Take the pledge

Take the pledge

12 best practices to build gender diversity in your company

Over the past year, a trio of Atlantic Canadians have been quietly preparing a call to action on gender diversity and inclusion. Now, entrepreneur/co-creator of Rival & Queen podcast Sarah Murphy together with Sequence Bio’s CEO Chris Gardner and human resource manager Maddie Coombes are taking that call public: they’re challenging business leaders to take the Pledge for Gender Diversity and commit to exceeding 30 per cent gender diversity within their organization.

Why 30 per cent? During the research for their Pledge for Gender Diversity report, the co-authors found a study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics that showed “profits increased by 15 per cent when the share of women in leadership positions went from zero to 30 per cent.” Further Engineers Canada found, “30 per cent is universally held as the tipping point for sustainable change”.

“There’s a real ‘bro’ culture in the tech sector and it limits the talent pool,” says Gardner. “When you support women and give them a chance to lead, you get better leadership and ultimately better results for your company.” Since committing to gender diversity, Gardner says more than 45 per cent of Sequence Bio’s staff are women.

The Pledge for Gender Diversity is a practical guide to help leaders build diverse companies and industries. Murphy, Gardner and Coombes believe the following 12 best practices (excerpted from the Pledge) are a useful instructional guide for organizations looking to empower change.

While this pledge is intended to increase gender diversity inside companies, many of these practices can also serve to affect change across other layers of diversity. The authors believe, and the research backs them up, that more diverse teams lead to the strongest companies, which is their hope for Canadian businesses.

[ Download the full Pledge for Gender Diversity ]

1. Share a Statement of Intent
The company CEO should make a clear statement in support of gender diversity, then share it publicly on their website and within the organization, such as in the core values, value statement, or employee handbook.

2. Nominate Diversity Champions
These are individuals who are encouraged to challenge the status quo within the organization, keep it up to date on current issues and offer an inclusive view that may not have been otherwise considered. Diversity Champions can act as an agent of change within the company, implementing ideas formulated by employees in an effort to increase diversity. Studies have shown, the most effective Diversity Champions are in senior leadership roles.

3. Create a Panel Diversity Policy
Establish a policy in which your company or organization doesn’t allow its employees to participate on any panel discussions unless both women and men are participating. Technology, business, and science are still male-dominated industries and this is often exacerbated at conferences and events with all-male panels and speakers. If you are asked to speak at an event or participate in a panel, do your due diligence and inform the panel committee of your policy. Before you confirm attendance, require that there be multi-gender representation. You may also suggest qualified people who can participate.

4. Expand Beyond your Network
When recruiting, expand beyond personal networks in order to create equal opportunities for positions within your organization. Relying primarily on referrals and professional networks limits diversity in your search for talent. As stated in The 13th Annual Rosenzweig Report on Women at the Top Levels of Corporate Canada, women make up only 9.44 per cent of the most senior corporate jobs, while men hold over 90 per cent of senior executive roles. Since these referral networks tend to include fewer women, this leads to an unequal opportunity for senior executive positions.

5. Interview 2 Female Candidates
The likelihood of hiring a female candidate increases to 50 per cent when at least two female candidates are part of a finalist pool. For executive hires, at least two qualified female candidates must be interviewed.

6. Measure Progress & Track Pay
Track metrics such as the gender pay gap and gender employment ratio. Record and present the following in board/annual reports:

  • Salary comparisons between all same level employees;
  • Ratio of employees by gender;
  • Number of women in leadership positions.

State publicly on your website or careers page that you measure gender pay gap and gender employment ratio. Use this data to set goals for progress, and take action when evidence of unequal treatment exists.

7. Support your Pipeline
Create or support at least one event a year—such as a talk at a local university or college, a career fair, a panel discussion or an in-house conference—that encourages minority gender participation in your sector. Report on this event and outcomes internally and in your board report.

8. Practice Gender Neutral Recruitment
When hiring, including if you are using a recruitment agency, ensure you create gender-balanced job advertisements and set mandatory gender diversity requirements. These requirements could include:

  • Use Neutral Language Use terms like they/their instead of he/she.
  • Say Salaries are Negotiable This helps to increase the number of female applicants for positions. Men will almost always negotiate salary, while women tend to only negotiate when it is explicitly stated that salary is negotiable.
  • Have a Diverse Interview Team The interview team should consist of at least one male and one female, and the committee should agree to a clear set of criteria and use it consistently for all candidates.
  • Set Expectations for your Candidate List Establish a formal policy that more than 30 per cent of the candidate list for all positions, including executive roles, must be of the minority gender.
  • Use Blind Recruitment Ensure all gender-identifying information is stripped from a candidate’s resume upon application to remove unconscious bias.
  • Opt for Diversity All things being equal and ensuring compliance with the Canadian Equity Act, give preference to the minority gender.

9. Implement Unconscious Bias Training
Require all employees, especially managers, leaders and those involved in interviewing, to complete regular and ongoing unconscious bias training. Studies suggest that for implicit bias training to be effective, it requires awareness of the bias, a motivation to do something about it and specific strategies to change these biases.

10. Offer Flexible Work Policies
In order for flex work policies to positively impact gender diversity, all employees should be encouraged to use them. Research suggests that women are often penalized for using these policies and men are resistant to use them as they are stigmatized when they do. To create change, leaders in the company, especially of the majority gender, should publicly advocate for these policies and be vocal when they are utilizing them.

11. Improve Diversity at the Board Level
When it comes to decision-making in the boardroom, women can add a different set of perspectives, experiences, and viewpoints. You can accelerate gender diversity on your board by:

  • Expanding your search beyond executives with prior board experience.
  • Create and maintain an active pipeline of female candidates.
  • Put women on nominating committees.
  • Educate your board on the benefits of gender diversity.

12. Get Employee Input & Feedback
Create a safe way for employees to communicate any diversity and inclusion issues within the organization:

  • Allow employees to anonymously share any issues or concerns they may have within the organization. Any anonymous communications should be shared with the CEO and Chair of the Board.
  • Ensure you allow all employees to anonymously answer diversity and inclusion statements and questions. Upon the completion of these reviews, any findings should be actioned.
  • Exit interviews allow employees to express concerns or issues they may not have felt comfortable to bring forward previously.

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