Month: October 2017

Can we ever reach gender parity in organisations?

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haniahLast week, I attended a workshop at my toddler’s nursery school and I was disheartened to see that there was only one father in a room full of mothers – most of whom had left their work early in order to attend. And I wondered, where is the change that was to come with the millennial men? Doesn’t all the research indicate that they want to become much more involved fathers? What is stopping them?

I have been researching the topic of gender parity for over a few years now, and it is extremely off-putting to see lack of progress we have made on this issue. Many large organisations are now on their second or third wave of diversity and inclusion programmes. However, a good number of them are still struggling to identify obvious improvements in the metrics they hoped to see changes in.

I feel we cannot move the needle on this issue unless we collectively stop viewing mothers as being primarily responsible for childcare. According to the 2016 Women in the Workplace Study, at every stage in their careers, women perform more childcare than men. The study also found a link between the quantity of childcare women do and their leadership ambition: the more work women do at home, the less interested they are in leadership positions. The main reason for this disconnect is that the combination of work and childcare responsibilities is difficult to reconcile with the dominant model in the business world, which demands total availability as well as greater geographical mobility.

Motherhood has long been a dominant explanation for the small proportion of women in corporate boardrooms. Some of the most compelling evidence of the motherhood penalty comes from experiments conducted by sociologists; Shelley Correll, Stephen Bernard, and In Paik. In the experiment, they asked college students to rate a pair of job applicants after examining their résumés and the notes from screening interviews. After establishing that the application materials presented the candidates as equally qualified, the researchers altered them to indicate that one applicant was a parent. When being considered for the same job, mothers were significantly less likely to be recommended for hire and, when they were, they were offered on average $11,000 less in starting salary, than childless women. Fathers were not penalised at all. The participants revealed that they assumed the mothers to be inherently less competent and less committed.

One school of thought suggests that the issue is down to women’s own preferences – that women value career less than men or that mothers do not want high-profile, challenging work. However, research indicates that women are certainly not lacking in ambition. In fact, they begin their careers with ambitions that are just as high as their male peers. Furthermore, the 2013 Life and Leadership After HBS study, which surveyed more than 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates, suggests that when women leave their jobs after becoming mothers, only a small number do so because they want to devote their attention to motherhood; the majority leave reluctantly, because they find themselves in unfulfilling roles with few prospects for advancement.

What is the way forward? Millennial men finally behaving in accordance to what they have been saying, and organisations actively enabling and not penalising them to embrace fatherhood.


McKinsey & Company and (2016, September). Women in the Workplace Study. Retrieved from

Life and Leadership after HBS. (2013). Retrieved from

Click to access women_survey_preview_130402.pdf

Correll, S., Benard, S., & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a Job: Is there a motherhood penalty. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 112, No. 5

An LGBT-Inclusive Diversity Statement

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Last August, I had an illuminating conversation with an equal rights activist working in the hub of Toronto, Ontario. During this conversation, I spoke about the LGBT workforce and what could be done to ameliorate company cultures, making them more inclusive of the LGBT community. The activist turned to me and said “Have you heard of TD bank? They have phenomenal initiatives prioritising LGBT inclusivity at work. All of my LGBT friends who work at TD bank are filled with praise when it comes to inclusivity there.” Interesting; I was captivated. What made this company so appealing?

Inspired by TD Bank’s efforts of promoting LGBT inclusion, I began to consider effective strategies for inclusion, for organisations seeking to attract diverse candidates. I decided that it would be interesting to examine whether or not different approaches to diversity statements could influence how inclusive a company feels to prospective LGBT employees. In my research, I observed two ways in which diversity statements can be constructed:

  1. Through a focus on differences (you provide a unique and diverse contribution to the company)
  2. Through a focus on similarities (we value you equally to any other employee, everyone is valuable in the same way).

Interestingly, the results of the study (including over 200 participants) indicated that a value in differences approach was far more favourable than one with a value in similarities, for LGBT respondents. This is because, a value in similarities approach deemphasizes the group identity (being LGBT) for the individual, conveying intolerance of group member differences (Levy et al., 2005). In turn, valuing differences can reduce anticipated scrutiny and stereotyping. The language used in the value in differences approach emphasizes notions of valuing differences and mutual respect. In doing so, it acts as a cue to refute threatening identity contingencies associated with sexual orientation, developed through numeric underrepresentation, social hierarchies and stereotypes.

As such, in addition to mentioning LGBT members in a company’s diversity statement – which is practiced at TD Bank and many other companies – the approach taken in the statement itself, also plays a significant role in whether or not prospective employees feel comfortable joining a company. In fact, my research showed that highlighting a value for differences, improves prospective LGBT employees’ perception of trust, comfort, belonging and ability to express their sexual orientation in the workplace.

