Changing hearts and minds: how can you engage managers in diversity?

Written by
Inge Woudstra

01 Feb 2016

01 Feb 2016 • by Inge Woudstra

Managers are key to increase diversity and progression of women in your organisation. But how do you engage them in diversity? The first step is about changing their mindset. Next it’s about giving them concrete tools and strategies.

Equal is not the same

In our society, and especially at work, people are being taught that men and women are equal. However, that doesn’t mean men and women are the same. They can do the same jobs and achieve the same results, but they do have different motivators and needs.

HR practitioners need to show managers that they need to be aware of gender differences in the way they lead. In other words, they need to be gender smart.

Barriers to looking at gender difference

Many managers have an aversion to acknowledging differences between men and women. The main barriers are:

1. Law suits
Managers often worry about law suits if they would acknowledge that there may be such a thing as a difference. Make clear that men and women indeed need to be given equal opportunities, but that does not mean they need to be presented in the same way. Explain it’s good management – rather than illegal – to flex management style to what works for each unique individual. 

2. Women need to adapt to business
Managers often tell me that it’s the women that need to adapt to the way ‘things work in business’. They tell me: ‘In this team we have a range of individuals and they are all flourishing but women don’t seem keen to stay. We have tried everything but they just seem to have different priorities’. Explaining that women really do need something different from their manager, helps to change their perspective. 

3. Molly coddling women
Managers then feel that they need to make all kinds of extra allowances for women and wonder why men don’t get ‘extra help’. What they need to know is that organisations have been designed for men. It’s only fair to now add ways of managing that work for women, and create an approach that works for men and women.

Teaching gender smart tools and strategies

Once managers understand it’s not just okay but actually vital to be aware of gender differences, they need the tools to be gender smart leaders. These include:

1. Helping others vs. challenges
Men are often motivated by being the best, whereas women are more often motivated by helping others. Therefor competitions and challenges often work well to motivate men. Showing the impact of the work on others can be a good way to motivate women. 

2. Make achievements visible
Women compete on relationships, and being ‘nice’. As a result, they can find it harder to boast about achievements. Thus women’s contributions are often undervalued or unseen. Managers can help to make women’s contributions clear by asking her explicitly about her achievements. 

3. Take initiative in promotions
Women are often not keen to put themselves forward as they don’t want to look greedy or arrogant, which would not be ‘nice’. It’s often concluded that they aren’t keen, or are lacking initiative or confidence for a step up. To overcome this, managers can take the initiative and suggest it may be time for a promotion. They can ask her if she is interested and recommend she applies.

Start with open conversations

Engaging managers in diversity starts with open conversations on perceived barriers. The chosen approach then depends on the learning culture in the organisation. Conversations can for instance be done in person, via webinars, in learning circles or even in larger conferences.

Next, it’s about teaching gender smart tools and strategies. This can for instance be realised by training programmes, ‘how to’ videos, individual and group coaching.

As with any change, none of this will create overnight results, but it’s definitely the way forward to get managers on board and create a lasting impact on gender diversity.