Inclusion and Diversity
By Amanda Fajak, Executive Director at Walking the Talk
20 years ago I published an article looking at the link between power, gender and the likelihood of promotion. In that research I uncovered an important finding. Women were associated with emotion and emotion was a characteristic that was not associated with strong leadership. Inversely, men were associated with assertiveness, a characteristic that was associated with strong leadership.
This finding has been reiterated many times over the years with the general consensus being that men are traditionally associated with aggression, risk taking, decisive behaviour and autonomy (what are called agentic qualities) – what have historically been viewed as valuable leadership skills – whereas women are traditionally associated with being kind, caring, humble and relational (what are called communal qualities) – historically less valued leadership skills. These stereotypes of men and women have resulted in historic streaming of men and women into different careers (very broadly in 1998 this meant men traditionally in finance and business and women in nursing and teaching).
Fast forward to 2018 and I was curious as to what has changed. When you look into our business press, there is still evidence of the male hero leader – with the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zukerberg being credited with single handedly changing our lives. However there are also strong women leaders and influencers making the headlines – Michelle Obama, Angela Merkl, Mary Barra (GE), Indra Nooyi (Pepsico), Carolyn McCall (ITV), Theresa May to name a few.
Interestingly, research from as recently as 10 years ago showed that despite an increasing number of women in more powerful roles, women had started to see an association between feminine and leadership characteristics, but men had not.
The latest research by Eagly – who has polled views on gender stereotyping since 1946 – delivered good and bad news. Over time, men have increasingly been seen as more agentic (aggressive, decisive, etc). Over time women have been increasingly seen as more intelligent and competent than men but the stereotype of women being more communal has also increased.
These sorts of findings are a source of frustration to many. On the surface it would appear that we haven’t made much progress in breaking down stereotypes. This is only 1 lens, if we broaden out our perspective another picture might be emerging.
Recent research conducted by Walking the Talk showed that investment professionals are less likely to invest in organisations that are aggressive, overconfident, overly hierarchical – organisations that have more agentic qualities.
Similarly, recent research by the Centre for Creative Leadership listed the following 10 characteristics to be associated with leaders: Honesty; Ability to delegate; Communication; Sense of humour; Confidence; Commitment; Positive attitude; Creativity; Ability to inspire; Intuition. These are more communal qualities.
In the same vein the latest thinking about the leaders that create psychological safety – a critical underpinning to organisation health – includes modesty; humility; openness; supportiveness; inclusive decision making; acknowledging others; emotional intelligence; and accessibility – more communal qualities.
If we look at changing perceptions about leadership it is evident that we are starting to see a significant shift in terms of what good leadership looks like. Could it be that although stereotypes about women have not changed, society has come to a point where it is starting to recognise that feminine characteristics are what it takes for strong leadership?
 Fajak, A. & Haslam, A. (1998). Gender solidarity in hierarchical organizations. British Journal of Social Psychology. 37, 73-94.
 Eagly, A.H.. Wood, W. & Diekman, A.B. (2000). Social role theory of sex differences and similarities: A current appraisal. In T. Eckes and H.M. Trautner (Eds.). The developmental social psychology of gender (pp.123-174). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
 Duehr, E. & Bono. J. (2006). Men, women, and managers: are stereotypes finally changing? Personnel Psychology, 59, 815-846.
Here at Hot Spots Movement we pride ourselves on our multidisciplinary approach to research on the Future of Work. It is something that goes right to the heart of our intellectual ethos and lays the foundation for much of our research. From Aristotle to Aldous Huxley, or from Sociology to Semiotics, we passionately believe that the best and most innovative work is one whereby an eclectic array of views, ideas and opinions are incorporated into the body of knowledge. Seemingly, the days of the maverick lone wolf (think Tesla, Darwin or Einstein) are over. This is not, however, to suggest that creative individuals don’t matter, but ‘rather that we become more innovative when we remain open to as many arguments, philosophies, conversations and rival ideas as possible’[i].
Take, for example, the research conducted by Stefan Wuchty, Benjamin Jones and Brian Uzzi. This multidisciplinary team of researchers used big data to learn what distinguished ideas that had an impact from those that did not. After sifting through twenty million academic articles and two million patents cited over the past fifty years, ‘they discovered that the most innovative and impactful ideas were much more likely to come from cross-enterprise collaborations rather than from teams from the same university, lab or research centre’[ii].
