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There is a false assumption that all people care to change the status quo

Oct 07 2020 • 3 min read • Diversity

Despite the significant investments pumped into DEI initiatives, most organisations still struggle to stop the revolving door that professional women swing through at alarming rates. While experts recommend interrogating insightful data from surveys and exit interviews, the reality is that not much is shared at the time where employees are desperately wanting to put their experiences past them. The glaring question is, why does the retention of valuable female talent continue to remain elusive?

Just In the past 12 months, seven high ranking Black female executives left Wells Fargo due to the bank’s rigid culture around race and gender, depleting the pipeline of women executives of color to the bank’s most senior positions. Of course, it’s never just one or two straightforward issues that cause the leaky pipeline, but rather a myriad of challenges that drive women to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Interestingly, research by Working Mother Media reported that, even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, multicultural women were already considering fleeing their jobs in record numbers, citing bias and lack of support as the main culprits. Structural biases continue to exist regardless of the time spent on training, even those specifically on unconscious bias. An interesting perspective from a Leadership Coach on why unconscious bias workshops fail, is that the training assumes that all people care to change the status quo. It ignores that there are, in most organisations, a large group of tenured but mediocre individuals for whom the status quo of reduced competition has been key to their success and stability. For them, inclusion is a threat and the bias in language and behaviour is their weapon against that threat. A pity as we know that more organisations are increasingly commmiting to getting representation right.

So how can women thrive amidst structural biases?

For leaders that are committed to driving gender diversity, it is important to acknowledge that even with the noble gender targets in place via policies and other measures (referred to as macro level approaches), the working environment itself may still be working against you. If your leadership team is male-dominated, and those males aren’t used to including women, and especially people of colour, multicultural women simply may not feel connected to the organisation as they progress up the ladder.

Its uncomfortable but safe to say that structural biases are not going away anytime soon, we need to accept and work within the constraints and look for different approaches to enable and support women to thrive in spite of challenging environments. The problem needs to be approached from all angles and one that we believe is critical to increasing the likelihood for women to stay, is what we call the micro level approach, which is about equipping female talent with the capacity to effectively navigate and to take advantage of the opportuntiies created by existing macro level approaches.

To support the gender agenda and thus create a critical mass of women who stay and feel enabled, attention must be paid to initiatives that support and build the resilience of women. We see three pillars that are critical:

1. Having a Tribe: a support network outside the organisation to share perspectives based on lived experiences and hacks for solutions that deal with operating and thriving against all odds;

2. High Impact Coaching: coaching from other women, with the brand permission to share insights on how to navigate the biases and to break barriers, as they have walked the journey and successfully so;

3. Hyper personalised engagement: to help build the mindset and mental resilience, through content that transforms with daily micro-actions that assist women, based on where they are, to stay for the long haul.

A focus on enabling women to dismantle the pervasive cultural barriers that frustrate their progress is paramount and the solution needs to be supportive and personalised to each women’s context. Because, it is after all, women who will break down the structural biases and create workplaces and communities that are inclusive and in turn solve creatively, for the global challenges we face.

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