Without Men There Can Be No Diversity

Focus on diversity has given many people a seat at the table that would previously have missed out - and rightly so, of course. But when such seismic shifts occur in business there are always losers as well as winners. As Oliver Badura, COO at Hager Unternehmensberatung, reflects certain prospective employees are finding it harder to find the right position even when they are the better candidate for the job

by Natascha Zeljko | 30 Aug, 2022
Oliver Badura, COO at Hager Unternehmensberatung

In executive search – especially when it comes to filling highly coveted positions – there is rarely a brief which does not include a profile reading: female, young, and – in the case of multinational companies – person of color.

Who would really want to deny that more diversity in the corporate world is a necessary, important, and, above all, long overdue goal? In my experience, with very few exceptions, almost all men understand, embrace, and support this goal. Diversity has been on the agenda for years, if not decades. Initially, there were nice buzzwords, departmental declarations of intent, but that has fundamentally changed. For the last two or three years, companies have been serious, I would even say deadly serious, about it. A nice-to-have has become a must-have. And the bigger the company, the more radical the demands. Sometimes bonuses are even linked to the achievement of certain quotas of women. In this case, and I say this with all due caution, the requirements are interpreted rather generously. As happens, when you chronically undervalue some things and overlook others, the pendulum is now swinging at full force to the other side. As a result, there has never been a better time for women to start their careers. That's the good news. The bad: There is collateral damage.

As happens, when you chronically undervalue some things and overlook others, the pendulum is now swinging at full force to the other side. As a result, there has never been a better time for women to start their careers.

In an ideal world, with unlimited resources of highly educated women – especially those in IT and tech – none of this would be a big deal, to put it bluntly. Of course, you'd have to wonder where the men would go (more on that in a moment), but as a recruiter, it would be business as usual. We would no longer have to crowbar people into roles, but gently guide them towards their dream position – like a fencer delicately using a foil. En garde! Allez! Touché!

It doesn’t work like that. That’s no surprise. As HR consultants, we have to work with a market the way it is. We have a little room to maneuver here, but we can’t change the status quo. And I too know the saying: "Where there's a will, there's a way. Where it is lacking, there are many excuses."

Yes, we are creative. And yes, we do also think outside the box, looking to other industries or abroad. Nevertheless, that's not enough to fill positions perfectly. What happens more and more often is that you hire women who are good, but not yet as far along in their career development and skills. The crowbar method, remember? They then require on-the-job training, often carried out by male, more experienced colleagues.

This is not without a certain tragedy. Men, especially the old, white male model, have become shelf warmers. Almost impossible to place. Almost a dying species. Sometimes managers call me, they are in their late 50s and highly motivated to change jobs. I have many open positions where their expertise is 100 percent the perfect fit. But their gender and age are 100 percent not. I can't do anything for them. Especially with the highly attractive, "cool" companies. The market, and this is also a rather new finding, is completely divided here. A smaller medium-sized company that pays little attention to its external image or where an ESG package has not yet been delivered can be more flexible in this respect.

Yes, this is discriminatory. The inclusion project is being driven forward by exclusion. We are in the middle of an upheaval, economically, socially, (geo-)politically. And as always, when tectonics shift, they do so with huge collateral damage. We are in a transitional period with conflicting goals. In our case, gender balance versus equality. In terms of a larger, overriding goal, we just have to choose the lesser of two evils – whether we like it or not.

So far, we've only talked about symptoms. The full picture (if that's even possible with such a highly complex topic) also takes into account the causes. Why are there so few suitable women in the work force? Invariably, when you think about this, you end up back at one answer: culture. Particularly after having their first child, there is a steep decline in numbers of women in employment. Centrifugal forces are at work here, as women abandon their careers and take refuge in part-time jobs. But that can no longer be ignored. Which brings us to the company's responsibility. They must succeed in retaining these talents by offering them attractive working conditions regardless of their stage of life. This applies to young fathers too by the way, it would help the case enormously if compatibility between work and parenting became an issue for women and men. And yes, we also need to talk about young women's personal responsibility. We know that girls are no more or less talented in math and science, but somewhere along the route to studying STEM subjects at college, the numbers drop off. In a study by EY, the majority of young female students said they were aiming for a job in the public service. And this is where the misery begins.

We need to close the gap, sure. But we also need to keep reminding ourselves of the essence of diversity. In all dimensions. That includes men; it won't work without them.

That brings us back to the beginning: where are the men? We need to close the gap, sure. But we also need to keep reminding ourselves of the essence of diversity. In all dimensions. That includes men; it won't work without them. Even the old white men. Otherwise, in the long run, the pendulum will become a wrecking ball.

So what do we do? We keep recruiting. What else. We are professionals. Crowbar in one hand, foil in the other.

This article is part of a content cooperation between FemaleOneZero (F10) and Hager Unternehmensberatung. The company, which specializes in executive search, has repeatedly been named one of the best personnel consultancies in Germany by the magazines WirtschaftsWoche and Focus. Hager Unternehmensberatung employs around 110 people and, in addition to its extensive know-how in the field of digitalization, is also considered a specialist in issues relating to diversity and innovation.

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