Diversity in the workplace

More representation of diversity in the workplace is gaining momentum as more countries become aware that it’s could be good for business.

An outside-inside evolution in gender and professional work

Lakshmi Ramarajan, Kathleen McGinn, Deborah Kolb of the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge

How do organizations adapt to social transformation? In the US, one of the most visible changes in employment since the 1980s—the growing representation of highly educated women—has challenged widely held understandings about gender and professional work.

Although much is known about social institutions and social issues at the institutional and organizational levels, researchers still know very little about how individual organizations experience and internalize gradual shifts in deeply held social understandings.

To bridge the gap, this study analyzes nearly 20 years of data to explore the adaptation of one professional service firm to an increase in women in the professional workforce and the shifting discourse around gender and work. Findings show that the firm internalized shifts in the social institution of gender through iterated cycles of analysis and action, integrating external pressures from the changing social institution of gender into its beliefs, structure, policies, programs, and practices.

Overall, the study reveals how the interplay between activities and beliefs directs the pace and course of organizational change over time.  Read it here


The formula for better boards? ‘Younger, female, different’.

Report from the Independent UK

When they arrive in their offices tomorrow the chairmen, heads of board committees and company secretaries of the UK’s biggest 350 listed companies will find a 20-page document on their desks.

Rearranging the chairs, by headhunter Bird & Co, promises to be “A blueprint for the next generation of board leadership.” This is a detailed critique of the failure of British business to properly train and promote a diverse range of chairmen, which means it takes a good look at why there are only eight women, including those pictured, who hold this role in the FTSE 350.

Of the 10 key recommendations to boost that membership, the last is perhaps the most significant: “More adventurous sourcing should be encouraged. Boards should embrace the idea of ‘younger, female, different’ early in discussion and get comfortable with it.”

After speaking to 50 chairmen and non-executives about their jobs and their routes to reaching those positions, Bird & Co founding partner Isabel Bird found that “the executive journey for women is fundamentally different than it is for men”.

This can be the result of women being less confident to push themselves forward; a stalled career as many are still expected, or want, to be the “primary care takers” of their children, leaving them maybe five years behind their male colleagues; or the desire to retire slightly younger than the guys who still want to hold on to major jobs well into their sixties.

As the experiences of the panel, right, shows, there’s no obvious structure to help women overcome these obstacles. As a result, few even reach board level, meaning that, as Bird puts it, the reason for not getting a chairman’s role becomes one of “supply as much as demand”.  Read it here


‘Women on Boards’ is helping British and Australian organisations promote more women to fill seats in their boardrooms.

A report from the UK Guardian newspaper

Female athletes won 38% of Australia’s medal tally at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The same year, two professional women sat down to discuss why there were so few women on sport and business boards and what could be done. This was the genesis of Women on Boards, an enterprise created to improve the gender balance in Australian boardrooms.

Fast-forward to 2012, the London Olympics is over, women took home more than a third of the medals won by Team GB, and Women on Boards, having helped 1,000 Australian women achieve board roles, is rolling out across the UK.

Britain favours a voluntary approach to achieving gender diversity in the boardroom, rather than the mandatory quota system that has increased female representation on boards in Norway from less than 10% in 2003 to more than 40%.

Australia is ahead of the UK in the number of women on the boards of publicly listed companies. It introduced gender diversity provisions into its corporate governance code several years ahead of the UK, and Women on Boards and other groups have been pushing hard on the issue.

The proportion of women on the boards of Australia’s 200 largest publicly listed companies has increased from 8.3% in January 2010 to 14.6% in September 2012. However, there is a sense that appointment rates may be slowing. For the first eight months of this year, 24% of new appointments to the boards of ASX 200 companies were women, compared with 28% in 2011.

In the UK, the percentage of women on the boards of the 100 largest companies has risen over the past year to a record 15.6%. And in the last six months, 35% of new board appointments to FTSE 250 companies have been women. Read it here


More women on boards makes for more successful business.

Credit Suisse report finds firms are more successful with at least one woman on the board.

“The impact of gender diversity on corporate leadership has been widely debated for many years. In our review of the topic, we look at the impact from a global perspective by analyzing the performance of close to 2,400 companies with and without women board members from 2005 onward.”

Specifically, in our study we set out to answer four broad questions:

1. What evidence is there to support the theory that stock-market performance is enhanced by having a greater number of women on the board?

2. Is there any difference in the financial characteristics of companies with a greater number of women on the board?

3. Why might it make a difference (better or worse) to have some gender diversity in company management?

4. What factors might limit companies in increasing female representation?

“Our key finding is that, in a like-for-like comparison, companies with at least one woman on the board would have outperformed in terms of share price performance, those with no women on the board over the course of the past six years.”  Read it here. PDF