Diversity in the Workplace: How to Achieve Gender Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity in the Workplace: How to Achieve Gender Diversity in the Workplace

Carola Hieker (Richmond, The American University in London, UK) and Maia Rushby (Diversity-in-Leadership, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6912-1.ch018
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The ‘diversity in the workforce' chapter looks at the current status of gender diversity in the workplace and describes initiatives that are commonly designed and implemented by organizations for their female workforce and their senior leaders in pursuit of gender parity. It is emphasized that one or two interventions in isolation will not guarantee gender parity but that a combination of interventions is necessary, depending on the size and complexity of the organization. Furthermore, it is underlined that if these interventions are perceived as attractive by senior leaders then the senior leaders should be encouraged to invest time and resources in pursuing them. It will raise their commitment to become diversity champions, which is key for sustainable change. Examples from finance and professional service firms illustrate how some of the described interventions are used to enhance diversity.
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Introduction: Gender Diversity In The Workplace

There is much extant literature regarding the struggle to achieve gender diversity in the workplace such as publications, websites, blogs, and organizations all with a point of view and ideas on why current initiatives on gender diversity are difficult to achieve (Dobbin & Kalev, 2016) and what could be done to make a change (Hewlett, Marshall, & Sherbin, 2011). However, this chapter aims to give a structured overview of commonly used interventions in business with a specific look at gender diversity in leadership roles. A critical overview is offered of current literature as well as analysis on trends based on formal and informal interviews with HR professionals and senior leaders (both male and female) in private organizations.

Current Status of Gender Diversity

In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted it would be 80 years before gender parity could be achieved, according to economic, educational, health-based and political indicators. However, in 2015 the forecast increased to 117 years (World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, 2015). From the same report, it can be seen that no countries are at gender parity in their workforce (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Gender Parity in the Workplace (World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, 2015)


Further reviewing the workforce detail in America (Figure 2), a total of 57% of women participate in the labor force compared with 69.2% of men. And of this working population, twice the percentage of women are working part time (26% of women versus 13% of men), which means the majority of the full-time workforce is male and the majority of the part-time population is female. (US Department for Labor, 2014).

Figure 2.

Percentage Participation in the US Workforce, (US Department for Labor, 2014)


A closer look at seniority in the workplace regarding the average representation of women in Financial Services in 20 global markets shows that 60% of total employees are women; however, only 25% of middle managers are women reducing to only 19% of senior level leaders who are women (PwC, 2013). The situation is similar in S&P 500 companies where 45% of the labor force are women of which 37% of middle managers are female and 19% of the board seats are held by women (only 4% of CEOs of S&P 500 companies are women) (Catalyst, 2015).

One of the key messages from these statistics is that diversity (more specifically gender diversity) in the workplace has been measured for years, and while small incremental improvements have occurred in some areas, organizations still struggle to see significant shifts in female representation in the workplace, especially at the most senior levels. With the demand to improve gender diversity across most global organizations, many different terms are used. The term ‘gender intelligence’ (Gray & Annis, 2013) is a more recent term used in organizations to understand the different approach of men and women to decision-making, problem solving, and communication. However, because the main focus lies on the differences between men and women, there is the risk that it can foster potentially existing stereotypes. In addition, examining the long list of literature explaining gender differences published over decades, (Gray, 2004) it is questionable if the claim that an understanding of gender differences will help on the way to gender parity.

In 2014, the management consultancy McKinsey & Company introduced the term ‘mind-set’ into the diversity discussion and suggested that ‘moving mind-sets’ is important to increase gender diversity in the workplace (McKinsey, 2014). Expanding on this term, some organizations refer to ‘diversity of mind-set’ as a more forward thinking and inclusive concept which focuses on the senior leaders’ openness and curiosity. It also implies that a mind-set is not actually set and can change by being challenged and confronted with different assumptions and beliefs. Additionally, the term ‘diversity of mind-set’ is a good reminder that even though the main focus of organization is currently on the equality of gender diversity is much broader and includes such factors as race, culture, age, language, and sexual orientation.

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