Anybody that has worked for a large corporation will most likely understand the “hurry up and wait” phenomenon. In short, there is a big rush to get everything in place to attain a particular goal only for the actual change results…well to be relatively unchanged.
This phenomenon repeats itself in so many areas, but those of us in the diversity and inclusion space can know it all too well. The hurry up part includes gathering data to justify a business need, creating strategic change management plans which go from the individual to the systemic levels and often initiating the actions in motion (e.g. leadership development, diversity talent acquisition programs and internal/external communications). Due to high attrition and growth rates at the entry level, diverse representation can shift in a fairly short period of time. The wait portion is often seen at movement of executive diversity.
This very frustrating wait has been highlighted a number of times, but most recently by the attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos. In 2011, the percentage of women comprised 17% of the attendees. With all of the work happening globally in D&I, one would expect that to increase or at least stay static. On the contrary, the percentage of women decreased to 15% of attendees. The Forum organizers blame the make-up of corporate boards since their invites go out to corporate leaders regardless of gender. Some countries like Norway have decided not to wait anymore and put in place legal requirements for gender equity on boards. While forward thinking corporations have been delving into the undercurrent reasons why when leadership positions are open, they are not being filled by women when women make up half their working population. Our clients are looking towards development around insider-outsider dynamics and the influence of unconscious bias.
The conundrum is two fold. First, without women on corporate boards policies that help promote gender equity are not often top of mind (an insider-outsider dynamic). Second, in order to increase the number of women in executive roles, corporations need to become aware and mitigate their unconscious hiring biases. Attrition in any corporation’s senior ranks tends to be extremely low which means there is less occurrence to increase diversity of any kind so every position is a huge opportunity to move this needle. This attrition challenge was brought up at a recent SIFMA conference in Nov. 2014 by a CEO panel. The question posed was, “If you do not have attrition in the executive ranks and you are not growing more positions, how does a company achieve greater diversity at the top levels?” While some just shrugged their shoulders and said it was a waiting game, one of the answers provided was that a corporation has to determine their level of commitment to diversity. If they view it as a market differentiator, then they will create the positions regardless of growth and they will commit to removing the barriers to diversity.
For those companies not willing to create more positions in the executive level or to find ways to create more movement, the wait for some may seem quite long. Typically, once someone gets in an executive position, you expect to see them there for at least 10 years. That is an awfully long wait for anybody looking to see dramatic shifts in representation. What the WEF has proven to us is that we cannot let up on creating a more meritocratic culture. It requires a strategy with short and long term metrics. It also requires an investment at the individual and systemic levels. Although there may be a wait at the end of the line, it does not reduce the need for us to hurry up.