What can be done?
Campaigners are proposing a wide range of solutions to move forward, including calls for individual company targets for senior managers or nationwide quotas. “If this isn’t a KPI (key performance indicator) the business is held accountable for, it becomes a side hobby and side hobbies aren’t always invested in financially or time wise,” argues Nguyen.
But critics of fixed targets argue that the concept could devalue the way women hired under this regime are perceived in the workplace. Danish start-up community manager Bolette Wrestroem says quotas, while potentially a “good stepping-stone”, could also suggest that “women are only there because it is required and not because of their skills or capabilities”.
Quotas for board members have already been introduced on a nationwide scale in Norway and Iceland. But as The Nordic Gender Effect at Work report points out, improvements at board level have not led to a jump in the number of women CEOs or managers. “One reason for this is that the business world is characterised by a wide range of leadership standards and traits that are typically (perhaps stereotypically) associated with men,” it concludes.
Nguyen says she has placed several women in high positions in Swedish head offices who ended up leaving because they felt they needed to adapt too much to be heard. “The most important step is creating an environment where people of different backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, feel empowered and supported to do their best,” she argues. “We cannot just hire females and minorities and expect them to figure it out.”
Many campaigners argue that educating male employees on the benefits of diversity should be more prominent. Numerous global studies have concluded that there is a positive correlation between the presence of women in leadership roles and an organisation's performance.
The chief executive of Heba, a Stockholm rental company named-and-shamed for low male-female diversity, recently made headlines for admitting he hadn’t thought about the advantages of having more women managers until his top executive team achieved gender balance.
"I thought competence was the main thing - competence and attitude - not sex, but I've changed my mind. The workplace works better because of the [gender] mix," Lennart Karlsson told the BBC shortly afterwards. "The discussion climate is better, you have a better conversation and a better understanding for each other."
In Norway, a private equity firm criticised for a lack of female managers recently introduced a policy making it mandatory for all fathers to take at least two months’ parental leave, or risk losing their bonus, to help reduce unconscious bias.
“If I am a female and I look at the male team members around me becoming fathers and none of them take any parental leave, I will feel that I am an outlier when I get pregnant and I need my parental leave,” says Chief Operating Officer Morten Welo. “So we thought - ‘let’s turn this around’, and say it’s mandatory regardless of gender.”
He says the policy also sends “an important signal” that he hopes will encourage more young female graduates to consider the company. “To attract the best talent, we need better diversity.”
More companies are also experimenting with digital platforms designed to help tackle unconscious biases. Tengai, the world's first robot designed to carry out unbiased job interviews, is being tested by major Swedish recruitment firm TNG. In Norway, Equality Check, a community-based platform of employee reviews rating equality in companies (similar to the English-language Glassdoor platform), has become a popular tool for both applicants and HR professionals.
“Big funds have also become a lot more aware of how they write job descriptions - what words you use and how do you conduct the interview processes,” adds Rikke Eckhoff Høvding at the Norwegian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (NVCA). “I would say no-one knows the answers, so we need to try different things, readjust and think of something new if it doesn’t work.”