Diversity and inclusion. Through the years, these two buzzwords inched their way to the heart of many companies’ management blueprint, and all for good reasons. As companies realize their expanding societal responsibilities, addressing gender inequality in the workplace has climbed to the top tier of the agenda in the boardroom. Management now understands that creating workspaces where diversity and inclusion are embraced and practiced create an ideal breeding ground for strategic visions instead of formulaic solutions. This, in turn, makes the company more transformational and adaptable to a fast-changing business environment.
Shifts in work models due to the pandemic actually pushed to narrow the gender inequality. The results are optimistic particularly for the Philippines. According to Grant Thornton’s 2023 Women in Business (WIB) Report, increase in the overall number of women in senior leadership roles continues in many mid-market firms today.
In the Philippines, nearly half or 49% of senior management roles are currently held by women, from 39% recorded in the previous year. The progress is attributed to pandemic-related shifts in organizations’ work models which were seen to have been beneficial for women leaders. More than half of mid-market firms surveyed said their organizations have been utilizing a hybrid work model post-COVID, with 52% agreeing that their current work framework helps ensure visibility for more women staff.
Looking at it on a global level, results of the WIB show that 32.4% of senior management positions in mid-market firms globally are now held by women. While this is definitely good news, progress in pushing for gender parity remains sluggish, with the number of women in senior management roles up just half a percentage point since 2022 and only 13 percentage points since 2004 when the WIB was first undertaken. Still, progress is progress. However, more affirmative actions are needed to limit if not eliminate the pervading malevolence of gender inequality particularly in the workplace.
Implement diversity management
One of Grant Thornton’s recommendations based on the results of the WIB research is for businesses to offer flexibility in terms of people management. Coming from the pandemic, a hybrid or remote work setup is helpful to create an environment which cultivates greater diversity. But this alone is clearly not enough. There should be intentional action to drive progress and push more aggressively for gender parity. This is where diversity management comes in.
In a nutshell, the Corporate Finance Institute defines Diversity Management as “a set of corporate strategies focused on promoting the inclusion of all employees from different backgrounds into an organization’s structure.”
Diversity management should be ingrained in the corporate culture for it to be effective. Companies must gather ample data about the current workplace inclusion programs, set goals, and utilize proper metrics when tracking progress upon implementing diversity management initiatives. For example, if there are only 2 women out of 15 board members, the company should identify how many women is ideal and what is their time frame for achieving such goal. This way, the company can keep track of how their initiatives are actually helping more women become leaders.
Instigate supportive behavioural change
It is also helpful to remind staff through training that while management and HR officers’ roles are pivotal, achieving true diversity in the workplace is a collective undertaking of all employees. Hence, training should emphasize what behavioural changes must be adopted by the staff which are supportive of diversity and inclusion. For example, training can include emphasizing the role of the husbands in child rearing and housekeeping to encourage their wives to aim for higher job positions. It can also include sensitivity trainings to foster behaviours that encourage and strengthen collaboration among staff with different backgrounds.
Address issues in flexible work arrangements
Flexible working is not without its challenges. One disadvantage of implementing purely remote work is the difficulty in creating a distinct corporate culture. A remote work model reduces the “we” aspect seen as inherent in collaboration and teamwork. Team members become isolated individual contributors instead of working together to deliver the best result. Colleagues who are not in the same physical space may be limited in their ability to build off from each other’s ideas and perspectives as they usually do not interact at real time. Some may even rely on chat and emails for communication causing delay in formulating new solutions and addressing pressing issues.
For remote or hybrid work options to produce positive impact, organizations must ensure they have a culture which purposively supports and facilitates flexible working arrangement. Now that conditions are going back to normal, there is a risk of sliding back to pre-pandemic habits. To avoid this, Grant Thornton’s WIB research suggests making intentional commitment to adopt flexible work models that utilize lessons from the pandemic while adapting to the developing new normal.
Harness the benefits of diversity
A Harvard Business Review article highlighted that the first step in promoting gender parity is realizing that being open to promoting diversity is not the endgame. The agenda now should be making intentional strategies to harness diversity. There must be an enthusiasm and passion to alter traditional work structures to benefit all, regardless of gender and background. Diversity and inclusion become lip service if it digresses to a numbers game. For example, having the desired percentage of women in the boardroom will not change the company if their voices are not heard and valued. It is only in recognizing and harnessing the competitive advantage resulting from diversity and inclusion will we reap its true rewards. In so doing, we can readily answer global calls to bridge the gender gap more effectively.
As published The Manila Times, dated 15 March 2023