Inclusive Talent Management: Learning from HSBC

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In a recent article in Developing Leaders, my colleagues Susan Vinnicombe, Hilary Harris and I discuss how organisations can successfully become more inclusive when it comes to promoting talented women into senior roles.

The business case for gender diversity at work is well-established and needs little explanation. But, for some reason – despite all our efforts – it often feels like we aren’t getting very far.

Many organisations recruit similar numbers of men and women at graduate level but, when you look at the top of the organisation, it is very male-dominated. Men hold the senior positions. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the FTSE 100, where – despite Government targets – there are still only seven female CEOs and fewer than 10% of executive directors on FTSE 100 boards are women.

Much work has focused on the need to develop women to prepare them for taking on senior positions, but this is still not improving gender diversity in the workplace. In order to improve diversity, organisations need to build a truly inclusive culture where everyone’s talents are recognised and rewarded – regardless of gender or other distinguishing factor. Fundamental behavioural changes are needed, and this requires organisations to take a practical, systematic approach to gender and inclusive talent management.

In the Developing Leaders article, we detail in more depth our work with HSBC to implement those practical changes required to result in better outcomes for talented women in that organisation.

Below, we pick out four key ways in which organisations can start to make the changes needed to lead in this area.

1. Start at the top

It may sound like a cliché, but – in order to instigate lasting change – it’s important to begin by garnering the support of those at the very top of an organisation. The CEO and executive team must first recognise the need for change, and then drive that down to the rest of the business, ensuring managers are held accountable for changing their working practices and to specific targets.

2. Line managers – enablers or blockers?

Line managers have a crucial role to play in either encouraging or preventing the progression of women in an organisation. Often, organisations fail to achieve the change they want, not because of any lack of support or vision from the CEO or the senior leadership team, but rather because implementation of their policies and vision falls to individual line managers with perhaps different opinions and agendas. Where women feel the weight of their CEO’s expectation to progress, but find their path blocked, they become frustrated and ultimately tempted to leave. For change to be successful, line managers must understand what has to change in practice and in detail. In short, they need advice on how to behave inclusively and how to change their organisational processes to ensure women are fairly included in promotion opportunities.

3. Change the behaviour

Many organisations, when considering how to encourage and allow for diversity within their business, will look to instigate en-masse some kind of individual learning or mind-set change – for example, through unconscious bias training. At Cranfield School of Management, we are cautious about recommending unconscious bias training, as it can sometimes be taken by some participants as validation of their biases – e.g. “I have biases but it’s ok, because they are unconscious and I can’t do anything about them”. What is needed are organisational interventions that encourage people to challenge their everyday behaviours and practices and create a new normal free from exclusion, discrimination and disenfranchisement.

4. Don’t try to ‘fix’ the women

As organisations begin to address systemic bias, female employees will welcome support to help them identify and brand their approach to leadership, and to navigate their career path. Women-only workshops are a great way for female employees to exchange experiences and talk openly about the challenges they face in the workplace. But employers should be clear that the onus of responsibility for getting promoted should not be passed on to the women themselves through these types of initiative. The women do not need to be ‘fixed’. The responsibility for increasing female representation at the top levels of organisations rests with everyone within the organisation – men and women alike.

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