However, despite this, many organisations still tend to build networks which only reinforce the existing ideas underpinning their current organisational architecture. Such a tendency can partly be explained by ‘selective exposure theory’ which is based on the notion that people have a predisposition to engage with information that reaffirms our existing viewpoints. Quite simply, this is because the brain favours familiarity and people therefore do not respond well to opinions that don’t align with their own.
To this end, transcending our echo chambers and incorporating diversity of thought into the organisational framework requires us to go against our instinctual need to create networks that reinforce our pre-existing views. However, one innovative initiative that can help build more diverse networks into the workplace is that of co-working spaces. ‘Co-working spaces bring together diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers and other independent professionals in a shared, communal setting’[iii]; thereby organically create a milieu in which people from wide ranging industries and professions can assemble and share their diverse knowledge and expertise. Such an environment cultivates not only a hybridity of perspectives but also innovation.
However, if completely redesigning the office space is unfeasible, then homogeneous logic and ideas can also be overcome through mechanisms such as crowdsourcing platforms or sponsored lunches with rival competitors.
Fundamentally though, irrespective of what mechanisms are implemented, incorporating diversity of thought into your organisational framework is contingent on being open minded and expressing alacrity to viewpoints and perspectives which in the past may have seemed fatuous or superfluous. The era in which we live is characterized by unprecedented and nebulous change. This generates many exciting opportunities, but such opportunities can arguably only be fully realised if organisations are willing to absorb the information and ideas which exist in sometimes unfamiliar domains.
[i] Burkeman, O. (2010) Steven Johnson: ‘Eureka moments are very, very rare’, (The Guardian)
[ii] HotSpots Movement (2015) The Collaboration Imperative Report
[iii] Bound, A. (2018) Demand for Co-working spaces expands beyond London (Financial Times)
“If you work hard you will succeed. If you really want to achieve your dreams, it’s in your hands.”
We are all familiar with variations on these thoughts, and the idea that individualism and hard work will win out in the end is a truism that many people take on faith. Organisations often construct their recruitment processes with the idea that society is meritocratic – believing that those high-potential hires have succeeded due to their work ethic and skills alone.
Despite this, research has shown that it is often those from affluent backgrounds who land the best jobs. Even when people from disadvantaged backgrounds manage to break into a professional career, they face an earnings penalty compared to colleagues who come from better-off backgrounds.[i] Despite having the same education attainment, role and experience as their more privileged colleagues, those from poorer backgrounds are paid an average of £2,242 (seven per cent) less.[ii] Women and ethnic minorities face a ‘double’ disadvantage in earnings. Those from poorer backgrounds in some cases also exclude themselves from promotion for fear of not ‘fitting in’ and were less likely to ask for pay rises. This is a challenge that organisations are increasingly waking up to. Competition for talent and the need for diversity of thought mean that organisations will lose out commercially if they do not have a cross-section of employees that reflect wider society.
So how can companies improve their diversity and foster inclusiveness around social mobility? Here are three insights from our research:
- Look for unintended biases in the recruitment process – Could your recruitment approach be filtering out applicants from less advantaged backgrounds? Some organisations, such as EY, are experimenting with relaxing their hiring criteria, or implementing ‘blind’ CVs in recruitment, so that details on university or education are hidden.[iii] Advances in predicative talent analytics may also enable organisations to identify promising talent from a larger pool than they might traditionally consider, basing hiring on data rather than intuition.[iv]
- Sense-check the gap between the rhetoric and reality – Organisations may think they have the practices and processes in place to increase their social diversity, but if people at all levels of the organisation are unware of them, or don’t use them, there will be no shift in culture or behaviour.
- Identify a priority area and experiment – Companies often think that moving the needle on diversity means making large-scale changes across several areas. Our research and work on our own I&D Framework has shown that a tailored and focused approach is often more effective. Start by identifying what your organisation does well, and where it is weaker. Selecting key areas allows companies to monitor and measure new interventions to understand the real impact and the changes that take place.
Keeping these insights in mind will help ensure your organisation builds a diverse, inclusive culture.