When people feel comfortable and can express themselves authentically at work, they perform better, have increased engagement and increased productivity. Having a diverse and inclusive culture at work can also promote better employee satisfaction, talent management, corporate reputation and collaboration. As such, fostering a culture of inclusivity, should be a top priority for companies today.

All of the outcomes mentioned above have serious practical implications for a company’s success. Specifically, an increase in LGBT employee members coming out, for example, is crucial as currently over half of LGBT employees choose not to even disclose their sexual orientation at work. In turn, research has shown that coming out to colleagues decreases distraction, depression, exhaustion, anxiety and stress at work. As ‘coming out’ is often held back because of perceived negative social identity contingencies, diversity statements catered towards reducing such negative social identity contingencies are crucial.

The research outlined above illustrates one approach companies can take to promote an inclusive company culture to prospective employees. By articulating inclusive cues, such as through the approach taken in a diversity statement, companies can best prepare themselves for the future by attracting and retaining the best talent from the LGBT community, and other minority groups.

If you would like to share your own thoughts or questions about company culture and inclusivity, contact Raphael Korine, a member of our research team, here.

What to do about Learning?

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At what age do you think you’ll stop working? I’ve asked this question to executives at the peak of their career, and to MBA students in the early stages of theirs and it seems like we’re finally getting it. More and more, the answer I hear is ‘never’, or at the very least ‘well into my 70s’. It seems we’re coming to terms with – embracing even – the prospect of an extended working life.

But here’s the catch. What about the next logical questions: What skills will you need to build to be employable in the future? How will you build them… and who’s going to pay?

At this point, the room tends to go quiet.

While we’ve figured out that we need to be working for longer, we are far less certain about what it takes to stay employable in an ever changing world of work. This is exacerbated by the disruptions we see around us in our roles, organisations and industries as technology displaces some jobs while augmenting others; as new competitors enter the landscape and fundamentally shift how customers and clients engage with our products and services.

It’s clear then, that much will have to change — both in how we as individuals understand and anticipate the evolving nature of work, and how we then respond:

Anticipation. As part of my research consortium, The Future of Work, I recently launched a survey asking people in large corporations how they were addressing learning. I was fascinated to see that many of them scored highly in terms of investing time and energy into regularly learning new skills. However, they scored lower on anticipating which skills would be valuable in the future. Essentially, they were investing a lot of resources into learning, without knowing in which direction they should be going. This is concerning.

Response. What do we need to do differently to learn over the course of a longer working life? Here again, it seems that we are experimenting at the edges of the system with online learning modules and mentoring, but are yet to make the fundamental shifts required to maintain our employability.

What’s the answer? I firmly believe that this is a societal shift and must be addressed at every level and by multiple stakeholders – individuals, governments, educational institutions, organisations. For now, however, let me focus on organisations.

Work is a major place of learning, and it is incumbent on organisations to be active both in the anticipation and response stages:

  • Anticipation: is your organisation analysing how jobs are changing and then translating this into guidance for your employees?
  • Response: does your organisation provide people with the time and resources to act on this by embracing lifelong learning?

There are some organisations already leading the way here: media and telecoms company, AT&T, anticipates future job profiles through the mapping of job categories. This then demonstrates which areas will grow and where jobs may be at risk. Westpac, the Australian bank, enables response with a platform-based approach called LearningBank, which has been rolled out to 40,000 employees. This is a social learning environment where employees co-create and share their own learning material as well as accessing training curated by the company.

Where does this leave us? It took time for us as individuals to come around to the reality of longer working lives, and perhaps it will take time too for organisations to fully appreciate the challenge ahead and their role in addressing it. In the meantime, however, those organisations that anticipate and respond fastest, have much to gain from an informed and employable workforce.



Guest Blog – Why Would You Receive Reassurance?

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No one ever admits this. But everyone craves for it. Reassurance. The politician from his voters. The entrepreneur from his clients. The subordinate from the superior. The managers. from their talent. A business model from its environment.

Unfortunately reassurance in VUCA times has to pass through a re-certification by the appropriate stakeholder group. Except parental, there is no blind reassurance today for anything. How do we earn the reassurance?

3 simple suggestions to reflect over:

  1. Ensure your relevance: your skills must still have currency. They must not have a diminishing marginal utility . Build emergent ones, divest redundant ones. Acquire the ones that will be needed as you look at your future risks and opportunities. Reinvent yourself, however painful it may seem.
  2. Build wider networks: the world is far more networked today than we can ever imagine. Collaborate, connect, communicate, co-create with various network groups. Staying only tethered to a function, industry or geography is inadequate. The reassurance demands a wider connecting of the dots.
  3. Stay hungry: stay hungry for ideas, for talent, for learning, for leadership. Hunger drives a very different passion. Many unfortunately are satiated and still expect reassurances. That is not going to be.


Prabir Jha, Global Chief People Officer at Cipla