What progress has really been made on increasing diversity in the business world over the last 20 years?
Business leaders addressed this question and offered paths forward at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International Summit in London on Monday.
The panel—moderated by Charlotte Sweeney, founder and director of Charlotte Sweeney Associates—included Miriam González, partner and head of the International Trade and Government Regulation Team at Dechert LLP; Kathleen Philips, chief financial officer for Zillow Group; Anne Richards, chief executive officer of M&G Investments; and Lisa Wardell, president and CEO of Adtalem Global Education.
The main takeaway: While change seems slow day to day, it’s important to choose a specific area and remain focused on that until measurable progress is made.
Focus on Results
Many times diversity initiatives chase the next new problem. Though it’s important to identify holes and weaknesses in the makeup of the workforce, lasting change takes a dedication to shifting culture over a long period of time.
This means assigning responsibility for the outcomes.
“Who is accountable? Are we seeing progress? Who is tying their salary to this?” González said.
Rather than rush to the next issue that needs to be addressed, set goals and benchmarks to make sure managers and all levels are following through on achieving diversity imperatives.
Help Recruiters Help You
Often questions about gender imbalance on boards and in C-suites are met with excuses about the availability of qualified women to fill the roles. Earlier this year, a report from the United Kingdom’s Department for Business, Energy, & Industrial Strategy about the lack of women in boardrooms included excuses like “most women don’t want the hassle” and “all the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up.”
But most women in leadership know plenty of peers who could fill board seats. The panel advised business leaders to be proactive in reaching out to recruiters in order to make women with potential more visible.
“When you look at men, it’s assumed that they are ambitious and want to be leaders,” Philips said, pointing out that people rarely make the same assumption about a group of women.
It also helps to avoid broad asks for “diversity” during a search for board members or executives.
“Be specific about your expectations,” Wardell said, whether that be gender, age, ethnicity, or background.
The ask from recruiters? Describe these women, their traits, and their accomplishments “in business terms that you would describe men,” Claire Skinner, lead partner at recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles, said. Otherwise when it comes down to final decisions, search committees will go with the safer choice. (Think terms like “performance-driven.”)
Don’t Forget About the Men
“The diversity mission has to be about giving a better range of opportunity to those who still feel limited, which is often men,” Richards said. “If we want to reframe this debate and make it more inclusive, we need to think about what it means for the male population as well as women.”
That may seem counterintuitive, but many men in the workplace feel unable to push for benefits, like parental leave and flexible schedules, which allow both men and women to excel in their careers.
“It takes enlightened men and brave women to change the world,” said Herta von Stiegel, director of the LeasePlan Group.
And because men still hold a disproportionate number of powerful roles, they are often in the best position to move company cultures—and the larger issue of women’s equality—forward.
“If we, in business, miss that there is a big cohort of men who think the same way about this then we are missing the biggest opportunity in the last few years,” González said. “Use the momentum. We really are in the right moment in society to do this.”
Find more coverage of Fortune’s MPW International Summit on Fortune.com and at #FortuneMPW and #MPWSummit on social media.