The PeopleCap Playbook

Timely insights and actionable people strategies for leaders.

Set the Stage for Gender Diversity

I recently walked into a client’s office and immediately thought, “Wow. Guys work here.” Everything from the décor and furniture to the lack of communal spaces screamed “Men’s Club.”

This client is determined to diversify his workforce and figure out how to recruit more people of color and women to their company. The CEO’s intent is genuine: he knows it’s the right thing to do and that his company’s future depends on building a more diverse workforce. With this goal in mind he has already begun taking some important steps toward gender inclusion including mentoring women and adopting more flexible workplace policies.

I have to admit though, the first thing I thought when he mentioned that they find it hard to recruit senior level women was, “even the bathroom screams dudes.” The restroom is notably masculine in décor and lacks a cabinet for women to leave toiletries and essentials. While décor and bathroom drawers may sound trite, it is the details that are obvious to one group of people and not at all on the radar of the majority group that prohibit diversity. Elements of your environment and culture can be welcoming or uninviting to those you may be trying to recruit.

Observe your organization: Is “bro talk” common in your office? Are there too few women in roles that directly impact the bottom line? Do only women make the coffee or empty the dishwasher? Are women typically tasked with coordinating company social events? Are women spoken over in meetings or excluded from decision-making? Is there enough flexibility in paid time off to support women with families?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, your intentions may be true, but you’re likely not laying the groundwork to add more women to your team. Don’t wait for talented women to magically appear before you start making your company more welcoming. Men can’t see the world through the same lens as women, so to build a culture that is appealing to more women you will need their input.

To create a more gender diverse company, apply these strategies BEFORE you start to recruit (NOTE: I’m focusing on women here since that is my personal experience, but many of these same techniques apply to diversity more broadly):

  • Make sure everyone in the company is aware of the strategic priority to diversify your workplace and ask for their support
  • Ask women who currently work for you to identify the behaviors and practices in your workplace culture that make it challenging to work there. Then ask, “what would make working for our company better?”
  • Invite female peers from other companies to come visit your office and provide feedback on what they see and hear that might turn them away from working with you. Follow that question with, “What would make joining our team more attractive?”
  • Transform your culture. Make a plan based on the feedback you’ve gathered. Inform everyone in the company of your plan. The plan should include the behaviors you will no longer tolerate, the changes you will make regarding how women are treated and included throughout the company, and the adjustments you will make to the environment to create a workplace that is appealing to and comfortable for female team members.
  • Mentor and champion the women in your company. Focus on accelerating their development and building their network.

I’m confident our client’s genuine desire to diversify his team coupled with a solid plan to shape a hospitable culture will yield results. If you want more women to join your company, focus on making your culture one that women want to join.

And for goodness sake, add a chest of drawers in the ladies’ room.