Seven Steps to Conscious Inclusion of Women in the Workplace

The business case has been broadcast – we need more women in leadership. Some think the problem has been solved, but the data tells us that this is not the case. Past research has pointed out problems with little help identifying solutions, meaning the world is stuck in a circular conversation about why we don’t have enough women in leadership.


In order to move closer to Conscious Inclusion of women in the workplace, ManpowerGroup commissioned qualitative research carrying out in-depth interviews with 222 leaders globally – 72 from ManpowerGroup and 150 other leaders – representing companies with over half a million employees, in 25 countries.  The research points to clear conclusions – businesses need to move from talking about diversity to taking real action that achieves real results. “The research also makes it clear that women are not looking for favours, just a level playing field,” explains Lyndy van den Barselaar, managing director of ManpowerGroup South Africa.


When asked about what best supports women in leadership, Millennial women said flexibility – not a tilted playing field, but more focus on outcomes that allow them greater control over how and when they get work done. Millennial males also say leaders need to collaborate with female colleagues and champion Emerging Female Leaders. The best male leaders are taking women to one side and asking them what they need to succeed, demonstrating their commitment.


Gen X and Boomer females most value workplace flexibility and are most frustrated by past challenges of measuring performance through presenteeism versus outcomes. They want leaders walking the talk and taking responsibility for creating a culture of Conscious Inclusion. They also want mentors and training, but while mentors may make women feel more comfortable or act as a sounding board, they do not help them move ahead. Sponsorship, however, consciously advocates for women in the boardroom. This is a critical distinction for leaders to act upon.


Building on answers collected from leaders and their own experience, ManpowerGroup have identified seven practical steps that will accelerate organizations from circular conversations around awareness and unconscious bias to the tipping point that will help them achieve Conscious Inclusion and eventually parity.


  1. Change Yourself First


Simply put, change must be authentic. If not, people see it as a fad that’s here today, gone tomorrow.


  1. Leadership Has To Own It; Don’t Delegate It


The CEO needs to own the issue, gender parity cannot be delegated to HR. For commitment to be authentic and aligned with business strategy, change must flow from the top and be demonstrated by the leadership team. “HR can help facilitate and support it, but the approach needs to be leader-led,” explains van den Barselaar.


  1. Flip The Question – Ask “Why Not?”


Succession planning must be bolder. Instead of saying, “she doesn’t have the experience,” organisations must ask, “what do we need to make it work?”.

Challenge assumptions – if we think it is possible, we can make it possible.


  1. Hire People Who Value People


If we hire people who value people they will figure out how to optimize all human potential, including that of women. They will be open to strategies that support balancing the integration of work and home, measuring success on performance and quality of output, not presenteeism. They will support people to plan and manage for career ‘waves’ not ladders.




  1. Promote A Culture Of Conscious Inclusion; Programs Alone Don’t Work 


“Generic programs do not work, and the last three decades prove this,” says van den Barselaar. Programs don’t change behaviours and don’t improve the numbers. In fact, they can even breed complacency, rewarding activity not the results. Accountability sits with senior leadership and decision makers to promote a culture of Conscious Inclusion. HR can help leaders facilitate change; training can raise awareness. Leaders must change the culture.


  1. Be Explicit: Women When And Where?


Simply increasing female representation will not shift the needle. Women and men must be represented at all levels and in every business unit. Leaders must know exactly where they need women to be. Looking at macro numbers is not enough; it results in pink ghettos – women only in HR, Communications and support roles instead of P&L and staff roles.


“Women need to be coached and sponsored to succeed, and they need experience and exposure to advance,” says van den Barselaar.


  1. Be Accountable: Set Measurable And Achievable Outcomes 


In business, it is about outcomes and goals. Every hiring and promotion decision can be justified, but if that isn’t moving closer towards the tipping point then Conscious Inclusion and gender parity won’t happen. Articulate a talent legacy – how things will change and what it will look like by when. Plan for it as if it were a strategic business priority or investment. True change takes time, focus and discipline.


“If organisations are serious about getting more women into leadership roles and including half the talent in the workforce, they must go beyond programs and change their culture. It is time to put words into action. While the CEO needs to own it to create systemic change, we can all start doing something different today,” van den Barselaar concludes.