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Gender Diversity in the Workplace: 5 Ways to Make Progress

September 27, 2019


For the last few years, there has been a lot of attention toward creating greater representation and diversity at all levels of an organization. In particular, many organizations have reported on their commitment to gender diversity. As we know, diversity of all kinds can be immensely beneficial toward innovation and business productivity. As much of an emphasis as there is in day-to-day talk, very little progress has been made toward gender diversity in the workplace. Representation of women at every level of an organization has hardly changed, especially at top levels. As of June 1st, 2019 only 6.6% of the Fortune 500 companies are led by a woman. While this rate is slightly up from 2018, it is minimal progress.   

Another recent exemplar of women’s scarcity in positions of power is Forbes list of “America’s Most Innovative Leaders.  Of the 100 leaders on the list, only one leader is a woman. While the approach taken to identify this list was said to be objective, it is still very telling of the state of gender diversity in organizations. Further, the article is perpetuating damaging and misleading stereotypes. This article is a good reminder of the lack of progress and misleading stereotypes. 

Related: Where Are Women Leaders?

These examples challenge us even more to shift the needle towards gender diversity. It is imperative for companies to change the way they hire and promote to make progress. Companies need to consider the following key steps to make progress. 

  • Hold themselves accountable to gender diversity. It is one thing to say that an organization values diversity and wants to create more opportunities for women in leadership positions. It is another thing to vocalize their targets, set initiatives towards achieving their targets, and publicly track their numbers. 

  • Ensure fair selection processes are in place. A good first step in this direction is to train HR, TA, and employees on implicit biases and how to think more objectively while hiring. Unconscious biases, which are often driven by stereotypes, can have a very big impact on who’s hired. It’s important to train how to recognize and correct biases so we do not perpetuate the situation. Read more about how gender bias creates a double bind for women in leadership.

  • Incorporate more objective steps into the hiring process. A hiring decision should be based on the accumulation of data. The more objective steps and guided decision rules that are included in the hiring process can eliminate any bias and subjectivity. Here are 5 more ways to remove hidden biases from your hiring process.

  • Have leaders champion and celebrate diversity. Leaders of all ranks should role model behaviors that encourage diversity and inclusion. Leaders shape the behavior of the company and therefore they need to believe and act in a manner that strives toward the company’s diversity goals. 

  • Create opportunities for advancement and development. Companies should foster an environment that is inclusive.  They should provide and encourage developmental opportunities for everyone.  Anyone can be a future leader of the company, so it’s critical that organizations help with a pull-through. 

While these all seem like basic concepts (and they are), they are critical steps to close gender disparity in the workplace. Reducing the gender gap will benefit not only women but it will benefit everyone. Companies will be better off with a more diverse set of leaders and thinkers. 

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Alissa Parr, Ph.D. Alissa Parr, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include the development, implementation, and evaluation of assessment processes. Alissa has experience managing entry-level through executive level assessment and selection efforts across a number of different industries including government, financial, military, education, healthcare, and manufacturing.