Blue Switch Consulting
Talent Optimisation Consultant


Commentary and Analysis

Best Intentions Don't Move the Needle

Increasing Diversity and Gender Equality Takes a Strategy that Works

If we are honest about it, most of us dislike diversity, as evidenced in our actions as opposed to our proclamations.
— Stephen Frost & Danny Kalman, Inclusive Talent Management

In their book Inclusive Talent Management, Frost and Kalman describe the case of an Irish professional services firm that was considering implementing gender representation targets. The brought the question to their partners, who indicated their support for the initiative. However, when the firm conducted an anonymous vote, 69% of partners voted against the move. This represents the disconnect between the intentions and values we and our organizations purport to hold, and the attitudes we harbor--consciously or unconsciously--as people. Which is why we create Diversity and Inclusion Strategies.

STRAT●E●GY /’stradəjē/

a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim


Take a quick look at the website for almost any mid- large-sized company, and you’re likely to find a Diversity and Inclusion page. It likely indicates that the organization is an equal-opportunities employer. Perhaps it lists a selection of community initiatives it supports, or national working-groups or associations to which it belongs. These pages sometimes describe the internal measures taken to increase diversity, from mentorship programs to affinity groups. More often than not, there is some rhetoric highlighting a commitment to merit-based success.

Just a click away, you can find the profiles of an organization’s executive team, board of directors, or a list of a firm’s partners. It is here that you can find if a Diversity and Inclusion strategy carries clout.

Diversity and Inclusion strategies are like smoke detectors with dead batteries: they’re there for everyone to see, they give the impression that measures are being taken, but in the end, they’re not going to help anyone.


A great number of organizations understand the business case for diversity, so their Diversity and Inclusion strategies are developed in the hopes of actually moving the needle. They follow “best-practice” models and implement diversity training (read here why this doesn’t work), they may emulate programs in place at similar organizations, a Diversity and Inclusion committee will be appointed to oversee initiatives or make recommendations. Sometimes, these steps will have an effect, and sometimes the effect will be measurable.



Most Human Resources directors are not also subject matter experts when it comes to workplace diversity and gender equality. Expecting an HR director to design solutions to address lack of diversity is like asking them to find and fix a funny noise in the engine of your car. They will likely give it their best shot and use the tools at their disposal, but the results might not be what you’d expected.

Don’t waste time and resources on plans that won’t work.


If you don’t know where you stand from the get-go, you can’t know if the strategies you’re implementing are making a difference. Data should be the driving force behind talent-related decisions.

Research shows, companies using data analytics to drive talent-related decisions see 30% higher stock market returns than the S&P500.


The last thing you want is to lose traction on diversity and inclusion because your “champions” move on. Don’t rely on particular individuals to shoulder the responsibility of: keeping leadership accountable, monitoring progress, scheduling implicit bias testing, etc. Interventions that stick are the ones that you weave into organizational framework: purchase talent acquisition software that mitigates implicit bias for you, implement the Mansfield Rule, compile a pre-approved list of networking events (designed to play to the strengths of underrepresented talent), link senior compensation to team performance, eliminate practices proven to disadvantage underrepresented groups.

The best interventions are the ones that can’t be easily reversed.


What works at one organization won’t necessarily work at yours; no intervention is a silver bullet. Monitor the progress of your initiatives by taking stock with employee surveys, and conducting frequent and consistent data analysis. Be prepared to modify your approach to respond to (lack of) improvements.

Each intervention is a nudge in the right direction.


In addition to featuring a Diversity and Inclusion page on your company’s website, introduce some transparency and accountability. Publish an annual report on the status of minority and female representation in your organization. Itemize the strategies you are implementing, and provide data relating to diversity drivers.

Be honest. If you’re struggling to advance gender equality, say so.

People care about what others think, and so do companies. This is the power of transparency.
— Dr. Iris Bohnet, What Works

We all benefit from increased diversity: our companies are more profitable, our products are more intuitive, our nations are more economically vibrant.

We can’t afford to waste time and resources on diversity and inclusion strategies that will not work.


© Dr. Kristen Liesch 2017. All rights reserved.