Blogs / 10 Jul 2023 7 min

5 ways to listen to the employee voice for an effective gender equity strategy

By Shazma Ahmed & Sharon Peake

Organisations are increasingly considering or refining their gender equity strategy. When devising people strategies it is important to consider external factors, such as our peers and competitors, however internal data – including employee feedback – is also a key input. The evidence is clear; organisations that prioritise gender equity as a business strategy, do better. The share prices of companies that are more gender-diverse outperformed by 7.1% in Europe, 3.0% in Japan and 2.0% in North America.1 So, how can organisations best engage their people to build a robust gender equity strategy?

  1. Leverage your Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s)

The obvious place to engage employees is via Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These groups are already organised by interest or affinity which makes dipping into a pool of perspectives and experiences more accessible for organisations seeking to understand what their people are experiencing. Further, the nature of voluntary membership and engagement in these groups increases the likelihood of feedback to be more forthcoming. Research by McKinsey in 2022 found that by aligning their work with corporate and employee expectations, employee resource groups helped people feel more included in the workplace.2

Consider: do you have an embedded mechanism for consulting your women’s ERG on key policy and practice changes? And do you have a regular feedback mechanism in place for the voice of the ERG to reach your executive team?

  1. Effectively designed surveys

Cast a wide net when it comes to gathering insights; there is a real value in scaling surveys to include as many employees as possible. This will enable you to collect a rich data set which can be analysed by geography, business function, job level and can also capture the experiences of people with intersectional experiences. Anonymous surveys are more likely to generate honest participation. The insights from an effectively designed and analysed survey can help paint a picture of where the organisation is and help zoom in and focus on where and how to allocate resources, all crucial points to consider when devising a gender equity strategy.

Consider: how might you use a thoughtful communications strategy to encourage participation? What intersections do you least understand – e.g., disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age – and how might you construct the survey in a safe way to collect data from these groups?

  1. Focus groups

Whereas a well-designed and analysed survey can provide powerful insights on what the challenges are for women in your business, focus groups are a powerful next step to explore issues in more detail to understand why they occur and how they might be solved. They also enable organisations to capture and better understand the lived experiences of employees. Focus groups work best when they are facilitated in a carefully thought out and psychologically safe way. Participants are more likely to share openly where those spaces are facilitated by an independent and impartial facilitator who takes care to establish a safe space. We find that playing back quotes and stories to the senior leadership team – either via anonymous voice recordings, or sharing written quotes – can be exceptionally powerful to bring to life the day-to-day challenges experienced by women in the workplace.

Consider: while focus groups aren’t designed to be statistically representative of all employees, they should offer diverse perspectives. Invite employees from a range of job functions, levels, geographies and intersections to give different views. Be clear on what you will share and how, to protect individuals and encourage honest contributions.

  1. Interview leaders and leavers

For an even deeper exploration of barriers and solutions, you might conduct one-to-one interviews. We find two groups are particularly useful to interview: the executive team and high potential leavers. For interventions to be effective it is important to start where the executive team are, so understanding where individual senior leaders stand on gender equity is critical.

Equally, given most organisations suffer a leaky talent pipeline of women to the top jobs, really understanding the exit reasons of top talent can yield valuable insights for the gender equity plan. Those who have left the organisation are much more likely to provide unfiltered feedback that can help identify underlying issues. Constructing these interviews in a safe way is critical to enable unfiltered feedback.

Consider: how might you position the invitation in a way that is likely to yield honest feedback? Who is best placed to reach out to interviewees? Who should conduct the interviews? Often having an independent person conduct these helps create the safety needed for meaningful interviews.

  1. Communicate, and act on, the findings.

Being honest about why the listening efforts are in place and what you intend to achieve with the help of their input can reduce resistance and this approach can go further in building trust.3 In our experience, employees will very willingly give feedback when the request is genuine. Sometimes the process of giving feedback can evoke emotions, particularly if there are barriers and challenges that are causing frustration. So asking for feedback will raise the expectation that actions will be taken on that feedback. The worst thing you can do is to fail to communicate, or act on, the findings. Be sure to communicate clearly and regularly on the key themes arising from the feedback and the plan of action that follows.

Consider: agree with your executive committee at the outset a comms plan for sharing the findings. Sometimes sharing harsh truths can be difficult to stomach – is there an agreement to do this? Having senior leadership support for the resultant actions is also important – who will sponsor each of the key actions? Be sure to share this commitment with employees.

Many organisations are considering or refining their gender equity priorities but aren’t always sure how best to capture their employees’ insights. If that’s you, here’s how Shape Talent can help; our unique Three Barriers Diagnostic survey pinpoints gender inequities in your organisation, enabling you to focus on addressing the real barriers at play. We also have a range of highly experienced coaches who can facilitate powerful and psychologically safe focus groups to bring to life the lived experiences and stories of your employees. We understand that every business has its differences, that’s why we also have experienced equity, diversity and inclusion consultants that work towards bespoke solutions including our ERG Activation programme to strengthen and leverage your ERGs.

If you’d like to speak with us to find out more, please get in touch.

Shazma Ahmed is an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant at Shape Talent Ltd, the diversity, equity and inclusion experts for complex multinational organisations who are serious about gender equality – and what it can achieve for their business.

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1 Morgan Stanley 2023 – Gender Diversity Keeps Paying Dividends

2 Effective employee resource groups are key to inclusion at work. Here’s how to get them right – McKinsey & Company (2022)

3 Coutifaris & Grant (2022) Taking Your Team Behind the Curtain: The Effects of Leader Feedback-Sharing and Feedback-Seeking on Team Psychological Safety