how well the business is thriving. They could care less about how diverse their group really is. However, I will admit that there are some companies that really have that genuine dynamic of having a balanced group. They are the exception to the rule. The bottom line to all our concerns rest with simply being employed. And yes, we all would like to be represented fairly.

    • Hi Brian,

      Great response.

      I think that once we begin to see cultural competence as a core part of becoming an effective organisation, one that delivers measurable benefits,the sooner execs will be bought into the business case. The ‘business case’ for diversity, cultural competence and culture change is now well established.

      An organisation where employees are all about being employed – says a lot about its culture. Don’t you think?

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