Embedding Gender Diversity into Talent Management

There’s no way to build effective diversity and inclusion approaches without modifying the existing talent management processes. We can tirelessly repeat the benefits of  having a diverse workforce and we can develop sophisticated business cases but real change will only happen when we are able to provide specific tools to manage talent differently.  This post will develop a systematic approach to include a gender diversity lens in the talent review discussions. The 3 step process can be applied to any specific business unit or geographic area, wherever the talent review meetings take place.

Step 1 – Representation Analysis

First things first, we need to better understand where we have the issue of low female representation. Usually companies focus in women in executive positions, clustering several internal bands and setting a multiyear goal (for instance, Merck has a goal of 36% for women in the 3 upper bands while Rio Tinto has a goal of 20% of women in the 5 upper job bands).  Equally important is the level of female representation in the pipeline, the previous internal job levels where we could promote women from. The matrix shown here represents executives versus pipeline, while  having the overall executive target as midpoint for each group. This way the matrix  helps visualize quickly where we need to put the focus. For instance, being in the lower left quadrant means that both our % of women in executive positions as well as in the pipeline is low. External recruiting should be then the preferred action. In the upper left quadrant, the % of women executives is already above target (therefore retention is key) but the pipeline is below the executive target, and that means a non sustainable overall situation as we won’t have replacement for women executives if they leave for whatever the reason. The two other quadrants follow the same logic to prioritize actions.

Step 2 – Talent Balance

This 3 x 3 matrix will sound familiar to many HR professionals. It is given different names: 9-box grid, sector ranking, talent matrix… Each quadrant is filled in with names of people, organized around two dimensions. The horizontal axis represents levels of performance and the vertical one levels of potential (person in right level, promotable one level up or promotable two levels up). I won’t go into the detail of how potential is defined as each company consider different factors. When companies talk about “talent” or “high potentials” they consider a subgroup of this matrix: usually boxes number 1 and 2 (those promotable 2 levels with average or superior performance ratings). In some cases, they also include boxes 3 and / or 5.

Here it is critical to make gender visible in the matrix. An F in brackets for women could be enough.  Once we know who the women are from the listed names, we need to calculate also their %  and compare that number with their overall representation in the population being discussed.   For instance, let’s say women are 35% in a particular group (a figure that comes from the representation matrix in step 1) and their presence fall to 20% in the group of high potential in step 2. That scenario would mean that female talent is underrepresented considered their overall weight.  Why could that happen?  Could it be that any of the potential definition  criteria is excluding women? Are there any other factors such as mobility or motherhood status influencing the presence of women in the talent map? Perhaps there is an explanation, but we need to be aware of it asking the right questions.

Step 3 – Action Planning 

Finally, every talent review meeting includes career planning and development actions for those identified as high potential. Basically we have here a list of talented people. For each of them, it is discussed the next move and timing and other relevant information. Again, it is critically important to make gender visible, for instance including that information in one of the columns. Only then we will be able to determine if there are any potential biases (for instance a higher proportion of lateral moves for women and of promotions for men, or any relevant differences regarding timing for the career moves).

Why should we care? 

Some of these proposals may sound pretty obvious but in my experience line leaders and HR Business Partners don’t come naturally equipped with gender analytical skills. They tend to  feel over confident in their meritocratic approach to talent. Changing their perspective it is not a matter of developing compelling arguments or using good research, it is fundamentally about changing the process and tools they use. Diversity and Inclusion is not a religion, something we expect people to believe in, but a day to day management approach to run businesses more efficiently.

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Introverted Leadership and Diversity Management

Shy, asocial, quiet,  and at times just weird, introverts don’t seem to fit into the image of leaders, as we tend to associate leadership and outspoken personalities. However, a true fascination by introverts is currently going on in the management world, particularly in the US. Several articles and books have been published in the last months. The most recent one, Quiet, has been featured in a cover of Time a couple of weeks ago, and her author, Susan Cain, has presented in TED with great success (there’s also available a written summary of the talk). Let’s review then what is behind this cool topic and its implications for diversity management in organizations.

