Blogs / 05 Dec 2020 6 min

How to conduct a powerful gender DEI audit

Does this sound familiar: your organisation has fewer women than men at the most senior levels, and you are intent on making positive inroads, but don’t know precisely how to achieve this. Perhaps you’ve tried different interventions, with varying success, but still don’t seem to have ‘cracked’ the issue. Your organisation is facing mounting pressure from the board and Excom – and perhaps also from investors and customers – to make more progress and you know you need to help the organisation to achieve more.

The foundation for any meaningful Diversity Equity and Inclusion strategy or plan is to know your starting point. An audit of your current data and practices is a critical, but often overlooked, step in ensuring any subsequent investment of time and money is well targeted and likely to deliver results.

In our work with clients we will typically start with a diagnostic – based on our own proprietary Three Barriers model – to pinpoint the issues that are creating the biggest barriers to greater gender balance at the top. This often involves a combination of quantitative data – reviewing your existing data in detail to identify trends and themes, and leveraging our powerful Three Barriers Diagnostic survey – and qualitative data, which we gain through interviews and focus groups.

But if you’re not in a position to engage external support for this crucial work, there is still much you can do yourself. We recommend you start with an audit of the following:


Ideally you want to explore data differences between men and women across a range of areas. Where you can, further segment the data by grade/level and (ideally) by business unit, location, function and any other categorisation that makes sense for your business:

  • Representation of men and women across the above categories
  • Recruitment – as a minimum showing the gender breakdown of new hires, but ideally also showing differences at the different recruitment stages – application, long listing, shortlisting, interview and appointment
  • Retention – turnover levels and reasons for leaving, as well as voluntary versus involuntary exits
  • Talent reviews and succession – gender differences in high potential categorisation as well as representation on succession plans
  • Promotion – number of promotions as well as time spent in each grade
  • Development – participation rates in key leadership development programmes
  • Performance – gender differences in performance ratings
  • Pay – allocation of salary increases, bonuses and other incentives
  • Engagement and inclusion survey data – differences in engagement rates and any specific inclusion questions
  • Intersectionality – and of course if you have the data pertaining to race or disability, for example, this overlay can provide powerful insights into how intersectionality plays out in your workplace.

Mining all of this data can yield incredibly powerful results, but most likely you will you only have some elements of this data. Use whatever data you have available.

With one client we were able to identify that at a particular grade level, women were less likely to: receive the same performance ratings as men, be listed on a succession plan, get promoted or report favourable engagement scores. They were also more likely to be involuntarily exited. Such powerful connections in the data can pinpoint very precisely the areas of the business requiring focus.


Review your policies. To what degree do they support your diversity and inclusion strategic goals and aspirations? Do you even have policies in some areas? Some specific policies to review include:

  • Flexible working policy – is it an opt-in or an opt-out policy? Does flexible working need to be approved, or are all jobs deemed flexible by default?
  • Harassment and discrimination policy – how clear and how well communicated is it? Do employees know it exists? And how well applied is the policy – do employees trust it?
  • Parental leave policy – is it inclusive of all genders or does time off to care for new born children only apply to mothers? If both parents work for the organisation can they both take time off simultaneously? What about parents who adopt, or conceive via surrogacy or IVF – what are their entitlements?

In addition, many companies are now establishing policies and support for pregnancy loss support, menopause, fertility treatments and more as a means of providing support on major life events impacting female employees.

People processes

Have a thorough look at your process, particularly around recruitment and selection. Where in your recruitment process might bias be creeping in? Consider:

  • Job ads – what image do your ads create? How masculine or feminine is the language used? (tools like Textio will review this for you). How long and how realistic is your list of requirements? Masculine wording and unnecessarily long lists of requirements will deter women from applying.
  • Long and short listing – who is involved and how objective is the process? How much subjectivity is there around ‘culture fit’ (which can equate to ‘just like me’ assessments)?
  • Interviewing – is there a gender balance in interviewers/interview panels? What impression is created for candidates in the interview process?
  • Succession and promotion discussions – what is the process for agreeing succession and promotion candidates? Does the loudest voice in the room dictate the outcome? Or is a more evidence-based approach used? How gender balanced are the panels making these decisions?

Culture and behaviour

Think about the unwritten cultural rules for navigating the organisation and getting ahead. What behaviours are rewarded: competitiveness; or, perhaps collaboration; being ‘on’ 24/7; global / site mobility; etc? How consistent are these behaviours with your strategic diversity and inclusion aspirations? Are there any parts of the culture which conflict with these aims? Focus groups and interviews are an excellent way to tap into these insights.

A solid understanding of your starting point is critical in order to focus your time and resources meaningfully, ensuring you focus only on those things that matter.

If you’d like to explore how Shape Talent can help you in this process, do get in touch.

Sharon Peake is the founder and CEO of 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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