Equity, diversity and inclusion strategies that actually work

By Lara Zink & Katie Squires-Thompson | The Globe and Mail| May 23, 2021
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Many approaches to addressing gender parity in the work force have focused on getting more women into the talent pipeline, especially in senior or leadership roles where women are often missing. While there seems to be no shortage of programs and initiatives that aim to support the advancement of women, gender parity remains out of reach.


In the past decade, companies have invested significant money, time and resources on developing the pipeline of women. Despite the abundance of support programs aimed at elevating the recruitment, professional development and retention of female employees, it’s not the thought that counts. The pipeline is not the problem, and this “fix the women” approach is ineffective at best and regressive at worst.

Programs and initiatives aimed at “developing female talent” are an obvious example of good intentions gone askew. This framing implies that women are inherently inadequate and that, in order to advance, they’ll require more support and development opportunities, and must work harder than men do. It also implies women will need priority treatment when it comes to accessing opportunities to succeed.

Ultimately, this framework reinforces the status quo of whiteness and masculine behaviour by asking women to adopt traditionally male behaviours (such as male styles of leadership) in order to advance, succeed and fit in, thus promoting homogeneity over diversity. Meanwhile, employees within the majority group are led to assume their firm is taking sufficient action with regards to diversity. This approach fails to acknowledge and call out the systemic barriers that put women and other non-dominant groups at a significant disadvantage.


So if the traditional strategies don’t move the needle on equity, diversity and inclusion, what does? The short answer is: Fix the system, not the individuals. Companies need to explicitly acknowledge the systemic barriers that put women and minority groups at a disadvantage, and commit to upending them. One of the best ways to do this is by debiasing and standardizing processes. Workplaces can start to dismantle systemic barriers by committing to the following:


Conducting regular pay equity audits can help to ensure equitable pay across race and gender. Moreover, it is necessary that a specific key performance indicator is established to measure progress and pay equity audits are conducted by a pay equity compliance officer. Additionally, workplaces must standardize the bonus process to abide by measurable accomplishments rather than subjective evaluations. Compensation transparency is critical for employees to understand the built-in framework for pay equity.


It is imperative that employees are given clear, predetermined and quantifiable criteria for evaluation based on a results-oriented system, and that managers are properly trained to deliver objective feedback free of biased language.


Workplaces need to implement a results-oriented and output-based evaluation system. For recruitment, this can look like preset, standard interview questions that are asked of every candidate, and the utilization of a quantitative scoring system to evaluate candidates. Consistency is key; managers must be trained to ensure that gender-neutral language is used throughout the hiring process, and that diversity requirements are established and met by both recruiting teams and candidates before moving forward in an interview process.


Opportunities can support and accelerate an employee’s career growth and professional development in the form of networking and relationship-building, enhanced visibility, high-profile projects and invitations to executive meetings, to name a few. But not all opportunities are created equal, and it’s imperative that opportunities are allocated in a way that ensures fairness, equality and inclusivity. Managers must be trained to understand how both informal and formal opportunities can be designated equally among employees, and ensure they divide their own time equally among those employees to build relationships with everyone. A strategic approach to target under-represented employees can help to equalize opportunities, and can include showcasing employee work, as well as having employees cross-train with other managers and attend high-profile meetings.


Workplaces must ensure that flexible work options, such as the option to work remotely, are offered to and used by everyone in order to be a sustainable and inclusive solution to achieving gender equity. While flexibility has allowed women to juggle caregiving responsibilities, it can hinder their ability to compete with professionals who don’t utilize adjusted accommodations. We have largely ignored the exceptional cost that women who are primary caregivers bear in order to participate in the work force. Flexible accommodations will only result in gender equity when all genders use them, and it’s imperative that we work to design a landscape that affords flexibility and fairness to all, equally.

By taking the burden off the under-represented and moving it on to those in power, we’ll be able to see meaningful changes and support the development of a true meritocracy.

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