To reach #EachforEqual, CEOs need to lead the charge

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This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EachforEqual, based on the notion that “an equal world is an enabled world”.

I couldn’t agree more: if we challenge stereotypes and act in favour of diversity and inclusivity, it’s a win-win for all of us. And here I’d like to share a few experiences and thoughts on that topic.

If I look back on where we are today compared to last year, the one area that has really improved markedly is acceptance of the value of diversity. It’s become proven that if you want to reach smart decisions as an organisation, you need to incorporate all sorts of viewpoints. Include people that have had very different experiences in decisions, and it may take a little longer to reach a decision, but the decision you reach is one you won’t regret.

But once you’ve created a diverse workforce, you’re not done. You have to make sure they’re avoiding groupthink: everyone needs to be able to question and to present a point of view that might run counter to the consensus of wisdom, or the way things have always been done. It takes honesty and persistence.

The entire world will benefit if we have an environment that creates a level playing field for those of all races, ages, genders or sexual orientations. But you need to take some practical actions and not just pay lip service and spout platitudes. In particular, the CEO has to lead from the front here because it’s a fact that when the CEO gets involved, change happens. Colt CEO Carl Grivner does that. He attends almost every diversity event and just by doing that he is making a monumental difference. Often, he doesn’t even make his attendance known, but he listens and his presence and support means more than he knows. But it’s even more important in some ways that middle managers listen and act too, so the change in culture is pervasive and doesn’t just exist in pockets.

I think that at Colt we can be proud of what we’ve achieved since the last IWD. We still have more women than men on leadership team and we have very good traction with way more women than men in our recent sales induction and a great pipeline of female graduates.

That has been in part the result of expanded recruiting. As a business community, we need to check our hiring processes and think again about the way we look at CVs. We now incorporate blind recruiting tactics where the person hiring doesn’t know the gender of the applicant, for example.

We also now have two people in the organisation who focus on inclusion and diversity, with their remit centring around formalising our inclusion and diversity practices throughout the business. I also lead a council on these areas, which brings together all our diversity groups, Network 25, Pride Matters and YOUnited to talk through issues that affect all these groups and our employees. These sorts of actions mean you can take a searchlight to behaviours that have become engrained and weed them out if needed.

As an industry, we’re getting better but we’re not moving the needle as much as we can. It’s good that bigger companies such as Facebook and Google are playing a larger part but there are still some jobs for which it’s hard to attract women. Not all indicators are green: female CEOs in the tech sector are actually becoming fewer.

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance and we all need to keep our eyes open and question where we can do more. We’re continually scouting to get more women involved in our company: could AI perhaps help us identify ways to improve our company culture, for example? Can we use communications tools for people who can’t be present in person?

If we win the quest for diversity then we build better cultures, a better world and better companies. A candidate can make a more informed decision than 10 years ago about where they work, reading Glassdoor to check how they’re going to be treated. We will attract better people if we treat everyone equally and embrace the value and different insights they bring to the organisation.