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.