A recent article in the FT* highlighted some of the “pitiful and patronising” excuses given by directors for not hiring women into the Boardroom as reported in the government-led Hampton-Alexander Review. Reading the excuses prompts one of three reactions; how terrible! Glad it is not me saying that… or Glad no-one is asking me that question.

But the truth is more complex. The current composition of Boards is that way for a variety of reasons. And both men and women have a part to play in challenging the assumptions and in building a better way forward. Sometimes there are simply not enough good female or male candidates, but the question is why?

Workplace diversity is about diversity of thinking and bringing new ideas in the Boardroom. This is not only about gender, but women are by far the largest group who can add value into the diversity agenda. So why involve them? It is about more effective leadership development to build the competitive edge – not simply making excuses for current business practice and behaviours.

Hazel McLaughlin, Partner OE Cam is an international business consultant with significant experience in workplace diversity. She is active in promoting diversity and is the co-founder of the Board Effectiveness Group within the Division of Occupational Psychology as well as a regular speaker at such events as The International Psychology Conference in Dubai and the Women at the Top Event in London. Hazel has been invited as an expert panellist at the International Congress of Applied Psychology (ICAP) in Montreal, Canada 26-30 June. This event happens every four years and brings together psychologists from all over the world to discuss latest thinking in the application of psychology. Hazel is a guest speaker at an Alliance for Organisational Psychology special session on “Removing Barriers for Women: How to Advance Women in Organisations and will explore action steps for managers to promote gender-balance in leadership:

Research suggests that as women enter and navigate the labyrinth of leadership, they are faced with a number of complex and intertwined challenges – including structural barriers, cultural barriers, and organisational barriers all contributing to women’s underrepresentation in leadership. This panel brings together leading scholars and practitioners to discuss the initiatives, practices and policies in organisations that have helped to reduce or even eliminate gender barriers.

Hazel says that organisations need to take a long hard look at attraction, recruitment and on-boarding practice: “The ICAP debate will be interesting. I think that there are inherent biases which cannot simply be washed away through diversity ‘training’ or appointing token women to the Board. It is about organisational culture, about setting the right tone and reinforcing positive behaviours. In my own experience of coaching women in business, I believe that it is important to have more role models for younger women and provide opportunities for women to gain the breadth of operational and commercial experience to be able to add value to the Board agenda. One way organisations can improve the way they spot talent and develop women for the future is by being proactive, by attracting high calibre female talent and nurturing and growing that talent within the business”.

As Hazel says, “Diversity is about creating a benefit for everyone in the organisation. It is about diversity of thought and ideas and more informed decision-making. Diversity is not simply about promoting women into senior roles; it is about attitudes, behaviours and acceptance of difference. It directly links to organisational culture, to reputation in the marketplace and to ways of working across the organisation. It involves men and women working together underpinned by good practice across the whole talent cycle, from attraction, recruitment, on-boarding, development and succession planning. There needs to be more than tokenism and one-off training programmes. It is about addressing the fundamental issues, building social capital and ensuring best practice which energises and encourages women to succeed in senior leaders positions”.

Diversity is about creating a benefit for everyone in the organisation. It is about diversity of thought and ideas and more informed decision-making. Diversity is not simply about promoting women into senior roles; it is about attitudes, behaviours and acceptance of difference. It directly links to organisational culture, to reputation in the marketplace and to ways of working across the organisation. It involves men and women working together underpinned by good practice across the whole talent cycle, from attraction, recruitment, on-boarding, development and succession planning. There needs to be more than tokenism and one-off training programmes. It is about addressing the fundamental issues, building social capital and ensuring best practice which energises and encourages women to succeed in senior leaders positions”.

The Hampton-Alexander Review urges businesses to renew their commitment to diversity and figures published in November 2017 show that with continued effort, many FTSE 100 companies are on track to meet the target of having one third of board positions held by women in 2020. Hazel adds: “It is about more men taking up the mantle and being champions of change. This is not simply about giving women opportunities, it is about harnessing the best resources and about developing people, whatever their background, race or gender, to be their best self and add to success of the organisation”.

We will publish key themes from the ICAP event as the debate unfolds. Watch this space for more insights on enhancing workplace diversity and action steps to promote gender-balance in leadership…

hazel.mclaughlin@oecam.com

* “UK companies using ‘pitiful’ excuses to keep women out of boardrooms“, www.ft.com, Jim Pickard & Hannah Murphy, 31st May 2018