The basics

A foundational article of this “intro-fever” is “10 Myths About Introverts“. It went viral on the web and it sets the stage to better understand introverted people and dispel some common stereotypes about them. It  seems that brain chemistry plays a key role:  introverts are over-sensitive to dopamine, while extroverted people need a lot of it which they create from a higher dose of adrenaline.  Whatever the reason, the truth is that introverts just need less social interactions because they get easily exhausted with  them.  They do enjoy conversation and people but just at a different pace, and they also take a lot of satisfaction of solitude and listening. They are intrinsically different people, that’s all.

An extroverted world

Introverts are estimated to account between one third and one fourth of the total population. Their different personality was nothing “unusual” in the past. Quoting Susan Cain,  Jenna Goudreau explains in The Secret Power of Introverts, that until the twentieth century we lived in a “culture of character”. The general expectation was that people display moral behavior and discretion. The rise of modern cities and businesses brought a lot of agglomeration and with it, the need to stand out in the crowd. This led to  our current “culture of personality” and the importance of having an expansive personality.

In the last times, we have built a highly extroverted world, a new Groupthink,  with open spaces in the offices, frequent brainstorming sessions and unlimited meetings. What we don’t seem to realize is that this work environment don’t facilitate the creativity and innovation that, as research shows, many introverts could display but only if they are able to get the proper intimacy and isolation.

Best leaders or just different leaders

Same authors claim that introverts can make the best leaders, as their listening skills, focus on depth or calmed approach are great assets in the workplace.  A research from Harvard has shown that introverted leaders are the best with proactive employees (=knowledge workers) because their skills help unlock the full potential of the team. It also seems that they could be better mentors of Generation Y.  Definitely, sometimes introverts have superpowers.

As with any new management concept, in particular if it comes from the U.S, we have already lists of tips and bullet points on how to harness the innovative power of introverts. I’m afraid though that the main issue is that our talent management systems  are not designed to identify introverted talent. These people hardly do self-promotion and they lack the skills of orientation to action and assertiveness that we most love in organizations.

A new social identity?

From a diversity management perspective, all this good noise about “introverts” is helpful. It will raise the visibility of “diverse talent” and will potentially broaden the conversation away from  gender or race.  On another hand, we run also the risk of creating a new social category, a new identity with two poles, when the truth is that introversion-extraversion is not a single quality but a complex one made up of six different facets. The oversimplification won’t help to see this in terms of development (see Daniel Goleman’s article “Are you too shy to lead?“).

Finally, I guess the rise of introverts is mainly a Western concept. I hardly see this globally applicable as Asian cultures they don’t seem to have quite a strong “culture of personality”. But that’s a whole new discussion…

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The rise and fall of Generational Diversity

The notion of generational diversity is losing ground. It has been an extremely popular topic among talent and leadership practitioners at least during the last 5 years. It seemed we all needed a manual of instructions to navigate the generational differences in the workplace. Now new research throws a different light on what should be the relevant topics to be addressed in the workplace.

End of Gen Y and agony of Gen X 

Once considered cool and highly appreciated for being digital natives, the new reality of Generation Y has quickly being transformed into poor working conditions, in some cases even similar to enslavement as unpaid interns.  To make things worst, research is showing the many myths we hold about them around the use of social media but also about their work style. In academic circles many now dare to say that Gen Y doesn’t exist. Simply said, there is nothing particular about them, meaning that they are much like their predecessors when they were the same age, just young people.

On the other hand, Generation X, those more or less born between 1965 and 1979, are also living a difficult situation as suggested by this infography. They are in the middle of a generation trap to face the current economical downturn: many of them have care giving responsibilities (children or elderly) but they don’t have either the mobility of the younger employees nor the financial security of the more senior ones.

