Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Ask Mary: Dealing with diversity blindness

Mary Keane Dawson is New Digital Age’s Digital Therapist. One of digital’s most experienced and well-known leaders, Mary will be dispensing her hard-earned wisdom each week on NDA. If you’ve got a problem and no one else can help, simply send the burning question you need answered to

NDA reader: Mary, I work for a company in the digital sector that publicly talks a very good game about its commitment to diversity. Unfortunately, the reality is a company steeped in misogyny where both myself and my female colleagues are regularly passed over for both promotion and recognition.

I’m sick of seeing our leaders talk about the importance of increasing diversity while ignoring what happens at their own company. What can I do to help change this situation from the inside?

Ah, the #Diversity problem. I am so with you in terms of my own experiences, having sat in multiple board rooms where senior leaders talk that good game about how the organisation needs to be ‘on trend’ and ‘look like’ it’s addressing the issues of company-wide diversity and inclusion. One company even had an event showcasing Muslim employees however, not one of those good people got promoted to the board in the following 12 months.

In reality, most leaders want to keep their gang of like-minded, like-educated and like-holidayed, commute and housed as the group that hold power. It’s the Country Club mentality. You look, think and talk like me. You therefore must be good.

So, the question has to be how do we encourage these tribes who hold the power to think differently about the behaviours of their organisations and themselves when it comes to creating a rainbow coalition of diversity, inclusion and equality?

Because let’s face it, if we want our businesses to grow, and for the industry to survive and thrive in these troubled times, we have to look beyond the limited horizon of ‘people like us’. I’m not underestimating this challenge for the many, as few people proactively look to give up their hold on power.

But, as the great John F Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try”. So, to answer your question, and having consulted with the amazing Amanda Davie of Equal Talent, I’m going to make ten proactive recommendations, that will incrementally improve profitability over time, and the happiness metrics of your organisation almost immediately!

I really hope you will feel able to share these with your senior managers and make that difference. After all, it’s their leadership legacy that we’re talking about…and who wants to be known as an archaic leader?

  1. Set diversity metrics and hold managers and directors accountable for progress
  2. Encourage and facilitate shared parental leave – don’t expect people to choose between work and family
  3. Champion agile working and challenge unhelpful behaviour like presenteeism
  4. Encourage conversations about personal lives
  5. Build a balanced talent pipeline at all stages, using balanced candidate shortlists
  6. Showcase inclusive & egalitarian role models
  7. Trial gender neutral language & opposite gender mentoring
  8. Give women and other under-represented groups regular access to senior leaders
  9. Introduce meeting rules / behaviours e.g. no interruption, active listening, non-judgment, equal share of voice, empathic questioning
  10. Reward those who call out discriminative beliefs and behaviours

Good luck and let me know how you got on!