Bridging the diversity gap

Bridging the diversity gap
Published: 18 April 2019

What is the cause of the lack of diversity at senior management level, and what do both sides need to do to bridge that gap? Anne van Herwijnen, Partner Life Sciences at Berwick Partners (an Odgers Berndtson company) gives her view from her side of the table. 

What prevents women from being recognised as potential leaders? 
Where a man often speaks with certainty, a woman will express herself more modestly and naturally states her case in an advisory, unassuming manner. And that is not always recognised. Sometimes, it is better to speak with a little bravado. Call it the masculine way. 

We, as women, are much more inclined to talk ourselves down, to use diminutives. What i’d like to hear more from women, and I’ll quote Pippi Longstocking on that: “I’ve never done it before, so I think I can pull it off”. 

Furthermore, women tend to keep achievements to themselves, while men are more open about them.  

And as a headhunter you tend to be inclined to look at examples that come out of men, to assess them in women.

Can we bridge the diversity gap? 
The pond where we can fish from for women of a certain level is a much smaller one, making it more difficult to place women in senior positions. 

When I speak to women on a senior management level, they tell me: “I came here by adapting as much as possible to that masculine world." However, the further they come, the more they dare to rely on their own femininity, using more space and autonomy for themselves. This gives me hope for the future.  

Why do women leave ? 
Women mainly leave companies because they are being paid less, are not offered development opportunities to help them move ahead, or don't find the work meaningful enough. They leave, and look for something better.

If your leadership team is male-dominated, and those males aren't used to include women, she simply may not feel comfortable in the organisation as she progresses up the ladder. You may need to consciously develop a strategy to help create more diverse management and leadership teams. 

So the overarching question to organisations becomes: Do you see your employees as your capital, as an investment, as a distinctive asset in your company? Because they make the difference, not the product or service you deliver. 

What advantages do women in senior management bring?
Data has shown that increased effectiveness occurs because women choose to continue to learn and develop themselves. The point is not male versus female, but rather the power of development and continuous improvement.

In general, more of a mix between men and women could enable both to reinforce one another. Then, women can learn from the certainty of men, and men can learn from the modesty of women.
We should also refrain from saying “there’s men and there’s women”. Because the fact is that every man and every woman has both feminine and masculine energy. If both are in balance, people are more effective. Recognising that will make someone a more complete person. 

The diversity discussion is of course not for nothing, but we must see what it leads to. Now, there are situations in which a woman is hired to fulfil a diversity target. That should not be the intention. The goal should be to see what the assignment is, and who could best carry it out.  

What role do headhunters have? 
Effectuating change is what headhunters do. But when there is a diversity target, there will never be real change. Diversity must be more of a change in culture in the long term. By bringing that up with clients, we can help shape the conversation. The client can be inclined to fill in a role without challenging their own assumptions on what can really bring them further. 

As headhunters, we should provide examples of how diversity works well in other organisations, and support that with data, because diversity and different perspectives provide a lot. But we must believe it does and act upon it, instead of doing what we have been doing all along. 
Organisations can greatly benefit from putting more emphasis on identifying women in their ranks, and working to develop them for senior roles they can succeed in.

In all, our findings should be clear: Companies need the diversity and benefits female leaders provide. Every company benefits from placing much greater emphasis on getting more women into its leadership ranks.

Berwick Partners is an agile, proactive executive search and recruitment firm, with offices throughout the UK, the Netherlands and the Emirates. Find a consultant here.  

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