Generations fading away and ageing speeding up

The broad generational labels, Baby Boomers, Gen X or Gen Y, have had always difficult translation outside of the US. In Generations around the globe Tammy Erickson explains how historical milestones and cultural values of each country shape the different generations. In the workplace, these broad categories simply based on birthdate are not very helpful:  age is not the critical variable to manage the workforce, as shown by this study from Illinois University.

The decay of the generacional diversity in the workplace runs in parallel with the consolidation of evidence regarding global ageing. We tend to see this as a Western issue but the truth is  that emerging markets are also ageing at a quick rate. Based on OCDE data, the developed countries have doubled their rate of population over 65 years in 50 years, but emerging countries will face the same issue in just 25 years.  From a social point of view we’d rather get used to the fact that our societies will need more immigrants in the future and from a business point of view, we’d better learn how to manage older employees in the workplace. In Ageing EmployeesCSR Europe offers some examples on how some companies are already addressing this issue.

Generational differences or cultural differences?

The Sloan Center on Aging & Work has been conducting research about the influence of age in the workplace using their Quality of Employment model. This model clusters employee perceptions (importance and current level of satisfaction) around 8 topics: compensation and benefits, training and development opportunities, flexibility, inclusive culture… Their most recent study, Generations of Talent, has used this model to see how cronological age, life stage (with or without dependent care) and career stage influence employee perceptions. I has been in charge of coordinating the participation of my company in 4 different countries, China, Japan, Brazil and Spain. The key outcome has been that there are no significant differences on employee perceptions by age, and only slight differences by career stage and life stage. On the contrary, there are great differences among countries. This suggests we should rather put more effort on intercultural issues, something particularly challenging given the direction most companies are taking to develop global workplace practices and programs in their constant search for efficiencies.

(*) This post has been originally published in Spanish in Diversidad Corporativa in September 2011.

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Gender at the crossroads

Numbers fatigue

Yes, I’m getting tired of the constant drop of statistics showing that we are far from gender equality in the workplace. I have to confess that I don’t pay attention to them anymore. We invest much time and effort to obsessively measure female representation again and again, but results are basically telling the same story. I have to admit though that the latest trend, of showing how many years it will take to achieve gender equality at the current pace, is a good one: 50 years in the European Union. This helps to visualize the gap but it is still clearly optimistic: it assumes the current progress rate is sustainable. We have historical series showing that in some countries numbers can fall back, and we also have new evidence that in emerging markets women are turning their eyes towards alternative careers, like public sector jobs. Progress is not a given.

Solved mysteries

I move from fatigue to smile when it comes to those well intentioned people who wonder why we don’t have more women at the top, as it there was something magical going on, a hard mystery to be solved. Well… we have more research than ever regarding women in the workplace. We have meta-analysis showing pervasive leadership stereotypes. We know the impact of motherhood and even how many kids does it take to derail a career. And, of course, we also know everything about women’s psyche and all that stuff about their internal barriers, the bad mother complex and so on. We now have an answer to every mystery and yet we lack the actions to change reality.


Maybe it is time to rethink our strategies. The real challenge of our time is economic growth and performance. Current focus of business is to reinvent itself and survive the recession but gender equality and economic reinvention shouldn’t be seen as separate issues. They are indeed the same issue. Any sustainable solution to our current crisis has to come from a different model, and a different leadership. Recovering trust in the system is essential and data show that women are well positioned to be part of the solution in public eyes.

It is true that we all have some sort of gender fatigue and that’s natural because clearly it is no longer about women who don’t fit in the corporate world. It is becoming humans, in general, who don’t fit. We don’t fit with the current schedules and workloads, as it is shown by the increasing number of working fathers who struggle to balance it all, and we don’t fit with the current lack of meaningful jobs which is decreasing engagement levels to a minimum. Definitely is no longer about female representation but economic and society reinvention, and we’d better be all part of the solution.

(*) This article was originally published in 3 Plus International, an online magazine for “women worth knowing” which is worth reading.

