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Gender Diversity at Work: Moving From the “Why” to the “How”

Updated: Apr 13, 2019

Gender diversity has become quite the topic in our modern workplace. But for many women, progress has been slower than expected. At this point in time, it’s not so much about understanding why we need gender diverse organisations, but how we get them.

That’s why Circle took on this challenging topic in a recent panel discussion, which certainly generated a lively debate and interesting ideas.

We assembled an appropriate panel of thought leaders to address this topic. They included:

- Rosemary Hitchcock, Head of Technology — Fulfilment, at YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP

- Debbie Forster, CEO of Tech Talent Charter

- Andrew Harmel-Law, Technical Principal at Thoughtworks

The session was moderated by our very own Circle co-founder, Sam Hepburn. We followed four main themes:

- How companies can hire more women

- Making company policies inclusive of everyone

- Personal development is your responsibility

- Make sure your company is the right fit

How companies can hire more women

Many organisations may aspire to hire more women, but when you consider that just 17% of the technology workforce is made up of women, that may be easier said than done. With the existing talent pool seemingly just a puddle, our panel suggested that it’s time for recruiters to start looking outside the box.

Forster made the point that “it’s not just a matter of simply tweaking job descriptions. Consider looking at those who are returning to work, instead of just young graduates.

Rosemary Hitchcock suggested that if you are looking for graduates, consider looking at degrees beyond just computer science. She commented, “Technology is as much about your enthusiasm as it is about the hard skills. At YNAP, we place a huge focus on soft skills in our job descriptions”.

Hitchcock went on to draw on her experience as Head of Technology. As a leader she says “it’s your responsibility to look at the pipeline for your role. Ensure it looks diverse”.

“Technology is as much about your enthusiasm as it is about the hard skills.”

Making company policies inclusive of everyone

How can companies be more inclusive of everyone — not specifically women? One example suggested by Debbie Forster is to refer to maternity leave or even parental leave as “family leave”.

Why? Because there are so many reasons you might need to take time off work for family needs. It’s not just about women and maternity. For instance, we discussed the need to take leave to assist ageing parents. Leave policies that focus more on personal or family needs as a whole are more inclusive, for example of males or females, carers, or those with or without children.

As society develops, so too should the policies that organisations adopt. Policies that suited the workforce ten or twenty years ago, are not necessarily appropriate to our lives and family priorities today. Organisations shouldn’t be afraid to “pilot” new policies. Not every policy will work out, but it’s important to trial then and demonstrate to staff that you are flexible and considerate — of everyone.

Andrew Harmel-Law went on to suggest that every individual should feel comfortable enough to suggest policies for their workplace, and have the tools and processes available to help make them a reality.

Personal development is your responsibility

If you have aspirations to become a leader in your organisation, then consider what needs to happen with your personal development to reach that goal.

One of my favourite pieces of advice on this subject came from Hitchcock who very enthusiastically suggested to “Let your ambition be known”! She expanded her point by suggesting that instead of letting your manager set your objectives for you, you should set your own. Hopefully your manager will appreciate your proactivity and ambition, and approve them.

We also discussed taking initiative. For example, getting involved in public speaking on behalf of your company to boost your confidence and your profile. Or volunteering to work with other teams will develop your network and reputation at work.

Basically, sitting quietly and just doing your job isn’t enough. You have to take responsibility for your own development, otherwise your colleague shouting louder than you may receive the support and recognition.

Harmel-Law suggested approaching someone you admire in your organisation for advice or a simple sanity check. Creating an environment that allows people to open up, share knowledge and best practice will help everyone feel more confident and supported.

“Let your ambition be known. Sitting quietly and just doing your job isn’t enough.”

Make sure your company is the right fit

There’s no point finding a job only to discover the opportunities for development and career progression are limited. You need to take responsibility for making sure the job is a good fit for your career aspirations.

Our moderator, Sam Hepburn, recommended that a job interview should always be a two way street. She came up with a laundry list of suggestions on how to do this including: “Go in with three to four non-negotiables; find out their managing style, and who needs to sign off to get things done’; look for red flags and listen to your intuition; and finally, ask to meet more of the team before you agree to take the job.”

We certainly enjoyed the lively discussion and hope that some of the ideas floated and generated give you some useful tips to take to your organisation.

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