How many women does it take to change a lightbulb?

Despite evidence suggesting that teams are more engaged and productive under female leadership, less than 5% of the world’s biggest 500 firms have female CEOs. David Leen discusses what Grovelands is doing to create a more diverse workforce.

I had a discussion with my fellow director Ashleigh Belgrave just after Christmas. Grovelands as a business will change the balance of its management, consultants, and ExCo from male, pale and stale to something a little more representative of the rest of the world. However, I said to Ashleigh, surely we should hire the best person for the job irrespective of gender and then she hit me with a statement that blew me away.

She said… “That’s true David, we always should hire the best. But if you want to change the make-up of male-dominated teams and you have few, if any, female role models, how will you ever achieve this?”

“Could you hire a woman who was 60% of the job requirement and train the rest, than hire a man who was 90%?”  She’s right of course, it’s a classic chicken and egg situation. I felt really dumb clinging to my ‘cream will always rise to the top’ beliefs.

This really got me thinking; I was out for a run the following Saturday (it was January after all) and I posed the same question to someone who leads a large organisation. I got a similar response to mine; that it’s all about hiring the best person regardless of gender, but they generally hire men. And I think his organisation has a better balance of gender and ethnicity than most.

I think my view and I guess a lot of peoples’ view, we believe is very earnest in securing the best person for the job and few people would ever criticise this. If your desire is to change the balance of your organisation (and the stats back this up around performance of more diverse firms; 35% more engagement and much more productive teams under female leadership) you may have to throw a spanner in your recruitment machine and challenge its approach.

Ashleigh showed me a lot of job advertising that, whilst doesn’t state only men need apply, is written in a way that will attract men, or more critically, will deter women.

She also showed me an expansive report from a large global consulting firm which highlighted the issues in diversity in the workplace and how UK Plc was coming up short but the greatest irony is that women make up less than 10% of their own Executive Committee. Less than 5% of the world’s biggest 500 firms’ CEOs are female and less than 20% in their Executive Committee. It makes grim reading.

So what to do….?

There are plenty of women in business awards and forums for recognition, but these are generally by-products of exceptional individuals and/or companies that are changing their recruitment, development and promotion policy and strategy.

Ashleigh is leading female focussed networking events, adapting our HR policies, developing mentoring programmes and a whole bunch of other ideas and initiatives to attract the best female candidates. It is the old adage of build it and they will come. She is building a business which we hope will be a magnet for attracting the most capable female candidates.

I said that it was a lightbulb moment but for me, it has been more like Blackpool illuminations.

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