Interested in creating an I&D strategy that is ready to enable action within your organisation and truly shift the needle on I&D read our complimentary Insights Report on Inclusion and Diversity here: http://bit.ly/IandD-MovingTheNeedle
Or for more information about our I&D research, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 02077591852
[i] Rivera, L. (2015). Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. Princeton University Press
[ii] Friedman, S., Laurison, D., and Macmillan, L. (2017). Social Mobility, The Class Pay Gap and Intergenerational Worklessness: New Insights From The Labour Force Survey.
[iii] EY drives social mobility by removing academic entry criteria http://www.ey.com/uk/en/newsroom/news-releases/17-02-02-ey-drives-social-mobility-by-removing-academic-entry-criteria
[iv] (2017) FoW Report on Shifting Identities
The wave of stories of pervasive sexual harassment and assault in recent weeks, from Hollywood to Parliament, have made me think about the role of culture in normalising such behaviour. We are currently researching Shifting Cultures for our upcoming Masterclass, and part of that research has centred on how cultures are formed. Are organisations aware of how much of their culture is shaped by the mindset of the dominant group?
We all have social identities, established through self-reflection from interactions with others. The sociologist Charles Horton Cooley referred to this as the ‘looking glass self’. As we grow up and are socialised, we see the way people talk and act with us, which then feeds into our self-perception. This includes stereotypes that people already have about our group identity. As a middle-class, white woman from an educated background, for example, I will have received subtle cues about how I’m expected to behave, and what I’m expected to achieve.
Yet arguably, not everyone is aware of the extent to which they have benefited from their collective identity. In his discussion on modern masculinity, the artist Grayson Perry identified a group he termed ‘Default Man’. White, middle-class, heterosexual, usually middle-aged, they are, as Perry notes, a tribe that does not think of itself as a tribe. Instead they often see themselves as individuals. Yet collectively they profoundly shape our culture.
Take the workplace. There are fewer S&P 1500 companies led by women than S&P companies led by men named John. It is clear that this impacts organisational culture, yet it is unlikely that as an individual ‘John’ feels his progress acts a role-model for other men like him, or that he is part of a community with similar experiences that shape his behaviour and mindset. Does John feel that he got where he was all by himself, with no societal support at all? Research has identified an ‘out-group’ homogeneity effect,where people believe in the uniformity of those not like them: ‘they are alike: we are diverse’. The power imbalance still prevalent in society means that the male in-group often either consciously or unconsciously defines the broader culture.
This is true for the more toxic elements discussed in recent weeks, but also for parts of culture that we are not even aware of. There is a parable that describes two young fish swimming along, who happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” How much of what we take for granted in terms of qualities of an effective leader, or criteria for progression within an organisation is subjectively biased in favour of the dominant group?
Recently, there has been a rise in the number of organisations realising that building an inclusive culture means engaging the majority group. Deloitte, for example, ended its women’s networks and affinity groups, instead involving men in the conversation and making them accountable for D&I goals. The fact that is has taken this long, highlights the extent to which men have traditionally been viewed as the default that doesn’t need to change, rather than an identity group like any other. If workplace culture is going to shift this needs to continue, as companies reckon with how much of their culture is formed by one group and the ramifications of this.
 Rousseau, N. (2002) Self, Symbols and Society, Rowman and Littlefield.
 Perry, G. (8 October 2014) The Rise and Fall of Default Man, New Statesman https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/10/grayson-perry-rise-and-fall-default-man
 FoW Power and Leadership Report 2016
 Ostrom, T.M and Sedikides, C. (1992) Out-Group Homogenity Effects in Naural and Minimal Groups, Psychological Bulletin 112(3). 536-553.
 Wittenberg-Cox, A. (3 August 2017) Deloitte’s Radical Attempt to Reframe Diversity, Harvard Bussiness Review https://hbr.org/2017/08/deloittes-radical-attempt-to-reframe-diversity
Last 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 LEanIn.org. (2016, September). Women in the Workplace Study. Retrieved from https://womenintheworkplace.com
Life and Leadership after HBS. (2013). Retrieved from
Correll, S., Benard, S., & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a Job: Is there a motherhood penalty. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 112, No. 5