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Reinventing gender diversity programs for a Post-Pandemic World

February 12, 2022
Diversity & Inclusion

When money no longer buys happiness, companies must rethink their approach to DEI.

US companies have serious work to do to heal the US female workforce that has been so badly fractured by the COVID-19 pandemic. And although it may be tempting to turn to traditional diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, those programs were not designed to address the current challenges.

DEI programs have long been the corporate “home” for strategically driving better outcomes for women. They tend to focus on eliminating discriminatory behaviors, achieving workplace equity, and increasing the representation of women in leadership positions. Complementary human-resources policies and benefits have also aimed to level the playing field and nurture high-potential talent on the path to the executive suite.

These programs and policies are insufficient to solve the wide-scale attrition and hiring difficulties of the so-called great resignation. As the pandemic unfolded, the soaring demands of work and home strained women’s roles as primary caregivers in most families. Even as of November 2021, women’s participation in the workforce remained at a 33-year low. The great resignation forced a reckoning among all employees, not just mothers, and not just women. In November 2021, 4.5 million workers quit or changed jobs—the fourth time in 2021 that the number of workers quitting set a record.

As we look forward to a post-pandemic workplace, strong signals suggest that workforce challenges will persist longer term. Recent surveys have found that only 35% of working mothers say that they are planning to work as they did before the pandemic. More than half of female knowledge workers have said that they are open to looking for a new job in the next year. Armed with new-found clarity about priorities and values, many women have fundamentally altered their expectations of their work, employers, and lives.

Companies need to find new ways to address the breadth and magnitude of today’s challenges. They need to understand women’s motivations and how they make decisions about jobs and careers. Companies must also reach far more women across the organization and broaden their objectives and actions. (See Exhibit 1.) As the chief diversity officer of a financial services organization said, “We’ve been working diligently to put all of the best practices in place, but they aren’t going to be enough to deal with what we’re seeing now.”

Reinventing the Foundation for DEI
DEI programs have made progress in reaching their original goals, but they need to be far bolder and more ambitious to address the new mandate of the post-COVID-19 environment. In seeking to understand how to advance these programs, we surveyed 3,345 US female employees and 4,019 US male workers, and we started with five hypotheses:

  • Employees have agency, as they are demonstrating vividly today. Companies need to understand and address the underlying causes of employees’ departures and discontentment.
  • Employees will make career decisions that satisfy both their functional needs (such as work-life balance and compensation), as well as their emotional needs (such as feeling challenged, secure, or valued at work).
  • A broad set of drivers—demographic identities, life context, work context, and attitudes—can all potentially be important in influencing needs. An employee’s diverse demographic identities may not be the most important or even a significant driver of needs. And needs will almost certainly change over time.
  • By identifying patterns in combinations of needs and isolating the drivers of needs, we can unlock a new segmentation of the workforce that is grounded in commonality and relevancy, rather than outside-in assumptions or essentialism.
  • This needs-based segmentation can serve as the foundation to create employee value propositions that improve employees’ happiness, create a motivating work environment, encourage them to stay, and, ultimately, boost employee outcomes.

In testing these hypotheses, we drew inspiration from BCG’s state-of-the-art consumer research methodology: demand-centric growth. The DCG methodology breaks away from the simple, insufficient consumer-segmentation approach that uses broad demographic groups (such as millennials, women, and Asians). Instead, DCG uses a comprehensive segmentation approach that factors in additional drivers (such as attitudes) that emerge from quantitative research and are examined using advanced analytics. By understanding individuals’ needs, DCG uncovers what truly drives decision making in different circumstances.

We adapted the survey-based DCG methodology to understand the workplace needs of our representative sample.1 Applied to an organizational context, the DCG approach allowed us to assess the importance and interplay of a comprehensive menu of potential demographic, attitudinal, and contextual drivers in creating discrete patterns of functional and emotional needs. (See Exhibit 2.) And because the methodology recognizes human complexity, we were able to determine that not all dimensions that shape an employee’s identity, beliefs, and life situation are equally important in driving the person’s functional and emotional needs at work. READ MORE

By Gabrielle Novacek, Jean Lee, and Matt Krentz


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