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Attitudes towards diversity management: personal lenses

In the field of corporate diversity there is life outside of the US and the UK, and some of the remarkable cases can be found, despite many challenges, in France. One of them, in my opinion, is Vinci, a huge construction group with a high degree of autonomy in their different business units. They have implemented a diversity strategy based in “audits” around common processes and common categories (gender, inmigration, age, handicap). More specifics can be found in their webpage. They shared their approach in a recent meeting organized in Paris by AfmD, a company network in France which offers opportunities for collaborative learning and practices sharing among diversity practitioners.

One of the tools that Vinci uses in their diversity training to raise awareness is a personal assessment, where each participant can rank himself in a “diversity attitude continuum”. The scale has 5 positions and goes from defensive to proactive positions regarding diversity management. The lowest score corresponds to an attitude of “oppposition” and the highest one to an attitude of being “visionary”. I find this simple tool helpful to deal with the different attitudes of people towards diversity.

It is quite common to find women deeply uncomfortable with gender policies or gay people extremelly concerned with any sign of LGBT visibility. In general, most of the people don’t understand why there is a need to develop programs “in favour of minorities” (as they are usually seen). For all these people group differences and identites are not relevant and only individual performance matters (they believe in pure expected meritocracy). They are “colorblind” regarding diversity and as such they oppose any idea of diversity management.

The book “10 Lenses” by the American author Mark A. Williams  explains the different perception filters people use to look at the diversity of people. Each lens works as set of beliefs. Being “colorblind” is one of them, but in the opposite side, you can also find people extremelly proud of their group identity. For them, belonging to a particular group is at the core of their personal identity. They tend to see all that happens to them as explained by that single dimension, and they feel under public scrutiny and discrimination on a daily basis. Life for them is a permanent collection of homophobia, sexism or racism. They are permanent “victims“.

Between colorblind and victims, there are other perception filters, other “lenses” to look at people and their differences. Some people are “elitists” (my group is superior), other “assimilationists” (very common in France: “we are all French and that’s all that counts…”), other multiculturalists (we need to work on the inclusion of all differences to build a mosaic).  We all have these multiple lenses but we tend to have a strong preference for some of them based on contextual factors (historical and political events) and personal factors (how we build our own identity giving priority to some of our differences).  Gallup, a consultancy specialized in measuring everything, has developed a questionnaire and, after multiple correlation and regression analysis, has concluded that these “lenses” are common patterns of thoughts and feelings at least among the US general population.

The book 10 Lenses is available for free download in Google books. In addition, the portal My Identity provides a full range of services to help assess your personal lenses and manage those of your coworkers.

With either a tool or another, a simple scale used by Vinci, or a sophisticated 10 lenses evaluation,  it is always critical to consider the different personal attitudes towards diversity management within an organization. It will affect the speed of the change management process to build an inclusive workplace and your chances to have meaningful conversations with key executives. Beyond self-assessments, perhaps it is just a question of begining with the basic question “What does Diversity mean to you?”.

Note: I wrote a post in Spanish about the 10 Lenses approach in April 2009. I have translated a good part of it to build this post in English.

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3 Mentality patterns of men executives sustaining the glass ceiling

With the increasing political and social pressure around gender equality, it is becoming challenging to know what men executives really think about the topic. Most of them don’t dare to share their true opinion about women advancement to the top executive positions. A common blah blah blah that is good for the business is becoming the standard message. Sometimes though there is a glimpse of real thoughts,  like the “colorful and prettier” controversy initiated by the Deutsche Bank CEO. A good parody of that struggle can be found in the video of the Catalyst Awards 2011 .

Understanding the real mental patterns behind the “glass ceiling” (the famous invisible barrier making almost impossible for women to achieve executive positions) is the focus of a German. It was published in March 2010 by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, or BMFSFJ for short, although I don’t know if I prefer better the long name or this impossible acronym ;).  The study is entitled Women in Executive Positions: Barriers and Bridges and it includes the findings of a research based on interviews with more than 500 men and women executives of large and medium enterprises. All the people being interviewed held positions of responsibility with teams of at least 20 people.

