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The 8 levers to activate for gender balance

By Louise Weine, National Director, National Association of Women in Operations (NAWO)

According to the 2017–18 FM Industry Census, there has been a steady increase in the number of female practitioners over the last five years, with women now making up 29 per cent of the FM workforce, up from 19 per cent in 2013. An organisation’s level of commitment – or lack thereof – to achieving greater diversity has also become far more interesting to employees and potential employees. The Diversity Council Australia (DCA) Inclusion@ Work Index 2017–2018 found that ‘three out of four Australian workers support or strongly support their organisation taking action to create a workplace that is diverse and inclusive’.

Louise Weine, National Director of NAWO

Diversity is increasingly important for keeping your workforce happy; if you work in an inclusive team, you are 19 times more likely to be very satisfied with your job than workers in non-inclusive teams and four times more likely to stay with your employer. You are also 10 times more likely to be highly effective than workers in non-inclusive teams, and nine times more likely to innovate (DCA Inclusion@Work Index 2017–2018).

The impact that diversity has on the recruitment process is also significant. According to Glassdoor, ‘67% – two thirds – of people consider diversity important when deciding where to work’.

The message is clear – ignore diversity at your peril! But while the message is clear, how to act upon it may not be so clear.

In my role advocating for greater diversity in some of Australia’s largest male-dominated industries and operational businesses, I often hear words of great intent; however, what is clear is that success requires more than a strong will to create change. In my experience at the National Association of Women in Operations (NAWO), organisations achieving the greatest results are implementing initiatives within these eight key levers for change:

  1. clearly articulating the ‘what’ and ‘why’ at all levels – effectively communicating the benefits of diverse teams at every level, in line with organisational values
  2. getting the basics right – measures and metrics, policy, reporting, and accountability
  3. ensuring that hiring, promotional, and remuneration processes and actions embrace a diverse talent pool
  4. engaging and supporting senior leaders and managers as role models and champions of change
  5. fostering a values-based, inclusive and respectful culture every day
  6. effectively managing transitions to and from extended leave
  7. making the ‘only’ experience rare
  8. offering employees the flexibility to fit high-performance work into their lives.

Taking action using these levers requires a clear view of what you are trying to achieve and why, and a plan for prioritisation – identifying the levers that will have the greatest impact, and understanding which ones have to be pulled before others. Ask yourself these questions before committing resources to action.

Do you have unwavering executive team support for the ‘what’ and the ‘why’?
Action requires resources, resources require time and money, and there are only so many resources to go around. The executive team needs to truly believe in the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, and be absolutely willing to say ‘yes’ to diversity actions over other priorities at times. Safety is the perfect analogy – once it was prioritised, measured and discussed, and people were held to account at the executive level, we saw a dramatic change.

Our most engaged (and consequently our most successful) NAWO member organisations have buy-in at the most senior levels. Many of their executive leaders are represented on our Board or act as NAWO Ambassadors.

Do your organisation’s values enable you to activate meaningful action every day, and empower people to identify barriers, develop solutions and take action within their own areas of responsibility?
To achieve change, an organisation needs more than just policies. Meaningful actions are essential, and creating an alignment between executive management and different teams in relation to diversity policies is important in implementing actions. But controlled, centralised, policy-driven activity can be disempowering for middle- and front-line leaders. If your organisational values are strong and embedded, you will be in a much better position to let go of the reins and trust your line leaders to activate.

Often the most obvious impediments to diversity can remain hidden from view if seeking answers is not a priority for middle- and front-line leaders. Are there female toilets/facilities available? Are the uniforms suitable for women? Are the job advertisements gender-neutral or are they likely to discourage women from applying? Am I managing my own bias as a hiring manager? Are your leaders and managers at every level well supported to build and lead diverse teams? The role of facilities managers in this analysis can be crucial.

Ever wondered why there can be such variation between teams within one organisation when it comes to diversity? Every diversity box has been ticked, yet some areas just can’t gain traction and shift those diversity stats in the right direction. Or the recruitment stage of the process seems to be working, yet retention is not.

Research has proven that diverse teams that are led inclusively enjoy greater prospects in terms of higher performance, diversity of ideas and, ultimately, engagement, innovation and business results (Ibarra and Hansen 2011:71). That being said, diverse teams can be harder to put together and manage than homogenous teams. Members of a diverse team will question each other, the processes and even their leader more often. Badly managed, they risk becoming disagreeable and dysfunctional.

In short, managers who are new to leading diverse teams need support. While leading inclusively comes naturally for some, others need additional training. The more comfortable leaders are with leading inclusively, the more their team members will be comfortable with difference, and the less resistant people will become, overall, to this dynamic.

The business return on embracing diversity can be tremendous, but maximising this return requires considered management and leadership of action within eight key levers. Unwavering support from executive leadership, strong organisational values and well-supported leaders at every level are critical precedents to effective activation.

Learn more about NAWO

This story was originally published in Facility Perspectives, Vol 13 No 2.