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The Pitfalls of Gender Washing – Implementing Diversity Correctly

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Companies are increasingly striving to establish diversity strategies that reflect their workforce. How do they ensure an equitable strategy which serves everyone? What is gender washing?

Diversity and sustainability play a major role for today’s professionals. The search for talent has evolved, as we have shifted our scope from not just acquiring but also retaining talent. Practitioners have been tasked with creating more diverse and inclusive environments which reflect the changing dynamics of their workforce.

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Increasing Diversity

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the workforce will become more diverse in nearly every demographic category over the next six years.

Diversity describes the handling of differences and similarities within a company, but also within our society, after all, companies are the reflection of our society's makeup. Examples include cultural, gender, and social differences. Diversity is meant to harness the potential offered by these differences and value the uniqueness of people.

A high level of diversity can improve various aspects, such as employer branding, productivity, and revenue. Research has shown that diversity also drives innovations by straying away from homogenous thinking and adding unique perspectives and approaches to strategy, which in turn enables companies to better relate to employees, and current as well as prospective clients. This serves as one of the main differentiators between companies that have been able to capture and maintain market share and their competitors.

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Outperform your competitors

Statistics show that companies with above-average gender diversity and employee engagement outperform companies with below-average diversity and engagement by 46% to 58%. (Fast Company)

Advantages of Diversity

Diversity is today considered a competitive differentiator. According to a study by Deloitte, diverse companies have a cash flow per employee 2.3 times higher than comparable non-diverse companies. In general, decisions and actions tend to be more thoughtful and balanced. The product reaches a larger target group when diverse people work on a project and give their opinion. Diversity in the company also strengthens employer branding and attracts talent, as diverse target groups can better identify with the company if talents of every skin color, gender, and sexuality can freely develop.

The importance placed on diversity strategies has increased as stakeholders place more emphasis on paying more attention to this topic; the reason is it helps attract top talent by letting them identify with the company, increases engagement, and helps the company compete in an ever-increasing global market. As globalization shifts our cultures to a more  "glocal" approach to the world it is important to show clients and stakeholders that their companies also represent the people they serve.

This article is an extension of our Diversity Blog to go into more detail on industry-specific topics.

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Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.  

~ Mahatma Gandhi

The Dangers of Diversity – it is not only a case for Marketing Departments

Gender washing describes activities regarding gender equality that are underpinned by economic rather than ethical motives and are based on the desire to improve an organization's reputation. 

Globalization has enabled companies to diversify their workforce, some not by choice but as a necessity as means to stay competitive. German companies still have an implementation problem. According to a survey by the Diversity Charter, 60% of the companies surveyed saw no need for action on sexual orientation and identity. The question is are companies diverse, have no action plans, or do they just pretend to be and why do companies fall short?    

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Insecure Managers

According to a study, only 47% of managers feel prepared to have conversations about race with their employees.

You can find how to navigate talking about race with your employee guide here.

Problems, why companies forego diversity strategies could be e.g. lack of training, too many opinions, poor communication, and of course an antiquated management team.

Glass ceiling – An invisible problem

The glass ceiling is used to describe invisible systematic barriers that prevent women from reaching senior leadership positions.

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Blind applications

A study found that blind applications increase women's chances of getting hired by up to 46 percent, which is an indicator of the existence of glass ceiling.

The ceiling is made of glass because the woman can see beyond these problems and barriers. But what if companies are only pretending to reach other audiences or trying to leverage their image? In the next section, we have a few examples for you of how this could look in practice.

Gender Washing in Practice  

But what does gender washing look like in practice and how can it be recognized?

Gender washing can occur in many forms and variations. Some examples can be found in the area of selective disclosure of company statistics. Companies advertise a high quota of women in management but omit uncomfortable information and figures. A famous example is Norvatis, which promotes its commitment to women in the workplace in women's magazines, but at the same time lost one of the most significant cases of gender pay, promotion, and pregnancy discrimination ever to go to court. The exploitation of these stereotypes is part of part antiquated policies.

Exploiting stereotypes - plays a role in gender washing. For example, the U.S. chain Hooters has built its entire brand based on waitresses with ample breasts and skimpy clothing. In the company logo, the two Os are replaced by the eyes of an owl, symbolizing breasts to stare at with wide eyes. But once a year - for Breast Cancer Awareness Month - the eyes are replaced with pink ribbons. Hooters is known for objectifying women and so these campaigns seem more than contradictory. Such promotional efforts usually scare off prospective employees and applicants. 

Gender washing can cause a lot of damage in companies in the long run because it becomes obvious at the latest when new employees start work and the company is not as diverse internally as it appears to be external. With platforms like Glassdoor and Kununu, it is also possible to give the employer bad reviews and thus damage the employer branding in the long run. Negative stories shared on social networks such as LinkedIn can spread like wildfire. This could scare off important customers and make potential applicants no longer interested in the company. Perception in the globalized landscape is reality, especially with more conservative growth regions.

Diversity is not a one-time measure, but an ongoing process that can and must always be optimized. Companies must set an example of diversity in order to maintain its benefits in order to be successful in the long term.

A more diverse recruiting 

According to a study by Charta der Vielfalt, 2/3 of companies in Germany have not yet implemented any diversity management measures, and only 19% are planning concrete measures for the future.

We believe it is essential that companies are supported in implementing a diverse recruitment process which helps them take the first steps toward a diverse recruitment process.

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Diversity criteria as a measure

According to a survey, diversity criteria in the selection of candidates is one of the top 3 measures that companies want to address in the future.

Prejudice is a vice of human evolution, compartmentalized thinking is often a hindrance and denies you opportunities in a world of globalization. 

We must keep in mind that we have as a collective pushed the needle however there is a long way to go. Diversity is an ongoing process that needs to be consistently evaluated and improved to match the changing dynamics of the global world. It is important to understand diversity and the pitfalls of gender washing while questioning the company's intentions and what they look to gain.

Free from prejudices

MoBerrie's matching engine - based on artificial intelligence - matches the most suitable candidates to your open job postings, completely free of bias. The system objectively matches the skills of the candidate with the requirements of your job posting and suggests only the most relevant candidates. Thus, you not only save up to 34% of your time in the pre-selection of candidates, but also act completely unbiased and free of prejudice.

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You can find out what further measures might look like in our blog on Diversity Management - Active Commitment to Diversity, Fairness and Inclusion.

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