"As a smart, capable woman you have to accept that you will be hated."
"Well women never apply for the jobs in the first place so what can I do?"
"The majority of candidates are men and as we are looking for quality, the candidate we choose is normally a man"
"You'll never get an interview for that company, because you're not Italian…. And you're a woman"
"The candidate was perfect but because she was a woman and the existing team didn't want to 'deal' with that, they didn't hire her"
These are some of the comments I've heard this year. It's 2022 and we have a long way to go towards equity.
I wanted to try and summarise the key themes that came up for me time and time again during my many discussions regarding diversity and what I believe is holding us back.
People want change but it has to be easy and cheap. Or even free!
Disappointingly, it is very common for businesses not to include activities that support pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion in their annual budget. I've done a lot of pro-bono work this year purely because I believe in the message and companies have no budget to spare a couple of hundred euros.
I've had many conversations with people working in companies who are championing DEI in addition to their own responsibilities, unpaid. It's normally young women, because reality it is negatively impacting them now and they have the awareness to know that for them to continue in their current industry, change needs to happen and there is nobody else interested or hired to do the job.
2. There is not enough high level participation or buy in.
As with every new challenge, to ensure underrepresented people can succeed in your business, there is no quick fix. Old habits, beliefs and actions slowly creep back and normality and the willingness to take the path of least resistance will prevail.
To make real positive impact that is long lasting, there has to be an element of vulnerability, a willingness to listen, and commitment to change at board of directors / owner level.
What message does it send to the rest of your team if advocates for change are not supported, feedback to higher levels has no open channel or any other work is deemed more important?
What message does it send if training is not attended by those seated at the top table, who are responsible for company vision, investments, budget and values?
3. We are resisting to change our 'normal'
I've been hired as a leader in engineering, as a woman.
I come with a new set of ideals, values and opinions. But I failed to thrive, as I've been pushed into molds that just didn't fit me. I've been disregarded and laughed off. I've had to push myself past a my own healthy limit to be seen as equal and my mental health has suffered. I've been pushed out due to my priorities for team wellness and biases against my gender.
The problem then becomes that it's not considered normal to build relationships instead of driving action through fear. It's not considered normal to have a different opinion. It's not considered normal to be empathetic to your team……It's not yet considered normal to be a woman at the leadership table.
I am not the only one with this problem.
We need to create a new normal and we all need to sit with that discomfort whilst we adjust.
4. Teams are trained, not coached.
It has been shown statistically when it is mandatory, not optional, to attend bias and diversity-led training that improvements are seen overall for positive change (Source - worktango.com). But with simply training your team, you do not get to the root cause of the problem.
I am of course talking about mindset….and about understanding how your behaviours and mindset as a leader becomes the destiny for your company.
This is where coaching can create the better results.
What is important is to go deeper into the why of your business, your values and culture and understand the mechanics of how things have come to be.
It's also important to build awareness of how your business is perceived by clients, job applicants, newcomers, wannabe leaders, new leaders and those established at the leadership table.
It's difficult to keep everyone happy, sure, but hearing hard truths and having challenging conversations drives change, much like customer input in product development.
5. We've created a system which does not support working parents
It baffles me that we have built a work system which seems to pretend that people don't have children and that ONLY RECENTLY has there been productive conversation regarding flexible and hybrid working due to a complete reset in our working mindset post-covid.
Due to the gender pay gap (Currently standing at around 8% in the UK, source Office for National Statistics and 17% in the US, source Johnleonard.com), women are most likely to put a pause on their career progression, taking part time hours.
The additional pressure to provide for the family is felt by men and due to paternity bias, men are at risk to miss out on promotion and career progression if they are seen to want flexible working to be more hands on in the home.
Men dig deeper to ensure they have security, women are generally overlooked for promotion also because of their part-time status AND are less likely to get another position in another company with more money because part time roles in design and engineering are VERY rare. Childcare costs result in women's part time positions merely evening out. Men are stuck in a state of commitment, women are stuck in stasis.
The situation perpetuates, with stress on relationships on all sides.
Flexibility is the key to making real change and it benefits EVERYONE.
6. People don't realise how much diversity boosts economies
When I ask companies about what is important to them about improving gender diversity the blanket response is 'to improve innovation'.
But it's so much deeper than that.
According to a report in 2020 by Accenture indicated that if all UK companies were able to improve workplace inclusivity by just 10 percent, the resulting uplift in ‘innovation mindset’ - their ability and willingness to innovate - could increase UK GDP by up to 1.5% each year, equating to a total boost to the UK economy of £393 billion by 2030.
£393 BILLION is not something to be sniffed at and in times of austerity and recession, we need to dig deeper and invest on making improvements of 10%.
There are rules and regulations coming through which is definitely in the right direction (ISO 30415: 2021 Human Resource Management in diversity & inclusion and Government supporting the decision of flexible working from day one instead of from 26 weeks, announced in UK 5th December 2022) but the understanding of how much other connecting systems have an impact on diversity needs to be considered.
Companies can start to review their own systems NOW and as my 1st point, add budget for this type of positive action in the full knowledge that this is an investment on the business, not just because it's this decade's buzz word and ergo is seen to be the right thing to do.
What action can we take. There is SO MUCH that can be done, right now.
Here's some examples.
We need (in no particular order):
Flexible working from the start of a position
More part time positions
Transparent pay scales
Clear requirements for job selection
Unbiased career progression for full AND part time employees
Documented and tracked career paths
Up front information about salary and benefits
Leaders who advocate parents (for all genders)
Buy-in from the very top
Dedicated task forces
Accountable teams and targets
Hands on spouses
Lower childcare costs
Shared parental leave
Improved connections to universities and women in engineering groups
Regular performance reviews
Feeling overwhelmed with that? Start here
1) Accountable teams and targets 2) Mandatory bias training 3) Buy in from the top
7. We don't really understand why female graduates don't apply for jobs
I get asked this all the time.
I've heard several possibilities of why this is the case:
The dream gap?
Lack of interest?
Lack of onboard training?
Not enough initial talent?
Passive learning as children?
Not enough positive female role models?
Old-boys supporting new boys club?
Queen bee syndrome?
In fact, when I told a woman in Italy (who had a STEM degree) what I did for a living, she replied 'But engineering is a man's job'. It breaks my heart when women still struggle to believe in what we are capable of.
This is what we are up against.
We are in a society where women are conditioned to be passive carers through dolls and boys are given trucks, lego, science kits, coding kits. We start the process in children.
We have women in education authority who put it out there that women don't want to do maths because its hard.
Girls are more likely to stop believing they can be president, astronauts or scientists by the age of 5 (Source: barbie dream gap).
Something happens to young women where they stop believing in themselves.
And if I'm honest, I don't think It's one clear answer. It's all of the above.
What more can we do here?
There are so many great organisations who are working with kids to make it more accessible such as STEMazing, Stemettes, Girls who Code and so many others that I'm still getting to learn.
And what I see is that so many women in my generation are more than willing to give back through volunteering, mentoring and educating locally. I've seen SO MUCH of this, not just around the Women's Day in March and INWED in September. Women engineers are recruiting women because WE believe in each other as we already made it.
I don't need to encourage women to mentor because we all know that it needs to happen and hopefully my generation will stay in the field long enough to help the message going.
Despite the challenges women still face today our message is 'I know this is difficult, and I want to help you… because we WANT you to be here'.
We are fighting this good fight.
We are committed, as am I, to educating ourselves to bring each other up and level the playing field.
I am a full time speaker, trainer, coach & mentor working with businesses in design & engineering to improve gender diversity in these industries.