Inside The Female FTSE Board Report: Part III — Tackling Unconscious Bias

Blog Post Transformational Leadership

Recently, the Cranfield School of Management, billed as one of the “oldest and most prestigious business schools in the U.K.,” published The Female FTSE Board Report 2014. The report examines the startling underrepresentation of women in chief executive positions — just four women helm FTSE 100 companies — and further illustrates the failure of leading companies to rely on women to be transformational leaders.

The report is extensive, provocative, and eye opening. Therefore, over a period of four weeks, we’ll examine facets of the report in our series: Inside the Female FTSE Board Report.

Part III: Tackling Unconscious Bias 

In our previous posts, we examined the process, criteria, and shortfalls for identifying and recruiting female talent at the executive level, as well as effective strategies for leadership development.

In addition to recruiting and cultivating the right talent, the barriers — and biases — that impede the growth and development of women into executive positions must be overcome.

To examine the effects of institutionalized gender biases, the report references an independent study conducted by the multinational banking and financial services company Barclays.

Barclays deployed an unconscious bias training program for directors and managing directors (around 8,000 top leaders), in order to “reduce bias in gender-specific situations.” The training utilized live case studies wherein participants would enact various scenarios to gauge the perceptions of senior leaders regarding their behavior during such staged interactions. 

Barclay’s categorically found that their research, “Caused reflection and dialogue on the nature of developmental conversations with senior women. It [caused] our leaders to … think about it differently than ‘I treat everybody the same.’ It caused [them] to think about how they have gone about doing things in the past, and how they approach these conversations.”

Beyond Barclays, several companies have employed similar bias training programs, the report says. However, researchers note that, “Simply putting people through unconscious bias training, does not necessarily create sustainable behavioral and culture change in the organization.” 

If the ultimate goal is to eliminate gender biases in hiring and executive placement decisions, then HR directors and executive committees must openly address how they “make decisions about people, whether that be recruitment, talent management, projects, or promotions,” says the report.

Once such behavioral biases are addressed — and overcome — boards and C-suite leadership can eliminate a lingering barrier stopping them from crafting corporate environments conducive to the advancement, promotion, and recognition of executive women.

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