This year’s International Women’s Day theme is Balance for Better because a balanced workforce drives a better working world.
As a facilitator of training sessions I regularly see workforces walk into a room and although the balance in the workforces I see is improving, the balance in the room is not always so evenly spread. Women remain the minority in many of our sessions, particularly at a leadership level and in nearly every session I give the women sit together. I have spoken to a number of the women about why they sit together and many have said it makes them feel safer or empowers them to speak up but by far the most common response is that they simply sit next to who they know. To gain the full benefit of a balanced workforce you need to ensure that everyone feels included and that your workforce is fully integrated. To get the best out of your workforce you need everyone to be able to work together and to connect. You need a member of staff to be able to connect to the person who has the expertise in a particular area or who has worked on a project before and to do that people need to know each other. The broader the network of your staff both internally and externally the more likely your business is going to thrive. These connections will increase your balance for better, particularly at a senior level and make the most of your balance. So here are a few tips on how to make a diverse workforce feel included.
1. Recruit people in groups – when a new cohort of staff come in together they tend to create a great new mini-network for your business which grows and expands as their careers develop. If you recruit a diverse group of people in a particular cohort you automatically have a diverse network starting to build in your organisation.
2. Vary work social events - they do not just have to revolve around drinking or formal sports. Team volunteering days, escape room challenges, murder mystery events or less formal sports such as paper aeroplane competitions can help make everyone is included.
3. Mentors –senior women who mentor other women can be hugely successful in helping career progression. However, in some businesses, finding sufficient senior women who can mentor other women can be challenging and even if this is not the case, mentors do not need to be from the same sex. In fact, if you want to build balance and ensure the balanced leadership progression that your business needs you need women to have male and female mentors.
4. Before you walk into a room stop and think what you can personally do to make people feel more included – think about where you sit and who you speak to when you go to an event. This is particularly important if you are a leader, it is your job to try and build connections as broadly as you can across your organisation. You are also in a great position to make introductions across teams or departments- every time you do this you build and strengthen your network and theirs and help to create balance.
5. Follow up initial introductions – in my experience people of the same sex are far more likely to follow up an initial meeting with a LinkedIn request or email than those of different sexes. In the last fortnight I have spoken to a number of people one on one following my sessions but only the women have followed up. Consciously challenge yourself when you are considering a follow up email or LinkedIn request – use the “flip it and test it“ question – if that person had been a man/woman would you follow up.
6. Ensure your language is inclusive- I still hear a lot of leaders start talks with “Listen up guys” or tell people ‘don’t be a girl” when they are struggling. If you grew up hearing this language you need to make a conscious choice to reject it and to apologise if it slips out.
7.Implement diversity training to get your staff thinking about how different people feel about a given set of facts and how they can ensure they connect across your workforce. Ensure sessions include lots of group work or discussion so that people hear other’s viewpoint.
This International Women's Day take one step to make your workforce more balanced. Balance for better is better for you and your organisation.