I need a gender strategy, where do I start?
Is gender on your agenda but don’t know where to start?
Gender can become a priority for your organisation in different ways. Ideally, it’s through strategic thinking of what’s important to your business and an understanding that gender diversity can lead to innovation and higher performance.
But here are a few other ways that gender gets on the agenda that might resonate with you.
Your CEO is asked by the Board ‘what are you doing about gender?’ Needing to come back with a response they ask you to put a strategy or action plan together.
Or when your firm continually puts forward all male teams in client pitches, clients start to ask - ‘where are the women on your team and what are you doing about gender?’ The BD team starts to put pressure on the business that something needs to be done.
Senior women keep leaving in droves, and the Head of HR raises the issue that something needs to be done.
And in some cases, all three scenarios are playing out at once.
So where do you start with a gender strategy?
1. Be really clear why you are developing a gender strategy
If it’s just a reaction or to tick a box, you might find that there is no real commitment and when you try to develop a strategy that drives meaningful change, there is little appetite to support it.
2. Ensure there is commitment and active support from your CEO
Developing and then implementing a gender strategy can be hard and requires the ability to bring people who are often resistant along on the journey with you. If the CEO is not driving the change or a genuine champion for the gender strategy, there is a risk that resistant stakeholders and lack of resources may derail the project.
3. Undertake a diagnostic to know your current state of gender equality
Imagine going to the doctor and asking for a solution without allowing an examination to identify what’s wrong with you. It’s the same as starting gender strategy without spending time understanding what the current issues of gender equality are, what the lived experience is for women and men, and where the greatest opportunities for impact are.
I know it takes time and some resources, but failure to do a proper diagnostic will come back to bite later and almost definitely will mean that key stakeholders are not on the journey with you.
Part of the diagnostic is also developing a good understanding of what is going on more broadly in the business and if gender equality aligns to the strategic agenda and priorities.
Share the findings of the diagnostic so people understand the issues and the reason for a strategy.
4. Consult people at the start of the process
The diagnostic is not only about finding out the issues but is also about engaging people across the organisation in a meaningful way from the start of the project. The more people are involved in the conversation on gender equality, the better your chances of developing a gender strategy that will be relevant and achievable for your organisation.
Consultation can take the form of workshops, focus groups (we recommend: women only, men only and then a combination of women and men), 1:1 interviews, and surveys. You could also extend your consultation to key stakeholders such as clients, contractors and suppliers.
5. Start the strategy build process
Here’s a couple practical tips for building your gender strategy:
Develop a set of gender related strategic objectives. These could be both activity and outcome based.
Building your strategy based on the issues that you have found. For example, If flexible work and lack of a gender perspective on talent management are emerging as issues, then these should be focus areas in the strategy.
Involve people in the development of the strategy and specific initiatives - this includes the CEO, senior leaders and mid-level managers, employees.
Pilot test ideas - test a few initiatives on a small scale, see how they work and learn from them, rather than rolling out major programs at once.
Where to find more guidance
As you start to take these first steps, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency has provided a guide on how to build a gender equality strategy https://www.wgea.gov.au/topics/gender-strategy
If you’re looking to move beyond just taking a compliance approach to addressing gender equality and implement leading practice, you can have a look at the WGEA guide to becoming an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality, which sets out the standards for what leading organisations are doing https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/EOCGE-2019-20-Guide-to-Citation.pdf
Creating meaningful and sustainable change in the gender composition of your organisation is likely to be challenging, having a clear ‘why’ and committed leaders can make a world of difference to the outcome.
And of course, if you need help - give us a call.
About The Agenda Agency
Dr Heidi Sundin is the Director of The Agenda Agency — a boutique consulting firm specialising in creating diverse, inclusive and flexible workplaces. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop tailored solutions. Her experience spans strategy development and creating transformational programs across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. www.theagendaagency.com