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Tackling the lack of gender diversity in life sciences by turning the ‘Red Flags’ to ‘Green’

In the past 13 years, I have heard almost every conceivable excuse why a company has neither truly committed to appointing women nor been successful when trying. Many of these are well rehearsed and follow a very similar pattern. Some of them were perfectly illustrated in a recent review by the UK government into the progress of UK companies adding women to corporate boards. This review featured extraordinary comments by Chairmen and Directors of FTSE 350 companies such as “women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board” and “there aren’t enough women with the right experience to sit on a board – the issues are extremely complex”, revealing attitudes which stand in the way of better progress. These views echo many of the comments and attitudes I hear across the life sciences sector. I call them ‘Red Flags’, as they deter women from showing genuine interest in joining a company, usually because the underlying sentiment is disingenuous or alarming.

Below I look at some of the common ‘Red Flags’ and how we can turn these flags ‘Green’ through genuine changes in leadership commitment that is connected to action. I also try to exhibit how tone and sentiment can reflect what people want to hear when talking to companies about their approach to diversity and culture.

Our company is too small to concern ourselves with diversity and inclusion.

Our company is small but we want diversity throughout our workforce and we’re committed to an inclusive culture where each person can contribute fully.

We have a lot of women in this company, mainly at the lower levels. Women haven’t achieved the same senior levels as men because they typically take more career breaks.

Whatever reason men and women take career breaks for, we’re making sure their careers are given full support and a break doesn’t mean ‘stepping back’. Experience outside of work is viewed as valuable in making our employees become greater contributors to our success and culture.

We want to appoint people on merit, not because they are women.

Our recruitment processes, whether they be at board level or throughout the organisation, are built in a way that we focus on the competence of the person. We start with a suitably wide aperture when looking at the candidate field and make sure that each person has an equal chance of succeeding in being appointed.

We have diversity and inclusion programs run by our human resources department.

Our Human Resources team is involved in the implementation of all we do around diversity and inclusion, but the board and management own this issue and are engaged and accountable.

We are primarily focused on making sure we have ‘diversity of thought’.

We value diversity of experience and thought, but we want our workplace to reflect society and to include women and minorities, as it is among our communities. If we achieve this, we’ll have all the diversity of thought we require.

We are training our people in unconscious bias and by doing so we’re bringing awareness to their biases and changing behaviours they exhibit when hiring and managing people.

At this company we’ve been addressing unconscious bias but we’re primarily focused on changing our systems and processes to eliminate bias. The thoughtful and considered design we’re putting into our systems will reduce all biases, including those unconscious biases we all possess.

We’re looking at the one or two things that will change the way women are working in this company.

 In this company, we understand that gender equality in the workplace is going to involve looking at almost every facet of our business to see how we can change and improve. We want the system to function effectively and provide equal opportunity for everyone.

The pipeline of women is simply not there for us to change the numbers in our company.

We know that the talented women this company needs are out there, so we’re changing how and where we look for them, to eventually have women fully represented at every level of this company.

We are concerned about the reaction of our existing employees to any diversity initiatives.

Our existing employees wish to work in a diverse workplace and are onboard with our push for increased representation of women in the company. As always when introducing new employees, our leaders will carefully and skillfully manage the integration of these people and take full care of all employees. We’ll support our leaders as necessary to ensure this is a success.

 

In a study we published last year, we showed that men were more interested in working with diverse teams than women and so by failing to act on this important issue, leaders are in effect sending a negative message to most of their employees – current and future. It is time to stop searching for excuses and time to start looking for the very talented people out there who can bring diversity to your company at all levels.

 

The article was written by Karl Simpson, June 2018. 

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