The research shows that all participants agree on the strategic value of the presence of women in senior management BUT they have serious doubts about the possibility of achieving real progress. In particular in the group of men a number of false assumptions were identified which contribute to mantain the Glass Ceiling: 1 / incompatibility of work and family (although real data show that there are already both men and women with children in the highest ranks of companies), 2 / career continuity as an imperative (again not supported by data as at least 25% male executives have taken time out at least once) and 3 / career as a gradual development, meaning step by step (once more data shows that this is only true for women because many male “double-jump”, i.e climbing several positions at once.)

In addition to these assumptions, the study has also identified 3 basic mentality patterns among men in executive positions:

1 / Conservative Exclusion. Some of them reject women as a disruptive element in business management. For sure, this view is not shared in public, but going deeper in the conversation these men believe that business is conservative by nature and requires leaders with a stable family (and children). They believe that women who go for the top positions tend to be rude to others and don’t have good social skills because… they try too much to emulate men. This conservative mentality excludes women in the name of tradition and smooth operations in the business.

2 / Emancipated Attitude. These men really believe in equal rights at all levels. However, they consider that the top-level positions require a tough style to deal with the pressures of short-term results. The key point for them is that women don’t deal well with this because that was not the way they have been socialized.  Men share rituals demonstrations of personal success and power. They can be crude or abrasive in their communication style. For women all of this is not normative and therefore they lack that basic learning from their life experiences. Basically, although these men believe in equality, they think that social roles are the real barriers to an increased women presence at the top. 

3 / Radical Individualism. In this case, men simply think that women choose their family and they decide not to pursue an executive career. In short, few women are willing to go to senior management positions and this is not a question of company desire or decision.  These men think that gender doesn’t matter nowadays, only personality and performance. They assume that it is women entirely decision to go for senior positions. 

The 3 types of mentality patterns coexist in the same companies. They are part of an ecosystem of beliefs that play a critical role when it comes the time of deciding on a new appointment for an executive position. It would be wrong anyway to draw the conclusion that the “problem” of women in business are men. It is rather the organization of work, the definition of leadership, and many preconceived ideas about gender, shared by men and women through education and socialization, which really mantains the current status, even if  it is not in the best interest of business.

PS: This post was originally posted in Spanish in Diversidad Corporativa in April 2010. I have re-written it in English and developed an updated introduction.  

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Diversity management: languages and accents in the workplace

Job mobility within the European Union is fairly easy: there is no paperwork involved and there is plenty of information available to help you with the decision. The European Job Mobility Portal contains lots of helpful information, including not only labor market conditions but also a broad range of practical information, covering topics such us housing, tax implications, healthcare systems…  No doubt this represents a major advantage for European citizens, particularly if you compare the situation with other regions in the world. The real challenge in this open environment is to have some basic knowledge of the language spoken in the country you are considering moving to.

Around 600 hours seem to be needed to learn a new language with a level of difficulty similar to your native one (that’s definitely the case for the vast majority of the European languages). This is the estimation of the US Foreign Learning Institute after years of experience and research. Living outside is the best way to accelerate this learning process, mainly if you are already at a basic or intermediate level. The experience of living abroad has many other advantages. One of great interest is the fact that  it fosters creativity, an asset highly appreciate by companies as a precursor of their deadly needed innovation. It is important to say though that this enhancement of creativity comes only for individuals with a demonstrated an intrinsic interest and openness to the cultures they encounter. This includes also a strong correlation with learning the local language so… forget about being an isolated expat .

There is always a dark side and the one of working abroad it is the difficulty to have a “career” beyond your landing job. There is a lot of research on the correlation between accent and stereotypes. It is fascinating for example to see how accents affect our perception of service quality or how some accents seem to “perform” better during job applications (you’d better have a French one than a Japanese one). The critical thing is that we are not talking only about prejudice by association of accent and ethnic origin. It seems to be deeper than that, something that affects our way of processing information: it requires extra effort to understand a foreign person and that make us trust less the speaker.

For any of us who have to perform regularly in a different language, it is very clear how this affect our professional skills. You feel less comfortable, less dynamic and quick, less accurate in your statements … In summary, you look less yourself. And this only gets worst if you end in an emotionally charged situation: a difficult negotiation, a strong disagreement or a controversial topic.

With or without a direct experience of living abroad, our professional experiences are becoming more multilingual. It is quite uncommon to remain purely “local” in the global business environment. As most of the companies centralize or regionalize some shared services, you end sooner or later expose to different English accents and languages. This new reality goes beyond the traditional approach to multicultural management as it doesn’t relate only to cultural values but to perceptions of competence and pure ability to fully perform under pressure. It is therefore at the core of our global talent management processes.

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Men and Gender Equality

After some years of being a blogger about Diversity and Inclusion in Spanish, I would like to begin posting also in English. Talking about gender from a masculine perspective seems to me a good start for a first post.

As a known ritual, each March 8th, International Women’s Day, we share analysis and opinions regarding the situation of women in business: latest figures of their presence in executive positions, new forecasts of their raising buying power, and renewed concerns for the persisting salary gap. We invest much less time on men and their role in gender equality despite the fact that without them we won’t see much progress in the coming years whatever the data we gather. Men inclusion is the real challenge ahead because, honestly, we have already tried all: women’s development programs, mentoring, targeted recruiting efforts to attract female talent and of course, women’s networks of every possible type, internal, by industry, local, international … We have tried them all and with little success.

Initiatives for gender equality have been traditionally a female field, something that have nothing to do with men. A good analysis of their fears and barriers for engagement can be find in one of latest Catalyst reports: Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives. From a practical perspective I think it takes mostly 3 things: money, flexibility and diversity. At least this is the approach I have held in a recent round table in Paris, where I’m based. This event was part of a one day conference organized by ORSE (Observatory for Corporate Responsibility) and MEDEF (a known French business network).

Money. Yes, money is clearly needed. We invest significant amounts of it in programs for women: in their networks, their mentors, their development, but we hardly allocate any funds to raise the level of awareness of the male population in our workplaces. Research shows crearly that meritocracy is far from being the real name of the game in business. A couple of articles which help to understand this are The Motherhood Penalty and Leader or Louder?. Despite all these findings, how much we invest to share them with men?

Flexibility. I am increasingly convinced that the cultural transformation needed within companies in terms of “inclusion” won’t be achieved unless we better implement flexibility programs. We need men using telework, flexible time or even part time options. This is critical because at the core of women’s barriers for advacement there is the perception that they won’t deliver, that they will always have part of their hearts and minds at home. But… this is also what many men will want in the future, as the analysis of values in new generations show. We need to reframe how we work to better balance our lives. Part of it is the increasing interest on paternity within the work-life programs.

Diversity. Many women feel uncomfortable if we frame the gender initiatives within wider diversity strategies. And they are right when they say that they are not “diversity”, meaning by that a minority. At the end they are simply half of the population. However, my personal point of view is that we’d better be practical here. Isolated “gender” initiatives might be misperceived, might sound as suggesting something is wrong with men, while “diversity and inclusion” is a message that potentially resonates with every man.

To promote a general change of focus in gender programs, several international publications are already available. For instance, the UNESCO document: Role of Men and Boys in Promoting Gender Equality. Also a report in French from ORSE: Promouvoir la parentalité which includes references to 3 types of fathers in the workplace: breadwinners, acrobats and equality-driven. Finally, the British Working Better: Fathers, family and work-contemporary perspectives.  The French and British reports show a significant shift in the conception of masculinity, supported by Sociological Research, particularly in the area of parenting. Young men don’t want to give up being active fathers. They suffer an increasing conflict between their desired role as fathers and the reality and cultural practice within their companies. What this all suggest is that perhaps in the future we should go beyond celebrating the International Women’s Day in the workplace and instead focusing our efforts on promoting Days of Women and Men for Gender Equality.

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